Votelaw, Edward Still's blog on law and politics: December 2011 Archives

« November 2011 | Main | January 2012 »

December 31, 2011

Another party-switcher is rejected by the GOP

The Talladega Daily Home reports: Munford residents met with Danny Hubbard, chairman of the Talladega County Republican Committee, Thursday night at the Munford Senior Center to voice their concerns over the list of Republican nominees for the upcoming election.

Many of their concerns pointed to the fact that Jackie Swinford?s name was not on that list.

Swinford, who is Talladega County commissioner for District 1, which includes the Munford area, was not recognized by the Talladega County Republican Committee while trying to switch his party affiliation from Democrat to Republican.

Of the 25 members of the Talladega County Republican Executive Committee, 14 members voted 8-6 against Swinford?s request to become a Republican at a recent party meeting. At Swinford's request, a special meeting of the committee is scheduled for Jan. 5 to vote on whether his name will be placed on the Republican ballot in spite of the previous denial. ...

The committee is to meet Jan. 5 at an undisclosed location for the vote. If there is someone who detests, the executive committee will reconvene and hear Swinford and his opposer and the committee will then have a closed session and have a final vote. -- Read the whole story --> The Daily Home - Swinford s request to join Republican Party is denied

DOJ preclears Madison County districts

The Huntsville Times reports: The U.S. Justice Department has pre-cleared the Madison County Commission's redistricting plan.

The commission in September adopted new district lines to make each commission district as equal as possible in population. The changes are required after each U.S. Census.

The county's new district lines will be in effect for the March 13 party primary elections. -- Read the whole story and see the map --> Justice Department approves new Madison County Commission district plan | al.com

December 29, 2011

DOJ seeks more information on Huntsvile redistricting plan

The Huntsville Times reports: The U.S. Justice Department is holding up approval of Huntsville's revised City Council and school board election lines.

T. Christian Herren Jr., chief of the Justice Department's voting section, notified the city on Dec. 19 that his office needs more information to ensure that the proposed redistricting plan does not discriminate against minority voters.

Herren asked City Attorney Peter Joffrion to submit a slew of additional data, including precinct-by-precinct vote totals from every city and county election since 2001 involving an African-American candidate, copies of all correspondence between the mayor and City Council about redistricting, and a detailed explanation of why the city's proposal will not cause a "retrogression" of minority voting strength.

The U.S. Attorney General's office will then have 60 days to review Huntsville's plan.

Some of the older information sought by the Justice Department "does not exist," Joffrion said Tuesday, while other data will have to be retrieved from various state agencies. -- Read the whole story --> Justice Department not ready to sign off on Huntsville redistricting plan | al.com

December 24, 2011

Tom Butler appeals GOP decision barring him from ballot

The Huntsville Times reports: Former Democratic State Sen. Tom Butler is appealing the Madison County Republican Party's decision to bar him from seeking a county commission seat on the GOP ticket.

Monday night, a divided Madison County Republican Party executive committee approved a motion that bars Butler from seeking the GOP nomination for the open District 2 County Commission seat.
Butler announced his party switch and candidacy for the seat less than a month ago and had already picked up an endorsement from former Gov. Bob Riley.

But he was unable to convince the party's candidate committee of his conservative credentials. That group, formed to vet local GOP candidates, recently voted 6-0 to keep Butler out of the March 13 Republican primary election.

Today Butler emailed a letter to the state Republican Party appealing the local party's decision. -- Read the whole story --> Former Sen. Tom Butler appeals to state GOP after being barred from primary ballot | al.com

December 23, 2011

Spencer Bachus over-donates to two GOP candidates

The Birmingham News reports: Two candidates in a special state legislative election returned a total of $1,500 to U.S. Rep. Spencer Bachus' re-election account because the donations exceeded new state limits.

Bachus, R-Vestavia Hills, reported the Nov. 23 refunds to the Federal Election Commission in a Dec. 5 letter.

The Alabama Legislature last year changed Alabama's campaign finance law to include a limit of $1,000 that federal campaign committees can donate to state and local candidates. The law went into effect one year ago this week. ...

On Dec. 7, the Alabama Democratic Party called on Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange, a Republican, to investigate. The Alabama Fair Campaign Practices Act says it is a Class C felony to receive or spend money in violation of the $1,000 limit. Bradley Davidson, executive director of the Alabama Democratic Party, said Thursday that Strange's office has not responded to the party's request. -- Read the whole story --> Alabama U.S. Rep. Spencer Bachus' donations to campaigns refunded | al.com

December 22, 2011

Huntsville Times editorializes against GOP decision on Butler

The Huntsville Times opines: In deciding to deny Democrat-turned-Republican Tom Butler a place on the party's primary ballot next March, local Republicans seem to have forgotten how their party developed any significant presence in Alabama politics roughly 40 years ago. ...

The party may want to rethink what kind of message it is sending by hand-picking nominees based on factors other than technical qualifications. The very purpose of holding primaries, which are paid for by the taxpayers, is to not let party bosses decide who the nominees will be. -- Read the whole editorial --> Primaries and ballot access (editorial) | al.com

December 20, 2011

Gasden city council gets 3rd redistricting plan

The Gadsden Times reports: The Gadsden City Council now has a third redistricting plan to consider -- this one developed by Councilman Deverick Williams with input from other council members. ...

Williams said the latest plan follows existing district lines for the most part, but does create a third minority-majority district by making changes in Districts 1 through 5.

He called it a "politically neutral" plan. ...

Williams said his goal actually was to craft a third minority-majority district. Under the plan, District 1 would be 60.5 percent black and 30.2 white, District 2 would be 47.7 percent black and 45.3 percent white and District 3 would be 67 percent black and 27.8 percent white. -- Read the whole story --> Council gets third redistricting plan to consider | GadsdenTimes.com

Madison co GOP rejects a party-switcher

The Huntsville Times reports: Former Democratic state Sen. Tom Butler's attempt to resurrect his political career as a Republican has come to an abrupt end.

Monday night, a divided Madison County Republican Party executive committee approved a motion that bars Butler from seeking the GOP nomination for the open District 2 County Commission seat.

Butler announced his candidacy for the seat less than a month ago and had already picked up an endorsement from former Gov. Bob Riley.

But he was unable to convince the party's candidate committee of his conservative credentials. That group, formed to vet local GOP candidates, recently voted 6-0 to keep Butler out of the March 13 Republican primary election. -- Read the whole story --> Madison County GOP bars longtime Democratic state Sen. Tom Butler from Republican primary | al.com

December 18, 2011

"Civil rights groups seek action against voter ID laws"

The Montgomery Advertiser reports: Nation­al and local civil rights groups are asking federal of­ficials to aggressively chal­lenge new election laws in Alabama, Mississippi and other states, saying the laws threaten to reverse decades-old efforts to expand voting rights to all Americans. ...

Holder's speech sent a "good shot over the bow," said Rep. Mel Watt, D-N.C., who led the 2006 effort to reauthorize the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

Earlier this week, the Ad­vancement Project and other groups delivered a petition to Holder urging him to chal­lenge the new laws. A coali­tion of state and national groups also called on him to "vigilantly" protect the rights Latino voters and oth­er minorities.

In the same spirit, two U.S. senators introduced a bill this week that would toughen penalties for fraudulent vot­ing practices.

The new state voting laws generally toughen the ID re­quirements for casting a bal­lot. More than a dozen states have adopted such laws this year. -- Read the whole story --> Civil rights groups seek action against voter ID laws | The Montgomery Advertiser | montgomeryadvertiser.com

December 14, 2011

Federal court strikes down one portion of Alabama's PAC-to-PAC transfer ban

A judge of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama has held that Alabama’s ban to transfers between PACs is unconstitutional in one narrow circumstance. (Under the Alabama law, the definition of PAC includes political parties and candidates’ principal campaign committees.)

On December 14, the court ruled for the Alabama Democratic Conference (ADC) and several of its leaders, holding the law is invalid if the ADC is gathering funds that will be used for independent expenditures – that is, contributions that will not go to candidates’ committees. The court ruled,

Given that preventing corruption or the appearance of corruption cannot be a valid interest if contributions are being made for purposes of independent expenditures, it is clear that the State’s interest in stopping corruption, or the appearance thereof, cannot support a ban on PAC-to-PAC transfers if the money does not ultimately get funneled to a candidate. Because the State cannot establish that it has a sufficient interest in infringing upon the ADC’s First Amendment rights, this court must find that, as a matter of law, the PAC-to-PAC transfer ban is unconstitutional as applied to Plaintiffs. (Opinion, at 21.)

The court’s final judgment ruled that ADC may receive funds from other PACs if it keeps its funds in two separate bank accounts – one for the independent-expenditure contributions; the other for money it will give to candidates.

The ADC was represented by Edward Still (Birmingham), John K. Tanner (Washington DC), and Osaygefo Grubbs (Montgomery).

The opinion and final judgment are below:

24 Order Granting Pl Mot for SJ

24 Order Granting Pl Mot for SJ

Why is this a scandal?

Alabama politician Bill Johnson caught in sperm donation scandal in New Zealand | al.com
The Mobile Press Register reported on Monday: Bill Johnson, a former top state official who made a failed bid for governor in 2010, has been living a secret life in New Zealand as a sperm donor for lesbian couples, a New Zealand newspaper reported today.

Johnson, a Republican from Prattville, has spent much of the past year in Christchurch, New Zealand, as a contractor working on the recovery effort from a deadly earthquake that struck the city in February.

The New Zealand Herald reported in its Sunday edition that Johnson, who is married, has been using an alias to meet women who want help getting pregnant. The newspaper said it confirmed at least nine women had received sperm donations from Johnson, and at least three were pregnant.

The newspaper cited fertility medicine specialists in New Zealand who said that donors should not make sperm available to more than four families, to prevent accidental incest and lessen the stress donors and children face if they meet. -- Read the whole story --> Alabama politician Bill Johnson caught in sperm donation scandal in New Zealand | al.com

For background on Johnson and the story, see --> Behind New Zealand sperm scandal, an Alabama political legend

December 8, 2011

ACLU interviews Birmingham's Rev. Scott Douglas re voter suppression

The ACLU's Blog of Rights begins several days of a series on voter suppression with this: "The right to vote freely for the candidate of one's choice is of the essence of a democratic society, and any restrictions on that right strike at the heart of representative government." -- Chief Justice Earl Warren in Reynolds v. Sims

This Saturday, December 10, the American Civil Liberties Union, along with our friends at the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and many others, will march in the streets of New York City in support of our most fundamental American right of all -- the right to vote. And next week, Attorney General Eric Holder will address the nation from President Lyndon B. Johnson's library in Austin, Texas about the sanctity of voting rights in America. -- Read the whole blog post and see the video of Scott Douglas --> Don’t Shrink Our Democracy » Blog of Rights: Official Blog of the American Civil Liberties Union

Alabama SOS opposed National Popular Vote plan

The Birmingham News reports: Alabama Secretary of State Beth Chapman said this morning that she is against a proposal to change the Electoral College system and award the presidency to the winner of the national popular vote.

"I do believe it is an end run around the Constitution," Chapman said during a panel discussion at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank that opposes the National Popular Vote plan.

Chapman, a Republican, argued that a national popular vote would disenfranchise Alabama and other small states because presidential candidates would focus their campaigns on only the largest, most populous states.

Under the National Popular Vote plan, states would award their electoral college votes not to the winner of the popular vote within their state, but to the winner of the national popular vote. The proposal has been endorsed by nine state legislatures. -- Read the whole story --> Alabama Secretary of State opposes national popular vote | al.com

For background on Chapman's appearance and the GOP campaign against the National Popular Vote plan, see GOP Nonprofit Backs Electoral College.

December 7, 2011

Alabama's ethics law and gifts to teachers (part 2)

The Mobile Press Register reports: Students can give their teachers gift cards this holiday season, so long as it is to buy items for the benefit of the class, according to an opinion just rendered by the Alabama Ethics Commission. -- Read the whole story -->Gift cards OK for teachers, if they're for the classroom, Ethics Commission rules | al.com

The Ethics Commission opinion can be viewed on the Ethics Commission's website.

December 6, 2011

Ethics complaint alleges dubious doctorate degrees (which sounds like a Perry Mason title)

The Mobile Press-Register reports: A Grand Bay woman has filed ethics complaints against the top 2 administrators at Bishop State Community College concerning their doctoral degrees from unaccredited institutions.

Hugh Evans, the general counsel of the Alabama Ethics Commission, said state laws prohibits him from discussing complaints unless the commission decides to take action.

Angela Goudreault provided copies of her two complaints to the Press-Register. She also provided a letter from Evans stating that the commission would assign an investigator to the case. ...

Goudreault's complaints accuse Lowe and McCane of using dubious doctorates to collect $2,000 annual income supplements for "duly accredited doctoral degrees." -- Read the whole article --> Grand Bay woman files ethics complaint over doctoral degrees against Bishop State officials | al.com

December 4, 2011

Gadsden city council considering redistricting plan

The Gadsden Times reports: Mayor Sherman Guyton said he has submitted his proposed redistricting plan to the Gadsden City Council, and it?s now up to the council to come up with a plan. ...

Guyton's proposal stayed close to existing district lines, making about eight changes to bring the districts into numerical compliance with laws concerning sizes of districts and how much they can vary from the "ideal" population.

Councilman Robert Avery proposed a very different plan, and Councilman Bill Stewart, whose district would change dramatically, didn't mince words about his opposition.

"It?s unfair," Stewart said. "Our (Gadsden's) black population is about 37 percent, somewhere in that neighborhood. They should have three representatives (on the council)."

He said a fourth black district should not be established, and that Avery drew the plan to have four predominately black districts. -- Read the whole story --> Stewart opposed to Avery's version of redistricting plan | GadsdenTimes.com

Alabama ranked low on survey of election websites

The William & Mary Election Law Society reports: The Internet has increasingly become the main source of information for many Americans. Indeed, many errands we once accomplishedwith a car or a postage stamp are now done simply with a few clicks of the mouse. As Americans have grown more dependent upon sites such as Amazon and Netflix, it stands to reason that they are also increasingly more likely to seek out information regarding their civic duties using the Internet. ...

This study examines each state’s main elections webpage to determine its usefulness to the average voter. The goal is to determine the ease or difficulty with which that voter could find vital information on his or her state’s elections website. It is important to distinguish certain characteristics of a state’s voting system from the state’s website. This study does not seek to analyze a state’s use of online voting or vote by mail (among others). Rather, the goal is to determine how easily voters can get the information they need. For the most part, the study uses quantitative measures—namely, how many clicks of the mouse it takes to find important information. Along with these measurements is a more qualitative measurement used sparingly to examine whether that process is intuitive. (You might be able to come across voter registration information in two clicks, but often only providentially). -- Read the whole posting --> All States (election websites): A look at election websites state by state : State of Elections

NOTE: Alabama is tied for 37th place.

Alabama GOP PAC accepts two PAC-to-PAC transfers in violation of law

The Montgomery Advertiser reports: A political action committee run by House Speaker Mike Hubbard appears to have accepted $35,000 in donations from PACs following passage of the PAC-to-PAC ban, but his office said it was an error that has been rectified.

Records filed by Net PAC last week show the PAC receiving a $5,000 check from BI PAC, a political action committee run by Montgomery lobbying firm Fine Geddie in January, and $30,000 from DST PAC, a PAC funded mainly by beer brewers that mainly funded Democrats in 2010.

Both transfers took place after the state's ban on PAC-to-PAC transfers took effect in December. However, Hubbard spokesman Todd Stacy last week provided a copy of the $5,000 BI PAC check, which was written Nov. 22, 2010, about a month before the ban went into effect.

He said the office did not know why the check was cashed Jan. 12 of this year, but said the laws passed by the Legislature allowed the transaction to be seen. -- Read the whole story --> montgomeryadvertiser