Votelaw, Edward Still's blog on law and politics: February 2009 Archives

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February 25, 2009

"How I teach cumulative voting"

Kaimipono D. Wenger writes on Concurring Opinions blog: I use M&M's, of course.

It wasn't always this way. I remember quite well the first couple of semesters that I taught Business Associations. My attempts to teach cumulative voting were -- err, not particularly successful. ...

And then I bring out a bag of M&Ms. And we count cumulative votes.

5 directors. 6 shares. A receives 30 M&Ms. And B receives 20 M&Ms. They will be able to allocate these M&Ms any way that they want to. They can allocate any number of their M&Ms to any students from their respective side of the class. The top five vote-getters are in. ...

For the rest of the semester, every time we mention cumulative voting, I will refer to it as stacking one's M&Ms on a particular candidate. Students will grin. It's not a concept they're afraid of anymore. And the lesson seems to stick -- I tested the concept as a short answer a few semesters ago, and almost the entire class nailed it. -- Concurring Opinions

District of Columbia: bill to give a House seat to DC advances in Senate

AP reports: The people of the District of Columbia were closer Tuesday to gaining the voting rights they were deprived of more than two centuries ago after the Senate agreed to take up a bill giving them a fully vested representative in Congress.

The Senate vote to debate the bill sets the stage for more legislative hurdles and a probable court challenge if the bill is enacted into law. But with the Senate action, D.C.’s 600,000 residents have their best chance of securing a real voice in Congress since a proposed constitutional amendment to enfranchise the federal capital failed a quarter-century ago. ...

Congress in 1978 approved a constitutional amendment giving the district representation in the House and the Senate, but it died when three-fourths of state legislatures failed to ratify it.

Senate action is needed because Congress in 1929 enacted a law fixing House membership at 435. That number was increased to 437 after Alaska and Hawaii became states, but reverted to 435 after the 1960 census. -- D.C. bill on House seat clears first step

Vermont: DOJ drops UOCAVA suit after state files reports

From a Justice Department press release: The Justice Department announced today the resolution of the lawsuit filed by the United States against the state of Vermont to enforce the reporting requirements of the Uniformed Overseas Citizen Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA). UOCAVA is designed to ensure that members of the uniformed services and overseas citizens may effectively participate in federal elections.

The state of Vermont and the Vermont Secretary of State, Deborah L. Markowitz, are responsible for collecting and reporting the number of absentee ballots that are sent to uniformed service voters and overseas citizens. The United States filed a lawsuit against the state of Vermont and its Secretary of State, on Oct. 10, 2008, because Vermont had failed to comply with UOCAVA's reporting obligations after both the 2004 and 2006 general elections. Today, the United States voluntarily dismissed the lawsuit because Vermont brought its UOCAVA reporting into compliance. ...

The UOCAVA specifically mandates that all states and local governments report to the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) no later than 90 days after the date of each regularly scheduled general election for federal office the combined number of absentee ballots that are sent to absent uniformed services voters and overseas voters for the election and the combined number of such ballots that were returned by these voters and cast in the election. The EAC publishes a report every two years and provides data concerning UOCAVA ballots for every state and jurisdiction in the United States. -- Justice Department Resolves Lawsuit With State of Vermont Regarding Reporting Requirements of Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act - MarketWatch

House to take up proposal for study of earmarks and contributions

Peter Overby reports on Morning Edition: On Wednesday, the House is scheduled to take up a spending package that covers most of the government and is loaded with earmarks, special provisions targeting money for particular projects, places or companies in members' districts. At the same time, lawmakers also will consider a resolution on investigating the links between earmarks and campaign contributions.

The ethics resolution comes from Arizona Republican Jeff Flake, who has become one of the chamber's most ardent critics of earmarks. "This is not a partisan resolution because this is not a partisan issue. I would implore my colleagues not to treat it as such," he said. -- House Lawmakers Ponder Pork And Campaign Cash : NPR

Alabama: Birmingham moves date of city election to comply with UOCAVA

The Birmingham News reports: In other business, the council in Tuesday's 7½-hour meeting unanimously approved moving the city and school elections to August. City attorney Lawrence Cooper said the city is violating federal voting rules because there were only three weeks between the general election and any runoffs. Federal law now requires six weeks between the election and runoffs, to allow absentee and overseas ballots to be counted.

City Council and school board elections originally were set for Oct. 13, but now will be held Aug. 25. -- The Birmingham City Council rejected three plans proposed by Mayor Larry Langford - al.com

February 20, 2009

Illinois: could a quick election rid them of this troublesome senator

Garrett Epps writes in Salon: The ambiguities of the United States Constitution, however, offer the Illinois state Legislature an opening to short-circuit this dreary ritual. The Legislature should call a special election in the next few weeks to fill Burris' seat, and offer the voters a chance to weigh in on the artful evasions of their new unelected senator. It would be the constitutional equivalent of a Hail Mary pass, but desperate times call for desperate measures. ...

One possible answer lies in the text of the 17th Amendment, adopted in 1913, which provides for the election of senators by the people. Under the original Constitution, senators were named by the legislatures; the governors had the power to appoint senators if a vacancy occurred while the legislature was not in session. As Edward Zelinsky of Cardozo Law School wrote recently, many legislatures met infrequently. "A temporary gubernatorial appointment was a sensible way to reduce this gap in senatorial representation until the legislature met to elect a new U.S. Senator."

What the 17th Amendment now says is that "the legislature of any State may empower the executive thereof to make temporary appointments until the people fill the vacancies by election as the legislature may direct." In fact, four states currently by statute bar the governor from making any temporary appointments; eight others permit appointees to serve only until a special election can be held. The rest permit the governor to appoint a senator to serve until the next general election. -- How to get rid of Roland Burris | Salon

Note: as I was creating this, NPR's Morning Edition was playing a report on Sen. Feingold's proposed constitutional amendment.

February 19, 2009

Texas: 5th Circuit revives suit against Texas Democrats under Sec. 5

The Fifth Circuit has partially reversed the dismissal of a Section 5 case about the allocation of delegates to the Texas Democratic Party convention. The opinion begins:

Plaintiffs-Appellants LULAC of Texas, the Mexican American Bar Association of Houston, Texas, and several individuals who reside in various Texas senatorial districts appeal from the dismissal by a single-judge district court of their claims under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act against Defendants-Appellees the State of Texas and the Texas Democratic Party (the “Party”), contending that the judge should have referred their claims to a threejudge court. Plaintiffs’ suit challenges the Party’s method of allocating delegates to its nominating conventions based on raw voter turnout, a procedure that was not precleared by the United States Attorney General or the District Court for the District of Columbia. Reviewing the dismissal de novo, ... we AFFIRM the dismissal for the State, REVERSE the dismissal for the Party, and REMAND ....

Maine: federal judge dismisses latest charges against Tobin

The Bangor Daily News reports: A federal judge on Wednesday dismissed the most recent charges against James Tobin, 48, of Bangor that alleged he lied to the FBI about his role in a phone jamming scheme on Election Day 2002 in New Hampshire.

U.S. District Judge George Z. Singal agreed with attorneys for the former GOP political organizer that bringing the charges in U.S. District Court in Maine after he had been vindicated on far more serious ones in New Hampshire qualified as a vindictive prosecution.

“The vindictive prosecution doctrine imposes critical ‘constitutional limits’ upon the exercise of prosecutorial discretion,” Singal wrote in his 12-page decision. “Those limits protect all current and future criminal defendants, including those whose conduct may be properly described as ‘insidious’ or ‘thoroughly bad.’ And by filing more severe charges following Tobin’s successful appeal without sufficient justification, the government exceeded those here.” ...

The 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned his conviction in 2007. It found that the telephone harassment statute was not a good fit for what Tobin had been convicted of doing. ...

The latest charges against Tobin alleged that he lied when he told the FBI that it was McGee’s idea to contact Raymond for assistance in executing the plan. Tobin also lied, according to the indictment, when he told the FBI that Raymond and McGee already had spoken when Tobin talked with Raymond about the plan. -- District judge clears Tobin

Hat tip to TPM Muckraker.

February 13, 2009

Alabama: House again passes bill banning PAC-to-PAC transfers

The Birmingham News reports: The Alabama House of Representatives, for the eighth consecutive year, approved legislation Thursday to ban political action committees from shuffling money to obscure the source of campaign contributions.

The House voted 98-0 for the bill banning PAC-to-PAC transfers. The bill now moves to the Alabama Senate, where many years it has died without coming up for a vote. The Senate passed a version of the ban last year, but the bills died in a conference committee. ...

McLaughlin's two-page bill would make it illegal for a political action committee to give money to another political action committee. PACs could give only to principal campaign committees. -- Alabama House again approves PAC transfer ban - al.com

Note: The bill, HB 154, may be downloaded here.

Alabama: group sues to declare state constitution invalid

The Birmingham News reports: A group of Alabama voters who say the state's constitution was never legally ratified by the people are asking for a new vote on it or on a new constitution.

The voters this month sued several state officials in Jefferson County Circuit Court's Bessemer division, claiming they violated voter rights by failing to ensure that Alabama's 108-year-old constitution is valid. State historians say the 1901 referendum on the document was plagued with voter fraud.

The lawsuit is the latest approach at forcing reform of a lengthy state constitution that is riddled with racist language, offers little power to local governments and imposes a tax system that critics call immoral. Efforts to change it at the legislative level for years have been unsuccessful. ...

Wayne Flynt, a retired Auburn University professor who has written extensively on Alabama history, said the constitution never passed. The official election results showed black voters supported it - but such support was unlikely, since a vote for the document was a vote to disenfranchise blacks, he wrote in an affidavit attached to the complaint. -- Group of Alabama voters challenges state Constitution - al.com

Note: The case is Tommie Lee Houston v. Troy King, CV 2009-139 (Jeff.Co. Cir.Ct, Bessemer). No images are yet available on AlaCourt.com.

February 12, 2009

Alabama: stricter voter I.D. bill delayed in committee ... till the 'Second Coming'

The Birmingham News reports: A legislative panel voted along party lines Wednesday to delay a proposed law that would require people to show government-issued photo identification to vote at the polls.

People unable to show a photo ID could vote by provisional ballot, a process that Rep. Joseph Mitchell, D-Mobile, said was "extremely time-consuming."

After about a half-hour debate by the Constitution and Elections Committee of the state House of Representatives, seven Democrats voted to delay a final vote on the bill. Four Republicans voted against delay.

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Gerald Allen, R-Cottondale, said he would try to fine-tune the plan in a bid to get more support, and said he hoped the committee would reconsider the bill.

But the committee chairman, Rep. Jimmy Martin, D-Clanton, set no timetable for the panel to review the bill again. Rep. Jack Page, D-Gadsden, suggested that he reschedule it for "the second coming" of Jesus. -- Alabama House panel votes on party lines to delay plan requiring voters to show photo ID - al.com

Note: The bill may be downloaded here.

Alabama: bill would list disfranchising crimes of "moral turpitude"

The Birmingham News reports: State law finally would have a definitive list of 70 felonies that disqualify from voting people convicted of the crimes, if a bill cleared by a legislative panel Wednesday becomes law.

Alabama's constitution disqualifies from voting anyone convicted of a "felony involving moral turpitude." But state law has no comprehensive list of those felonies.

A bill sponsored by state Rep. Jimmy Martin, D-Clanton, would write into the law a list of felonies that involve moral turpitude.

The constitution and elections committee of the state House of Representatives voted 8-3 for the bill, which could be debated by the full 105-member House as soon as next week. -- If it becomes law, bill would list 70 felonies that disqualify people from voting - al.com

Note: the bill may be downloaded here.

February 11, 2009

Kentucky: Senate committee approves campaign finance bill

The Fort Mills Times reports: A Kentucky Senate panel has approved a plan that would require candidates for statewide office to report campaign contributions more frequently around an election.

The proposal by Republican State Sen. Damon Thayer of Georgetown would require statewide candidates to file a campaign finance report with the state 60 days before general and primary elections. The proposal also would require candidates for statewide office to file electronic financial reports to the state.

Currently, candidates only have to report their financial contributions 32 and 15 days before an election. -- Fort Mill Times | FortMillTimes.com - Senate panel approves campaign finance requirement - Fort Mill, SC

February 10, 2009

Maryland: Steele defends payment to dissolved company

The Washington Post reports: Michael S. Steele, the new chairman of the Republican National Committee, said yesterday that there was nothing improper in a payment of more than $37,000 to his sister's company for work on his 2006 Senate campaign and that he would work with the FBI "to clear up my good name." ...

Campaign records indicate that $37,262 paid to Brown Sugar Unlimited covered catering and Web services. But it came 11 months after Turner, a pediatrician who lives in Potomac, had legally dissolved the company.

In the ABC interview, Steele said that not paying his sister for her work would have been a violation of campaign finance law. He criticized The Post for publishing a story where "there is no story" and said he provided receipts to prove the expenses were legitimate. On Friday, a spokesman for Steele provided a receipt for catering costs totaling almost $15,000 for two events, about half the total. The spokesman said they were searching for receipts to document the rest.

When asked about the timing of the payment, after Turner had dissolved the company, Steele told host George Stephanopoulos:

"That, I don't know about. What I do know about is the fact that, as she understood it, the company was still in existence. Her lawyers were telling her they were in the process of dissolving the company, so at the time when the checks were written back to her to reimburse her, she just said, 'Go ahead and write the checks to the company,' because the company had, you know, done the services that were provided." -- Steele Defends Payment to Sister - washingtonpost.com

Senate nears passage of electronic filing of campaign reports

The Hill reports: After years of delay, the Senate moved closer to considering a measure that would require senators to file their campaign finance reports electronically, an action transparency advocates hail as bringing the upper chamber into the 21st century.

Thanks to an expanded Democratic majority and signals from several Republicans that they are willing to back the legislation, the Senate Campaign Disclosure Parity Act will likely get a swift hearing and pass the chamber with more than the 60 votes required to cut off debate. -- TheHill.com - Senate bill would mandate electronic filing of reports

February 6, 2009

Alabama: no-reason absentee voting approved by committee

The Birmingham News reports: The House Constitution and Elections Committee approved a bill Thursday that would authorize early voting in Alabama by allowing anyone to cast an absentee ballot.

"It will give us an opportunity to vote 40 days out," said bill sponsor Oliver Robinson, D-Birmingham.

Robinson's bill would allow any qualified voter to vote early by casting an absentee ballot even if he or she intended to be in town on election day. The committee approved the bill 9-2.

Alabama voters stood in long lines for the November presidential election, particularly early in the morning, Robinson said. He said he got calls from frustrated constituents who had watched national news stories about early voting in other states. -- Alabama House committee approves early voting measure - al.com

February 4, 2009

Alabama: Candiate without enough petition signatures now sues for $20 million

The Montgomery Advertiser reports: A former mayoral candidate says he isn't filing a lawsuit to be allowed back into the campaign. The 29-year-old says he wants the money instead.

Willie D. Knight, who is asking for $20 million in damages, is contending that the Montgomery Election Center discriminated against young candidates during the two-week qualifying period.

All three candidates younger than 30 -- Knight, Byron Berry and Jamel Brown -- did not have the requisite 340 signatures on their petition because many of the petitioners either were not registered voters in Montgomery or had not updated their addresses. ...

Knight filed a four-page hand-written complaint on Friday. He included a copy of his petition, which is more than 60 pages. As of Tuesday, the case had not been assigned to a judge.

Knight alleges that the Montgomery Election Center staff members were negligent when they discredited certain petitioners. Some of the petitioners voted in the November general election, Knight claims. -- Former mayoral candidate sues for $20 million | montgomeryadvertiser.com | Montgomery Advertiser

February 3, 2009

Scotland: register of voters lost after by-election

The Herald reports: THE official register of all those who voted in the crucial Glenrothes by-election in November was lost within days of being handed over by the returning officer to the sheriff clerk in Kirkcaldy, it has been revealed.

The loss has prompted an investigation by the Scottish Court Service, but Tricia Marwick, the SNP MSP for Central Fife, yesterday called for an independent inquiry. ...

Within a fortnight of the election, in which Labour defied the pundits by holding with a majority of 6737, local SNP officials approached Kirkcaldy sheriff court inquiring about the cost of buying a photocopy of the marked-up register. ...

The SNP say they asked several times over December and January before being told it was lost.

A spokesman for the Scottish Court Service said: "Despite comprehensive searches for this document, we have been unable to locate the marked register requested within Kirkcaldy Sheriff Court. -- Demand For Inquiry As Glenrothes Byelection Register Is Lost (from The Herald )

Note: "Sheriff" is a type of judge in Scotland. The "SNP" is the Scottish Nationalist Party, which lost the Glenrothes by-election.