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

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August 30, 2008

Sarah Palin and Grover Cleveland

Oh, the gnashing of teeth among various pundits about Palin's inexperience (see DailyKos for a small roundup of newspaper editorials). And attacks from David Frum and Ramesh Ponnuru on National Review's website.

Compare her background to that of Grover Cleveland.

-- Elected Sheriff of Erie Co., NY, in 1870 for a 4-year term. Goes back into private law practice at the end of the term.

-- 1881, elected as mayor of Buffalo

-- 1882, elected as governor of New York

-- 1884, elected to the presidency

Democrats should just shut up about Palin's "Grover Cleveland" problem (not that other problem --"Ma, ma, where's my pa? Gone to the White House, ha, ha, ha.").

Alaska: who will be the governor?

An Alaska story not about Ted Stevens from the Anchorage News: Who will be Alaska's governor if Sarah Palin becomes vice president? ...

First, Palin has not resigned as governor and doesn't have to before the Nov. 4 election. She remains in command of state government. ...

If Palin wins election as John McCain's vice president, [Lt. Gov. Sean] Parnell would move up to governor and state Attorney General Talis Colberg would become lieutenant governor.

But what if Palin wins and Parnell, locked in a still-undecided Republican primary with U.S. Rep. Don Young, gets elected to Congress?

In that situation, Colberg would take over as governor. -- Plans outlined for election scenarios: Politics | adn.com

Keep reading the story. There are more permutations.

Hat-tip to Brad Smith for the link.

Campaign ads tailored to your browsing history

A Washington Post report begins: Any two people interested in whether Amanda Beard is dating fellow Olympian Michael Phelps, and who clicked on the Boston Herald tidbit that raced around the Web last week, got the same piece of gossip. ...

What was different was the political ads that appeared -- or didn't -- beside the story.

Readers who had visited Barack Obama's Web site received as many as three Obama ads alongside the gossip. "Help Elect Barack Obama President of the United States" and "Visit the Barack Obama Website," the ads said.

Readers who hadn't visited his site didn't see a single Obama pitch.

How did the campaign know which readers to send ads to? Although both the Obama and John McCain campaigns are reluctant to discuss details, the ability to identify sympathetic voters based on their Internet habits, and then to target them with ads as they move across the Web, is one of the defining aspects of the 2008 presidential campaign. -- Candidates' Web Sites Get to Know the Voters - washingtonpost.com

August 29, 2008

Alaska: "Senate might have final say if Stevens convicted"

An AP report begins: U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens' political fate could be up to his colleagues if a jury decides the Senate's longest-serving Republican has violated the law.

Stevens is to go on trial after being accused of failing to disclose more than $250,000 in home renovations and gifts from executives at oil services contractor VECO Corp. Stevens has pleaded not guilty.

If Stevens is convicted in his federal trial next month, his name will still appear as the Republican candidate for Senate on Alaska's November election ballot.

And if the 84-year-old Stevens then wins his seventh full term and refuses to resign, it could fall to his colleagues to decide whether he should be expelled. -- Senate might have final say if Stevens convicted - Yahoo! News

August 28, 2008

Alabama: GOP claims not filing to run is just a "technicality"

A Birmingham News report begins: The Jefferson County Republican Party asked a judge Wednesday to include Andrew Smith's name on the November ballot for the unexpired assistant tax assessor's term in Bessemer although Smith didn't qualify for the spot.

The party is seeking to overturn a decision made in July by Jefferson County Probate Judge Alan King who determined that Smith's name could not be added to the ballot because he missed the qualifying deadline. Smith qualified to run only for the full term. Only Democrat Ron Yarbrough qualified to run for the unexpired term.

Bessemer Division Circuit Judge Eugene Verin said he would issue an order by Tuesday.

In a hearing before Verin, Republican Party lawyer Greg Cook said a technicality is keeping Smith's name off the ballot for the unexpired term and that miscommunication between Smith and the party "should not override the right of voters to have a choice." -- Jefferson County Republicans still push for Andrew Smith name on tax post ballot - al.com

Alabama: an example of holding an election without preclearance

A Birmingham News report begins: Winners in Tuesday's municipal election in Calera may not be able to take office if the U.S. Justice Department doesn't approve a 2008 redistricting plan before November.

In addition, runoffs between mayoral candidates Bobby Joe Phillips and Jon Graham and District 4 council candidates David Bradshaw and Brad Frasure may not take place in October, city attorney Frank "Butch" Ellis said Wednesday.

The problem stems from a redistricting plan the city submitted to the Justice Department early this year, Ellis said. There was no single district that had a majority of black voters in that plan, he said. "That's the basis of (the Justice Department's) refusal to approve. They think we should have done more to ensure continued black representation," he said. -- Calera's municipal election winners may not be able to take office - al.com

August 26, 2008

Alaska: timing is everything in the trial and possible replacement of Ted Stevens

The Washington Post reports: Alaska's Republican voters go to the polls Tuesday to decide whether a pair of GOP incumbents with a combined 75 years in Congress should continue to be the dominant figures in state politics as they battle criminal investigations.

Sen. Ted Stevens, who was indicted last month on charges of failing to disclose favors from a wealthy supporter, and Rep. Don Young, who is facing multiple ethics investigations, face younger Republicans who contend that it's time for Alaska to move beyond the scandals that have plagued the state. ...

The Stevens race presents Republicans with the most delicate problem. Charged with failing to report more than $250,000 in gifts from former Veco chief executive Bill Allen Jr., Stevens is slated to go on trial Sept. 22. If he wins Tuesday's primary, Stevens would face a tough general-election battle against Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich (D) but would have to spend most of the final days of the campaign in a D.C. federal court. Prosecutors and defense attorneys have said they expect the case to take at least four weeks before it goes to a jury.

Marc Elias, a Democratic election lawyer, said Republicans would have until mid-September under Alaska law to replace Stevens on the ballot if he wins the primary. Otherwise, they face the prospect of having a convicted felon on the ballot Nov. 4. -- Alaskans Vote Today in Pivotal Republican Primaries - washingtonpost.com

August 20, 2008

Maine: Justice Souter refuses to place independent candidate on ballot

SCOTUSblog reports: Supreme Court Justice David H. Souter, in a brief order Wednesday afternoon, turned down a request that would have given an independent candidate in Maine for the U.S. Senate a place on the Nov. 4 ballot for that office. Souter acted without referring the stay application to his colleagues. There was no written opinion, just a simple denial order. The Justice’s action appears to assure the state’s two major party candidates, incumbent Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican, and her Democratic challenger, Rep. Tom Allen, that they will not have to worry about an independent drawing votes away from them. Sen. Collins is considered by political analysts to be one of the vulnerable GOP Senators seeking reelection. Hoffman’s counsel could still go ahead with plans to file a full appeal on the ballot access issue, but Souter’s action probably reduces significantly the chances that such an appeal would succeed, or that a final ruling could come in time. Maine officials say the ballot must be finalized by Aug. 29. -- UPDATE: Souter refuses to order ballot access

Louisiana: FEC says Vitter can't use campaign funds for paying legal fees

The Hill reports: Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) will not be able to use campaign funds to pay for more than $160,000 in legal fees incurred because of his involvement in the D.C. Madam scandal, according to a draft opinion released by the Federal Election Commission (FEC).

Vitter has already spent $70,000 of his own money on legal bills and has asked about the possibility of reimbursing himself and paying the rest of his bills with campaign funds.

The FEC’s draft opinion, published Wednesday, however, allows Vitter to use campaign funds to pay for $31,000 in legal expenses related to a Senate Ethics Committee investigation arising from his link to Deborah Jeane Palfrey, the D.C. Madam.

Vitter became embroiled in the scandal after his telephone number was discovered among Palfrey’s records. -- Vitter cannot use campaign funds to pay legal fees

Democrats to look at role of superdelegates and caucuses

An AP report begins: Democratic Party leaders want to regain control of the primary calendar and reduce the number of superdelegates through a new commission announced Wednesday.

They also want to review the caucus system, which presumed nominee Barack Obama used so successfully this year. The commission would work over the next year and make recommendations by January 2010.

All the issues are potentially troublesome, with few easy solutions.

Officials said the commission would be formed at the party convention in Denver. The convention's rules committee will take up the matter at a meeting Saturday, two days before the convention starts. -- Talking Points Memo | Democrats to review nominating process

Michigan: court may rule today on "Reform Michigan Government Now" initiative

A Detroit News report begins: A three-judge panel of the Michigan Court of Appeals could decide as early as today whether a far-reaching constitutional amendment that impacts all three branches of government should be allowed to appear on the November ballot.

The judges heard testimony Tuesday on a challenge brought by the Michigan Chamber of Commerce and others, asking the court to declare the Reform Michigan Government Now proposal ineligible for the ballot because of the sweeping changes its passage would usher in.

Court watchers expect the appellate panel -- Judges Bill Schuette, William Whitbeck and Patrick Meter -- to announce a decision before 10 a.m. Thursday, when the Board of State Canvassers is scheduled to meet to decide whether the plan should be placed before voters. -- Judges to rule on state reform

Hawai'i: voters must pick party on primary ballots

An AP report begins: Hawaii voters for the first time must pick a political party when voting in this year's primary election, a requirement that election officials hope will result in fewer ballots being thrown out.

But members of both the Democratic and Republican parties worry that voters could get confused during the Sept. 20 primary, resulting in their votes not being tallied correctly. ...

Voters in Hawaii, as in most states, have always only voted for one party's candidates in primary elections, which are used to narrow each party's candidates to one per race before the Nov. 4 general election.

The 2008 election is different because voters will have to choose a political party before filling out the rest of the ballot. In previous years, voters were handed ballots color-coded by party; this year, everyone fills out the same white ballot. -- The Associated Press: Hawaii ballots add pick-a-party box

August 19, 2008

Alabama: Jefferson Co. probate judge asks for AG opinion on holding sewer referendum

A Birmingham News report begins: A Jefferson County probate court judge on Monday asked Attorney General Troy King whether the county can hold a nonbinding advisory election to consider solutions to the sewer debt crisis.

The Office of the Attorney General has issued previous opinions that counties don't have the authority to include an advisory referendum on a ballot.

The county is asking residents to vote Nov. 4 whether they prefer filing the largest municipal bankruptcy on record or taking other measures to avoid defaulting on the county's $3.2 billion sewer debt.

Judge Alan King sent a one-page letter to the attorney general's office asking:

"Does Jefferson County have the legal authority to include an advisory referendum on the general election ballot absent specific legislative authority, or otherwise."

"If Jefferson County has the legal authority, does Jefferson County have the authority to pay additional costs, if any, such as the printing of ballots, that are associated with the referendum?" -- Judge asks Attorney General King if Jefferson County can hold sewer debt vote - al.com

August 18, 2008

Maine: independent candidate asks Justice Souter for a chance to get on the ballot

A ScotusBlog post begins: Supreme Court Justice David H. Souter has asked the state of Maine and the state Democratic Party chairman to supply their views on the right of an independent candidate for U.S. Senate to have his nominating petition signatures accepted so that he can get on the November election ballot. In an order issued Friday (found here), Souter — in his role as Circuit Justice for the area that includes Maine — sought responses to First Amendment issues raised by the non-party candidate, Herbert J. Hoffman, and told all of the lawyers involved to discuss what kind of legal remedy, if any, should be available to Hoffman. Those filings are due Tuesday.

Souter has the authority to act alone, but also may choose to share the issue with his colleagues.

In an application (08A138) filed Thursday seeking an order to block a Maine Supreme Court ruling of July 28, Hoffman contended that he has submitted 4,038 valid signatures on nominating petitions — over the 4,000 minimum required by state law. But, because of the state court decision, throwing out three separate petitions that each included only a single invalid signature, he would wind up with a total of only 3, 929, and thus would be barred from the ballot.

The state ruling, Hoffman’s application argued, violates the First Amendment right of political expression of himself and voters who support him, the right to gather politically to support a candidate, and the actual right to vote. -- Souter probes Maine ballot access issue

Alabama: drive to register the homeless

A Montgomery Advertiser report begins: John Cook Thomas would like to cast his vote in the November election for Barack Obama. ...

Despite living in the Salvation Army's homeless shelter, Thomas pays attention to politics and he plans to register to vote.

And advocates for the homeless and for voting are encouraging people like Thomas to get registered.

"When you're homeless you have a lot of issues you're dealing with," said Michael Stoops, project director for the 'You Don't Need a Home to Vote' campaign. "But some homeless folks are up on current events."

Thomas is one of those who keep up with current events in spite of the other problems in his life. He came to live in the shelter almost four months ago after his disability check was reduced. But he's aware the outcome of the presidential election does have an impact on his life. -- montgomeryadvertiser.com | Montgomery Advertiser

August 17, 2008

Alabama: county commissioner cleared of Hatch Act problems

A Troy Messenger report begins: After months of investigation for an alleged federal election law violation, District 3 Pike County Commissioner Jimmy Barron has been cleared to run for reelection.

"We conclude that you were not covered by the Hatch Act during your 2004 candidacy for County Commissioner, nor are you currently in a Hatch Act covered position," read a letter from Johanna Oliver, an attorney for the Hatch Act Unit of the U.S. Office of Special Council. "Therefore, you are not prohibited from being a candidate in a partisan election."

Barron was first notified he may be in violation of the Hatch Act - an act that prevents certain state and federal employees from holding office - before the party primary elections in May. Friday, he was notified he could still hold office and run for reelection.

Barron works as a traffic signal technician for the Alabama Department of Transportation. -- Barron cleared in Hatch Act probe :: The Troy Messenger

August 16, 2008

The case for reform of the caucuses

TalkLeft publishes a paper on the need for Democratic caucus reform. It concludes: It's time for the Democratic Party to demand reforms in the caucus process -- ie, more inclusion, fixing the security breaches in the internal proceedings and producing exact, certified vote counts with a clear audit trail --and if the state Parties are not willing to implement the reforms then frankly they should get out of the elections business. Further, the DNC needs to reconsider and adjust the delegate allocation to be more in-sync with total votes cast so that the election results are closer to one person one vote. Then the will of the majority will not be overturned by the votes of a few.

Moreover, repeatedly in cases challenging the caucus system, the courts have ruled in favor of the state Party instead of upholding the voting rights of the people. It's said that in the absence of legislation, judges become the legislators.

So at a broader level, it's time for Congress to see and understand how caucuses -- as a voting system -- damage democracy through mass disenfranchisement and through gross distortion of election results and to pass legislation to remedy the injustice.

Hopefully, this report will be a call to reform that voters themselves will take to heart and act on by calling the Democratic Party and by contacting their legislators to demand reform. -- 2008 Democratic Presidential Preference Election

Forecast for November: flawed machines will probably count your votes

A New York Times report begins: Flaws in voting machines used by millions of people will not be fixed in time for the presidential election because of a government backlog in testing the machines’ hardware and software, officials say.

The flaws, which have cast doubt on the ability of some machines to provide a consistent and reliable vote count, were supposed to be addressed by the Election Assistance Commission, the federal agency that oversees voting. But commission officials say they will not be able to certify that flawed machines are repaired by the November election, or provide software fixes or upgrades, because of a backlog at the testing laboratories the commission uses. ...

As a result, machine manufacturers and state election officials say states and local jurisdictions are forgoing important software modifications meant to address security and performance concerns. In some cases, election officials in need of new equipment have no choice but to buy machines that lack the current innovations and upgrades.

The federal government does not require that states use machines that the commission certifies, but most states depend on the commission to approve new machines and software, and at least 10 states have rules or laws requiring federal certification. -- Officials Say Flaws at Polls Will Remain in November

August 15, 2008

"Obama's Felon Disenfranchisement Challenge"

Dan Filler comments on Faculty Lounge about this Washington Post story: The reality is that Obama, like all Democrats, is likely to benefit when convicted offenders are allowed to vote. At the same time, one thing Obama cannot afford is to be seen as a person seeking the felon vote - both because being a friend of criminals is bad political karma and because, in Obama s particular racialized position, this could have the effect of making him look like he s the candidate of Black criminals. This is a complicated position for Democrats. And it s going to get much more complicated as the election approaches.

If past elections are any guide, we can expect Republican election officials to work aggressively to weed out convicted felons from voting rolls. Sometimes - maybe even often - this effort will result in fully eligible voters being expunged from the rolls. Eligible voters will come in different types, most commonly those where there is a name mix-up and those who are convicted felons, but have - for one reason or another - regained the right to vote. But the very act of fighting for the rights of those entitled to vote who have been erroneously disenfranchised a much less politically charged project than Mitchell s work in Florida will trigger many of the complicated issues I ve discussed above. And the very fact that Obama may find it difficult to aggressively advocate for those entitled to vote may embolden Republicans to choose an extra-aggressive expungement strategy.

The Democrats cannot afford to abandon any of these prospective voters. And the Republicans may feel that they cannot afford to underenforce felon disenfranchisement laws - particularly in swing states - since these voters are likely to tilt to the left. But there are risks for everyone - including Republicans, who must worry that expungement strategies will be seen as explicitly designed to suppress African American vote numbers.

Keep your eyes open. I d be very surprised if this issue doesn t rear it s head, perhaps with some intensity, in the weeks before the election. -- The Faculty Lounge: Obama s Felon Disenfranchisement Challenge

Texas: Justice Hecht defends against campaign-finance charge

AP reports: Supreme Court Justice Nathan Hecht, appearing before the Texas Ethics Commission, defended himself Thursday against allegations he broke campaign finance laws by accepting discounted legal fees to fight an abuse of office complaint. ...

Hecht was sanctioned in 2006 by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct, which alleged that he had abused his office by promoting Harriet Miers for a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court. Legal canons bar Texas judges from endorsing candidates for public office, but Hecht was able to get the sanction reversed on appeal by arguing that Miers was not running for elective office.

In the process, Hecht racked up about $440,000 in legal fees. Hecht later told supporters that he had gotten a substantial discount on the fees from attorney Chip Babcock and his firm, Jackson Walker. But a liberal watchdog group, Texas Watch, said Hecht never properly reported a discount totaling about $100,000.

The group filed a sworn complaint, saying the failure to report the cut-rate fees as a campaign gift constitutes a violation of state campaign finance laws. Texas Watch now wants the commission to fine the Republican judge up to $300,000. -- Supreme Court justice defends self at hearing | AP Texas News | Chron.com - Houston Chronicle

AFL-CIO files FEC complaint against Wal-Mart

A New York Times report begins: The A.F.L.-C.I.O and three other pro-labor groups will urge the Federal Election Commission on Thursday to rule that Wal-Mart acted illegally by warning many store managers and department heads that a Democratic victory in November would hurt the company by helping workers unionize.

The pro-labor groups plan to file a complaint with the commission on Thursday asserting that Wal-Mart warned so vigorously that the Democrats would enact pro-union legislation that the company had engaged in illegal express advocacy.

The pro-labor organizations — including the Change to Win Federation, American Rights at Work and WakeUpWalMart.com — argue that federal regulations make it legal for companies to engage in such political advocacy with high-level managers, but not with low-level managers like Wal-Mart’s department heads, who are often hourly employees. ...

In their complaint, the four groups cite an article in The Wall Street Journal, which said that Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer, was mobilizing its store managers and department heads around the country to warn that if the Democrats win, they are likely to enact a law that makes it easier for workers to unionize Wal-Mart and other companies. -- Groups to File Complaint Against Wal-Mart

Jurist Paper Chase links to a copy of the complaint.

August 14, 2008

Alabama: sleeping on a cot seems to be "residency"

A Daily Mountain Eagle report begins: The Aug. 26 municipal elections in Carbon Hill took more confusing turns Wednesday as one candidate got back in the race, another was disqualified and the mayor said he had called a meeting of all city candidates tonight while he awaits to see which set of ballots he can use.

Former mayor James “Pee Wee” Richardson had announced Monday he was getting out of the race after finding out his permanent residence at 366 Nubbin Ridge Road was just out of the city limits. However, he said he changed his mind Wednesday after reading in the Daily Mountain Eagle that District 4 city council candidate Louie Sandlin had a permanent home outside the city limits on 740 Nix Road and was qualifying by staying two or three nights a week on a cot at his convenience store at 2085 Nauvoo Road.

Richardson said based on Sandlin’s statements in the newspaper, he didn’t realize that the rules would allow living for only a few days a month in the city limits. He said he has been doing that already at his mother-in-law’s residence at 111 4th Ave. NW.

“I have never officially told the city that I was out of it,” Richardson said. “I’m still in the race ... I feel I am just as qualified as (Sandlin) is.” -- Richardson back in race for CH mayor; Beasley disqualified

Alabama: Secretary of State takes action to get more former felons registrered

The NAACP Legal Defense Fund recently did a survey of voter registrars in Alabama and found that few of them knew the correct rules as to the registration of voters who had been convicted of felonies. In response, the Secretary of State's office has taken action:

1. Writing to "every voter registrar, informing them that we had received correspondence alleging that in some counties, voter registrars were not following the guidelines set forth in the Attorney General Opinion 2005-092";

2. Enclosing "in the letter to the registrars a statement to be signed by each registrar acknowledging that he or she had read the opinion (a copy of which was included in our letter) and further acknowledging that the registrar agreed to abide by that opinion's guidelines"; and

3. "[F]urther instruct[ing] the registrars to contact the Secretary's chief legal advisor in the event that they had any question as to whether a specific felony is a crime involving moral turpitude."

The letters are attached. Congratulations to the folks at LDF and thanks to Secretary of State Beth Chapman.

August 13, 2008

CLC to prepare generic legal docs for election-protection groups

From the Campaign Legal Center: The Campaign Legal Center today launched the Voters’ Rights Protection Project, to provide generic drafts of potential court filings to individuals, organizations, and political parties who must resort to the courts to protect the fundamental rights of citizens to vote. In a letter today to both major parties and copies to the respective presidential campaigns (full text below), the Legal Center announced the project and said it would make the legal templates publicly available. Information announcing the project is also being sent to national, state, and local party committees, as well as third party organizations and numerous community and grassroots organizations from coast to coast.

“The legal documents being drafted by the Legal Center will facilitate and expedite the process of securing court orders against those state or local election officials or others who take actions harmful to the electorate,” said J. Gerald Hebert, Executive Director and Director of Litigation for the Campaign Legal Center

The use of such legal templates, will allow individuals, as well as advocacy groups, political parties, and candidates to obtain pre-election or Election Day relief for a host of problems, including extension of polling hours, insufficient ballots, and prevention of voter harassment or intimidation. -- Election Day Voter Protection Initiative Launched

Alabama: Mobile probate judge asks for ruling on late filing of ethics-disclosure forms

The Mobile Press Register reports: Mobile County Probate Judge Don Davis on Tuesday said he has filed a complaint asking Circuit Court judges to decide whether three local candidates should be taken off the ballot for violating the state's ethics code. ...

Davis, a Republican, said that the complaint notes that an official with the Alabama Ethics Commission said that Manzie, Crenshaw and Law did not comply with state law in filing a campaign finance form by the deadline. ...

Among other things, the candidates were accused of filing their statement of economic interests with the Alabama Ethics Commission late or not at all.

Candidates must file that statement with the Montgomery-based commission within five days of qualifying, according to Jim Sumner of the Ethics Commission.

But Manzie and Crenshaw said they were told by local Democratic Party officials and state election officials that the statement of economic interests was due by April 30, which is the date written on the form itself.

Both filed April 11. But according to testimony during the hearing, Manzie became a candidate Jan. 15 and Crenshaw on March 20, which means they would have missed the five-day threshold. -- Probate judge requests ruling - al.com

August 12, 2008

GOP training lawyers to "voter fraud"

The Wall Street Journal report begins: As Barack Obama tries to draw hundreds of thousands of new voters to the polls, Republicans are beginning to scrutinize registrants' eligibility as both sides draw a major battle line over voting rights.

Republicans are moving to examine surges in voter registrations in some states. A Republican lawyers group held a national training session on election law over the weekend that included campaign attorneys for Sen. John McCain and other Republican leaders. One session discussed how party operatives can identify and respond to instances of voter fraud. ...

Obama campaign general counsel Bob Bauer last Tuesday said in a memorandum to campaign supporters that their own voter legal defense operation is under way, earlier than those of previous Democratic campaigns, including legal counsel on the ground in 50 states. The campaign is working closely with the Democratic Party, which said it has spent three years building a voter-protection program that includes more than 18 paid staff and 7,000 lawyers. The personnel deployed Aug. 1 and are dealing directly with local elections officials.

In just about every election, understaffed polling sites, malfunctioning voting machines and outdated voter data are reported. Such bureaucratic problems often are rolled into the divide between Democrats and Republicans over who should vote and how -- a battle that has become more intense since the 2000 Florida recount. -- Voter Registration Is the New Battleground - WSJ.com

August 11, 2008

"For Those Once Behind Bars, A Nudge to the Voting Booth"

The Washington Post reports: Mitchell is a leader of a disparate group of grass-roots Democrats and civil rights activists who are trying to register tens of thousands of newly eligible felons. They have taken up the cause on their own, motivated by the belief that former offenders have been unfairly disenfranchised for decades. Despite massive registration efforts, the presidential campaigns of Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama have not designated anyone to go after the group.

In Alabama, Al Sharpton's younger brother, the Rev. Kenneth Glasgow, will take his "Prodigal Son" ministry into state prisons with voter-registration cards for the first time. The American Civil Liberties Union recently filed suit there and in Tennessee to make it possible for an even larger class of felons to register. In Ohio, the NAACP will hold a voter-registration day at the Justice Center in downtown Cleveland this month to register "people caught up in the criminal justice system," a local official said. In California, a team will stand in front of jails on Aug. 16 to register people visiting prisoners and encourage them to take registration cards to their incarcerated friends or family members, some of whom can legally vote. -- For Those Once Behind Bars, A Nudge to the Voting Booth - washingtonpost.com

You need a break from politics

Watch the Leningrad Cowboys and the Red Army Choir singing "Sweet Home Alabama."

Hat-tip to Left in Alabama for the link. (But I found a better version from the same folks.)

Obama will text you --yes, you -- his VP choice

The Trail reports: Last night, in a cell phone text message that was quickly followed by an e-mail linking back to a new page on his Web site -- my.barackobama.com/vp -- aides to Sen. Barack Obama's (D-Ill.) campaign wrote: "Barack will announce his VP candidate choice through txt message between now & the Conv. Tell everyone to text VP to 62262 to be the first to know! Please forward." ...

It also gives the Obama campaign one more way to differentiate itself technologically from its Republican opponent; Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) doesn't have a text messaging program.

A number of candidates have experimented with texting this campaign cycle, and Obama has by far been the most prolific texter. Though Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.), former governor Mitt Romney (R-Mass.) and Edwards all had text messaging programs, Obama's campaign has used the technology most consistently. Since announcing its program last summer, Obama has sent at least 25 texts to supporters. -- Obama Plans Novel VP Announcement TXT | The Trail | washingtonpost.com

August 9, 2008

Connecticut: VA and state Secretary of State reach agreement on voter registration (policy attached)

A New Haven Register report begins: A compromise between the state and the U.S. Veterans Affairs medical center Thursday ended the threat of a lawsuit over blocked efforts to register veterans to vote, but there are still limits on who can participate.

Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz and state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal declared a victory for democracy when Roger Johnson, administrator for the two federal veterans’ medical centers in Connecticut, agreed to allow Byziewicz to conduct a voter education session and registration inside the West Haven facility Thursday.

Johnson, however, said Bysiewicz only would be allowed to register in-patients at the hospital and the handful of veterans who live there.

Staff and outpatients will continue to be excluded, although Byziewicz managed to register a few people outside the hospital before a press conference on the issue. -- VA, state reach deal on voter sign-ups

The Register links to a statement of the Election Assistance Commission and the VA's policy.

California: 9th Circuit upholds VA's ban on voter registration drives (opinion linked)

A Palo Alto Daily News report begins: A federal appeals court has upheld a Veterans Administration policy barring voter registration drives inside its hospitals, concluding the rule does not violate the First Amendment.

In a unanimous three-judge decision Friday, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the VA policy, which came under attack four years ago when Santa Clara County's Democratic Central Committee tried to conduct voter registration at the VA's facility in Menlo Park. VA officials barred the registration, citing a rule that prohibits partisan political activity at VA hospitals.

The legal conflict arose from an attempt by Steve Preminger, the committee's chair, and Scott Rafferty, a Democratic Party lawyer, to register veterans at the hospital. When VA officials discovered that Rafferty wore a John Kerry button and was affiliated with the Democratic Party, they determined the registration effort violated their policy.

Preminger could not be reached for comment Friday, but Rafferty expressed disappointment, saying further appeals are a possibility, particularly with another presidential election looming. -- Palo Alto Daily News

The opinion (No. 08-15714, Preminger v. Peake) is available here.

California: "Group seeks tighter ballot security in San Diego"

An AP report begins: A voting-rights group has asked a judge to order tougher enforcement of anti-fraud measures in San Diego County for November's presidential elections, saying officials failed to investigate lapses in ballot security during February's primary.

"We goofed!" was the explanation a poll worker offered for why the total number of ballots cast at one precinct did not match the number of signatures in the voter log book, according to documents in the lawsuit filed in San Diego Superior Court.

Election workers at county headquarters accepted unsealed and unsigned boxes of ballots for processing, according to statements from volunteers who observed the February tally. A troubleshooting log indicated dispatchers told poll workers not to worry about missing seals after the county ran out of the red locking tabs. -- The Modesto Bee | Group seeks tighter ballot security in San Diego

South Carolina: Green Party sues state for blocking its candidate

An AP report begins: The American Civil Liberties Union sued the South Carolina Election Commission on Thursday, charging the state has kept the Green Party from putting its candidate on November's ballot.

The ACLU said it filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Columbia because the commission wouldn't allow Eugene Platt on the ballot as a Green Party nominee for a Charleston-area state House seat after he lost his bid for the Democratic Party nomination in the June primary.

While the Democratic Party may want to use the state's so-called "sore loser" law to keep Platt off the ballot, "that doesn't trump the right of another party to run who they chose," ACLU lawyer Laughlin McDonald said in an interview as the lawsuit was filed.

The lawsuit asks the court to keep the state from using the sore loser statute to disqualify candidates and to require that Platt's name appear on the November ballot for the seat now held by Rep. Wallace Scarborough, R-Charleston. The sore loser statute prevents the loser of a primary election from appearing on a subsequent ballot as the nominee of a different political party. -- ACLU sues S.C. for nixing Green Party nominee | Spartanburg, South Carolina | GoUpstate.com | Spartanburg Herald-Journal

Washington DC: National Park Service issues new rules on inaugural demonstrations

A Washington Post report begins: The National Park Service yesterday proposed rules that would expand the space for the public and protesters along Pennsylvania Avenue during inaugurations.

The proposals followed a March federal court ruling that the park service had violated the First Amendment by keeping war protesters from the parade for President Bush's second inauguration.

The court said the service allowed event organizers to ensure that the crowd was mostly Bush administration allies.

Under the proposed change, organizers will control 13 percent of Pennsylvania Avenue National Historic Park. About 70 percent will be for the public and demonstrators, regardless of their views on a particular administration. -- New Rule for Inaugural Parade - washingtonpost.com

"The right to vote"

A New York Times editorial begins: Much about the presidential election is up in the air, but one thing is certain: voters will have trouble casting ballots on Election Day. In a perfect world, states and localities would handle voting so well that the public could relax and worry about other things. But elections are so mismanaged — and so many eligible voters are disenfranchised — that ordinary citizens have to get involved.

Since the meltdown in Florida in 2000, a large, nonpartisan coalition called Election Protection — made up of civil rights groups, good-government organizations and major law firms — has been doing critical work in standing up for voters. It is an effort that anyone who cares about democracy should get behind.

The civic books say that any eligible voter who registers in time can cast a ballot on Election Day. The reality is not so simple. People file registration forms that are not properly processed, or their names are wrongly purged from the voter rolls. They are required to present photo ID even when the law does not require it. They arrive at polling places and find machines that do not work properly or lines that take hours to get through. -- The Right to Vote

August 8, 2008

Two groups to call for probe of Hess Oil-related donations

TPM Election Central reports: This is interesting: A good government group is set to ask the Justice Department to open a criminal investigation into the two big McCain stories of recent days -- the bundled contributions from Hess executives, and the bundling by Harry Sargeant, the guy who raised cash for McCain from a host of unlikely donors.

The request, which will be made on Monday by Campaign Money Watch, which first flagged the Hess story to us, raises at least the possibility that such a probe could be initiated during the campaign. Barring that, it could keep the stories going in the press a bit.

David Donnelly of Campaign Money Watch confirms to me that they'll make the formal request on Monday, and MoveOn also is demanding a Federal probe in an email that just went out to supporters. Donnelly says that his group's request is being triggered by McCain's letter to the donors whose contributions had been bundled by Sargeant.

Donnelly said that the letter, which advised the donors of the legal ins-and-outs of such contributions, didn't go far enough in trying to determine what had happened. -- TPM Election Central | Talking Points Memo | Group To Ask Justice Department To Probe McCain's Bundlers

McCain returning contributions from bundler

The Washington Post reports: Sen. John McCain's campaign is returning about $50,000 raised by a Florida oil executive because some of the funds were collected by a foreign national and came from donors who may not support the candidate, aides said yesterday. ...

The decision to return the money follows a report in The Washington Post that found that Harry Sargeant III submitted a bundle of checks for $2,300 and $4,600 on a single day in March, all of them from donors in Southern California who had never given before this year's campaign and did not appear to be likely candidates to contribute as much as $18,400 per household.

Although the contributions were credited to Sargeant, whose company has Defense Department contracts worth as much as $1.4 billion, the checks came from Americans of seemingly modest means.

Donors included the manager of Riverside-area Taco Bell restaurants, a couple who at one time ran a liquor store in Colton and a Whittier auto mechanic. Sargeant, who runs the International Oil Trading Co., in Boca Raton, Fla., said he asked several friends and colleagues to gather the funds for McCain. He had done the same for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D) and for former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani (R) during the primaries. -- McCain Campaign Returning $50,000 From Fla. Bundler - washingtonpost.com

Ohio: Secretary of State sues voting machine company

The Washington Post reports: The voting-machine wars in Ohio continue.

Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner is assuring voters in the battleground state that November's tally will be accurate even as she asserts -- in court filings yesterday -- that there is a problem with the touch-screen machines to be used in half of the state's 88 counties.

Premier Election Solutions, formerly Diebold, said in May that its machines had some problems tabulating votes. But the company has contended in court filings that it had fulfilled its contract to deliver an electronic system.

During the May primary, Brunner said officials in Butler County, north of Cincinnati, realized that 150 votes were dropped when they were being transferred from memory cards. When Brunner looked into it, she found that the software problem had come up in 11 counties. No vote was lost, she said, because local officials had caught the discrepancies. -- Ohio Sues Over Trouble With Voting Machines - washingtonpost.com

"Accountable America" sends warning letter to GOP donors (letter attached)

Nearly 10,000 of the biggest donors to Republican candidates and causes across the country will probably receive a foreboding “warning” letter in the mail next week.

The letter is an opening shot across the bow from an unusual new outside political group on the left that is poised to engage in hardball tactics to prevent similar groups on the right from getting off the ground this fall.

Led by Tom Matzzie, a liberal political operative who has been involved with some prominent left-wing efforts in recent years, the newly formed nonprofit group, Accountable America, is planning to confront donors to conservative groups, hoping to create a chilling effect that will dry up contributions. ...

The warning letter is intended as a first step, alerting donors who might be considering giving to right-wing groups to a variety of potential dangers, including legal trouble, public exposure and watchdog groups digging through their lives. -- Group Plans Campaign Against G.O.P. Donors

Note: If anyone gets one of these letters, please send it to me. I will redact it to remove personal information before publishing. The letter is available here. By the way, the website is actually www.accountableamerica.COM (not .org).

August 7, 2008

Florida: supporters of planning initiative sue to get on ballot

A News4Jax report begins: Supporters of a proposed Florida consitutional amendment requiring voters to approve changes in local growth management plans told a federal judge Wednesday that a host of discrepancies and problems improperly blocked the measure from the November ballot.

Among problems described in testimony before U.S. District Judge Kenneth A. Marra were mistakes in double-counting invalid voter petitions, widely disparate standards used by the state's 67 election supervisors and suspiciously high rejection patterns in some counties. ...

Herrin said also between 7,000 and 10,000 signed voter petitions the group submitted were not accounted for at several county election supervisor offices. ...

Florida Hometown Democracy wants Marra to order the measure placed on this year's ballot and to strike down the Feb. 1 signature deadline, which was enshrined in the Florida Constitution in 2004 by the state's voters. The group contends the new deadline violates the U.S. Constitution in a number of ways, including free speech and voting rights guarantees. -- Judge Hears Florida Planning Amendment Challenge - Jacksonville News Story - WJXT Jacksonville

Massachusetts: Libertarians file suit when state won't allow tag-team petitions

A Politicker MA report begins: The American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts has filed a lawsuit against the Massachusetts Elections Division seeking to ensure the Libertarian presidential nominee appears on the November ballot in Massachusetts.

At issue is whether state election officials allow the Libertarian party to substitute Bob Barr and Wayne Root, its nominees for president and vice president, in place of George Phillies, a Massachusetts Libertarian that sought his party's nomination, on the November ballot. In July of 2007, Phillies asked officials if the Libertarian nominee could be substituted for his name on the ballot because he had to begin gathering the requisite number of signatures well before the Libertarians May 25 convention where its nominee would be chosen.

"The central issue in this case is the restriction of ballot access for third parties, which has been and continues to be a problem in Massachusetts," John Reinstein, Legal Director for the ACLU of Massachusetts, said in a statement.

When Phillies failed to garner the nomination at the convention, he contacted election officials asking to substitute Barr's name for his on the ballot. On June 5, the ACLU said, the elections division denied the request and said Barr could not rely on the signatures Phillies had already collected. The Libertarian Party, the officials said according to the ACLU, would have to repeat the signature gathering process for Barr to appear on the ballot. -- ACLU Mass. files lawsuit for Libertarian candidate to appear on Nov. ballot | Politicker MA

Florida: a bundle(r) of questionable donations

A New York Times article begins: The Jordanian business partner of a prominent Florida businessman, who has raised more than $500,000 for Senator John McCain, appears to be at the center of a cluster of questionable donations to his presidential campaign.

Campaign finance records show Mr. McCain collected a little more than $50,000 in March from members of a single extended family, the Abdullahs, in California and several of their friends.

Amid a sea of contributions to the McCain campaign, the Abdullahs stand out. The checks come not from the usual exclusive coastal addresses, but from relatively hardscrabble inland towns like Downey and Colton. The donations are also startling because of their size: several donors initially wrote checks of $9,200, exceeding the $2,300 limit for an individual gift.

Making matters murkier, some couples in the family who contributed more than $9,000 to Mr. McCain also gave the maximum in December to either Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton or Rudolph W. Giuliani, or both, totaling in the case of at least one family more than $18,000. -- Family’s Donations to McCain Raise Questions

Alabama: would-be congressional candidate sues over petition-signature requirement (court doc attached)

The Birmingham News reports:
A retired Gardendale contractor who wants to run as an independent candidate in the 6th Congressional District has filed a federal lawsuit challenging the law he said requires him to get 6,155 signatures of qualified voters before he can be on the ballot.

Andy Shugart, in the lawsuit filed in Birmingham's federal court, contends state law violates his constitutional rights and is more restrictive than necessary by requiring he get the signatures. His suit said independent and minority party candidates for president or vice president are required to file a petition of at least 5,000 signatures. ...

The suit names Alabama Secretary of State Beth Chapman as the defendant. Jean Brown, the secretary of state's chief legal adviser, said the office had not been served with the suit and she was unable to comment.

The suit said Shugart meets all the qualifications to run for the U.S. House of Representatives, other than the requirement that he file a petition signed by 3 percent of qualified voters who voted in the last gubernatorial election. Shugart said he thought about running for office in the past, but there were always problems with ballot access. -- Gardendale congressional hopeful sues over signatures needed for petition- al.com

The complaint is attached here.

Alabama: 3-judge panel requested in Section 5 suit

The Birmingham News reports: A panel of three federal judges will decide a lawsuit to block the election to fill the District 1 Jefferson County Commission seat.

In a hearing Wednesday at the Hugo Black Federal Courthouse, Judge L. Scott Coogler said a panel will be chosen quickly.

The suit, filed on behalf of Birmingham resident Doris Powell, calls the election improper without clearance from the U.S. Justice Department. The suit seeks to block the election unless federal approval comes by Sept. 14, the deadline for county election officials to send ballots to the printer. -- Federal panel to hear latest District 1 lawsuit that seeks to block election for Jefferson County commission seat- al.com

Disclosure: Jim Blacksher and I represent the plaintiff in this case.

August 6, 2008

New York: Dem candidate accused of voter-petition fraud

Brownsox writes on Daily Kos: It's been an eventful few months for the Jack Davis campaign. First, they succeeded in getting the "millionaires' amendment" struck down. Then came allegations of bribery against the Davis campaign. In the meantime, Davis flooded the radio airwaves with the worst campaign songs anyone has ever heard.

Now, witness the latest of Davis' alleged transgressions: the campaign is under investigation for voter fraud. From a press release from Davis' primary opponent, Orange to Blue candidate Jon Powers:

WILLIAMSVILLE, NY – Michael Violante, the Niagara County District Attorney, announced today that his office will be investigating claims of petition fraud committed by Jack Davis' campaign for Congress in New York's 26th District.

Yesterday, Niagara County Democratic Chairman Dan Rivera requested a formal investigation from Violante's office into "petition irregularities" in petitions circulated for Jack Davis by a member of his paid staff, Kelly Taylor. Violante today announced his office would investigate on the matter and begin interviewing witnesses.

"Jack Davis is using fraud and bribes so blatantly that the District Attorney has decided to investigate. This behavior lacks honor and is unacceptable for a candidate for Congress," said Powers for Congress Campaign Manager John Gerken. "The voters of Western New York deserve a congressman who puts their interests first, not yet another congressman embroiled in scandals." -- NY-26: Jon Powers' primary opponent investigated for voter fraud

Grand jury subpoenas Schlozman and von Spakovsky

Huffington Post reports: A federal grand jury has subpoenaed several former senior Justice Department attorneys for an investigation into the politicization of the Department's own Civil Rights Division, according to sources close to the investigation.

The extraordinary step by the Justice Department of subpoenaing attorneys once from within its own ranks was taken because several of them refused to voluntarily give interviews to the Department Inspector General, which has been conducting its own probe of the politicization of the Civil Rights Division, the same sources said.

The grand jury has been investigating allegations that a former senior Bush administration appointee in the Civil Rights Division, Bradley Schlozman, gave false or misleading testimony on a variety of topics to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Sources close to the investigation say that the grand jury is also more broadly examining whether Schlozman and other Department officials violated civil service laws by screening Civil Rights attorneys for political affiliation while hiring them. -- Justice Department Subpoenas Its Former Lawyers In Civil Rights Probe

NAACP Legal Defense Fund unveils "Prepared to Vote" site

From a press release: Today the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF) unveiled its new comprehensive non-partisan voter awareness program "Prepared to Vote."

"Prepared to Vote is a program designed to raise every voter s awareness of the many obstacles in the electoral process that could affect their right to vote in the 2008 election. Through Prepared to Vote we hope to ensure that every eligible voter cases a vote that counts " said John Payton LDF President and Director-Counsel.

Inspired by the Freedom School Model from the Civil Rights Movement, the Prepared to Vote Campaign seeks to empower communities of color by providing essential information prior to Election Day. Program components include community-based workshops, the dissemination of user-friendly materials, meetings with election officials, and a dynamic educational website preparedtovote.org.

The Prepared to Vote program will help reveal and address voting barriers, such as voter ID requirements, voter purges, faulty voter rolls, poorly trained elections officials, felon disfranchisement statutes and a host of other potential obstacles. -- NAACP Legal Defense Fund -- Issues

Alabama: independent prez candidates collecting signatures

The Montgomery Advertiser reports: Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain likely won't be the only presidential candidates listed on Alabama's Nov. 4 ballot.

The campaigns of Ralph Nader, Bob Barr, Chuck Baldwin and Cynthia McKinney hope to have their names spread across the top of Alabama's ballot along with the major party candidates.

The independent and third-party candidates have supporters -- and in some cases paid professionals -- scurrying across the state to get voters to sign petitions to get them on the ballot.

For ballot access, the campaigns must collect the signatures of 5,000 people registered to vote in Alabama. The petitions must be submitted by Sept. 5 to the secretary of state in Montgomery. -- Independents work to get on state ballots

August 5, 2008

Florida: court keeps voucher amendments on the Nov. ballot

The Florida Times-Union reports: Two proposed state constitutional amendments that could expand school vouchers will stay on the Nov. 4 ballot, a judge ruled Monday.

The statewide teachers union and other organizations that challenged the proposals said they would appeal. Circuit Judge John C. Cooper said he realized time was important to both sides and ruled less than four hours after hearing arguments.

Cooper rejected a claim the Taxation and Budget Reform Commission had exceeded its authority by offering amendments that advance vouchers, which let students attend religious and other private schools at taxpayer expense.

Florida Education Association president Andy Ford said the teachers union would campaign against the amendments while it appeals. He conceded the legal issue may not be resolved before Election Day. --

Hati-tip to Religion Clause for the link.

Montana: 9th Circuit argument on whether church must report under campaign finance law

Religion Clause reports: The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals yesterday heard oral arguments in Canyon Ferry Road Baptist Church v. Unsworth, a challenge to Montana's election campaign reporting laws. The Montana Commissioner of Political Practices had ruled that the church should have reported its support of activities in 2004 to get voters to pass a constitutional ban on gay marriage. -- 9th Circuit Hears Church's Challenge To Montana Election Finance Reporting Law (The post has links to background information and the oral argument audio.)

California: AG says Prop 8 will not void current same-sex marriages

The San Francisco Chronicle reports: If voters approve a November ballot measure banning same-sex marriages in California, thousands of gay and lesbian weddings conducted since the state Supreme Court legalized the unions on May 15 will probably remain valid, Attorney General Jerry Brown said Monday.

The potential effect of Proposition 8 on existing same-sex marriages is already being debated among legal scholars and opposing sides in the Nov. 4 ballot measure campaign. Brown's position is significant because his office will represent the state in lawsuits over Prop. 8's validity and meaning if it passes.

The measure would amend the state Constitution to declare that "only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California." It would overturn the court's ruling that the previous ban on same-sex marriage - established by statutes rather than a constitutional amendment - discriminated on the basis of sexual orientation and violated the right to marry one's chosen partner.

The measure does not state explicitly that it would nullify same-sex marriages performed before Nov. 4. But in their ballot arguments, supporters of Prop. 8 declare it would invalidate all such marriages "regardless of when or where performed" - an interpretation that would apply to existing as well as future marriages. -- Prop. 8 not retroactive, Jerry Brown says

Hat-tip to How Appealing for the link.

A new prediction site

The Sam Wang writes on the Princeon Election Consortium: For those of you who followed my analysis in 2004, welcome back. Just as I did then, I’ll be providing meta-analysis of polling in the 2008 Presidential race. My central goal is to reduce hundreds of state-level polls to simple statistics that will show you the state of play. The methods will be transparent, and with the help of Andrew Ferguson, automated and more visually accessible. -- We’re back!

Hat-tip to Kevin Drum for the link.

August 4, 2008

"Should People's Political Donations Be Public?"

Dan Solove writes on Concurring Opinions: Pursuant to the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA), people's campaign contributions must be accessible to the public. I've long found this to be problematic when applied to the campaign contributions of individuals. Certainly, information must be reported to the government to ensure that campaign contribution limits aren't exceeded. But I don't know why it is the public's business to know what candidates I've given money to and how much. Go to Moneyline CQ or Fundrace2008 or OpenSecrets.org and you can search for the campaign contributions of anyone. You can learn a person's address, occupation, and the amounts he/she contributed and to whom.

I find this problematic for at least two reasons.

1. I believe that the disclosure of people's campaign contributions violates the First Amendment. The First Amendment protects one's right to privacy in one's associations, and campaign contributions often reveal one's political party affiliation. ...

2.Another problem with making the data so publicly accessible is that it facilitates abuse by employers or others who might discriminate against people because of their political views. -- Concurring Opinions

West Virginia: Reform Institute files amicus brief on campaign contributions received by state-court justice from major campaign contributor

From a press release of the Reform Institute: The skyrocketing sums being injected into elections for judgeships are undermining the judiciary. This disturbing trend is exemplified by the case of Caperton et al v. Massey Energy, which the U.S. Supreme Court is being asked to review.

In keeping with its commitment to fundamental governance and election reform, the Reform Institute has joined with the Brennan Center for Justice and the Campaign Legal Center today in filing an amicus brief in support of petitioners. As the brief states, “Amici share a concern that the injection of massive sums of money into judicial campaigns by litigants and lawyers, can, in certain circumstances, threaten the integrity, impartiality, and independence of the courts, and thereby deprive litigants appearing before those courts of due process of law.”

The petitioners, led by former Solicitor General Ted Olson, argue that their Due Process rights were abridged because a West Virginia Supreme Court Justice refused to recuse himself from hearing the appeal of a $50 million jury verdict, even though the CEO of the company appealing the verdict contributed over $3 million to his campaign for the bench. The Justice, Brent Benjamin, ultimately was the deciding vote in overturning the verdict. As Mr. Olson remarked, “A line needs to be drawn somewhere to prevent a judge from hearing cases involving a person who has made massive campaign contributions to benefit the judge.”

“This case perfectly illustrates how large contributions in judicial races can distort the judicial process, providing at the very least, the appearance of corruption,” according to Cecilia Martinez, Executive Director of the Reform Institute. “When litigants feel that they are at a disadvantage in court proceedings due to contributions to the presiding judge from the opposing party, respect for the rule of law suffers.” -- Massive Money in Judicial Elections a Threat to Due Process

Michigan, Florida: Obama asks for full convention votes

The New York Times reports: Senator Barack Obama has asked the credentials committee of the Democratic Party to give full voting rights to delegates from Florida and Michigan at the national convention in Denver. ...

After Florida and Michigan held early primaries in violation of party rules, the party punished them by saying their delegations would not be seated at the convention. In May, the rules committee agreed to let the delegates have half a vote each. -- Obama Asks Panel to Restore Votes to Florida and Michigan Delegates - NYTimes.com

August 3, 2008

California: suit asks that parts of ballot statement be removed on anti-abortion initiative

The Los Angeles Times reports: Backers of a ballot measure that would require parents to be notified before an abortion is performed on a minor acknowledged Friday that the 15-year-old on which "Sarah s Law" is based had a child and was in a common-law marriage before she died of complications from an abortion in 1994.

Proponents of the measure recently submitted an argument for the state voter guide saying the death of "Sarah" might have been prevented but her parents were not told she had had an abortion and so did not know the reason for her failing health. The proposal Proposition 4 will appear on California s statewide ballot in November.

In court papers filed in her home state of Texas after her death, the man with whom she lived declared himself her common-law husband in an effort to secure custody of the child. Texas recognizes common-law marriage and does not view a married 15-year-old as a minor, according to an attorney for Planned Parenthood.

A lawsuit co-sponsored by Planned Parenthood Affiliates and filed Friday in Sacramento County Superior Court asks the secretary of state to remove the girl's story and other information it deemed misleading, including any reference to "Sarah's Law," from the material submitted for the official voter guide. -- 'Sarah's Law' would not have applied to 'Sarah,' acknowledge backers of the abortion-notification measure - Los Angeles Times

Hat-tip to How Appealing for the link.

Alabama: Cheney's receipts and expenses for the campaign trip to Birmingham

Left in Alabama asks about the reported take from VP Cheney's campaign trip to Birmingham:
Does that math work for you? 100 guests times $500 each equals $50,000. They only say that "several" paid $2000 per couple for the photo op. Several is a loose term, but I don t think it stretches to the 37 to 50 couples needed to make up the difference between that $50 000 and the "$125 000 to $150 000 raised." I have another question about the amount raised. Assuming Cheney really did bring in $125,000, is that gross or net ? Because there were some expenses, you know. Did Shoal Creek Country Club donate the space and the lunch? Surely the Republican Party had to pay for that out of the receipts. What about the Alabama state trooper escorting the motorcade or the Birmingham police and Jefferson County sheriff s deputies who blocked adjoining roads What about the cost of feeding Blue Moon barbeque to the 75 people who remained on Cheney s plane while he was at the Country Club? In fact, what about the cost of flying Cheney and that huge entourage down here for a fundraiser? -- Left In Alabama:: Cheney Visit - Does This Math Work For You?

August 1, 2008

"Overseas money flowing to presidential candidates"

The Hill reports: Record amounts of overseas money are flowing into the presidential campaigns, and finance experts say there is no sure way to rule out that foreigners are making illegal donations.

Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), who spoke to an adoring crowd of 200,000 in Berlin last week, has already received twice as much money from abroad as President Bush and Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) did together during the entire 2004 campaign.

While only American citizens by law may donate to the campaigns, finance experts say it would not be that difficult to circumvent the safeguards that have been put into place to prevent foreigners from giving to U.S. presidential campaigns — if they are willing to make false statements and risk legal trouble in the U.S.

“An individual can easily donate online and otherwise, and if they’re dishonest or overenthusiastic, they can lie about who they are and what their status is to make an unlawful contribution,” said Jan Baran, an elections and ethics lawyer with the firm Wiley Rein. -- TheHill.com - Overseas money flowing to presidential candidates

Alabama: judge asked to expedite new Jefferson County suit (court doc attached)

The Birmingham News reports: A lawyer asked a federal judge on Thursday to fast track a lawsuit contending the Nov. 4 election for a Jefferson County Commission seat is illegal without prior federal approval.

U.S. District Judge L. Scott Coogler was assigned to the case Thursday, minutes after another judge withdrew.

The suit was filed Tuesday by voting-rights lawyer Ed Still on behalf of a District 1 voter. It seeks to block the court-ordered vote for the county commission's District 1 seat unless the U.S. Justice Department clears the election by mid-September.

The state Attorney General's Office filed the clearance request with the Justice Department on Monday. But Still does not expect a decision before Sept. 15, the deadline for ballots to go to the printer for the Nov. 4 general election. -- Judge asked to fast track suit contending Nov. 4 election for Jeffco Commission seat is illegal without federal approval- al.com

The motion is attached.

Cherokee Nation: appeals court allows Freedmen's suit to continue, but only against officials

The National Law Journal reports: The descendants of "Freedmen," former African slaves owned by the Cherokee Nation, may go forward with a lawsuit against the tribe's officers in which they claim they were barred from voting in two tribal elections because they lacked an ancestral link to the "Blood Roll" of native Cherokees, a federal appellate court has ruled.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia held on July 29 that the tribe itself was protected from suit by sovereign immunity, but that immunity did not extend to tribal officers. Vann v. Kempthorne, No. 07-5024.

The sovereign immunity question drew the panel back into the tribe's history, a history marked by a "stain" shared by the United States, it said: ownership of African slaves. In an 1866 treaty with the United States, the Cherokee Nation renounced slavery and involuntary servitude, and promised to extend "all the rights of native Cherokees" to the former Cherokee slaves, who came to be known as "Freedmen."

In 1896, Congress directed the Dawes Commission to create membership rolls for the so-called Five Civilized Tribes of Oklahoma, which included the Cherokee Nation. The rolls for the Cherokees, completed in 1907, resulted in two lists: a "Blood Roll" for native Cherokees, and a "Freedmen Roll" for former slaves and their descendants. The panel explained that the lists serve an important function because the tribal constitution of 1976 provides that citizenship in the Cherokee Nation must be proven by reference to the Dawes Commission Rolls. -- Law.com - Descendants of Former African Slaves Owned by Cherokee Nation May Proceed With Suit

Illinois: independent candidate sues to get on congressional ballot

The Lake-Forester reports: Allen Stevo is suing the State Board of Elections to try and regain a spot on the November ballot for his independent candidacy in the 10th Congressional District.

The action came July 28, the same day the state board voted to remove him from the ballot, finding he had submitted less than 7,000 signatures, while independent candidates are required to submit at least 10,285.

Stevo stated he's "challenging Illinois draconian restrictions on independent candidates who attempt to gain a spot on the ballot. Illinois' restrictions are widely considered among ballot access experts to be the most severe in the country, ranking next to those in Georgia and North Carolina."

Stevo was required to submit 10,285 signatures to the State Board of Elections. His Republican opponent, U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk, was required to submit 673. His Democratic opponent, Dan Seals, was required to submit 1,001. That is a difference of 9,612 and 9,284 respectively. -- <span class=redtext><b id=red>Updated 7/31: </b></span>Stevo files federal suit to regain ballot spot :: News :: PIONEER PRESS :: Lake Forester

At Wal-Mart, Halloween comes early -- the bad, scary Democrats

The Wall Street Journal reports: Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is mobilizing its store managers and department supervisors around the country to warn that if Democrats win power in November, they'll likely change federal law to make it easier for workers to unionize companies -- including Wal-Mart.

In recent weeks, thousands of Wal-Mart store managers and department heads have been summoned to mandatory meetings at which the retailer stresses the downside for workers if stores were to be unionized. ...

Wal-Mart may be walking a fine legal line by holding meetings with its store department heads that link politics with a strong antiunion message. Federal election rules permit companies to advocate for specific political candidates to its executives, stockholders and salaried managers, but not to hourly employees. While store managers are on salary, department supervisors are hourly workers.

However, employers have fairly broad leeway to disseminate information about candidates' voting records and positions on issues, according to Jan Baran, a Washington attorney and expert on election law. -- Wal-Mart Warns of Democratic Win - WSJ.com

Dem Convention: judge hears arguments on free speech vs. security

The New York Times reports: A federal trial in a lawsuit seeking to ease strict security provisions at the Democratic National Convention ended Thursday with repeated questions from the judge about how the rules impinge on free speech, as the groups behind the lawsuit have charged.

The judge, Marcia S. Krieger, also questioned a lawyer for one of the groups, Steven D. Zansberg of the American Civil Liberties Union, about what precisely the court might do to correct the problem with the convention only a few weeks away.

The lawsuit, filed by the A.C.L.U. and a coalition of protest groups led by an organization formed here about 18 months ago, Recreate 68, says security concerns for the three-day convention beginning Aug. 25 are exaggerated. It says alternatives exist that would allow protesters and the public to get closer — within “sight and sound” — to the convention hall.

Judge Krieger repeatedly interrupted Mr. Zansberg during his closing argument in the two-day trial, seeking clarification about what the groups were seeking. -- Judge to Rule on Limits at Denver Convention - NYTimes.com

"Stealing America"

Andrew O'Hehir writes on his Beyond the Multiplex blog: I don't mind that Dorothy Fadiman's film "Stealing America: Vote by Vote" raises once again the massively vexed question of whether the 2004 presidential election was fixed. That spectral possibility lingers in many people's minds, retains at least a general outline of plausibility and, thanks to the electronic voting systems in use in so much of the country, can never be conclusively proven or disproven. I do mind, though, that "Stealing America" is a clumsy if well-intentioned work of recycled propaganda, a mixture of hard evidence, random anecdote and far-flung inference that may convince some viewers that a clear verdict can be rendered on that impossibly murky event.

To those who've been following the work of investigative journalist Greg Palast, New York University professor Mark Crispin Miller and activist attorney Robert F. Kennedy Jr. over the last four years, there's not much that's new in "Stealing America." (Palast and Kennedy appear in the film, and Miller is listed as a consultant.) Fadiman has compiled a greatest-hits collection of problems, anecdotes, rumors and theories about what happened in 2004, with only the briefest lip service paid to the crucial information that hardly any of that year's problems were new, even the ones that appeared to be unique. -- The stolen election of 2004: Chapter 53 - Beyond the Multiplex - Salon.com