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

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March 27, 2008

Alabama: Siegelman released pending appeal

The Birmingham News reports: A federal appellate court today ordered former Gov. Don Siegelman released from prison while he appeals his 2006 conviction, but denied co-defendant Richard Scrushy s request to be released.

Siegelman attorney Vince Kilborn said Siegelman would be released sometime Friday morning. His wife and his daughter, Dana, are driving out to get him, Kilborn said.

Scrushy attorney Art Leach said he had been told the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals denied Scrushy s request, but had no more details this evening.

Siegelman has been in an Oakdale, La., prison camp for nearly nine months. A federal jury in 2006 convicted Siegelman and Scrushy of federal funds bribery. Prosecutors alleged Scrushy bought a seat on a state board with a $500,000 donation to Siegelman s lottery campaign.

The judges wrote that Siegelman met both requirements for an appeal bond: He is not a flight risk and his appeal raises a substantial question of law or fact likely to result in reversal or an order for a new trial. -- Siegelman to be released from prison, Scrushy must stay in - Breaking News from The Birmingham News - al.com

Puerto Rico: Governor indicted for campaign-finance violations

AP reports: Puerto Rico Gov. Anibal Acevedo Vila indignantly denied wrongdoing Thursday and gave no sign he would abandon his re-election effort after being charged with campaign finance violations that carry a penalty of 20 years in prison.

Acevedo, a superdelegate to this summer's Democratic convention, accused U.S. prosecutors of pursuing a politically motivated indictment alleging that the governor and a dozen other people conspired to illegally pay off his campaign debts. ...

Acevedo served in Washington as the island's nonvoting delegate to Congress then was elected governor in 2004 after campaigning on an anti-corruption platform. ...

In a brief address on Puerto Rican television Thursday evening, he repeated his denials and accused U.S. authorities of distracting him from trying to revive the island's struggling economy. "They want blood not your well being," he said of federal prosecutors. The governor did not take questions.

His indictment on 19 charges, including conspiracy to violate federal campaign laws, conspiracy to defraud the Internal Revenue Service and giving false testimony to the FBI, made him the latest U.S. governor to run into legal trouble. -- Feds charge P.Rico governor, 12 others - Yahoo! News

March 26, 2008

Scotland: Salmond proposes preferential-voting referendum on independence, more powers, or status quo

The Scotsman reports: SCOTLAND could become independent with less than 50 per cent of people backing that as their first choice for the country, under plans unveiled by Alex Salmond yesterday.

The First Minister delivered a bombshell announcement that the referendum on independence would probably not be a straight yes-no vote.

Instead, people would be asked to rank a series of options in order of preference – independence, the status quo or more powers for the parliament. This could mean independence being gained, even if only a minority rank it as first choice.

Critics immediately raised concerns because, on such a momentous issue, voters' second choices would become as important as the first, after the option with least votes was knocked out. In an extreme set of circumstances, independence could be achieved with only 26 per cent making it their top preference, if all the second-choice votes plumped for a break from the Union. ...

Under this system, the first choice votes would be added up and the option with the least support eliminated. The second-choice votes from this third option would then be re-allocated and the option achieving the most overall votes would win. -- Minority vote could take Scotland out of the Union - The Scotsman

March 25, 2008

Alabama: Supreme Court hears arguments in Riley v. Kennedy

AP reports: Supreme Court justices expressed skepticism Monday about the federal government s authority to block the governor of Alabama s appointment of a fellow Republican to a vacant county commission seat representing a mostly black and heavily Democratic district.

The case is over whether Gov. Bob Riley needed clearance from the Justice Department under the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which requires Alabama and several other states -- most of them in the South -- to get federal approval before changing election procedures that affect minority voters. ...

Local Democrats challenged the appointment, arguing that a special election should have been held as in the past and that Riley's decision amounted to just the kind of voting-rights change that requires Justice Department approval.

Last January, the Justice Department agreed and said Riley's appointment appeared to weaken minority voters. Later, a three-judge panel in U.S. District Court in Montgomery ruled that Riley's move was unlawful and vacated the appointment. -- High court questions federal authority over Alabama in governor s pick - Breaking News from The Birmingham News - al.com

Alabama: Supreme Court argument transcript in Riley v. Kennedy

Here is the transcript of Monday's argument in 07-77.pdf , Riley v. Kennedy.


March 23, 2008

"Follow the Money"

Left In Alabama reports: Now it's easier to keep your elected representatives honest -- or at least keep an eye on them. Follow the Money has a nifty new tool that lets you look at contributions to entire legislative committees. This is especially handy because the information at the Alabama Secretary of State's website is in the form of .pdfs of scanned disclosure forms and is neither sortable nor searchable. These folks have put that information into a database for us.

Here's the Alabama page where you can get to fund raising information on office holders, parties and contributors. Here's the Legislative Committee Analysis Tool where you can select either a House or Senate committee and see the money raised by each member of that committee as well as the top contributors to that committee and the industries contributing. -- Left In Alabama:: Follow the Money, Even to Legislative Committees

Note: this website covers nearly all the states, not just Alabama.

March 22, 2008

Alabama: Gov. Riley appeals Jefferson County case to U.S. Supreme Court

Governor Riley has filed a long-winded notice of appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court from the Judgment in Plump v. Riley.

California: man arrested for voter registration fraud

CBS 13 in Sacramento reports: A man suspected of state voter registration fraud was arrested on Sac State's campus. Accused of signing up fake people to vote!

Why would there be a manhunt by the election fraud unit of the Secretary of State for this mystery guy, 45-year-old Don Cornell Williams.

He's known by state officials for registering voters in Southern California.

"That's what he does for a living," says Corey, a friend of the suspect. ...

Corey says some unknown organization pays Williams to get signatures. He says Williams told him gets cash for every signature or registered voter card he turns in. Yesterday the state election fraud unit got a tip Williams was at Sac State trying to register more people. They asked campus police to capture him on a warrant out of Orange County for completing voter registration cards using false names. -- cbs13.com - Man Arrested For State Voter Registration Fraud

Alabama: voters who object to voting appeal to get quick overturn approving the vote

The Birmingham News reports: Three Jefferson County residents asked the Alabama Supreme Court Thursday to quickly overturn a Circuit Court judge's ruling that William Bell is entitled to be the District 1 county commissioner.

Lawyers for Patricia Working, Rick Erdemir and Floyd McGinnis filed a notice of appeal to the state's high court and recommended a March 28 deadline for written legal arguments.

They requested an expedited review of Judge Scott Vowell's ruling Tuesday against them and Gov. Bob Riley in a dispute over how to fill the commission seat held by Larry Langford before he resigned to become Birmingham's mayor. -- Jefferson County residents ask Alabama high court to quickly overturn county commissioner ruling- al.com

Alabama: Jefferson County special election upheld, judge rules

The Birmingham News reports: William Bell is entitled to be the District 1 representative on the Jefferson County Commission, Circuit Court Judge Scott Vowell ruled Tuesday.

The case will next go to the Alabama Supreme Court. The state's high court must lift an injunction before county election officials can certify Bell as the winner of the Feb. 5 special election to replace Larry Langford.

Three county residents, only one of whom lived in District 1, challenged the election date in a suit filed Jan. 31. Albert Jordan, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said he would file an appeal today. ...

Vowell's decision Tuesday upheld a state law that allows special elections - in Jefferson County only - when an office is vacated. The judge also ruled that Gov. Bob Riley did not have authority to appoint George Bowman to the commission. ...

A spokeswoman for Riley said he also would appeal. -- Judge rules William Bell is District 1 representative on Jefferson County Commission; case goes to state Supreme Court- al.com

March 21, 2008

Colorado: paper-ballots plan abandoned

The New York Times reports: A plan to use only paper ballots in Colorado in this November’s election, which was announced with bipartisan hoopla in January to replace the state’s troubled electronic voting machine system, died quietly in a state legislature committee room on Thursday.

Opponents of the plan said it was no longer needed, because what was broken then is now fixed. But supporters said that questions of reliability and security of the electronic voting and vote-counting machines remained unresolved, and could yet resurface before November.

The debate exploded in December, when Colorado’s secretary of state, Mike Coffman, a Republican, announced that voting machines used all over the state, including in many of the most populous counties, had failed tests by his office.

The proposed solution of using paper ballots faced immediate and stiff opposition from county clerks, who administer the elections and who said the logistics of a one-year transformation were insurmountable. -- Plan to Use Paper Ballots Is Reversed in Colorado

March 20, 2008

Alabama: preview of Riley v. Kennedy argument

Thomas Haymore, one the Stanford Law School students who did such great work on our brief, has written this summary of the case for ScotusWiki.


March 19, 2008

Alabama: Hale County ex-clerk indicted in absentee vote fraud

The Birmingham News reports: Former Hale County Circuit Court Clerk Gay Nell Tinker has been indicted on multiple vote fraud-related charges.

A Hale County grand jury issued a 13-count indictment against Tinker after receiving evidence from the Attorney General s Office.

Investigators for years have been looking into voting irregularities in the west-central Black Belt county, and grand juries have indicted others on vote-fraud charges. ...

According to King's office, the indictment charges Tinker with nine counts of second-degree criminal possession of a forged instrument, an absentee voter affidavit; two counts of promoting illegal absentee voting by intentionally soliciting or otherwise promoting illegal absentee voting, and two counts of first-degree perjury by falsely certifying who signed an absentee voter affidavit. -- Former Hale County circuit clerk indicted- al.com

March 18, 2008

Dept. of Veterans Affairs still blocking voter registration

Steven Rosenfeld writes on AlterNet: For at least four years, since the 2004 presidential election, when a veteran, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., was the Democratic Party nominee, the Department of Veterans Affairs has blocked efforts to help U.S. soldiers register to vote at its facilities in all 50 states.

This is politically motivated voter suppression, said Scott Rafferty, an attorney based in Washington, D.C., who has fought the VA in federal courts since 2004 over the right to assist homeless people, including veterans, register to vote at a shelter on VA property in Menlo Park, Calif. Now the political motivation might be different that the veteran running for president is a Republican.

The issue has resurfaced, not merely on the fifth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq and in the midst of a heated presidential campaign, but because the VA -- whose public affairs office did not answer telephone calls nor return requests to comment Monday -- apparently has also stonewalled requests by U.S. senators for an explanation.

We write today to once again highlight our concerns about voter registration in VA facilities, began a March 6, 2008, letter from Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., chair of the Senate Rules and Administration Committee, and Sen. Kerry, to James B. Peake, secretary of Veterans Affairs. Nearly one year ago, your predecessor, Secretary Nicholson, was questioned about the lack of access to nonpartisan voter registration services for our nation s veterans. A response to this inquiry was never received. -- Veterans Administration Won t Help Soldiers Register to Vote | Democracy and Elections | AlterNet

North Carolina: Supreme Court will decide on influence districts

AP reports: The U.S. Supreme Court said yesterday that it will consider whether legislative and congressional districts designed to help minority candidates win office must do so by containing a majority of minority voters.

The case could decide the fate of so-called “influence” districts, drawn in North Carolina and some other states after the 2000 census in areas where minority populations are mostly in the 40- to-50-percent range.

Such districts are preferred by civil-rights leaders, who worry that creating districts with a majority of minority voters forces legislators to pack minority voters into a smaller overall number of districts, reducing their overall voting strength.

A Supreme Court ruling on the legality of “influence” districts is likely to affect how voting boundaries are drawn after the 2010 Census. --
Winston-Salem Journal | U.S. Supreme Court to look at legality of voting districts

Michigan: do-over bill pending in legislature

AP reports: Legislative leaders reviewed a measure Monday that would set up a do-over June 3 Democratic presidential primary in Michigan.

The draft legislation included language that would set up a public fund to collect private donations for the election, ban voters who had voted in the Jan. 15 Republican presidential primary and keep both presidential contenders Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama on the ballot. ...

Michigan now wants to hold a second primary. The campaigns of Clinton and Obama received copies of the primary election bill Monday. Clinton has said she would go along with another primary, but Obama's campaign has raised some concerns. -- MyFox Detroit | Michigan Legislative Leaders Consider Do-over Primary

Florida: Democratic Party decides against re-vote

AP reports: Facing strong opposition, Florida Democrats on Monday abandoned plans to hold a do-over presidential primary with a mail-in vote and threw the delegate dispute into the lap of the national party. ...

Members of Florida's congressional delegation had unanimously opposed the plan, and Sen. Barack Obama, who is seeking the party's presidential nomination, expressed concern about the security of a mail-in vote organized so quickly.

The national party punished Michigan and Florida for moving up their primaries before Feb. 5, stripping them of all their delegates to the party's national convention this summer in Denver. All the Democratic candidates agreed not to campaign in the two states, and Obama was not even on the Michigan ballot.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton won both primaries. As her race with Obama has tightened, she has argued the delegates should be seated or new primaries held. -- Florida Democrats: No Re-vote | TheLedger.com

New Hampshire: Tobin acquitted of phone-jamming; US appeals

The Union Leader reports: The U.S. Department of Justice is appealing the acquittal last month of former national Republican Party official James Tobin on telephone harassment charges stemming from the illegal GOP phone-jamming operation of Election Day, 2002.

U.S. District Court Judge Steven McAuliffe cleared Tobin, of Bangor, Maine, on Feb. 21, saying that he had been constrained by a 2007 appeals court ruling to conclude Tobin was entitled to acquittal. McAuliffe predicted then that the legal question at issue would eventually be addressed by the appellate court.

Federal prosecutors filed a notice of appeal this week.

The appeals court a year ago overturned Tobin s 2005 conviction on two felony telephone harassment charges stemming from the phone-jamming scheme and sent the case back to McAuliffe s trial court for review of whether Tobin s role had fit the crime with which he had been charged and convicted. Tobin was not required to serve any of his 10-month prison sentence. -- UnionLeader.com - New Hampshire news - Appeals court called in Tobin acquittal - Saturday, Mar. 15, 2008

March 15, 2008

Citizenship agency promises to process dozens, maybe even thousands, in time for voter registration

The New York Times reports: Immigration officials said on Friday that they expected to complete about 930,000 citizenship applications in the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, reducing a huge backlog in a time frame that would allow many new citizens to register to vote in the November elections.

The projection from the federal Citizenship and Immigration Services agency came as its director, Emilio T. Gonzalez, praised his staff in a statement, saying it had reduced overall waiting times for immigrants seeking to become American citizens to a maximum of 16 months, from an 18-month projection Mr. Gonzalez made in January.

But the agency’s internal figures on the applications that remain in the pipeline indicate that to meet its goal it will have to work much faster than it has in recent months. Of 1,051,186 naturalization applications the agency is processing, 75 percent are still in the early phases of being logged in and placed in line for scheduling of several required steps, the figures show.

Only 262,780 applications are in the time-consuming later phases, when applicants must submit fingerprints and pass required background checks, and English and civics tests, according to the figures, which were provided by Congressional staff members. -- Goal Set for Reducing Backlog on Citizenship Applications - New York Times

March 14, 2008

Alabama: congressional candidate spent state campaign funds on federal election

AP reports: Alabama state Sen. Harri Anne Smith spent nearly $20,000 from her state campaign account last year on polling and political consulting in her bid for federal office to replace retiring U.S. Rep. Terry Everett, a violation of federal election rules.

Smith, a Republican from Slocomb, said she was not aware of laws prohibiting the mingling of state campaign funds in federal elections and that she immediately contacted the Federal Election Commission to fix the error once she discovered it.

She filed new finance reports with the state and the FEC last month to properly account for the spending.

"We found the mistake and we did everything in our power to correct it," she said in an interview. "The rules are there for people who are intentionally trying to circumvent the law, and that was never our intent. It was just a procedural mistake." -- AP NewsBreak: Ala. state senator mingled state, federal funds - NewsFlash - al.com

9th Circuit: vote-swapping is legal

The National Law Journal reports: Third-party candidates take note for the upcoming presidential election: The First Amendment protects vote-swapping arrangements.

The short-circuited campaign in 2000 to arrange vote trading between supporters of presidential candidates Al Gore and Ralph Nader died when California election officials threatened the online sites with vote buying charges.

A federal appeals court back in December said California's action violated the free speech rights of people who wanted to swap votes. On Thursday the full court refused to back off that position, over the objection of three conservative judges, Porter v. Bowen, 06-55517.

Judge Andrew Kleinfeld of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals called the practice vote buying plain and simple, and thus illegal. But only two other judges joined his dissent from the full court's denial of en banc reconsideration March 13. It takes 14 votes to win reconsideration. -- Law.com - Vote-Swapping Arrangements Protected by First Amendment

NRCC treasurer may have faked the books to steal

The New York Times reports: The former treasurer of a Republican Congressional fund-raising committee may have stolen hundreds of thousands of dollars by submitting elaborately forged audit reports for five years using the letterhead of a legitimate auditing firm, a lawyer for the committee said Thursday.

Robert K. Kelner, a lawyer with Covington & Burling, who was brought in by the National Republican Congressional Committee to investigate accounting irregularities, said a new audit showed that the committee had $740,000 less on hand than it believed. Mr. Kelner said it was unclear whether that amount represented money siphoned off by the former treasurer, Christopher J. Ward.

Mr. Ward, who is under investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, had the authority to make transfers of committee money on his own, Mr. Kelner said.

He said an investigation with the help of PricewaterhouseCoopers had “found a pattern in which Mr. Ward would transfer funds by wire out of the N.R.C.C. to outside committees.” From those outside committees, Mr. Kelner said, money was then transferred to “personal and business accounts of Mr. Ward.” -- Sham Audits May Have Hid Theft by G.O.P. Committee Treasurer, Lawyer Says - New York Times

March 12, 2008

EAC's Inspector General clears commission of "politics" on the Voter I.D. study

The Election Assistance Commission's Inspector General has issued his report on the allegations of improper handling of the report on voter fraud. The PDF of the document is locked so that I cannot easily copy the synopsis. So, here is my synopsis of the synopsis: the report was poorly planned (by EAC, it appears) without enough guidance to the consultants. The editing of the report was done by EAC officials because they felt the report was poorly written. Because voter fraud is a highly charged issue, the EAC should have included the consultants in the editing process to avoid charges that political pressures had been applied to the EAC.

I await the responses of Tova Wang and Job Serebrov, the consultants.


Florida: deal or no deal on a mail-in primary do-over?

The New York Times reports: Democratic Party officials here are close to completing a draft plan for a new mail-in primary that would take place by early June, a proposal that seeks to give Florida delegates a role in the party’s presidential contest, several people involved in the discussions said Tuesday.

A spokesman for Senator Bill Nelson, a Democrat who has been pushing for a mail-in contest, said Mr. Nelson expected the Florida Democratic Party to finalize details of the complex plan as soon as Wednesday. The state party would most likely submit the proposal to Howard Dean, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, by week’s end, said the spokesman, Dan McLaughlin. Mr. Nelson is a supporter of Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York. ...

But after meeting with Mr. Nelson on Tuesday night, Florida’s Democratic members of the House of Representatives added a serious new wrinkle by announcing they were unanimously opposed to a mail-in contest. They did not elaborate, but released a statement that said, “Our House delegation is opposed to a mail-in campaign or any redo of any kind.” The statement also said the delegation was committed to working with state and national Democrats and the two candidates “to reach an expedited solution that ensures our 210 delegates are seated.” -- Democrats in Florida Are Near Plan for New Vote

March 11, 2008

Alabama: Gov. Riley files reply brief in Riley v. Kennedy

Gov. Riley has filed his reply brief in the U.S. Supreme Court case of Riley v. Kennedy. This is the Section 5 case that will be argued on 24 March.

Disclosure: I am one of the attorneys for Dr. Kennedy and the other plaintiffs in this action.

March 10, 2008

Michigan: Levin wants a mail-in re-do primary

The Detroit Free Press reports: An all-mail revote may be the solution for Michigan Democrats who want their presidential primary votes to count.

U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, who has been fighting for years to break the dominant role that Iowa and New Hampshire have on the presidential nominations, said on the Sunday ABC-TV news show This Week that the only practical and fair way to conduct a Democratic do-over would be to hold a vote-by-mail election.

Only a mail kind of vote will work, and there still are a lot of logistics involved, he said.

It s a solution that several other prominent Michigan Democrats have been calling for, including former U.S. Rep. David Bonior of Mt. Clemens who was campaign manager for presidential candidate John Edwards. -- Levin promotes all-mail primary revote to seat Michigan delegates | Freep.com | Detroit Free Press

March 7, 2008

Scotland: vote-counting firm could not count the votes because software license had expired

The Herald reports: The firm behind last year s election fiasco has been blamed again after a local council by-election was thrown into disarray.

More than 100,000 votes were not counted in last May s debacle but fewer than 3000 were involved in the latest count, which saw the declaration abandoned overnight in South Lanarkshire.

Only 2594 votes were cast in South Lanarkshire Council s Cambuslang East ward on Thursday but candidates had to wait until noon yesterday to find out the result after the system could not process the data once the votes were counted.
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It emerged the software that was being used by DRS, the firm used to supply the equipment and staff for the count, did not work because the licence had expired. The same counting software was used for the Cambuslang East count as that used in last May s Holyrood election. -- Holyrood Election Firm In New Poll Shambles from The Herald

Texas: Obama gets majority of delegates despite Clinton primary win

Ron Elving reports on NPR.org: Hillary Clinton has called her primary victories this week stunning, but their contribution to her delegate total continues to dwindle.

Senator Clinton won the Ohio primary with a healthy margin and squeaked past 50 percent in the Texas primary. She went on TV as the shiny new star of the 2008 campaign, the belle of the ball once again. All the glitter seemed legit at the time. She had cleared a high bar set by no less an authority than Bill Clinton himself, who said she had to win both of the big states on March 4 or it was lights out. ...

And now it appears that even her net gain of 15 on the day may be cut nearly in half.

Because in Texas, one third of the 193 delegates at stake this week were not awarded by the primary but by the caucuses held after the polls were closed. A record 4 million voters showed up for the primary, and a record 1.1 million also stayed for the caucuses at more than 8,000 sites around the Lone Star state. And in these caucuses, Obama won handily. -- NPR: Watching Washington

Will that be paper or electronic?

Pam Fessler reports on NPR: Voting officials across the country have been trying to find a secure, reliable voting system ever since the 2000 presidential elections. After electronic machine failures, a number of states are returning to paper ballots. But not everyone agrees that is the right way go. -- NPR: Shift Back to Paper Ballots Sparks Disagreement

Panel discusses voter I.D.

The Daily Free Press reports: A panel of professors and lawyers hosted by the Harvard Journal on Legislation analyzed the implications of voter identification laws and their potential impact on the presidential election this year, at the Harvard Law School yesterday.

The panel, Voices on Voting: Election Law in 2008, said though voter identification laws would alleviate public fears of voter fraud, they would not actually solve the issue and have contributed to contested election results in the past.

Columbia Law School professor Nate Persily said the rules on photo identification vary immensely from state to state, but in general, voters without an ID can only cast a provisional ballot.

When voters have their IDs, they must go to the state elections office to have their votes counted, he said. However, Persily said, few people do this and so their votes go uncounted. -- Panel: Elections need reform - News

Independent redistricting initiative getting GOP dollars

Inside Bay Area reports: In a display of bipartisan unity, Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and former Controller Steve Westly, a Democrat, went from table to table at a local restaurant this week, beseeching diners to sign a petition supporting a new redistricting initiative.

But where it counts — in campaign contributions — there is a more partisan tinge to the ballot drive than the image promoted by backers. Republicans, who would love to cut into the Democratic stranglehold on the Legislature, have been far more enthusiastic donors than Democrats.

Nearly all of the $542,500 raised so far by California Voters First has come from donors who typically give to Republican candidates and GOP causes, according to campaign finance reports.

"If they don't fix that, they're in trouble," said Barbara O'Connor, director of the Institute for the Study of Politics and the Media at Sacramento State University who has served on the Voices of Reform board advocating redistricting reform. "If Democrats don't start contributing, people will say, 'Who's this helping and whose ox is being gored?'" -- Push to redistrict remains partisan - Inside Bay Area

Florida, Michigan: Soft money may pay for the do-overs

The Los Angeles Times reports: Eager to break an impasse over contested votes, prominent Democrats are floating possible solutions that include new presidential nominating contests in Florida and Michigan, and a compromise forged by a special committee of party elders. ...

One alternative mentioned now by the Florida Democratic Party is a vote-by-mail election. Under this scenario, ballots would be mailed to all of Florida's approximately 4.7 million registered Democrats in May or June. The cost would be $4 million to $6 million, and the state party would want to be reimbursed, a party official said Thursday.

The Florida Democratic Party would be open to accepting a "soft money" contribution from, say, a wealthy Democratic donor, labor union or other source to underwrite the cost, the official said. Also, Florida Democrats would want commitments from the Obama and Clinton camps that the two candidates would campaign in the state. State Chairwoman Karen L. Thurman issued a statement saying that the Florida Democratic Party was hashing out possibilities with representatives of the Clinton and Obama campaigns as well as the Democratic National Committee. ...

One possibility that Republican Gov. Charlie Crist said he would not support is another full-scale primary underwritten by Florida taxpayers. A Crist spokesman said that the price tag would be $25 million and that the state would not be willing to pay it. -- Democrats brainstorm Michigan, Florida delegate disputes - Los Angeles Times

What do we want? Citizenship. When do we want it? Now.

The New York Times reports: A lawsuit filed Thursday in a federal court in New York by Latino immigrants seeks to force immigration authorities to complete hundreds of thousands of stalled naturalization petitions in time for the new citizens to vote in November.

The class-action suit was brought by the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund on behalf of legal Hispanic immigrants in the New York City area who are eager to vote and have been waiting for years for the federal Citizenship and Immigration Services agency to finish their applications. The suit demands that the agency meet a nationwide deadline of Sept. 22 to complete any naturalization petitions filed by March 26.

Latino groups hope to summon the clout of the federal courts to compel the Bush administration to reduce a backlog of citizenship applications that swelled last year. According to the Migration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan research group in Washington, more than one million citizenship petitions were backed up in the pipeline by the end of December, the majority from Latino immigrants.

Despite protests over the delays from lawmakers, Latino groups and immigrant advocates, the immigration agency is currently projecting wait times of 16 months to 18 months to process the petitions. -- Latinos Seek Citizenship in Time for Voting - New York Times

Michigan, Florida: looking a way out

The New York Times reports: With the two Democratic presidential candidates in near-deadlock and battling for every delegate, party leaders and the rival campaigns started searching in earnest on Thursday for a way to seat barred delegations from Florida and Michigan. But they remained deeply divided over how to do so.

After weeks in which the issue hovered in the background, it shot to the forefront of the Democratic race as it became apparent that the delegates at stake could be vital in influencing whether Senator Barack Obama or Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton wins the nomination.

Mrs. Clinton won the most votes in primaries in Florida and Michigan in January. But the states held their contests earlier than allowed by the Democratic National Committee’s rules, leading the party to strip them of their delegates to the nominating convention. Neither candidate campaigned actively in the two states, and Mr. Obama was not on the ballot in Michigan.

Mr. Obama has maintained a slim but steady lead over Mrs. Clinton in delegates awarded by voting in the primaries and caucuses of other states. The Clinton campaign is hoping she can translate her advantage in the popular vote in Florida and Michigan into a big share of their combined 367 delegates. -- Democrats Try to End Impasse Over Delegates - New York Times

March 5, 2008

Ohio: secret ballot?

The Cleveland Plain Dealer reports: How secret was your ballot Tuesday?

Well, that depends.

Many Cuyahoga County voters complained their privacy was compromised as they turned in their ballots. Many voters had no way to shield the filled-out ballot from spying eyes, whether they were poll workers or other voters in line.

"My ballot was exposed for the 20 feet I carried it back to the precinct table, easily read by the poll worker who removed the receipt, and easily seen, or even photographed by a cell phone camera, by others," said Charles Hoppel of Broadview Heights, who said his wife filed a complaint with poll workers. ...

Ballots can be easily shielded by popping them into a sleeve that hides the markings. But that differed widely from polling place to polling place. Some voters received sleeves with their ballots. Others had to ask for them. Others simply uneasily lined up without them. -- Cuyahoga County voters complain ballot secrecy was compromised - cleveland.com

Kentucky: governor makes it easier to get voting rights restored

The Herald-Leader reports: Felons who complete their sentences can get their voting rights restored more easily under changes to the pardon process announced Tuesday by Gov. Steve Beshear.

Beshear said he will drop requirements for an essay and three character references, both imposed by previous Gov. Ernie Fletcher. He also will revoke a $2 fee.

Under the "barriers" placed by Fletcher, the number of felons whose voting rights were restored shrank from more than 600 a year to about 250 a year. ...

About 129,000 Kentuckians can't vote because of a felony conviction, Beshear said. He said corrections officials will help interested felons with pardon applications before their release from prison or jail, and his office will process more than 1,500 applications left behind by Fletcher, plus 176 new applications filed since Jan. 1. -- Restoring voting rights eased

Ohio: several counties fail the Gerken test of compentency

The New York Times reports: A federal judge in Ohio granted a request late Tuesday from Senator Barack Obama’s campaign to extend the voting hours in 21 precincts in Cleveland by an extra 90 minutes because of a lack of paper ballots.

But because the order arrived after the polls had already closed, election officials were only able to reopen 10 polling stations, according to the Ohio secretary of state, Jennifer Brunner. That resulted in five additional votes being cast, Ms. Brunner said.

After a recent state review of touch-screen machines that raised concern about them, paper ballots were made available at all precincts for those voters who wanted to use them. Many more voters took advantage of the option than officials had predicted. The shortages of ballots were also caused by an unusually heavy turnout, officials said.

The federal judge, Solomon Oliver, denied a similar request for other precincts in Cuyahoga County, home to Cleveland, and for all precincts in Franklin County, where the capital, Columbus, is located. -- Ballot Shortages Plague Ohio Election Amid Unusually Heavy Primary Turnout

The Gerken test is explained here.

March 4, 2008

Nadler tells DOJ, "we need vigorous enforcement." of the NVRA

Voting Matters Blog reports: February 26 was not a good day for Asheesh Agarwal, Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division of the U. S. Department of Justice. During a hearing of the House Committee on the Judiciary, the bookish bureaucrat was raked slowly over the hot coals by several irate members of Congress.

At issue was the DOJ’s enforcement of key provisions within the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA), which was passed by Congress in 1993 to increase participation in federal elections. Committee members attempted, with little success, to get Agarwal to explain why DOJ has spent the lion’s share of its resources to pressure states to purge voters rather than ensuring their rights.

"Rights on paper are not the same as rights in fact," intoned Congressman Jerrold Nadler of New York. "For that we need vigorous enforcement."

Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Congresswoman from South Florida, cited alarming statistics about voter registration decreases documented in Unequal Access: Neglecting the National Voter Registration Act, 1995-2007, a report written by Project Vote and Demos. The report found that voter registrations generated from public assistance agencies within that period had declined by 79 percent, despite the NVRA’s specific requirement that states offer the service in agencies that help the disadvantaged. -- House Members Grill Justice Dept. Official Over NVRA Enforcement

Note: the Voting Matters Blog has a link to the video of the hearing, but be prepared to spend 2+ hours.

March 3, 2008

Alberta, Canada: Liberal leader calls for voter I.D.

The Edmonton Journal reports: Alberta needs to overhaul its electoral system because votes conducted in the province almost have the feel of a banana republic, says Liberal Leader Kevin Taft.

Taft made the call as Albertans prepare to go to the polls Monday to elect a new government.

The leader of Alberta s official opposition cited a number of long-standing concerns his party has with the electoral process after visiting several temples and seniors residences for some last-minute campaigning in Edmonton on Sunday. ...

He suggested some of the problems being raised by his candidates Sunday, like concerns about controls to prevent people from voting both in the advance polls and on election day, could be addressed by requiring voters to produce photo identification.

Taft has complained about abuses of the electoral process in his book Democracy Derailed, which outlined a situation where special ballots were cast on behalf of people who weren't even in the country. -- Alberta s electoral system in need of major overhaul, Liberals Taft says

Problems beset statewide voter lists

AP reports: Welcome to the first presidential election in which nearly every state must have a list of every registered voter. Here's the catch: if your name isn't on it, you may have trouble casting a ballot in this historic race for the White House.

The lists have already caused problems in New Mexico, Arizona and California, where people waited hours to choose a presidential nominee only to find they weren't listed as registered voters — or they weren't listed in the party of their choice.

On Tuesday, when folks line up in the crucial states of Ohio and Texas, election observers fret that similar snafus will confuse and delay primary vote counts that could help decide whether the Democratic nominee will be the first woman or the first black man to hold that title. ...

The problems stem from a federal law that was supposed to deter voter fraud. Under the Help America Vote Act, every state was required to have a computerized database listing all registered voters. The deadline was 2006, which several states missed. Some of them, including New York and New Jersey, were sued by the Justice Department for not having databases up and running. -- The Associated Press: Is Your Name on the Voting List?

March 2, 2008

New York: Pataki's PAC continued to spend after he dropped campaign

The New York Times reports: After ending his exploration of a presidential bid early last year and all but disappearing from politics, former Gov. George E. Pataki spent more than $1 million from his political action committees for Broadway theater tickets, gatherings at the Yale Club and payments to political loyalists and advisers.

The money came from PACs used to raise Mr. Pataki’s profile nationally and to lay the foundations for a possible presidential run. They were organized in Virginia, where candidates are given broad discretion in spending.

In all, the committees spent about $2.1 million in 2007; about $1.4 million of that was paid out after Mr. Pataki quietly suspended his efforts to seek national office last March, according to a review of campaign finance disclosure reports and other records. Some of the spending appears to have had little connection to a political cause or candidacy. ...

PACs organized under state laws in Virginia have long been attractive to politicians because there are no limits on contributions and, while it is illegal to use PAC money for personal use, the state has a light regulatory touch in terms of spending. -- Pataki Spent PAC Money After Opting Not to Run - New York Times

Alabama: Rev. Glasgow's effort to get voting rights restored to ex-felons

The New York Times reports: The Rev. Kenneth Glasgow, onetime criminal and founder of a ministry called The Ordinary People Society, spent years helping people with criminal records regain the right to vote in Alabama, where an estimated 250,000 people are prohibited from voting because of past criminal activity.

Then he discovered that many of them had never actually lost the right.

Because of a quirk in its Constitution, Alabama disqualifies from voting only those who have committed a “felony involving moral turpitude.” Those who have committed other felonies — like marijuana possession or drunken driving — can cast ballots even if they are still in prison, according to the state attorney general.

But it has been slow work cajoling public officials to enforce and publicize the law. Until Friday, the secretary of state’s Web site advised, incorrectly, that those with any kind of felony conviction could not register unless they had served their time and their right to vote had been restored by the Board of Pardons and Paroles.

Because neither the Legislature nor the attorney general has offered a definitive list of crimes involving moral turpitude, there is no way of knowing how many inmates are eligible to vote. But state agencies generally agree that those convicted of drug possession — at least 3,000 of Alabama’s 29,000 prison inmates and thousands more on probation — are eligible. Most felons and former felons, however, assume that they have lost the right to vote. -- In Alabama, a Fight to Regain Voting Rights Some Felons Never Lost - New York Times

Nevada: NVRA agency-based registrations very low in state

The Las Vegas Sun reports: Poor people have less say at the polls in Nevada than in most of the nation — and public assistance offices appear to be partly to blame, according to a recently released report.

In 2006 workers at those offices registered fewer Nevadans to vote than they did in 1995, the year federal law began requiring such agencies to offer voter registration. The decline, the report says, might explain why 53 percent of Nevada’s low-income citizens 18 and older are not registered to vote — the third-highest percentage of the 44 states examined in the study.

The result is that even as Nevada’s population increases, participation by the poor in elections in the Silver State is shrinking, said Scott Novakowski, senior policy analyst for Demos, a New York-based think tank and advocacy center. Novakowski is one of the authors of the report “Unequal Access: Neglecting the National Voter Registration Act, 1995-2007.”

He argues that Nevada and other states could do more to put into effect the federal law that seeks to make voter registration routine at offices offering food stamps, welfare and Medicaid benefits. At stake is “political empowerment,” Novakowski said — particularly in light of the 2008 presidential election. -- Agencies slip in registering poor to vote - Las Vegas Sun

Thanks to Scott Novakowski for the link.