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

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May 31, 2009

Alabama: military-voting bill keeps Alabama at the back of the pack

The Montgomery Advertiser reports: A bill that would have made voting easier for Alabama's mil­itary members died in the last days of the legislative session.

Both houses passed a version of the bill that had little opposi­tion this year and was expected to pass.

Championed by Secretary of State Beth Chapman and her staff, it failed after a campaign finance amendment was added to it. ...

According to Department of Defense figures, as of Aug. 31, 2008, there were 38,657 active, Guard and Reserve members from all service branches, in­cluding the Coast Guard, who listed Alabama as their home. ...

In January, the Pew Center on the States released a report that found Alabama, the District of Columbia and 16 other states, including Georgia and Tennes­see, don't provide enough time for military members abroad to vote.

Alabama topped the list in the time it takes to complete the vot­ing process -- it can take some military voters 88 days from start to finish, the report found. Part of the reason is because Alabama is one of three states -- New York and Wyoming are the other two -- that require every­thing to be sent via the U.S. Post­al Service. --> Read the whole article at Military voting bill likely won't apply to 2010 elections | montgomeryadvertiser.com | Montgomery Advertiser

May 27, 2009

New Hampshire: DOJ drops Tobin case

TPMmuckraker reports: Has the New Hampshire phone-jamming case finally come to a quiet end?

Federal prosecutors have dropped their case against former regional NRSC official James Tobin in connection with a GOP plot to jam the phone lines of the New Hampshire Democratic party on Election Day 2002, reports the Associated Press.

Tobin had been acquitted of involvement in the plot -- for which two GOP consultants have served jail time -- but was being tried on new charges of lying to investigators. A court dismissed those charges, and last week an appeals court rejected prosecutors' appeal. --> Read the whole report at Feds Drop New Hampshire Phone-Jamming Case | TPMMuckraker

May 21, 2009

Alabama: Birmingham's election date still undetermined

The Birmingham News reports: Birmingham City Council members and candidates for city elections are incensed that there still is no definite date set for council and school board elections.

The City Council three months ago voted to ask the Department of Justice for permission to move up the election dates to comply with the federal Help America Vote Act. However, a request was not sent to Washington until May 7.

City Clerk Paula Smith recently sent a memo to the council listing two election schedules - one if the Justice Department approves the new dates and another if approval is not granted. ...

Some council members said they were misled by Cooper into believing the process was much further along than it actually is. --> Read the rest of the story at Birmingham, Alabama's election day remains undecided - al.com

May 20, 2009

New Jersey: "E-Voting Machines on Trial"

Danielle Citron writes on Concurring Opinions: On Monday, a New Jersey Superior Court wrapped up a fifteen-week trial in Gusciora v. Corzine. There, plaintiffs challenged New Jersey’s use of e-voting machines on the grounds that the machines cannot be trusted to count the votes accurately given how easily they can be hacked. The trial centered on security problems of the state’s 11,000 e-voting machines manufactured by Sequoia Voting Systems. Plaintiffs argued that the machines are vulnerable to physical and digital attacks that could compromise elections. Expert witnesses in the case included Professor Andrew Appel from Princeton University, Dr. Roger Johnston of Argonne National Laboratory, and Professor Wayne Wolf of Georgia Institute of Technology, who testified that vote-stealing software could be installed by attackers without specialized training or expensive equipment. At trial, the experts demonstrated multiple hacks of the machines’ source code and user interface, attacks on the machines’ circuitry, and methods for bypassing New Jersey’s physical security measures. ---> Read the rest at E-Voting Machines on Trial

May 16, 2009

Alabama: election contest voided by state supreme court

The Gadsden Times reports: In an opinion released Friday, all nine justices of the Alabama Supreme Court ruled that the Cherokee County Circuit Court did not have jurisdiction to decide the election contest case that evolved from the Cedar Bluff municipal election of Aug. 26, 2008.

After the results were certified in Cedar Bluff's general election on Sept. 2, three candidates - two for council positions and one for mayor- filed a contest suit saying that absentee ballots were not handled properly and that those votes should not be counted. ...

Justice Michael Bolin, in writing the court's opinion, said an election contest cannot be brought until a candidate is "declared elected" after a run-off election. In addition, he emphasized that an election contest cannot be brought in any court unless allowed by state statute.
Bolin wrote, "It is well settled that the Legislature, by enacting Title 17-16-44, has restricted the jurisdiction of the circuit courts in regard to elections." -- Cedar Bluff election ruling overturned | GadsdenTimes.com | Gadsden Times | Gadsden, AL

Alabama: PAC-to-PAC transfer bill dies after effort to tack on anti-Artur Davis provision

The Birmingham News reports: Legislation aimed at helping soldiers overseas vote electronically in elections died Friday after the Senate added an unrelated provision to prohibit a federal campaign from giving to a state race.

Secretary of State Beth Chapman said "political games" killed the bill. ...

The House passed the military voting bill, but the Senate on April 30 added language that would prohibit a federal candidate or officeholder from transferring funds to a state campaign for office. Doing so would be a violation of the Fair Campaign Practices Act, senators wrote.

Chapman and legislators said Sen. Roger Bedford, D-Russellville, made the change to the bill. Several legislators said they thought the change was aimed at stopping U.S. Rep Artur Davis from transferring his federal campaign money to his state race for governor. -- Military voting bill dies on final night of session; Chapman says politics killed it - al.com

May 15, 2009

Alabama: prosecutors did not charge Sen. McClain with misuse of campaign funds, but want to enhance his corruption sentence any way

The Birmingham News reports: Federal prosecutors today will ask a judge to sentence former state Sen. E.B. McClain to 17½ years in prison.

A lengthy prison sentence is warranted, prosecutors say, because McClain has a penchant for breaking the law for personal gain, a claim they plan to back up by introducing evidence of illegal conduct for which McClain has not been charged. The sentence is also needed to send a stern message that public corruption won't be tolerated, they say. ...

From 2001 to 2007, McClain routinely broke state law by taking campaign funds for personal use, according to the sentencing memo. According to prosecutors, McClain:

Either transferred or deposited directly at least $85,000 in campaign funds into his personal account, then used those funds to pay personal expenses.

Made at least 26 ATM cash withdrawals from a campaign fund totaling $8,500 and used the money at dog tracks and casinos in Alabama and Mississippi.

Used more than $14,000 in campaign funds to buy furniture and appliances and to make mortgage payments. He also made $4,400 in ATM cash withdrawals on another occasion. It's unclear what that money was used for. -- Federal prosecutors seek to sentence former state Sen. E.B. McClain to 17½ years and the Rev. Samuel Pettagrue to 14 years - Page 2 - al.com

May 11, 2009

Alabama: Birmingham's slow preclearance request for election-date change has potential candidates and council worried

The Birmingham News reports: The city last week filed its formal request with federal officials to move up the City Council and school board elections - more than two months after the City Council voted for the change. ...

However, the delay in filing the request has some asking when the actual election will be held, when qualifying will open and when the real campaign season will begin.

Council and school board elections were set for Oct. 13, but the council in February voted to move the elections to Aug. 25. Cooper had said the change was needed because of provisions in the federal Help America to Vote Act that requires six weeks between the election and any runoffs. That provision was mandated to allow absentee and overseas ballots to be counted.

Under Birmingham's schedule, there have been only three weeks between the general election and runoffs. -- Birmingham, Alabama, files request with U.S. to shift election date months after council voted for change - al.com

May 9, 2009

Alabama: judicial candidates to face additional requirements

The Montgomery Advertiser reports: The Alabama Legislature has passed a bill to set minimum expe­rience requirements for judges.

The House gave final approval Thursday to a bill that requires a state appeals court judge to have been a lawyer for at least 10 years. Circuit judges would need five years' experience and district judges three years. The require­ments will take effect for judicial candidates in next year's elec­tions. Current judges are exempt. -- Alabama legislators set experience for judges | montgomeryadvertiser.com | Montgomery Advertiser

May 6, 2009

Alabama: ethics charges against Hale County judge arising from election investigation

The Tuscaloosa News reports: A Hale County circuit judge has been accused by the state's Judicial Inquiry Commission of ethical violations over how he handled a voter fraud investigation involving three of his relatives.

The complaint handed down by the commission alleges that Judge Marvin W. Wiggins violated seven of the Alabama Canons of Judicial Ethics in failing to recuse himself 'in a timely manner' once the Alabama Attorney General's Office requested that he do so. ...

The allegations against Wiggins date to his involvement with the December 2006 empaneling of a grand jury that the attorney general's office requested for its voter fraud investigation.

During that investigation, the attorney general's office investigated three of Wiggins' relatives: Wiggins' sister Gay Nell Tinker, who served as Hale County Circuit Clerk from 2001 to 2007; state Sen. Bobby Singleton, who was married to Tinker at the time and was Wiggins' brother-in-law; and Wiggins' cousin, Carrie Reaves.

The state's voter fraud investigation eventually resulted in the August 2007 indictments of Valada Paige-Banks and Rosie Lyles for their alleged criminal involvement in two 2004 elections.

Tinker was indicted in March 2008 on 13 felony offenses pertaining to voter fraud. -- Judge accused of ethical violations | TuscaloosaNews.com | The Tuscaloosa News | Tuscaloosa, AL

Note: The complaint is available from the Alabama Court of the Judiciary website.

Over 33 Million Dollars Wasted in 100 counties in 2008 Due to Antiquated Voter Registration System

Guest post by Lisa Gilbert, U.S.PIRG Democracy Advocate

If only one lesson was well learned in the recent elections, it is that their success or failure is entirely dependent on the resources and skills of our local and state-level election officials.

The 2008 elections were noteworthy in many ways, for example, the 3.4 million more young voters who participated last fall than in the 2004 cycle. However one thing that the increased participation helped to spotlight are the enormous obstacles and cost inefficiencies inherent in our out-of-date voter registration system.

These challenges cost taxpayers millions and make it harder for election officials to do their jobs.

In U.S.PIRG’s new report, “Saving Dollars, Saving Democracy,” (http://www.uspirg.org/voting-democracy), the 100 counties surveyed had over $33,467,910.00 of public money spent on simple registration implementation and registration error-correction issues in 2008.

Furthermore, as significant as these sums are, we know that they are really only the tip of the iceberg in our country.

In addition to the costs of the endless data-entry and ongoing dealing with errors that our report looked at in detail, almost every county has still further costs associated with our antiquated system.

For example, in Los Angeles County, entering the massive amounts of registration forms into the database system leads to an expense of over $56,000 in every major countywide election just to mail supplemental voter rosters to poll inspectors in time for Election Day.

From coast to coast local election officials have similar stories of being forced to apply expensive band-aids in order to effectively administer the registration system.

If we modernized our system we could both eliminate the majority of the registration cost burden local officials bear and register more citizens. A more modern system would reallocate funds and enable local officials to more effectively administer our elections.

“Saving Dollars, Saving Democracy” (found at http://www.uspirg.org/voting-democracy) recommends implementing a more automatic system that links existing federal and state databases with the state voter rolls to do this.

It is time to put our taxpayer dollars into activities that promote our democracy, like citizen election education and pollworker training, rather than into data-entering forms.