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

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September 30, 2008

Alabama: state representative asks prison chief to allow registration

The Huntsville Times: A legislator on Monday asked Alabama prison Commissioner Richard Allen to reconsider his decision that banned a minister from registering inmates to vote.

Rep. Alvin Holmes, D-Montgomery, said no court orders or laws prohibit the registration of an inmate at a prison as long as the person performing the registration does not represent any political party or candidate.

The issue came to light last week after it was reported that a coalition of groups led by a community activist, the Rev. Kenneth Glasgow of Dothan, began registering convicts to vote in state prisons. Nearly 80 filled out registration forms in two days.

Their goal was to get the prisoners to request absentee ballots for the Nov. 4 general election.

Allen halted the practice after receiving a letter from Rep. Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn, chairman of the Alabama Republican Party. -- Inmate voting at issue - al.com

Alabama: GOP candidate seeks pledges to contribute, before state law allows fundraising

The Mobile Press-Register reports: Republican gubernatorial candidate Tim James has mailed out a letter encouraging "pledges" of financial support to his campaign, eight months before state law says fundraising can begin.

In a letter dated Aug. 20, the campaign says it is trying "to lay the groundwork early" for its 2010 campaign.

"We are obtaining numerous pledges of support, including financial support to build the war chest that will be needed for the 2010 election cycles," the letter says. "However, no financial 'pledge' can or will be collected or paid prior to one year from the date of the 2010 general election." -- Tim James seeks 'pledges' before start of fundraising - al.com

Minnesota: networks sue over exit-polling restriction

The Star-Tribune reports: The nation's major television news networks and the Associated Press filed a federal lawsuit against the state of Minnesota on Monday, arguing that a new law that keeps exit pollsters at least 100 feet away from voting places is unconstitutional and interferes with their right to do their job.

ABC, CBS, CNN, Fox News and the Associated Press insist that the law is too restrictive. The law had earlier prohibited exit polling within 100 feet of where actual voting takes place. But the language was amended in April to read: "No one except an election official or an individual who is waiting to register or to vote shall stand within 100 feet of the building in which a polling place is to be located."

Susan Buckley, an attorney representing the news organizations, said no other state has such a restriction.

The news organizations are asking the court to declare the law unconstitutional and to allow exit polling within the 100-foot zone. Moving pollsters outside the zone, the news organizations argue, could make exit polls less accurate and less helpful to the public. -- Networks sue Minnesota over exit poll limits

Ohio: early voting overlaps with registration period

The Port Clinton News Herald reports: Early voting for the 2008 November election gets under way today in Ohio and runs through Monday.

The ballot casting comes on the heels of state and federal courts clearing the way for a weeklong period in which new voters can register and cast an absentee ballot on the same day in Ohio.

The voting rule has received media attention and been the target of lawsuits. The early voting window has become a partisan battle in a swing state where President Bush narrowly clinched re-election in 2004.

It was unclear if the Ohio Republican Party planned to appeal.

Ottawa County Board of Elections Director JoAnn Friar explained that voter registration ends 30 days prior to the election and that absentee voting starts 35 days prior to the election. That, she said, leaves a five-day window where voters are allowed to register to vote at the board of elections office and then cast an absentee ballot at the same time. -- Early voting starts today | portclintonnewsherald.com | Port Clinton News Herald

Arizona: scan and email ballots allowed today

AP reports: Starting Thursday, voters who are registered in Arizona but live overseas will be able to vote online through a unique Web-based system.

The Secretary of State's Military and Overseas Voting system will allow registered voters to apply for early ballots online and then submit their ballots electronically using a document scanner. Previously, Arizona elections officials allowed them to vote by faxing their ballots. ...

The system is expected to aid thousands of overseas voters for the general election. During the previous presidential election in 2004, military and overseas voters cast 7,594 ballots. ...

The Secretary of State's office developed the system itself and gained approval from the U.S. Department of Justice last week. Officials included a 128-bit encryption technology with the online ballots, giving each vote the kind of security that's used in online banking and credit card transactions. -- Arizona develops online ballots to give voters overseas a chance to cast ballots via the Web -- chicagotribune.com

September 29, 2008

Report on removal of US Attorneys

The Department of Justice's Office of Inspector General has released the report on the firing of the U.S. Attorneys. Of interest to election lawyers will be the following:

Page 176 (all page references are to the PDF pagination) begins a section on "Iglesias’s handling of voter fraud and public corruption matters, which we concluded was the real reason Iglesias was removed as U.S. Attorney [for New Mexico]." There is also a timeline on page 166.

Page 273 begins a section on the Washington State gubernatorial election and complaint's about McKay's handling of voter-fraud cases. The timeline is on page 267.

The report is on the DOJ website.

September 27, 2008

Debate One: Democracy Corps reports on a small focus group

Democracy Corps reports on reaction to last night's debate: With Barack Obama gaining momentum, John McCain needed to change the dynamic in the race during tonight’s debate and to shift the focus of the campaign onto friendlier terrain. Instead, Democracy Corps research finds that McCain essentially held his ground in this debate, while Obama emerged with higher personal favorability and increased confidence in his ability to handle critical foreign policy and national security issues.

During and after the debate, Democracy Corps conducted a set of dial and focus groups among 45 undecided voters in St. Louis, Missouri. These voters had an unmistakably Republican tilt, voting for President Bush by a 2-to-1 margin in 2004 and self-identifying as 33 percent Republican and 27 percent Democrat. But playing on his perceived strength of national security and before a friendly audience, McCain could only manage a draw among this group. Of our 45 initial undecided voters, a quarter moved to Obama and a quarter to McCain after the debate with the rest remaining undecided. Moreover, by a 38 to 27 percent margin these voters said that Obama won this debate.

A look at the underlying numbers shows that Obama made important gains that could endure through Election Day. These undecided voters had a strong positive reaction to Obama on a personal level. Before the debate, just 40 percent viewed Obama positively, but this skyrocketed to 69 percent after the debate – a remarkable 29-point gain that left him more personally popular than McCain despite this group’s conservative leanings. He also made large strides on being seen as independent, from 44 percent to 65 percent. And in head-to-head matchups against McCain, Obama made significant gains on who “shares your values” and is “on your side." -- First Presidential Debate: Obama Makes Important Personal and National Security Gains

September 26, 2008

Pulpit Freedom Sunday

The New York Times reports: Defying a federal tax law they consider unjust, 33 ministers across the country will take to their pulpits this Sunday and publicly endorse a candidate for president.

They plan to then send copies of their sermons to the Internal Revenue Service, hoping to provoke a challenge to a law that bars religious organizations and other nonprofits that accept tax-deductible contributions from involvement in partisan political campaigns.

The protest, called Pulpit Freedom Sunday, was organized by the Alliance Defense Fund, a consortium of Christian lawyers that fights for conservative religious and social causes. When the fund first announced the protest this year, it said it planned to have 50 ministers taking part. As of Thursday it said it had hundreds of volunteers, but had selected only 33 who were fully aware of the risks and benefits. ...

Experts in tax law say it is more likely that the Alliance Defense Fund and its lawyers will face legal sanctions than the ministers, who may simply receive warnings to avoid politicking in the future.

Three former I.R.S. officials, now lawyers in a Washington firm, recently sent a letter to the I.R.S.’s Office of Professional Responsibility urging that the Alliance Defense Fund and its lawyers be investigated for “inducing churches to engage in conduct designed to violate federal tax law in a direct and blatant matter.” -- Ministers to Defy I.R.S. by Endorsing Candidates - NYTimes.com

September 25, 2008

"Know Your Rights as a Voter"

The Campaign Legal Center has compiled a primer on the rights of voters which is being circulated nationwide by various grassroots organizations and has been provided to congressional offices and party committees. -- The Campaign Legal Center: Know Your Rights as a Voter

Alabama: voter registrars falling behind

The Birmingham News reports: State Democratic Party leaders charged Wednesday that thousands of would-be voters are having a hard time registering to vote and may find themselves unable to cast ballots Nov. 4.

Joe Turnham, chairman of the Alabama Democratic Party, said that in some counties, voting officials are overwhelmed with the job of processing new voters, and in some counties, registration forms are running low. Most important, he said, many people who have registered have yet to receive by mail notification of where they should go to vote. ...

Turnham called on Secretary of State Beth Chapman, a Republican, to provide additional workers in counties that are experiencing problems. Some of the counties Turnham named included Jefferson, Montgomery, Lee, Wilcox and Autauga.

Turnham accused Chapman of efforts to stifle voter turnout. -- Democrats say registrars are overwhelmed by new voter registrations applications, which might lead some to be shut out of voting Nov. 4 - al.com

September 23, 2008

Scenarios for a 269-269 tie

The Washington Times has an article beginning: President Obama, with Vice President Palin? President Biden? President Pelosi? Call them the "Doomsday" scenarios -- On Nov. 5, the presidential election winds up in a electoral-college tie, 269-269, the Democrat-controlled House picks Sen. Barack Obama as president, but the Senate, with former Democrat Joe Lieberman voting with Republicans, deadlocks at 50-50, so Vice President Dick Cheney steps in to break the tie to make Republican Sarah Palin his successor.

"Wow," said longtime presidential historian Stephen Hess. "Wow, that would be amazing, wouldn't it?"

"If this scenario ever happened, it would be like a scene from the movie 'Scream' for Democrats," said Democratic strategist Mary Anne Marsh. "The only thing worse for the Democrats than losing the White House, again, when it had the best chance to win in a generation, but to do so at the hands of Cheney and Lieberman. That would be cruel."

Sound impossible? It's not. There are at least a half-dozen plausible ways the election can end in a tie, and at least one very plausible possibility - giving each candidate the states in which they now lead in the polls, only New Hampshire - which went Republican in 2000 and Democratic in 2004, each time by just 1.5 percent - needs to swap to the Republican column to wind up with a 269-269 tie. -- Washington Times - 269 tie: An electoral college 'doomsday'?

September 19, 2008

It's the biology, stupid

Nell Greenfieldboyce reports on NPR: John Hibbing, a researcher at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, has been studying whether people's political beliefs might be linked to biological traits such as their startle reflex.

He says traditionally, political scientists have assumed that social influences are the main determinant of people's voting patterns. ...

Hibbing and his colleagues found that they could predict what a person's political beliefs would be based on how strongly the person's body responded to the alarming images and sounds, according to a report in the journal Science.

"Those people who seemed to have a stronger reaction to threat were more likely to favor things like military spending, the death penalty, the Patriot Act," says Hibbing. -- Could Political Views Be Driven By Biology? : NPR

Cool picture of the spider on a woman's face.

"Independent Political Groups Return With 527 Ads"

Peter Overby reports on NPR: As the Nov. presidential election draws nearer, ad by independent political groups are already on the air. John McCain and Barack Obama have said that these groups should stay out of the election process. But there seems to be no way to stop them. -- Independent Political Groups Return With 527 Ads : NPR

Alabama: prison commissioner bows to the will of the GOP and stops voter-registration drives

AP reports: Alabama's prisons commissioner has stopped a drive to register inmates to vote so they can cast absentee ballots from inside state prisons.

Richard Allen's decision to halt the program Thursday afternoon came after opposition from the Alabama Republican Party.

State Republican Chairman Mike Hubbard told Allen in a letter Thursday that the party supports the idea of registering more people to vote. But he says that doesn't extend to prisoners.

Hubbard said he was concerned about possible voter fraud. -- WAAYTV.com - Huntsville, Alabama - News Weather, Sports | Ala. stops voter registration driver for prisoners

September 18, 2008

Predictions of "an election day mess"

A Washington Post story begins: Faced with a surge in voter registrations leading up to Nov. 4, election officials across the country are bracing for long lines, equipment failures and confusion over polling procedures that could cost thousands the chance to cast a ballot.

The crush of voters will strain a system already in the midst of transformation, with jurisdictions introducing new machines and rules to avoid the catastrophe of the deadlocked 2000 election and the lingering controversy over the 2004 outcome. Even within the past few months, cities and counties have revamped their processes: Nine million voters, including many in the battleground states of Ohio, Florida and Colorado, will use equipment that has changed since March.

But the widespread changes meant to reassure the public have also increased the potential for trouble.

"You change systems and throw in lots of new voters, and you can plan to be up the proverbial creek," said Kimball Brace, president of Election Data Services, a consulting firm that has tracked the voting changes. -- High Turnout, New Procedures May Mean an Election Day Mess

Mississippi: Governor to move Senate race to top of ballot

AP reports: Republican Gov. Haley Barbour agreed Thursday to move a special election for Trent Lott's old Senate seat to near the top of the November ballot, ending a dispute that had threatened to delay the start of absentee voting.

Barbour's decision came after the state Supreme Court ruled that putting the election near the bottom of the ballot was against the law, but stopped short of ordering him to move it.

Opponents had accused Barbour, a former Republican National Committee chairman, of attempting to bury the race to try to confuse voters and hurt the chances of the Democratic candidate, former Gov. Ronnie Musgrove.

Musgrove and Republican Roger Wicker are competing to serve the final four years of a six-year term started by Lott, who retired last December to become a lobbyist. Barbour, who unseated Musgrove in 2003, appointed Wicker to temporarily fill Lott's seat until the special election. One of the governor's nephews is managing Wicker's campaign. -- The Associated Press: Miss. gov agrees to move Senate race up on ballot

September 17, 2008

United Kingdom: great idea, except it's illegal

The Liberal Democrats came up with this great idea. Here's the way the Press Association described it: Voters will be bombarded with a quarter of a million automated telephone calls featuring a recording of Nick Clegg as part of a new Liberal Democrat attempt to canvass public opinion of its leader's policies.

Households in 50 marginal seats will be targeted by the US-style cold-calling technique shortly after Mr Clegg delivers a keynote conference speech in which he will declare Labour "dead" and his party the only alternative. -- Cold-calling Clegg eyes key voters

But, as The Herald explains: The SNP [Scottish Nationalist Party] and the Conservatives have weighed in to the LibDem telesales debacle, claiming that the masterplan to ring up 250,000 voters last night with an automated Nick Clegg, multiple choice, cold call is quite illegal.

Something to do with the 2003 Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations and quite a lot to do with the fact that the LibDems complained about the SNP doing the same thing in 2005.

M'learned friends will recall that on that occasion the Information Commissioner ruled that what the SNP were doing was illegal and took out an enforcement notice. -- Nationalists Remember The Illegality Of Cold Call Masterplan (from The Herald )

Alabama: voter-registration drive in jails

A Montgomery Advertiser story begins: Alabama inmates are registering to vote from prison in a precedent-set­ting effort organized by activist groups with the blessing of state corrections officials.

Nearly 80 prisoners had filled out registration forms during drives at two lockups, and organizers plan to help them and hundreds more obtain absentee ballots in time to vote in the presidential election on Nov. 4.

Laura Schley, 34, has eight months left on a four-year sen­tence for illegal possession of prescription drugs. She had a hard time believing she was reg­istering Tuesday at the Bir­mingham Work Release Center. ...

The state attorney general's office issued an opinion seven years ago that inmates could vote from inside prison using absentee ballots. But confusion and lawsuits followed over which felons had that right be­cause of a murky phrase in state law. -- State inmates register to vote in prison | montgomeryadvertiser.com | Montgomery Advertiser

September 10, 2008

Easy voter registration and information

Vote for Change has a quick and easy-to-use web site that allows you to fill out a voter registration form, request an absentee ballot, find your polling location, and get polling-day information (hours of voting, etc.).


September 9, 2008

Virginia: McCain will campaign at Fairfax school, in violation of school policy

A Washington Post report begins: Sen. John McCain and his running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, are holding a campaign rally at Fairfax High School tomorrow morning in violation of a school system policy, prompting some teachers and community leaders to question district officials.

According to the Fairfax County policy, which addresses how the community can use school facilities, "School buildings and grounds may not be used for campaign activities during school hours."

Superintendent Jack D. Dale said he made an exception to the policy because he thought it would be a good learning experience for students. "We are not participating in a political rally," he said. "We are letting our kids have new educational opportunities." He alerted the School Board about the event yesterday during a meeting at the school administration building. ...

Dale said he made the same policy exception for Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama. Obama held a town hall meeting at Robinson Secondary School in July, with about 2,000 participants. School was not in session, but an arts program and some other activities were being held in other parts of the school, Dale said. The policy does not address summer school activities. -- School Use For McCain, Palin Rally Bucks Rule - washingtonpost.com

Veterans Affairs will allow voter registration drives

A New York Times report begins: The Department of Veterans Affairs said Monday that it would no longer ban voter registration drives among veterans living at federally run nursing homes, shelters for the homeless and rehabilitation centers across the country.

In May, the department said such drives would violate the prohibition on political activity by federal employees and would be disruptive.

The reversal came after months of pressure from state election officials, voting rights groups and federal lawmakers who said that such drives made it easier for veterans to take part in the political process.

Veterans’ participation could be particularly important this year in a presidential election in which the handling of the Iraq war and treatment of veterans will be major campaign issues. -- V.A. to Allow Voter Signup for Veterans at Facilities - NYTimes.com

September 8, 2008

Texas: the NAMUDNO challenge to the Voting Rights Act docketed in Supreme Court

SCOTUSblog reports: Urging the Supreme Court to curb Congress’ powers to enforce the voting rights declared by the Constitution’s Fifteenth Amendment, a public utility district in Texas on Monday filed a sweeping challenge to the constitutionality of the extension of the federal Voting Rights Act’s long-controversial Section 5. In an appeal that will require five Justices to resolve, the district filed in Northwest Austin Municipal District Number One v. Mukasey. ...

“The Court should find,” the appeal argued, “that the 2006 enactment of Section 5, which consigns broad swaths of the Nation to apparently perpetual federal receivership based on 40-year-old evidence, fails” the Court’s strict test for judging congressional authority to implement the Reconstruction-era Amendments. That test is whether a federal law to enforce one of those Amendments is “congruent” with and “proportional” to the problem Congress addressed — a test that the Court adopted for reviewing laws passed under the Fourteenth Amendment. -- Court asked to strike down vote law

The post has links to the JS and the decision below.

Virginia: registrar attempts to discourage student voter registrations

A New York Times report begins: The widespread practice of students’ registering to vote at their college address has set off a fracas in Virginia, a battleground state in the presidential election.

Late last month, as a voter-registration drive by supporters of Senator Barack Obama was signing up thousands of students at Virginia Tech, the local registrar of elections issued two releases incorrectly suggesting a range of dire possibilities for students who registered to vote at their college.

The releases warned that such students could no longer be claimed as dependents on their parents’ tax returns, a statement the Internal Revenue Service says is incorrect, and could lose scholarships or coverage under their parents’ car and health insurance.

After some inquiries from students and parents, and more pointed questions from civil rights lawyers, the state board of elections said Friday that it was “modifying and clarifying” the state guidelines on which the county registrar had based his releases. -- Voter Registration by Students Raises Cloud of Consequences

Group of pastors will defy ban on endorsement-sermons

A Washington Post report begins: Declaring that clergy have a constitutional right to endorse political candidates from their pulpits, the socially conservative Alliance Defense Fund is recruiting several dozen pastors to do just that on Sept. 28, in defiance of Internal Revenue Service rules.

The effort by the Arizona-based legal consortium is designed to trigger an IRS investigation that ADF lawyers would then challenge in federal court. The ultimate goal is to persuade the U.S. Supreme Court to throw out a 54-year-old ban on political endorsements by tax-exempt houses of worship. ...

Yet an opposing collection of Christian and Jewish clergy will petition the IRS today to stop the protest before it starts, calling the ADF's "Pulpit Initiative" an assault on the rule of law and the separation of church and state.

Backed by three former top IRS officials, the group also wants the IRS to determine whether the nonprofit ADF is risking its own tax-exempt status by organizing an "inappropriate, unethical and illegal" series of political endorsements. -- Ban on Political Endorsements by Pastors Targeted - washingtonpost.com

September 5, 2008

New York: " A family man for family court"

Proving once again that election lawyers need to know many different areas of law, David Giacalone at the f/k/a blog reports: Lawyer Kurt Mausert wants to be Family Court judge in Saratoga County, New York. Since his website went up on April 1st, it has boasted this rather uninspiring slogan, along with the usual copyright notice:

Although most family men really hate whining kids, and he is a father of four (ages 8 to 26), Mausert is loudly and plaintively complaining that his opponent — incumbent judge Courtenay W. Hall — has “stolen” his slogan and violated the copyright held on it by the Mausert election Committee. See “Saratoga County Family Court candidates battle over slogan” (Schenectady Daily Gazette, Sept. 5, 2008); “Whose line is it, anyway?” (TU Local Politics weblog, Sept. 2, 2008). A few months ago, Mausert also complained that the Independent Party treated him unfairly by not interviewing Mausert before choosing to endorse Judge Hall. The candidates are fighting for the Independence Party endorsement in a primary election on Tuesday. (See The Saratogian). -- whiny “family man” wants to be Family Court judge — and to copyright the slogan

September 4, 2008

Alabama: a few problems in municipal elections

A post on Doc's Political Parlor begins: Most of the municipal elections Alabama this year have gone smoothly however, some still remain in doubt

In Hodges, one vote seperates the two candidates and a petition for a recount has been filed. There are also concerns that election procedures were not followed. Related story at the Times Daily.

In Centre, a lawsuit has been filed by three candidates over possible mishandling of absentee ballots. -- Election contests and small town Alabama

September 2, 2008

House Judiciary Committee hearing on the Voting Sction next week

The Legislative Calendar of the House Judiciary Committee lists a hearing on "Voting Section of the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice Preparation for the 2008 Election." It is set for 9:30, Tuesday, 9 September.

You may be yawning now, but note that the subcommittee includes Rep. Artur Davis, one of the best cross-examiners I have seen in Congress.

Hat-tip to Gerry Hebert for the information.


September 1, 2008

Louisiana: Gustav delays primary

The Hill reports: Hurricane Gustav is disrupting the GOP convention and a hotly contested Republican primary in Louisiana.

GOP candidates hoping to succeed retiring Rep. Jim McCrery (R) have suspended their campaigns, and their primary, set for Sept. 6, may be postponed because of the storm.

State officials are drafting contingency plans for potentially delaying the election one week, to Sept. 13, or further if necessary.

Jacques Berry, a spokesman for the Louisiana Secretary of State’s office, said in a telephone interview that setting the date any later than the 13th would cause the state to also move the primary runoff, which is set for Oct. 4. -- TheHill.com - Hurricane puts La. primaries on hold