Column – Daily Voting News
Behind closed doors they snipe at each other. In public they question each other’s motives. And in front of Congress, they hang each other out to dry. That’s life on the Federal Election Commission, a panel that is supposed to answer the most important …
The Voting News for December 14 2011
Behind closed doors they snipe at each other. In public they question each other’s motives. And in front of Congress, they hang each other out to dry.
That’s life on the Federal Election Commission, a panel that is supposed to answer the most important questions in campaign finance law, but whose commissioners can’t always manage civility, never mind reach agreements on the biggest fundraising and spending questions it’s tasked to answer.
Matters are expected to get worse for the commission next year, thanks to numerous federal court decisions that will likely prompt a flood of questions the panel must consider. At the helm, there will be a new chairman, who will be elected on Thursday — likely Republican Caroline Hunter, the current vice chairman.
The Obama administration on Tuesday will wade into the increasingly divisive national debate over new voting laws in several states that could depress turnout among minorities and others who helped elect the president in 2008.
A dozen states this year tightened rules requiring voters to present state-issued photo identification at the polls, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Although Democratic governors vetoed four of the measures, liberal and civil rights groups have been raising alarms about the remaining laws, calling them an “assault on democracy” and an attempt to depress minority voter turnout. Supporters of the tighter laws say they are needed to combat voter fraud.
With the presidential campaign heating up, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. will deliver a speech Tuesday expressing concerns about the voter-identification laws, along with a Texas redistricting plan before the Supreme Court that fails to take into account the state’s burgeoning Hispanic population, he said in an interview Monday.
Sen. Ben Cardin said he will unveil legislation Wednesday to impose criminal and civil penalties for those who distribute false voting information before an election. The effort, which Cardin is making along with New York Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer, comes days after Paul Schurick, former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.’s campaign manager, was found guilty of election fraud for attempting to suppress turnout with a last-minute robo-call.
The call, directed at black neighborhoods in Baltimore and Prince George’s County, told voters to “relax,” and stated before polls had closed that Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley’s reelection was assured. Schurick’s attorney, arguing that the call was protected under the First Amendment, has vowed to appeal the ruling.
In an age of electronic communication, it seems archaic that voters in civic elections must physically show up at a polling station to cast their ballots. Some day, people surely will be able to vote using their computers, phones or iPods. However, that day need not arrive in 2013, when Edmontonians will again elect a city council. A new report to council shows that E-voting is something the city needs to enter very carefully.
The usual thinking about letting people vote remotely – by phone, computer or text message – is that it will encourage more people, especially young people, to fill out a ballot. However, the administration report going to city council points out that panellists at an Elections Canada workshop on e-voting said “it is not clear that E-voting actually increases overall turnout rates or the youth vote.”
What does seem clear is that E-voting has been problematic in a couple of countries that tried it. In the Netherlands, most spectacularly, a group hacked into computers on live television to show how easily the 2006 election results could be manipulated. The Dutch government has banned electronic remote voting because it thinks it can’t be made secure without a huge expenditure of money. Britain has also halted its trials of E-voting, because of problems with viruses and breaches of ballot security.
With all of the pressing business confronting the Legislature in Harrisburg, Republican lawmakers are somehow finding the time to advance legislation to require Pennsylvanians to show photo identification every time they vote.
Were there some demonstrated critical need to safeguard the voting process from fraud, we would applaud the Senate State Government Committee’s approval of an ID bill on Monday and a House version that passed in June.
But from all we can gather, voter ID “reform” is the classic solution in search of a problem and looks and smells suspiciously like a Republican effort to disenfranchise large numbers of voters who tend to vote for Democrats.
Bucks County state Sen. Chuck McIlhinney, chairman of the government committee, says he’s seen no proof that voter ID would deny the elderly, the disabled, the poor, minorities and young people the right to vote. In fact, on Monday, his committee lengthened the restrictive list of acceptable photo IDs that was part of the House bill. McIlhinney called the requirement a “security check.”
Paul Schurick’s recent conviction for voter fraud is a sad coda to the 2010 Martin O’Malley-Bob Ehrlich gubernatorial rematch: Sad because Mr. Schurick tainted his reputation as one of the state’s best political strategists, and sadder because Governor O’Malley almost certainly would have been re-elected no matter what late-campaign shenanigans Mr. Schurick pulled.
But the saddest thing about Schurick’s conviction is that his actions are merely one small part of a larger and more systematic attempt by conservative strategists to find ways to suppress voter turnout in service to Republican partisan advantage. Unlike in the Schurick case, most such efforts are perfectly legal (though certainly unsavory).
Let’s take a quick tour of the voter-suppression activities under way across the nation. In the past year, 19 new laws and two executive orders were issued in 14 states to create stricter voter identification requirements. These measures were supported and passed largely by Republicans after gaining control of state legislatures and governors’ offices in 2010. Their aim is to constrict the electorate for 2012 and beyond.
A state Senate panel Monday tweaked a measure to require all voters to show photo identification at the polls. The amended legislation now would allow for university ID cards and those issued by nursing home-type facilities to be accepted, and would require more information from those seeking an absentee ballot. It passed the Senate State Governmental Committee on a 6-5 vote.
The controversial measure, sponsored by Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-Cranberry, passed the House in June and has strong support from the Corbett administration. Opponents argue that requiring a photo identification card would disenfranchise those without such cards, pointing to statistics showing senior citizens, minorities and low-income residents disproportionately lack ID cards.
Sen. Chuck McIlhinney, R-Bucks, who chairs the State Government Committee, said the changes are an attempt to make identification cards as easy to obtain as possible, noting that the legislation would provide a free ID to those without one. Four Democrats and one Republican, Sen. Jake Corman, R-Centre, voted against the proposal, with several saying they are disinclined to change voting rules without first finding evidence of issues with the current system.
After refusing to turn over voting machines used in the November election, Atlantic Beach officials were forced Tuesday to hand them over after Horry County Sheriff’s deputies came to the town a court order. Horry County typically delivers voting machines the day before the election and picks them up the day after the election, Horry County spokeswoman Lisa Bourcier said in an email. Atlantic Beach repeatedly refused — in person, by phone and by email — to return the machines that were last used in the Nov. 1 vote, according to court documents.
“Atlantic Beach would not release our equipment, this was the only way to get them back,” Bourcier said. The county plans to review the machines, she said but referred questions about any actions or investigations to the state election commission.
The S.C. State Election Commission could not be reached Tuesday, but a letter that executive director Marci Andino sent to Horry County Voters Registration and Election Director Sandy Martin on Monday advised the county to take immediate action.
The South Carolina Republican Party announced Monday that it would not cover all costs associated with the 2012 presidential primary as previously promised. According to The State, SC GOP Executive Director Matt Moore said the decision came following an expensive Supreme Court case, in which four South Carolina counties attempted to block the primary.
Because the counties took the case to court, they also allowed the justices to rule on who should fund the primary. According to Moore, the Court ruled that only the state and county election commissions could be involved in running the primary, and thus the GOP need not supply additional funding.
State Election Commission spokeman Chris Whitmire said the commission was not suprised by the GOP’s decision to change its position in light of the Supreme Court decision, despite the fact that the state election commission and GOP were on the same side of the lawsuit.
Wisconsin’s voter ID law is again being challenged, this time in federal court. It’s the only active federal challenge of a photo ID law, say representatives of the national and state chapters of the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, who are bringing the lawsuit.
The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in the Eastern District of Wisconsin federal court, seeks an injunction against enforcement of the voter ID law, which takes full effect on Feb. 21, 2012 for Wisconsin’s spring primary elections.
“The photo ID law imposes a severe and undue burden on the fundamental right to vote under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution; violates the Twenty-Fourth and Fourteen Amendments to the United States Constitution as an unconstitutional poll tax; and violates the Equal Protection Clause o the Fourteenth Amendment in arbitrarily refusing to accept certain identification documents,” the December 13 complaint (PDF) states.
The League of Women Voters of Wisconsin Education Network filed suit in October against Wisconsin’s law in state court, and the Milwaukee branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is also expected to file a state challenge this week.
Election officials have been ordered to make sure that United Russia collects double the number of votes it is expected to win in State Duma elections on Sunday — even if they have to falsify the results, a senior election official said. The Central Elections Commission strongly denied the allegation.
But accounts from other people familiar with the issue — including opposition politicians and state-paid workers, who spoke of mounting pressure …
Burma’s Union Election Commission (EC) has allowed an application to register as a political party filed by the National League for Democracy (NLD), landslide winners of the 1990 general election and led by Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. The New Light of Myanmar, a state-run Burmese, reported on Tuesday that the EC had permitted the NLD’s application for registration as a political party in accordance with the commission’s rules and regulations.
Nyan Win, a spokesperson for the NLD, said that the party had submitted its application on Nov. 25. He said that there are two steps to register as a political party, and that the NLD has passed the initial step. The second step, he said, was the registration process itself.