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

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July 31, 2008

Alaska: federal court orders state to provide ballots in Yup'ik (with court doc)

The federal court in Alaska has entered an order requiring the State of Alaska to --

1. Provide mandatory poll worker training.
2. Hire a language assistance coordinator fluent in Yup’ik.
3. Recruit bilingual poll workers or translators.
4. Provide sample ballots in written Yup’ik.
5. Provide pre-election publicity in Yup’ik.
6. Ensure the accuracy of translations.
7. Provide a Yup’ik glossary of election terms.
8. Submit pre-election and post-election progress reports.

The order is attached. Thanks to Neil Bradley for sending this to me.

July 30, 2008

California: AG Brown and ballot-initiative sponsors fight over name

The San Francisco Chronicle reports: Attorney General Jerry Brown is trying to stack the deck against a November ballot measure barring same-sex marriage by declaring in his formal ballot description that it "eliminates the right of same-sex couples to marry," sponsors of the initiative charged in a lawsuit Tuesday.

Backers of Proposition 8 argued that they are not trying to eliminate anyone's rights but are simply seeking to restore the definition of marriage that existed in California before May 15, when the state Supreme Court struck down the law defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman.

Brown, whose office prepares the title and summary of each measure on the state ballot, chose wording for both that is "inherently argumentative and highly likely to create prejudice" against Prop. 8, attorney Andrew Pugno said in the suit, filed in Sacramento County Superior Court.

The suit asks a judge to order a different title, such as "Limit on Marriage," the wording in the initiative petitions that 1.2 million registered voters signed to place the measure on the Nov. 4 ballot. Pugno said the judge could also delete Brown's heading and use the measure's brief text as its title: "Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California." -- Prop. 8 backers sue to change ballot wording

Arizona: GOP accuses Dem candidate of reporting contributions too early

The Arizona Republic reports: The Arizona Republican Party has accused Democrat Bob Lord of violating fundraising laws in a complaint to the Federal Election Commission.

The complaint was filed last week and became public earlier this week.

Lord, an attorney, is challenging seven-term Congressman John Shadegg in Congressional District 3. Lord has raised more than $1 million, far more than any previous Shadegg opponent.

Randy Pullen, chairman of the Arizona Republicans, said in a letter to the commission that Lord apparently counted donations received after the June 30 reporting deadline as part of the funds raised by the deadline. Pullen said that violates the law. -- The rules of reporting funds at issue in Shadegg-Lord race

New group formed -- Americans for Redistricting Reform

From a press release: Today, Americans for Redistricting Reform (ARR), a national nonpartisan umbrella organization committed to raising public awareness of redistricting abuses and promoting solutions that benefit voters and strengthen our democracy, announced its formation and launched a new website:

ARR is comprised of groups from across the political spectrum that recognize the critical need to reform our nation’s redistricting process. Advisory Committee member organizations in ARR include: Brennan Center for Justice, Campaign Legal Center, Committee for Economic Development, Common Cause, Council for Excellence in Government, Fair Vote, League of Women Voters, Reform Institute, Republican Main Street Partnership, and U.S. PIRG. A number of civil rights groups are also involved in this project and have offered helpful advice and information on redistricting reform.

In conjunction with the web launch, numerous advisory committee member organizations sent a letter today to the House urging House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Minority Leader John Boehner to hold hearings on pending redistricting reform legislation introduced in the first year of the 110th Congress (the full letter is below).

The letter asks House Leadership to take action on reforming the redistricting process before the post-2010 census round of redistricting gets underway. The letter notes that redistricting reform will bring about more transparency and an expanded role in the process for our citizens, and will help ensure that competitiveness, accountability and fair representation remain healthy parts of our democratic process.

Alabama: new suit over Jefferson County commission vacancy (court doc attached)

The Birmingham News reports: A voter in Jefferson County Commission District 1 filed a federal suit Tuesday asking judges to block the court-ordered Nov. 4 vote for the commission seat unless the election is cleared by the U.S. Justice Department.

The suit, filed on behalf of Doris Powell, said the planned election is improper without clearance by the U.S. Justice Department under the Voting Rights Act because it represents a change in county voting law.

The suit asks for a three-judge panel to block the election unless Justice Department approval comes in by Sept. 14, the deadline for county elections officials to send the ballot to the printer.

"We want an election to be held that is valid under federal law," said Powell's lawyer, Ed Still. "If they can get preclearance in time to print the ballot, that will be fine. But we don't think that's going to happen." -- Judges are asked to block Nov. 4 election unless cleared by the U.S. Justice Department-

Note: James Blacksher is my co-counsel. The complaint is attached.

July 29, 2008

"Emergency Voting Changes"

John Tanner (of the Justice Department) has an article in the latest Alabama Lawyer on Emergency Voting Changes. By the way, the picture at the bottom of page 295 is not John Tanner.

July 28, 2008

Obama's strategy to increase the black vote

The Washington Post reports: At the heart of the Obama campaign's strategy is a national effort to increase registration and turnout among the millions of Democratic-inclined Americans who have not been voting, particularly younger people and African Americans. The push began during the primaries but expanded this month to a nationwide registration drive led by 3,000 volunteers dispatched around the country.

Gaining greater African American support could well put Obama over the top in states where Democrats have come close in the past two elections, and could also help him retain the big swing states of Pennsylvania and Michigan.

If 95 percent of black voters support Obama in November, in line with a recent Washington Post-ABC News national poll, he can win Florida if he increases black turnout by 23 percent over 2004, assuming he performs at the same levels that Democratic candidate John F. Kerry did with other voters that year.

Obama can win Nevada if he increases black turnout by 8 percent. Ohio was so close in 2004 that if Obama wins 95 percent of the black vote, more than Kerry did, he will win the state without a single extra voter. But an increase in overall black turnout could help offset a poorer performance among other voters.

The push has also raised Democrats' hopes of reclaiming Southern states with large black populations, such as Georgia and North Carolina, where low turnout among voters of all races has left much more untapped potential than in traditionally competitive states such as Ohio. Obama, who himself led a huge voter-registration drive in Chicago in 1992, has said he could compete in states such as Mississippi by increasing black turnout by 30 percent. -- For Obama, Hurdles in Expanding Black Vote -

July 27, 2008

Nevada: term limits valid, court holds; 21 find their campaigns are over

The Reno Gazette-Journal reports: One day before Nevada's early voting was set to begin, the state Supreme Court confirmed Friday that an amendment to the state Constitution barring public officials from serving more than 12 years is valid -- effectively ending the campaigns of 21 veteran officeholders.

However, state legislators who were elected in the Nov. 5, 1996, election and officially took office before the term limit provision became effective on Nov. 27, 1996, are not affected by the ruling, the court said in a second opinion.

A lawmaker's term in office begins the day after election, so those who won their seats in 1996 were already on the job when the term-limit amendment was finalized. But public officials begin their jobs in January, so those elected in 1996 didn't start work until 1997, after the amendment's effective date. -- State's high court: 12-year limits valid | | Reno Gazette-Journal

Hat-tip to How Appealing for the link.

"Black Radio on Obama Is Left’s Answer to Limbaugh "

The New York Times reports: Warren Ballentine, one of black talk radio’s new stars, was on a tear against Senator John McCain as he broadcast from the Greenbriar Mall here last week, blithely dismissing Mr. McCain’s kind words about Senator Barack Obama at the recent N.A.A.C.P. national convention. ...

Rush Limbaugh, meet your black liberal counterprogramming. Mr. Ballentine is one of the many African-American radio hosts and commentators who are aggressively advocating for Mr. Obama’s election on black-oriented radio stations daily.

Since Mr. Limbaugh first flexed his tonsils two decades ago, Democrats have publicly worried about their lack of an answer to him and his imitators, who have proven so adept at motivating conservative Republicans to go to the polls, especially for President Bush.

Now it is Mr. Obama, the presumptive Democratic nominee, who has a harmonious chorus of broadcast supporters addressing a vital part of his coalition, feeding and reflecting the excitement blacks have for his candidacy in general. Mr. Obama is getting support from white liberal talk radio hosts as well, but the backing he is getting from black radio hosts could be especially helpful to his campaign’s efforts to increase black turnout and raise historically low voter registration enough to change the math of presidential elections in battlegrounds and traditionally Republican states like this one. -- Black Radio on Obama Is Left’s Answer to Limbaugh

July 26, 2008

Alabama: parties and candidates have deadline for county commission election

The Birmingham News reports: Jefferson County's Democrat and Republican parties will pick candidates by Aug. 6 in the court-ordered election for the County Commission's District 1 seat, a Circuit Court judge ruled Friday.

Independents can qualify to run if they get 914 signatures of District 1 voters by Aug. 27, according to a written decision filed by Circuit Judge Scott Vowell.

The Alabama Supreme Court ordered the Nov. 4 vote in a ruling about a months-long legal dispute over how to fill the commission vacancy created when Larry Langford resigned to become Birmingham mayor. ...

Vowell's order did not address whether officials would have to obtain clearance from the U.S. Justice Department under the Voting Rights Act of 1965. A lawyer for Attorney General Troy King said last week his office would seek clearance, but would appeal any order from Vowell setting a deadline. -- Parties told to pick candidates for Jefferson County Commission seat by Aug. 6-

Disclosure: I represent one of the parties in this case.

July 24, 2008

New Mexico: Brennan Center sues over voter registration restrictions

The Brennan Center announces: Today the Brennan Center for Justice, along with pro bono law firms Davis Polk & Wardwell and Freedman Boyd Hollander Goldberg & Ives, filed a lawsuit in state court in Albuquerque challenging a New Mexico law that significantly restricts the ability of voter registration groups to register new voters and threatens to block thousands of eligible New Mexico citizens from registering and voting in the 2008 elections as unconstitutional and inconsistent with federal and state law. Plaintiffs in the case are the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD), the Federation of American Women's Clubs Overseas Inc. (FAWCO), New Mexico Public Interest Research Group (NMPIRG), and the Southwest Organizing Project (SWOP). Plaintiffs typically register thousands of New Mexico citizens (especially low income, minority, disabled, and young citizens) to vote but have suspended or dramatically curtailed their operations as a result of the challenged law.

There are currently over half a million unregistered eligible voters in New Mexico. The suit claims that New Mexico's law—New Mexico Statutes Annotated § 1-4-49, and New Mexico Administrative Rules §§—both enacted in 2005-constitutes an unconstitutional burden on free speech and association by impeding civic groups from helping eligible voters to register.

"The law aggressively discourages civic organizations from helping New Mexico citizens to exercise their basic right to vote, and threatens voter registration drives across the state," Robby Rodriguez from SWOP stated. --

The Brennan Center has a link to the complaint.

House Judiciary Committee hearing on "lessons learned from the 2004 presidential election"

The House Judiciary Committee is holding a hearing today on Hearing on Lessons Learned from the 2004 Presidential Election. J. Gerald Hebert will be testifying. I have an advance copy of his testimony here.

July 23, 2008

Alabama: Section 5 case, motion to dismiss or affirm filed in US Supreme Court

This morning, my co-counsel and I filed the Motion to Dismiss or Affirm the appeal of Gov. Riley in Riley v. Plump, No. 07-1460, U.S. Supreme Court. The questions presented are:

1. Whether this Court lacks jurisdiction over the present appeal because appellant’s notice of appeal was untimely filed.

2. Whether section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1973c, requires preclearance when a covered jurisdiction enacts a statute repealing its preexisting law mandating special elections to fill vacancies on a county governing body and replaces it with a provision providing for temporary gubernatorial appointment.

In this case, Gov. Riley argues that this case is covered by the Court's recent decision in Riley v. Kennedy, but our brief shows this case falls squarely within the “routine consequence of § 5” that a state must “administer a law it has repealed,” unless and until it receives preclearance of the new law. Riley v. Kennedy, 128 S. Ct. at 1986.

We also submitted this letter to the Clerk to inform him of additional developments in the case.

July 22, 2008

DSCC runs ads in a "gray area"

The Hill reports: National Democrats are trying their luck with a series of candidate ads that inhabit a gray area of the law, and observers say the approach could be a game-changer in the continuing battle over campaign finance reform.

In recent weeks the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) has begun its 2008 ad campaign by funding issue ads that feature their candidates in Mississippi and Oregon and are coordinated with their campaigns.

However, the ads don’t expressly ask viewers to vote for those candidates, and Democrats maintain that this loophole will allow them to spend lots more money on the television spots.

Campaign finance regulations restrict the amount of money the DSCC can spend on coordinated efforts with a candidate’s campaign. But because the ads don’t ask viewers to vote for the candidates, Democrats contend that law doesn’t apply.

Republicans argue the ads are illegal — or at the very least, unethical — and have filed complaints with the Federal Election Commission (FEC). The ads are also being judged in the court of public opinion, and the GOP has gained some traction with a media blitz. -- - DSCC pushes the envelope with issue ads featuring candidates

Leadership PACs use most money for non-campaign activities

Marketplace, the public radio program, is running a series this week on leadership PACs: Companies and unions have used political action committees to raise money for congressional candidates for years. Thirty years ago a couple of congressmen copied the idea with a view to raising money for their parties and political allies in tough election fights — and the Leadership PAC was born.

Today, Leadership PACs are booming. Those who run them can accept bigger donations than they can to their election campaign funds. The donations typically are from lobbyists and other special interests.

Marketplace identified almost 350 political action committees run by current and former members of congress, governors and unelected candidates. These PACs raised more than $400 million since 2000, but they gave away just $150 million to federal candidates' campaigns, according to Federal Election Commission reports. -- PAC Men

Alabama: new suit on felon voting filed (with court docs attached)

The Birmingham News reports: A lawsuit claims the state of Alabama is violating the constitutional rights of thousands of convicted felons by denying them the right to vote.

The suit, filed Monday by the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Alabama, contends that Alabama Secretary of State Beth Chapman and county registrars are wrongly requiring thousands of felons to apply to the Board of Pardons and Paroles to have voting rights restored. ...

The Alabama Constitution says people convicted of crimes of "moral turpitude" cannot vote until they get their rights restored. However, the state constitution does not define a crime of moral turpitude.

The Legislature in 2003 named 15 felonies that warrant the criminal losing his or her voting rights, and the ACLU's lawsuit asserts that only the Legislature can set voting requirements.

But ACLU lawyer Sam Brooke said his group believes local registrars are improperly going beyond that law and denying others the right to register, partly based on a 2005 opinion issued by the attorney general's office. -- ACLU lawsuit challenges Alabama voting practice-

Attached are the complaint, motion for preliminary injunction, and motion for class certification. Thanks to the ACLU of Alabama for sending them to me.

July 21, 2008

How to exceed the limit on campaign contributions

Nate writes at The latest FEC filings reveal that Hillary Clinton's campaign owed more than $25 million in debt as of June 30. The problem is not quite as bad as that initial price tag would suggest, as about $13 million of the $25 million in debt is owed to Clinton herself. Under federal finance law, Clinton will not be able to recoup more than $250,000 of that money once the convention occurs and her campaign is officially terminated.

Nevertheless, the other half of the debt -- about $12 million -- takes the form of accounts payable owed to individual vendors. A substantial amount of that ($5.3 million) is owed to Mark Penn's consulting firm, and another million-plus to other pollsters and consultants. But there are also more mundane sorts of expenses. Approximately $2.0 million is owed to event-staging companies such as caterers, equipment rental firms and lighting companies. Another $1.2 million is owed to printers, and $0.5 million to phone banking companies. Almost all of the companies in these categories are small businesses. The Clinton campaign also has about half a million dollars in unpaid phone bills owed to AT&T and Verizon, and $230,000 in uncompensated travel expenses to campaign staff.

Clinton's obligations for paying off her debt are a little murky. In theory, all of her vendors -- yes, even Mark Penn -- are required to make a good-faith effort to collect their debts because otherwise this might constitute an illegal campaign contribution. Consider the following, for instance: Verizon allows the Clinton campaign to accumulate $300,000 in cellphone expenses, but lets the campaign know that it's not going to worry about the bills being paid. This is tantamount to Verizon donating $300,000 directly to the campaign, which is illegal under campaign finance law. -- Electoral Projections Done Right

Are election officials ready for this fall?

The New York Times reports: With millions of new voters heading to the polls this November and many states introducing new voting technologies, election officials and voting monitors say they fear the combination is likely to create long lines, stressed-out poll workers and late tallies on Election Day.

At least 11 states will use new voting equipment as the nation shifts away from touch-screen machines and to the paper ballots of optical scanners, which will be used by more than 55 percent of voters.

About half of all voters will use machines unlike the ones they used in the last presidential election, experts say, and more than half of the states will use new statewide databases to verify voter registration.

With Senator Barack Obama’s candidacy expected to attract many people who have never encountered a voting machine, voting experts and election officials say they are worried that the system may buckle under the increased strain. -- Influx of Voters Expected to Test New Technology -

July 20, 2008

Pennsylvania: email will be part of the proof in 'bonusgate' prosecution

The Morning Call reports: The year 2004 was a busy one for state lawmakers: a budget showdown, of course. But also passage of a law allowing slots casinos. And a short but intense fall session capping the two-year legislative cycle.

That November Mike Manzo, the top aide to the top House Democrat, e-mailed to the No. 2 man a ''comprehensive list of suggested year-end bonuses.'' In it Manzo referred not just to the legislative agenda, but also ''outside activities'' that include special elections, a general election and a ''Nader effort.'' ...

Now the party's over: Attorney General Tom Corbett recently charged Manzo, Veon and 10 others with theft, conspiracy and conflict of interest in a burgeoning scandal known as Bonusgate. They're accused of using tax dollars for campaign work, which is illegal. Among their targets: Getting Independent Ralph Nader off the 2004 presidential ballot in Pennsylvania.

To help make the Bonusgate case, Corbett's agents combed through thousands of e-mails between staffers, lawmakers and others within the legislative branch. -- Capitol scandal has e-mail trail

It just goes to prove the aphorism quoted by a friend of mine: "Never speak if you can nod. Never nod if you can wink. And wink as little as possible."

July 19, 2008

Georgia: cyber-security expert says Diebold patch may have swung 2002 Senate and Governor election

Raw Story reports: A leading cyber-security expert and former adviser to Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) says he has fresh evidence regarding election fraud on Diebold electronic voting machines during the 2002 Georgia gubernatorial and senatorial elections.

Stephen Spoonamore is the founder and until recently the CEO of Cybrinth LLC, an information technology policy and security firm that serves Fortune 100 companies. At a little noticed press conference in Columbus, Ohio Thursday, he discussed his investigation of a computer patch that was applied to Diebold Election Systems voting machines in Georgia right before that state's November 2002 election. ...

Spoonamore received the Diebold patch from a whistleblower close to the office of Cathy Cox, Georgia’s then-Secretary of State. In discussions with RAW STORY, the whistleblower -- who wishes to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation -- said that he became suspicious of Diebold's actions in Georgia for two reasons. The first red flag went up when the computer patch was installed in person by Diebold CEO Bob Urosevich, who flew in from Texas and applied it in just two counties, DeKalb and Fulton, both Democratic strongholds. The source states that Cox was not privy to these changes until after the election and that she became particularly concerned over the patch being installed in just those two counties.

The whistleblower said another flag went up when it became apparent that the patch installed by Urosevich had failed to fix a problem with the computer clock, which employees from Diebold and the Georgia Secretary of State’s office had been told the patch was designed specifically to address. -- The Raw Story | GOP cyber-security expert suggests Diebold tampered with 2002 election

Hat-tip to TalkLeft for the link.

Ohio: judge orders state to put Libertarian Party on ballot

The New York Times reports: Ohio must include the Libertarian Party’s nominees on its ballot in November, a court has ruled, complicating Senator John McCain’s effort to win conservative votes in a hotly contested state rich in electoral votes.

The Libertarian candidate, Bob Barr, formerly a Republican congressman from Georgia, will lead his party’s ticket, which includes the vice-presidential candidate, Wayne Allyn Root, and candidates for governor and several Congressional seats. ...

The court order, issued Thursday, directs the Ohio secretary of state, Jennifer L. Brunner, to disregard her office’s current guidelines for ballot inclusion, which require eligible parties to gather valid signatures equal to one-half of 1 percent of the total vote in 2006 or to have garnered at least 5 percent of the last election’s votes. The Libertarians submitted 6,545 signatures in March, far below the approximately 20,000 needed. Ms. Brunner’s office has not decided whether to appeal the ruling. ...

On the other side of the political spectrum, Ralph Nader is seeking to run on the Ohio ballot as an independent candidate, which requires 5,000 valid signatures. He plans to submit 15,000, the maximum amount Ohio law allows, in August, said Jason Kafoury, national coordinator for Mr. Nader’s campaign. -- Court Orders Ohio to Include Libertarian Party on Ballot

Oklahoma: Libertarians sue for ballot access

The Oklahoman reports: A third-party presidential candidate has filed a federal lawsuit to try and force his way on to Oklahoma's ballot in November.

Bob Barr, a former Republican congressman selected as Libertarian presidential candidate, contends state election laws are discriminatory because unrecognized political party candidates cannot file to run for president in Oklahoma. -- Libertarian sues to get spot on ballot |

July 18, 2008

Scotland: educational charity became involved in politics, report says

The Herald reports: The think tank set up in memory of the late Labour leader John Smith broke the laws governing charities by getting involved in party politics, the Charity Commission has ruled.

The commission, which completed a 17-month investigation into the organisation closely linked to the Prime Minister Gordon Brown, voiced concern that the Smith Institute strayed too far from its educational remit by hosting events at 11 Downing Street and by issuing material of a party political nature.

However, the commission concluded that there was "no evidence" to support an allegation that Mr Brown, who was chancellor during the period in question, used the institute to "further his political aspirations". ...

The report found a number of instances "where the balance and neutrality of the institute's work were compromised by a party political association". -- John Smith Institute Broke Charity Laws On Political Support (from The Herald )

July 17, 2008

GOP claims trademark infringement

Politico reports: Don’t mess with their elephant.

Or at least, don’t infringe on what the Republican National Committee refers to as the Official Elephant Logo (Federal Trademark Registration 1908397). The phrase appears in a letter demanding that a Web-based t-shirt company “cease and desist” from putting a version of the iconic Republican symbol on shirts and other merchandise.

The demands from the RNC to the California-based put the committee at the intersection of political speech and trademark law, legal experts said. The company is refusing to comply with the letter, despite a second letter from the committee referring to “further action” and possible damages.

“If you want to say ‘GOP’ and design an elephant that’s similar, want to design an elephant that’s not precisely the same as ours, that’s fine,” RNC chief counsel Sean Cairncross told Politico. “Our elephant is specific. It’s stylized, it’s blue and red, it has three stars across its back that are tilted. They’re using that precise elephant.”

The lawyer for CafePress, Paul Alan Levy, called the RNC demand an “abuse of trademark law to suppress discussion of topics of substantial public interest.” -- RNC fights use of elephant logo - Ben Smith -

Missouri: court orders social services department to follow NVRA

AP reports: The Missouri Department of Social Services has been violating a federal law that requires it to help its clients register to vote, a federal judge has ruled.

U.S. District Judge Nanette Laughrey issued a preliminary injunction Tuesday, ordering the social services agency to comply with the National Voter Registration Act, commonly known as the "motor-voter" law.

The agency said it would follow the judge’s order. ...

The National Voter Registration Act was enacted in 1993 and requires state public assistance agencies, which administer such programs as food stamps and Medicaid, to provide its clients with the chance to register to vote. The agencies also are required to help the clients complete the registrations. --

The decision is available on the site of Demos.

Massachusetts: same-day registration bill before Senate today

The Eagle-Tribune reports: Lawrence Mayor Michael Sullivan blasted a Beacon Hill plan to allow same-day voter registration saying it would open the "floodgates" to fraud.

The Senate is expected to vote on the proposal today. Beginning in November it would allow people to register to vote at their town or city hall and then cast their ballot. ...

Augustus pointed to studies showing as many as 220,000 more people would vote if they could register at the polls.

The bill, aimed at helping people who moved but didn't re-register to vote, would contain current antifraud safeguards. Voters would still have to show proof of identification and residency, such as a driver's license and utility bill. They would also have to sign an affidavit attesting to their identity. -- Lawrence mayor slams same-day voter registration bill -, North Andover, MA

Alaska: Yup'ik ballots not requied, court rules

The Bristol Bay Times reports: The state of Alaska cannot legally be required to provide written voting materials in Yup’ik.

The ruling, made Tuesday, July 8, by U.S. District Judge Timothy Burgess, was handed down just before a three-judge panel heard arguments on whether the state of Alaska and the city of Bethel should be required, by court order, to provide Yup'ik-speaking voters with other forms of language assistance in upcoming elections.

Such assistance would include Yup’ik-speaking translators.

There is no date set on when the panel of federal judges will hand down their ruling.

Burgess' ruling was based on a section of the Voting Rights Act that declares that, if a language is “historically unwritten,” a state would only have to provide oral voting assistance for speakers of that minority language. -- The Bristol BayTimes - State won't put Yup'ik on ballots

Alabama: Foley will not allow annexed residents to vote in city council election

The Mobile Press-Register reports: This south Baldwin city will advance to the Aug. 26 municipal election using districts drawn in 2004, according to a vote by elected leaders this week.

That means more than 1,000 residents who live within 74 areas that have been annexed into Foley since 2004 won't be able to vote in City Council races as the five council districts' borders were established before the properties were part of the city.

Residents in those areas will, however, be able to vote in the mayoral race between incumbent John Konair and challenger James Wood.

The City Council voted unanimously to move forward with that plan after Koniar told officials at a special 5:30 p.m. Tuesday meeting that as of that afternoon, the U.S. Department of Justice hadn't approved the proposed 2008 map. That left city leaders no choice but to use the already approved 2004 map, Konair said. -- Districts from 2004 to be used for voting-

California: Supreme Court leaves "Marriage Protection Act" on fall ballot

The Los Angeles Times reports: A voter initiative to reinstate a ban on same-sex marriage will remain on the November ballot, the California Supreme Court decided unanimously Wednesday.

The court issued a brief order rejecting arguments that the initiative, Proposition 8, was an illegal constitutional revision and that voters had been misled when they signed petitions to put it on the ballot. The decision, reached in closed session during the court's weekly conference, cleared the way for what some observers expect to be a close vote on the marriage measure. ...

If approved by voters, Proposition 8, called the "California Marriage Protection Act," would add a provision to the state Constitution that says, "Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California." -- Bid to ban gay marriage will stay on ballot, California Supreme Court rules - Los Angeles Times

The San Francisco Chronicle reports: The lawsuit against Prop. 8 argued that the one-sentence initiative was actually a broad attack on basic rights recognized by the court - a measure that would simultaneously deprive one group of fundamental freedoms by majority vote and strip the courts of their ability to enforce constitutional guarantees.

Although its backers call it a constitutional amendment, Prop. 8 is actually a constitutional revision, the suit contended. A revision must be submitted to the voters by a two-thirds majority of the state Legislature.

The last time the court accepted such an argument was in 1990, when it overturned part of a voter-approved constitutional amendment on crime. In that case, the justices said a provision requiring state judges to follow federal interpretations of defendants' rights was a broad attack on judicial authority and a "fundamental change in our ... governmental plan."

Lawyers for the Prop. 8 backers argued that an amendment to restore the state's previous definition of marriage would leave courts with "full authority to continue protecting the rights of minorities." They said equally far-reaching changes in California law - for example, the restoration of the death penalty in 1972 and the overhaul of the tax system under Proposition 13 in 1978 - were accomplished by initiative. -- Challenge tossed, gay marriage ban on ballot

Google launces political-speech search gadget

The Official Google Blog reports: In this U.S. election year, what information could be more important than the candidates own words to describe their views, actions and platforms?

Our teams have been working to develop tools to make it easier for people to track election-related information. A few months back, YouTube encouraged everyone to participate in the discussion process through the CNN/YouTube debates, Google Checkout offered an easy and fast way for individuals to make contributions to political candidates, and the Geo team created maps and layers to inform voters during elections.

Today, the Google speech team part of Google Research is launching the Google Elections Video Search gadget, our modest contribution to the electoral process. With the help of our speech recognition technologies, videos from YouTube s Politicians channels are automatically transcribed from speech to text and indexed. Using the gadget you can search not only the titles and descriptions of the videos, but also their spoken content. Additionally, since speech recognition tells us exactly when words are spoken in the video, you can jump right to the most relevant parts of the videos you find. -- Official Google Blog: In their own words : political videos meet Google speech-to-text technology

Hat-tip to beSpacific.

July 16, 2008

Obama has your number -- and apparently lots more

Salon reports: About every week or so, you get an e-mail from Barack Obama campaign manager David Plouffe, or top deputy Steve Hildebrand, or maybe Obama himself. They re breezy and informal, addressing you by first NAME at the outset before they ask you to donate money at the end . But that s just the beginning.

You know, of course, that Obama has your e-mail address. You may not have realized that he probably also has your phone number and knows where you re registered to vote -- including whether that s a house or an apartment building, and whether you rent or own. He s got a decent estimate of your household income and whether you OPENed a credit card recently. He knows how many kids you re likely to have and what you do for a living. He knows what magazines and catalogs you get and whether you re more apt to get your news from cable TV, the local newspaper or online. And he knows what time of day you tend to get around to plowing through your in box and responding to messages.

The 5 million people on Obama s e-mail list are just the start of what political strategists say is one of the most sophisticated voter databases ever built. Using a combination of the information that supporters are volunteering, data the campaign is digging up on its own and powerful market research tools first developed for corporations, Obama s staff has combined new online organizing with old-school methods of voter outreach to assemble a central database for hitting people with messages tailored as closely as possible to what they re likely to want to hear. It s an ambitious melding of corporate marketing and grassroots organizing that the Obama campaign sees as a key to winning this fall. -- Barack Obama s super marketing machine | Salon News

Alabama: "Where's my $500?"

The Birmingham News reports: "Where is my $500?" asked Larry Banks Jr., striding up to a big blue tent outside the Ragland Municipal Complex.

The tent shaded lemonade, crackers and raffle tickets - just some of the incentives laid out to encourage the people of Ragland to show up at the polls for Tuesday's runoff election.

There was the promise of a raffle with a cash prize ranging from $50 to $1,000, depending on how many people turned out to vote. There was a 10 percent discount at the local grocery store. ...

The precinct that contains Ragland has a bit more than 1,900 registered voters. In the June 3 election, only 260 of them showed up. ...

When all the ballots had been marked and cast Tuesday evening, 519 people in the precinct had voted, Daffron said, for a turnout of more than 25 percent. -- Ragland rallies to increase voter turnout-

July 15, 2008

UK: government proposes to elect all members of House of Lords

The Scotsman reports: Jack Straw, the Justice Secretary, yesterday outlined proposals to make the Lords fully or mainly elected, although he admitted this would not happen until after the next general election, due by June 2010.

He wants the number of peers reduced from more than 700 to no more than 450, and would abolish the hereditary peers – those sitting in the Lords by right of family ties. Their number has already been reduced to 92 by reforms introduced when Tony Blair was prime minister.

Peers would serve single terms of between 12 and 15 years, compared with MPs, who have to be re-elected every five years.

The Tories also back reform, meaning that changes are likely to be put before MPs which ever party forms the next government. But a number of members of the Lords, which voted by a huge majority last year to reject having the second chamber elected, said they would oppose the changes vigorously. Baroness D'Souza, who heads a group of 61 independent or cross-bench peers, said she was concerned that the primacy of the Commons could be undermined if both MPs and peers were elected. -- Peers vow to oppose planned reforms in Lords amid fears for parliament's integrity

Other stories on this are in the Herald and the Times.

July 13, 2008

Florida: LWV's lawsuit may not effect on this year's registration drives

The Times-Union reports: Confusion over how citizens can register to vote is threatening to muddle upcoming elections in Florida.

Voter registration drives statewide are under fire from a new state law that establishes stiff fees for groups who undertake them. The League of Women Voters is challenging that law. ...

The League of Women Voters of Florida is suing the state, saying the 2007 law will have a "chilling" effect on registration drives. They argue that the regulations disproportionately affect poor, African-American, Hispanic and women voters because they are twice as likely to register through a drive, said Dianne Wheatley-Giliotti, past president of the league.

The court battle over the law won't be resolved for at least two months. So the rule won't be in place for at least the Aug. 26 primary, Davis said. The registration deadline is July 6.

A federal judge has until mid-August to decide on a legal challenge to the law. Even if she decides it's permissible, it might not take effect before the registration deadline for the Nov. 4 election. The registration deadline for the November election is Oct. 6. -- Voter law threatens to cloud elections --

FedEx will ship overseas ballots at steep discount

The Hill reports: Seeking to alleviate a top concern for overseas absentee voters, FedEx will team up with a voter participation group and ship ballots for free or at heavy discounts this fall, the company announced this week. ...

FedEx is partnering with Overseas Vote Foundation (OVF) for the program, which it is calling "Express Your Vote." The groups announced the initiative Wednesday.

"The number one question we get around election time is: did my ballot arrive and did it get counted?" OVF President and CEO Susan Dzieduszycka-Suinat told The Hill. Her organization has been dedicated to overseas voter registration and participation since 2005.

Overseas voters will be able to print FedEx forms and request ballot pickups on OVF’s website. FedEx will send confirmation emails when votes are delivered, and voters will have access to FedEx tracking tools via OVF's site, allowing them to monitor their ballots' voyages. -- - FedEx, voter group hope to ease ballot shipping woes

Arizona: supporters sue over initiative's description on ballot

Capitol Media Services reports: Backers of a plan to hike state sales taxes for the next 30 years filed suit Friday because they don t like the description to be given to voters about the ballot measure at least in part because it spells out the size of the proposed increase.

The lawsuit filed in Maricopa County Superior Court specifically objects to the Legislative Council describing the proposed levy "a 17.8 percent tax increase." That according to attorneys for the group pushing the initiative is "misleading."

But during the hearing of the council earlier this week Stan Barnes who lobbies for road-tax supporters conceded the number is in fact "deadly accurate." What he wanted however was to describe the increase only as one penny on every dollar spent. ...

The actual language of every ballot measure is sent to the home of each registered voter. But given the complexity of many of the proposals - this one alone is 15 pages - state law requires the Legislative Council, made up of lawmakers from both parties, to craft "an impartial analysis" of each one.

In this case, the majority of council members voted to say that approval of this initiative - dubbed "Transportation and Infrastructure Moving Arizona's Economy" - would increase the state sales tax from 5.6 cents on every dollar to 6.6 cents, a 17.8 percent increase beginning in 2010. -- Backers of tax hike want ballot wording changed | Arizona Politics |

Pennsylvania: 12 pols and staffers charged in "Bonusgate" arrests, some for work on anti-Nader case

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports: Grand jurors here [Harrisburg] and in Pittsburgh cataloged what they described as a culture of corruption that allowed former state Rep. Michael Veon, current Rep. Sean Ramaley and 10 current and former Democratic staffers to divert millions of dollars in state resources, including more than $1 million in illegal pay bonuses.

The jurors said Mr. Veon and the staff members conspired to arrange hefty year-end pay bonuses to House employees who worked on political campaigns over a three-year period, while Mr. Ramaley is accused of working full-time on his 2004 House campaign in Beaver County while drawing a taxpayer salary as a member of Mr. Veon's staff.

The findings ran from the political to the salacious.

It found that tax money was used to bump third-party candidates Ralph Nader and Carl Romanelli from the Pennsylvania ballot in 2004 and 2006. Grand jurors said state money was used to provide a no-work job to a high-ranking House aide's mistress. -- 12 face charges in bonus scandal

Lancaster Online reports: The Harrisburg Patriot-News previously reported that all four legislative caucuses paid nearly $4 million in bonuses to state employees over the last few years. The grand jury investigating the allegations, dubbed Bonusgate, found that House Democrats paid the most — $1.2 million in bonuses for campaign activities from 2004 to 2006. ...

According to the grand jury, Paul Resch, of Columbia, Darlene Zerbe, of Lancaster and Jonathan Price, of Clay Township, were among at least 36 caucus employees who worked to challenge independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader's nominating petitions in 2004. The three local Democrats were not charged.

Democratic challenges resulted in Nader being knocked off the ballot, giving Democratic nominee John Kerry a better chance at winning the state that year. The grand jury report says none of the supervisors of a "veritable army of caucus staffers" ever asked the workers to take unpaid leave, and that the bulk of the research was done in the Capitol complex and in Veon's Beaver Falls district office.

The grand jury said Resch and Zerbe received unspecified bonuses for the Nader work; Price did not. Elsewhere in the report, the grand jury says Price, a Clay Township supervisor, was one of about 17 caucus employees assigned to work against state Senate candidate Mike Diven, a "thorn in the side" of Veon, in a 2005 special election in Allegheny County. -- Scandal touches 3 other Demos

Alabama: Many candidates violate Ethics Commission reporting requirement

The Mobile Press-Register reports: About a quarter of the candidates who appeared on Mobile and Baldwin county primary election ballots in June broke rules on disclosing their financial interests, according to information from the Alabama Ethics Commission and party officials.

Alabama law dictates that candidates who fail to submit that information on time be disqualified, and an incumbent on the Mobile County school board has been trying unsuccessfully to get his opponent booted from Tuesday's runoff ballot for filing the financial disclosure late.

But errors with other candidates' filings went largely unnoticed and were the result of confusing and sometimes ambiguous rules governing statement of economic interests forms, said candidates, party officials and the head of the Ethics Commission. -- Election filing rules often broken-

July 12, 2008

The New York Times reports: The presidential campaigns of Senators Barack Obama and John McCain moved Friday to disclose more information to the public about their top fund-raisers, after it was disclosed that they had been lax in identifying many of them.

Though not legally required, identifying elite fund-raisers who “bundle” millions of dollars in campaign contributions from acquaintances is a concern of watchdog groups devoted to promoting transparency and curbing the influence of money in politics.

In a bit of one-upmanship, the McCain organization issued a letter Friday to a group of campaign finance watchdogs announcing that it would begin publishing on its Web site the names of all its fund-raisers who bring in $50,000 or more, instead of the $100,000 and $250,000 thresholds it had used before.

The letter, signed by Rick Davis, the campaign’s manager, also said this list of bundlers would identify their occupations and employers, in addition to their home cities and states, which are already provided. Watchdogs say employment information is crucial to acquiring a sense of what a fund-raiser’s interests may be. -- Campaigns to Disclose More on Bundlers -

July 11, 2008

Slow disclosure of bundlers

The New York Times reports: Senators Barack Obama and John McCain have long been among the most outspoken critics of the influence of money in politics.

Yet records show that in their presidential campaigns, neither has lived up to his promise to fully disclose the identities of his top money collectors who bundle millions of dollars in campaign contributions.

Since November, Mr. Obama had added just two new names to a list of 326 fund-raisers who have bundled contributions of $50,000 or more for him, despite the campaign’s taking in more than $180 million during that time. ...

It is unclear how many bundlers might be missing from Mr. McCain’s list. He has enjoyed a surge in fund-raising in recent months, after struggling much of last year, and absorbed many former fund-raisers for Mitt Romney, Rudolph W. Giuliani and other Republican rivals who were not on his initial list.

Brian Rogers, a spokesman for Mr. McCain, said on Thursday that staff members were in the process of updating their bundler list. He said he believed it was “reasonable” to expect the campaign would add to it “every couple months.” -- Candidates Are Slow to Identify ‘Bundlers’

Arizona: Nader wins 2004 suit over petition restrictions

Capitol Media Services reports: Arizona's early June deadline for independent presidential candidates to get on the general election ballot is illegal, a federal appellate court ruled Wednesday.

In a unanimous decision, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals accepted the arguments by an attorney for Ralph Nader that the deadline, which applies only to those not affiliated with major parties, is unfair.

The judges rejected arguments by Secretary of State Jan Brewer the early deadline is necessary to print ballots for the November election. The judges said the state's arguments held no water because election officials don't know for weeks - or months - later what other issues will also be on the ballot.

And they noted the deadline doesn't apply to the major parties who are allowed to submit the names of their candidates for the ballot in August or even later.

Potentially more significant, the judges also agreed with Nader that it is illegal to forbid anyone but Arizona residents to circulate petitions for presidential candidates. -- News: Federal court opens door for Ralph Nader to run in Arizona | court, run, door : YumaSun

The opinion is here.

July 7, 2008

"Popular monitoring of popular elections"

Heather Gerken writes on Balkinization: Archon Fung, one of the most interesting thinkers at Harvard's Kennedy School, has just come up with an intriguing idea for monitoring elections: a teched-up, wiki-based system for reporting problems on election day. It's modeled on the award-winning British site,, where people report maintenance problems (graffiti, potholes, broken street lights), locating the problem on a map and often attaching photographs to the entry. The site is interactive; it reports when a problem has been fixed and maps where current problems are so that you can figure out how things are working in your neighborhood. As you'll see from his introductory site, Fung envisions a much bigger version of this idea -- a national "weather map of election conditions" that would show you where the biggest problems are occurring based on real-time entries by trained election monitors and everyday citizens. You could then drill down into the map, figuring out exactly where problems were occurring in your state, city . . . even your polling place. The visuals would look something like this map of gas prices. ...

The magic of Fung's idea is that it makes election problems visible even in the absence of an electoral meltdown. If enough people participated so that coverage is thorough and consistent -- and that's a big "if," as Fung recognizes -- the site would be a great way to draw people's attention to routine election problems. Indeed, I suspect that the site would be highly addictive. Like many others, I spent an inordinate amount of time reading the updates on election problems that Talking Points Memo and Ben Smith's Politico blog provided during the primaries. Those blogs, however, could provide only piecemeal information to their readers. By harnessing the power of the wiki, Fung's "myfairelection" site could provide coverage that is both more systemic (giving you a sense of the big picture) and yet more personalized (letting you see what's going on in your own neighborhood). -- Popular Monitoring of Popular Elections

July 6, 2008

Lack of Millionaire's amendment leaves some candidates scrambling for more donors

The Washington Post reports: In summer 2003, an Illinois state senator used a new law to collect campaign contributions six times the normal limit for his insurgent U.S. Senate race against a multimillionaire securities trader.

But last week the Supreme Court struck down that law, the Millionaire s Amendment, which helped launch the national political career of Sen. Barack Obama D-Ill. by leveling the financial playing field a bit. Writing for a 5 to 4 majority, Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. said the law amounted to an unprecedented penalty on candidates such as Obama s opponent who want to exercise the First Amendment right to spend their own money in a run for office.

House and Senate candidates who had counted on the same aid in taking on wealthy, self-financed opponents are now scrambling for help and advice. Six years after an overhaul of campaign finance law, they find themselves prohibited from accepting the same outsize donations that helped Obama, Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman I-Conn. and others win their seats. ...

In the first round of this summer's primary for Alabama's 2nd Congressional District, state Rep. Jay Love (R) donated $500,000 to his campaign. By waiting until May 20 to cross a self-financing threshold, he left his opponents less than two weeks to collect larger-than-normal donations.

Now, because of the court's ruling, Love is free to spend unlimited amounts of his own money against state Sen. Harri Anne Smith in the July 15 GOP runoff. Smith's donors, meanwhile, must abide by campaign finance limits. -- Fundraising Ruling Prompts a Scramble -

Republicans as agents of change

Doonesbury@Slate - Daily Dose explains that Republicans are agents of change -- "Changing the rules, changing the subject."

July 5, 2008

Louisana: Vitter wants to use campaign funds to pay legal bills related to hookers

The Times-Picayune reports on why being pol is such a great gig -- if you get into trouble, other people pay your legal bills: Sen. David Vitter, R-La., is asking the Federal Election Commission whether he can use campaign money to pay fees related to legal issues and bad publicity he confronted after being linked to a prostitution ring.

The letter from a Vitter attorney mentions $207,177.50 in costs, mostly legal fees, $70,000 of which the senator already has paid with his own money. The letter indicates that some of the money relates to legal representation before the Senate Ethics Committee that is "not the subject" of the request to the FEC.

As of March 31, Vitter listed $1.6 million in cash on hand in his campaign account. His office declined to comment on the FEC request.

In the letter Thursday to the FEC, Washington lawyer Jan Witold Baran wrote that the bills came about after Vitter's phone number appeared on the client list of an escort service operated by Deborah Jeane Palfrey. Baran said Palfrey tried to generate publicity by "targeting her subpoenas to well-known public officials" such as Vitter and a deputy U.S. secretary of state. -- Vitter hopes war chest can pay legal bills-

July 4, 2008

Alaska: Rep. Young spending big bucks on lawyers

AP reports: With an election-year corruption investigation looming, Rep. Don Young has tapped his campaign war chest to pay not only his own million-dollar legal tab but also to hire lawyers for his campaign manager, who is also under FBI scrutiny.

The Alaska Republican spent more than $35,000 between October 2007 and April on lawyers for longtime campaign manager Steven Dougherty. That's more than Dougherty himself made during that period and nearly as much as the campaign spent on political polling, according to campaign finance reports.

The payments, which are legal under federal law as long as they are associated with the candidate's official duties, are another indication of how the FBI investigation has become a drag on the congressman. Instead of coasting to a 19th term, Young is shelling out money to pay his bills and Dougherty's even as he faces a well-funded opponent in August's Republican primary. ...

Dougherty has worked for Young's campaigns since 1996 and became campaign manager in 2000. Employers may pay legal bills for their employees during criminal investigations as long as there aren't competing interests — if Dougherty wanted to cooperate with authorities investigating his boss, for instance. -- Rep. Young taps campaign

6th Anniversary

Six years ago, Votelaw was launched on Blogger. Lots has changed since then. I hardly knew who Barack Obama was. My parents and my ex-wife were still alive. I was living in the Washington, DC, area (I am now in Birmingham). And crude oil was selling for $24.09 a barrel.

But some things have not changed. I still listen to the reading of the Declaration of Independence on NPR. I still spend the 4th quietly. And I still blog.

"... And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor."

July 2, 2008

DOJ to go after 527s

The Swamp reports: In a letter to a campaign finance watchdog group, the Justice Department says it plans to make cracking down on so-called 527 groups a priority this election cycle.

The department was responding to an inquiry from Democracy 21, a bipartisan nonprofit that presses for aggressive enforcement of campaign finance laws.

Democracy 21 president Fred Wertheimer wrote to the department in May, noting that after the 2004 presidential election, the Federal Election Commission took civil enforcement actions against a number of 527 groups for illegally spending soft money to influence that election. The FEC found that four 527 groups alone had made massive illegal soft money expenditures totaling more than $200 million to influence the 2004 presidential campaign. ...

In response to Wertheimer's letter, Justice Department official John C. Keeney wrote:

The investigation and prosecution of knowing and willful violations of the Federal Election Campaign Act are priorities of this Department. Please be assured that we intend to vigorously pursue instances where individuals or organizations knowingly and intentionally violate the clear commands of this important statute.

Should you or your organization come into possession of information indicating that such intentional violations of established and known statutory duties and prohibitions have occurred, you should bring that information to the attention of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. -- The Swamp: DOJ to pursue rogue 527 groups

July 1, 2008

"Election Day"

The PBS documentary Election Day will air tonight on many PBS stations. Look for the P.O.V. series or check the local listings here.

Arizona: signatures challenged for use of P.O. box addresses

The Gallup Independent reports: Native American tribal, community and state leaders gathered on the lawn of Arizona’s Capitol June 25 to protest that their petition to vote rights were being assaulted.

The petition signatures of some Native American voters was being challenged on the grounds that they used post office boxes during the collection of signatures for nominating petitions in state House and Senate races in Northern Arizona.

State laws call for those signing petitions to give physical addresses, but many Native Americans living on reservations do not have physical addresses. ...

Mary Kim Titla, a member of the San Carlos Apache Tribe and a candidate for Congressional District 1, said a post office box is what Indians use to receive their bills and what they use to file their income taxes. ...

The nominating petitions challenge Navajo candidates Albert Tom and Chris Descheeny for the Arizona House. If these two candidates were disqualified for the race because of lack of valid signatures then their two opponents wouldn’t have any challengers except for write-in candidates. -- Natives protest challenge to rights

Florida: suit filed against write-in candidate "loophole"

The Tampa Tribune reports: Two registered voters have filed a lawsuit in Pasco County challenging the write-in candidate "loophole" in state election law.

They say the provision unfairly closed the Aug. 26 primary election in a county commission race, effectively disenfranchising 170,000 registered Democrats, Independents and minor party voters in Pasco.

Florida voters approved a constitutional amendment in 1998 to let all voters participate in primaries if all candidates in a race come from the same political party. In 2000, however, the state Division of Elections ruled that the primary is not open if the race includes any write-in candidates, who are considered general election candidates.

State Sen. Dave Aronberg, D-Greenacres, has been working to close the loophole, which he said politicians are exploiting. -- Suit Targets Write-In Candidates Loophole

UK: proposal to strip Scottish MPs of vote on English bills

The Scotsman reports: THE Conservatives' long-awaited response to the discrepancy between English and Scottish MPs' voting rights will be laid bare today, when Kenneth Clarke, the former chancellor, launches his Democracy Taskforce report.

Mr Clarke is to propose stripping Scots MPs of the right to vote at the crucial committee stage of bills if the legislation is on devolved matters that only apply to constituents south of the Border.

His proposals in the report, Answering the Question – Devolution, The West Lothian Question and the future of the Union, fall short of the creation of an English grand committee proposed by Sir Malcolm Rifkind, the former foreign secretary. Some activists claim Mr Clarke's proposals still give Scottish MPs too much power.

The report is to be launched in London today by Mr Clarke and Nick Herbert, the shadow justice secretary. Tam Dalyell, the former Labour MP who first pointed out the constitutional anomaly, leading it to be called the "West Lothian Question" after his seat at the time, said the detail of the proposals was vital. -- Scots MPs may lose right to vote on English bills - The Scotsman

Alabama: city elections just got more expensive

The Birmingham News reports: With qualifying beginning today for municipal elections, cities are finding out they have an unexpected expense - at least $50 a day for city clerks to handle absentee ballots.

In 2006, the Alabama Legislature passed a bill stating absentee election managers - which in most cases are city clerks - are entitled to receive the pay for 45 days prior to the election. The pay is for duties such as processing ballots, updating voter lists and verifying the identification of voters. By law, clerks can decline the pay.

Some cities say they just found out about the expense a few days ago, which has left them scrambling to set up provisions to pay the unbudgeted expense. -- Cities finding out they have an unexpected expense - at least $50 a day for city clerks to handle absentee ballots-