Votelaw, Edward Still's blog on law and politics: July 2010 Archives

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July 25, 2010

Alabama needs instant-runoff voting

Alec Slatky begins his op-ed in the Birmingham News: The contentious Republican runoff for governor between Bradley Byrne and Robert Bentley has many Alabama political leaders thinking about possible reforms to the election process. Wary of an influx of Democratic voters who might decide the nomination contrarily to the preferences of the Republican Party and its members, GOP officials considered instituting a cross-over rule -- the Alabama Democratic Party already has one -- that would ban anyone who voted on a Democratic ballot in the primary from opting for a Republican ballot in the runoff.

The timing was too close for any changes to be made, and Bentley ended up winning by a 56-44 percent margin. But one potential reform for future primaries could resolve many problems with the status quo: instant runoff voting.

Instant runoff voting is designed to simulate a runoff election, but without the drawbacks of runoffs: low voter turnout, high cost to taxpayers, negative campaigning and potential for the lack of a crossover rule to lead to unrepresentative party nominees. It's been adopted to replace two rounds of voting in such cities as Oakland, Minneapolis and Memphis; has a long record of use in elections in dozens of major associations; and is used for overseas voters in Arkansas, Louisiana and South Carolina.

Voters rank candidates in order of preference, and if no candidate reaches the required threshold -- 50 percent in Alabama -- the top two candidates advance to a runoff, which can be held instantly. Ballots cast for the eliminated candidates are added to the totals of the runoff candidates based on whichever runoff candidate is ranked next on the ballot. That's it -- no need for a second election. Read the whole piece --> MY VIEW: True voting reform tops crossover rule |

July 22, 2010

Alabama: suit filed to block enforcement of law on campaign contributions

The Birmingham News reports: A 15-year-old Alabama law that says judges should not hear cases in which one of the parties donated at least $2,000 to their campaigns has never been enforced, locked in a stalemate over whether it first needs to be reviewed by the U.S. Department of Justice for evidence that it would not disenfranchise minorities.

A lawsuit filed this week in Washington by an Anniston City Council member tries to settle the question, but it also raises more questions about how an act of the Alabama Legislature can essentially be ignored for so long.

The 1995 law says that a circuit judge who received at least $2,000 from one of the people involved in the case -- or $4,000 for an appellate judge -- must recuse himself in order to avoid the "appearance of impropriety."

Soon after it was passed, the Alabama attorney general's office submitted the law to the Department of Justice, which normally reviews all changes to Alabama's election laws under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. But before the Justice Department could make a decision, the attorney general at the time, Jeff Sessions, withdrew the request for review and notified Washington that the state would enforce the new law and that it didn't need preclearance from the DOJ. -- Read the whole story --> Lawsuit seeks Justice Department review of unenforced 15-year-old state law |

A copy of the complaint is shown below:

Little v. King Complaint

July 20, 2010

Alabama: ADC files judicial-inquiry complaint against circuit judge over campaign flyer

The Montgomery Advertiser reports: The Alabama Democratic Conference has filed a complaint against Circuit Court Judge Patricia Warner over what the organization's chairman said are questionable and misleading campaign tactics.

Joe Reed, chairman of the ADC, has filed a complaint with the Judicial Inquiry Commission, alleging that a campaign flier produced by Warner as part of her re-election campaign improperly implied the state organization had endorsed her.

Reed said the action was a violation of the state's fair campaign practices law and the Alabama Canons of Judicial Ethics. ...

A complaint to the Judicial Inquiry Commission is serious business. The commission's mandated function is to investigate allegations of misconduct in office, violations of the Canons of Judicial Ethics or of disability made against any judge of the court, according to a document of the state Records Commission. -- Read the whole article --> ADC files complaint against judge over ad | | Montgomery Advertiser

July 18, 2010

Alabama: election-reporting system tested in runoff, to be ready for general election

The Mobile Press Register reports: Elections officials have announced plans to launch a rapid new online vote reporting-system statewide for November's elections, following a largely successful test during Tuesday's primary runoffs.

The Election Night Reporting system is billed by the Secretary of State's Office as a way to bring Alabama elections "into the 21st century." It is expected to offer voting results, turnout information and possibly precinct-by-precinct data, all online and updated regularly through the night after polls close. ...

On Tuesday, election officials sought to test the system in Alabama's four largest counties: Mobile, Montgomery, Jefferson and Madison.

Apparently, the night's biggest difficulty came from the county in which the Secretary of State's Office is located. "Unfortunately, we weren't able to participate," said Trey Granger, director of elections for Montgomery County. "Our Internet went down." -- Read the entire story --> New Alabama election system to show statewide results online |

July 16, 2010

Autauga Co: DA finds no multiple voting occurred

The Montgomery Advertiser reports: District At­torney Randall Houston has for­warded his report about poten­tial voting irregularities during Autauga County's June 1 prima­ry elections to the secretary of state's office.

The issue came to light when a voter's name appeared on the list of those having cast absen­tee ballots when the person did not vote absentee. The Autauga County board of registrars made a complaint to the district attor­ney's office, alleging that voter had cast three votes in the pri­mary, Houston said.

"My office has determined that there was no indication of voter fraud in Autauga County, and there was only one vote cast by the person who was alleged to have voted several times," Houston wrote in a letter accom­panying the report. "However, it appears there was an error with the computer system which monitors absentee voting. There are three possible scenar­ios as to what might have oc­curred in the Autauga County primary and they include: un­lawful human intervention, simple human error, or a mal­function in the computer soft­ware."

Houston wrote that the secre­tary of state's office is best equipped to determine if any problems with the computer system exist. -- Read the whole story --> Autauga County report on voting irregularities sent to secretary of state's office | | Montgomery Advertiser

July 14, 2010

Alabama: editorial warns GOP about crossover voting (or closing the barn door after ...)

The Huntsville Times editorializes: Be careful what you ask for. It may not be what you really want.

Alabama Republicans need to ask themselves what they really want in the wake of Tuesday's GOP gubernatorial runoff between Bradley Byrne and Robert Bentley that drew lots of Democrats.

Such crossover voting is prohibited by Alabama Democratic Party rules. Republicans have no such ban in primary runoffs.

The state has come full circle on this.

Several election cycles ago, Republicans were the ones "crossing over" to vote in the Democratic gubernatorial runoff. -- Read the whole editorial --> EDITORIAL: Political parties and election rules |

Alabama: winning candidate withdraws because of campaign-finance violation

The Cullman Times reports: With the shadow of an election violation hanging over his campaign, Jerry Parker captured the most votes in the Republican runoff Tuesday. But in a dramatic turn moments after the totals were announced, he declined to accept the party's nomination.

Parker said he had learned from the state attorney general's office that his failure to file a portion of his campaign financing papers on time could not be overlooked or amended. ...

I told you in the beginning I was no politician. I will stand on my principles; I take full responsibility for my actions. This is my fault and my fault alone. Unlike others, I will not cost the county I love so dearly one cent by fighting a lawsuit I can’t win.

“I want to see the Republican Party get on with the business of running my party, the party of Reagan. Therefore, I cannot and will not accept the Republican Party’s nomination for associate commissioner. God bless America and God bless Cullman County,” Parker finished. -- Read the whole story --> Commission shocker » Top News », Cullman, Alabama

July 9, 2010

Alabama: candidate may face criminal prosecution

The Troy Messenger reports: Pike County District Attorney Gary McAliley said further legal action will be taken against former commissioner Karen Berry "one way or another." ...

Berry was removed from office in October 2009 when a Pike County Circuit Court ruling deemed she won the November 2008 illegally. The case was brought by her opponent now commissioner Oren Fannin who had lost by just six votes. Judge Joel Holley, who ruled in the case, declared that 10 votes cast for Berry were done so illegally.

Also during the course of the trial, allegations of potential voter fraud and perjury were brought forth. At one point Holley declared in court: "Someone here today has committed perjury." Read the whole story --> Troy Messenger | McAliley: Berry to be prosecuted

July 3, 2010

Alabama: bingo and voting rights linked

The Tuscaloosa News reports: The chairman of the Alabama Black Legislative Caucus said today he wants to file a federal voting rights complaint over the raid by Gov. Bob Riley's gambling task force at the Greenetrack bingo casino.

State Rep. John Rogers, D-Birmingham, said the raid of Greenetrack and removal of bingo machines unilaterally nullifies the vote of Greene County residents who approved a constitutional amendment authorizing bingo. ...

Rogers noted that the Greene County amendment approved by voters in 2003 contains the term “electronic.” Riley considers electronic bingo machines illegal.

Amendment 743, which was declared ratified in June 2004 defines bingo as: “That specific kind of game commonly known as bingo in which prizes are awarded on the basis of designated numbers or symbols on a card or electronic marking machine conforming to numbers or symbols selected at random.” Read the whole story --> State legislator wants to file voting rights complaint |

July 2, 2010

Alabama: legislator will appeal election contest loss

The Montgomery Advertiser reports: After a subcommittee of the Alabama Democratic Party ruled against putting state Rep. James Thomas into a runoff with the man who beat him in the primary, the legislator's at­torney filed an appeal with the party. ...

Thomas, D-Selma, currently represents District 69, which includes all or part of Autauga, Dallas, Lowndes and Wilcox counties. He was elected in 1982.

Political newcomer David Colston won the June 1 prima­ry by 120 votes with 51 percent of the vote, enough to avoid a runoff. Thomas finished with 32 percent.

Thomas and his attorney ex­pressed concerns about the number of absentee ballots and about one precinct in which voters were supposed to re­ceive different ballots depend­ing on their district, according to Sabel, but 302 people in one precinct did not receive the bal­lot that should have included District 69. Read the whole story --> Legislator to appeal Democrats' decision to deny runoff in District 69 | | Montgomery Advertiser