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

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April 29, 2009

Alabama: GOP block non-partisan election of judges in Marshall County

Republicans block nonpartisan judicial elections - NewsFlash - al.com
AP reports: "Republicans block nonpartisan judicial elections." In Alabama we have a strange creature called a "local constitutional amendment" by which the voters of one city or county can amend the state Constitution. That is what Rep. Jeff McLaughlin of Guntersville (in Marshall County) was proposing: a local constitutional amendment for Marshall County to allow its judges to run in nonpartisan elections.

The amendment failed by a vote of 50-0. It needed 63 votes (60% of the House's total membership) to pass. The Republicans abstained to kill it.

April 25, 2009

Alabama: Sparks accuses Davis of violating state campaign law by using congressional fundraising for gubernatorial campaign

The TimesDaily reports: Agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks said Friday that U.S. Rep. Artur Davis, of Birmingham, broke campaign finance laws for using money from congressional fundraisers for his gubernatorial bid before June 1.

June 1 is the first day candidates can legally begin raising campaign money.

Davis and Sparks have both said they running for governor in 2010.

"He has broken the law; he violated the law," Sparks said in an interview. "How can you run around having congressional fundraisers, not filing with the secretary of state and handing the money over to your campaign, and he's the guy coming out talking about ethics?"

Davis campaign spokeswoman Anna Ruth Williams said Davis stopped congressional fundraising and filed his campaign papers with the secretary of state last week as soon as he realized his campaign had passed the $25,000 spending threshold that mandates filing. -- Sparks says Davis broke finance rules | TimesDaily.com | The Times Daily | Florence, AL

April 16, 2009

Florida: keep those lawyers away from the voters

The New York Times reports: Republican lawmakers, who control both houses of the Legislature, have proposed sweeping changes to the state’s election laws, including new procedures on registering voters, and requiring voters to use a provisional ballot if they move shortly before an election.

The rules would also prevent anyone, including those with video or audio equipment, from getting within 100 feet of a line of voters, even if that line is outside a polling place. This would also prevent anyone from offering legal advice to voters in line.

State Senator Alex Diaz de la Portilla, a Republican from Miami and sponsor of the legislation, said the changes were a response to complaints and problems in the 2008 elections. ...

Elizabeth Westfall, a senior lawyer with the Advancement Project, a voting rights group, predicted that the measure would shut down voter-registration drives in Florida by outside groups like the N.A.A.C.P. The legislation would require voter-registration groups to turn in applications within 48 hours after they are first filled out. --

Washington State: Legislature passes National Popular Vote bill

National Popular Vote.org reports: The Washington House of Representatives passed the National Popular Vote bill, thereby sending the bill to Governor Chris Gregoire. The Washington House is the 26th state legislative chamber in the country to pass the National Popular Vote bill. If the Governor signs the bill, Washington (with 11 electoral votes) would become the fifth state to enact the National Popular Vote bill, and give the bill 23% of the 270 electoral votes needed to bring it into effect. -- National Popular Vote -- Electoral college reform by direct election of the President

April 12, 2009

Texas: GOP governors differ on the NAMUDNO case

AP reports: Republican governors offer differing views on major voting rights case at Supreme Court -- Differing views in GOP on voting rights case | TPM News Pages

Note: Because the AP is threatening legal action against those who quote from their stories, I will be mentioning fewer AP stories and will give no more than the headline.

Scotland: SNP considering fundraising at funerals

The Sunday Herald reports: THE SNP has been accused of "grave robbing" after the party put forward a "macabre" plan for fundraising at funerals. Nationalist bosses are asking grieving relatives if they can place envelopes on seats at memorial services for the purpose of raising cash for the party. Opposition parties have condemned the proposal. ...

This builds on the party's existing fundraising policy of encouraging members to leave cash to the SNP in their wills by calling on activists to leave "In memory" gifts.

One of the fundraising methods allows friends and family to celebrate "the life of a loved one" by donating money to the SNP.

However, the strategy goes further by identifying mourners at funerals as potential contributors to the Nationalist cause. The blurb states: "If you are arranging a funeral or memorial service for a loved one, you may wish to ask friends and relatives to donate to charity instead of buying flowers.

"If you wish to collect for the SNP in this way we can provide you with envelopes that can be handed out or left on seats at the service. Most funeral directors will be happy to assist with this and we can send information directly to them." -- Snp Under Fire Over Macabre Plan For Fundraising Funerals (from Sunday Herald)

Yglesias on STV replacing SMD

Matt Yglesias writes on his eponymous blog: Ed Kilgore’s interesting post on polarization in congress seems like a good opportunity to point out that there are some practical, structural steps we could take that would probably reduce polarization. One such move would be to shift from single-member constituencies, where a Congressional District has about 600,000 people and one member of congress, to multiple-member constituencies where larger units are represented by multiple reps elected via single transferable vote. -- One Solution to Polarization: Multiple-Member Constituencies

April 11, 2009

"Visualizing Contributions to the 110th Congress"

Usually, I quote a little portion of the article, but these are primarily visual, so I will just give you the links.

Visualizing Contributions to the 110th Congress — The House Edition

Visualizing Contributions to the 110th Congress—House Edition (Take 2)

Visualizing the Campaign Contributions to Senators in the 110th Congress — The TARP EDITION

April 10, 2009

Texas: Rep. Barton's campaign fund lost $703k in stock market

CQ Politics reports: Texas Rep. Joe L. Barton ’s campaign reported losing $703,500 in the financial markets last year.

A large chunk of those stock market losses — $196,900 — were in shares of four companies that have a stake in the bills handled by the House Energy and Commerce Committee, where Barton is the top Republican.

Barton is one of a handful of House members whose campaign accounts are heavily invested in stock and bond markets, and, like many other investors, his campaign savings took a pounding when the stock market crashed. ...

It is legal for lawmakers to invest campaign money, and House conflict-of-interest rules do not apply to campaign holdings.

But the confluence of Barton’s legislative jurisdiction and campaign assets raises questions about the propriety of the arrangement. -- Campaign of Energy Leader Lost $700,000 in Markets

April 9, 2009

NY-20: Tedisco now challenging votes of 2nd-home owners

Hudson writes on a Daily Kos diary: Here is the short version of the situation shaping up in Columbia, Murphy's strongest county in NY-20:

Tedisco's legal team is moving to disenfranchise an entire class of voters.

Specifically, virtually all ballots from Democrats who fit the profile of "second home owners" are being challenged -- and if the Board does not uphold the challenge, those ballots are being set aside, unopened, subject to a formal appeal by Tedisco. That is: They cannot be opened until a judge rules on them.

This GOP strategy is going to significantly depress Murphy's vote tally in Columbia, at least temporarily.

Those unfamiliar with Columbia County may not be aware that there has been, for many years, a large second home community here -- made up overwhelmingly, though not exclusively, of Democrats from New York City. Many of these voters have been here for many years, in some cases decades. As is entirely appropriate and legal, they have cast their ballots here without incident many times before, including just a few months ago for Barack Obama.

But as I'm hearing it, the Tedisco lawyer in Columbia (sent in by John Ciampoli) came prepared to challenge pretty much anyone who was a Democrat who had their absentee sent to a "downstate" address.

[Irony alert: As smartly pointed out in the comments by MinistryofTruth, Tedisco himself doesn't even live in the district! Yet he's challenging the residency of longtime home owners and voters here?]

Now, the legal precedent has been affirmed many times on the State and Federal level that a person who owns more than one home can pick whichever of their homes' districts they want to vote in. The law is clear: You don't have to vote at your "primary" residence, where you file your main tax return. So long as you don't register and vote in more than one place, this is 100% legal. There are many good reasons for this: The right to representation where you pay taxes, the difficulty of determining primary residence, the fact that some professionals spend a large part of the year away from their main home, etc. -- Daily Kos: {{ UPDATED x2 }} NY-20: Urgent distress call from Columbia County

Free public access to OpenSecrets.org coming soon

The Center for Responsive Politics announces: If you're a dataphile who hasn't been able to get enough of OpenSecrets.org, make sure your champagne glasses are full as you read on. For the first time in CRP's 26-year history as Washington's premier money-in-politics watchdog, we're making our most popular data archives fully available to the public for download -- for FREE. Starting next week, we'll be putting our vast data on campaign finance, lobbying and the personal finances of lawmakers in more hands, with the expectation that more people counting cash will lead to more people making change. We expect all sorts of mashups, maps and other cool projects to result from this new capability, which has been graciously underwritten by the Sunlight Foundation. Stay tuned for details about how to use this data, and be prepared to dive in!

April 8, 2009

Alabama: Bob Riley gets the Streisand Effect

The Birmingham News reports: Several televi­sion stations have stopped running ads from a pro-bingo group that at­tempt to link Gov. Bob Riley to Choctaw tribal casinos in Mississippi.

Riley's deputy legal adviser sent the stations a letter threatening legal action if the ads aired by the Sweet Home Alabama Coalition -- a group pushing a bingo bill in the Alabama Legislature -- were not pulled. The commercial suggests Riley opposes the bill because he received cam­paign donations from the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, which op­erates casinos in Mississippi. -- TV stations stop pro-bingo group's ads linking Riley to Choctaws

Wikipedia says, "The Streisand effect is an Internet phenomenon where an attempt to censor or remove a piece of information backfires, causing the information to be widely publicized."

Riley may have wanted to stop the incorrect (he says) information, but he managed to spread it around more. As I post this, Google News lists 99 versions of the story.

Sen. Schumer urges DOJ suits against non-compliance with Motor Voter

From a press release by Sen. Schumer: U.S. Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) urged Attorney General Eric Holder on Tuesday to sue states that fail to comply with a federal law requiring public assistance agencies that administer food stamps and unemployment benefits to also distribute voter registration materials.

The 1993 law, called the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA), was designed to increase registration opportunities for eligible voters, and accounted for more than 2.6 million new registrations in its first two years after taking effect. But lax enforcement of the law has led to a 79 percent reduction in the number of registrations at public assistance agencies since 1996, and last year, the Justice Department revealed that as many as 18 states were under investigation for skirting the law.

“This law is supposed to simplify the voter registration process, but it has been complicated by the rogue behavior of a large batch of states,” said Schumer, the Chairman of the Senate Rules Committee. “The Bush administration essentially condoned this flouting of the law, but with new leadership at the Justice Department, we hope states will be made to meet their obligations. Attorney General Holder should pull out all the stops to ensure the law is followed. If that means taking certain states to court, so be it.” -- SCHUMER URGES DOJ: SUE STATES THAT FLOUT VOTER REGISTRATION LAW

April 6, 2009

Open Redistricting Project

Travis Crum writes on Balkinization: The OpenRedistricting Project has two separate, but interdependent, components. The development of user-friendly, free redistricting software is a necessary step for bringing ordinary citizens into the process. Once that is completed, a social networking site dedicated to monitoring the 2010 redistricting cycle should be created. With these new platforms, the netroots will have a seat at the redistricting table.

Redistricting software, which currently costs several thousand dollars, is prohibitively expensive for average citizens, leaving decision-making in the hands of political professionals. Admittedly, some people are already working to solve this problem (see here and here). But these programs seek mathematical solutions for partisan gerrymandering. While this goal may be well-intentioned, it limits citizen involvement.

An ideal open source program would allow users to manipulate district lines using pre-programmed census data, demonstrating how simple shifts in boundaries can have profound impacts on a district's racial or partisan composition. Similar to for-profit programs, the open source software would use GIS technology, such as Google Earth, to display and compare proposals. For example, one could watch the South's transition from rotten boroughs in the 1960s to majority-minority districts in the 1980s and 1990s to coalition districts today. The program would permit users to experiment with their own preferences, as well as offer guidance in following redistricting requirements. Indeed, the Redistricting Game provides a useful -- albeit imaginary -- model. -- The OpenRedistricting Project -- Balkinization

April 2, 2009

New York-20: 25 votes apart with 6000 absentee ballots uncounted

Michael Barone writes on USNews.com: What's going to happen when the absentee and military ballots are counted in the New York 20th district, where Democrat Scott Murphy currently has a lead of 25 votes out of 154,409 cast on election day
. Still to be counted are absentee and military votes. How are they likely to go? ...

Thus this absentee electorate could be a little more Democratic than the voters who voted on election day. However, it's also possible that an effective Republican absentee voter drive targeted those registered Republicans who also indicate that they are behavioral Republicans; if I were setting up an absentee voter drive that's what I'd aim at doing. So this absentee electorate could be a little more Republican than the electorate as a whole. There's no real way to know until the votes are counted. -- Analyzing the Absentee Ballots in the New York 20 Special House Election - Michael Barone (usnews.com)

Is that clear?

April 1, 2009

Minnesota: recount court will review 400 absentee ballots

The New York Times reports: Al Franken, the comedian turned politician, won a potentially decisive court ruling on Tuesday in his bid to replace Norm Coleman, a Minnesota Republican trying to hold on to his Senate seat.

A three-judge panel ruled that only 400 absentee ballots — far fewer than Mr. Coleman had sought — should be examined for possible counting. If the ruling stands, it could be devastating for Mr. Coleman, who trailed his Democratic challenger by 225 votes out of some 2.9 million cast and had hoped that nearly 1,400 absentee ballots might be recounted.

Even if the results put Mr. Coleman further in the hole, as expected, he could fight on, before the Minnesota Supreme Court or perhaps in the federal courts. His lawyer said Mr. Coleman had not given up. ...

The ballots in question appear to include many that Mr. Franken had identified as wrongly rejected, as well as ballots that Mr. Coleman wanted opened, The Minneapolis Star Tribune reported on its Web site. About half come from Hennepin, Ramsey and St. Louis Counties, places Mr. Franken won by significant margins, The Star-Tribune said. -- Franken Wins Favorable Court Ruling in Minnesota Senate Race - NYTimes.com

"High Court to Weigh Relevance Of Voting Law in Obama Era"

The Washington Post reports: America's next great battle over civil rights could hardly have a less controversial flash point: the benign decision to move the neighborhood polling place from Jack Stueber's garage to the local

elementary school.

But because Stueber's garage is in Texas, and because Texas once systematically discriminated against its black and Latino citizens, and because Congress wants to make sure that it never does again, elections in the handsome neighborhood called Canyon Creek are a federal issue.

The Supreme Court will consider this month whether the neighborhood's tiny utility board should continue to be among the states and local governments that bear the Voting Rights Act's heaviest burden -- pre-clearance by federal authorities for even the smallest changes in election laws and procedures -- and whether Congress exceeded its authority in 2006 by extending the restrictions for 25 years.

Each time the court has reviewed the law since it was first passed 44 years ago, it has agreed with Congress that the restrictions are warranted. But this time around, a question hangs over the case that is not found in law books:

Is a law conceived in the time of Jim Crow still relevant in the age of Barack Obama? -- Supreme Court to Weigh Relevance of Voting Rights Act in Obama Era - washingtonpost.com

Vernon Burton on Lincoln this Saturday

C-SPAN is airing my friend Vernon Burton's talk at the Woodrow Wilson Center with James McPherson's commentary this Saturday, April 4. It will air as part of C-SPAN's monthly Lincoln programming which begins at 8 p.m. ET/ 7 CT/ 5 PT on C-SPAN. The first 20 minutes or so is a program on the Lincoln Home in Springfield, followed by Vernon's talk and then a presentation by James Percoco on Lincoln memorials.

Vernon Burton is the author of The Age of Lincoln.