Election Integrity News
Drawn from various sources and updated frequently by our editorial team, the Election Integrity News is a compilation of the latest developments in the area of election integrity. That means stories covering everything from the administration of elections, the security of the vote, voter suppression, gerrymandering, money in politics, and much more.
If a story catches your eye that you think would make for an interesting item, send it to us at FairElectionTips@whowhatwhy.org.
Latest News May 19-23:
Florida Court Case Targets Yet Another Voter Suppression Policy
Florida Governor Rick Scott’s (R) administration is the subject of another lawsuit that targets its diverse efforts to restrict access to the polls. Filed by the League of Women Voters, the lawsuit hinges on what qualifies as a “government-owned community center.” Secretary of State Ken Detzner says student centers at state university buildings don’t count; students and their advocates feel otherwise.
The League of Women Voters sees the state’s position as a direct attempt to make it harder for young people to vote in the 2018 elections. The group filed a lawsuit in the US District court in Tallahassee on behalf of six students who report difficulty accessing the polls.
Florida turned to early voting in 2004, still under the shadow of the recount following the 2000 election. Now, two-thirds of votes cast in Florida in the 2016 elections were either cast early or by mail. In 2011, his first year in office, Scott cut early voting hours to disastrous effect: lines were several hours long at the polls; accusations of voter suppression followed. The legislature soon course corrected in 2012, expanding hours and expanding the reach of early voting sites to “fairgrounds, civic center, courthouse, county commission building, stadium, convention center, government-owned senior center and government-owned community center.”
Nevertheless, Detzner’s office ruled in early 2014 that the student union building at the University of Florida, Gainesville, didn’t qualify as a community center, to the outrage of many voters. Democratic state senators filed bills in attempt to explicitly include state-owned colleges and universities; the majority Republican legislature blocked all of them.
Few Recognize Maduro’s Reelection in Venezuela
To no one’s surprise, Venezuela’s president Nicolás Maduro won “reelection” this past Sunday. A coalition of opposition parties called for a boycott of the election. Many of their candidates were kept from running at all. Governments worldwide have denounced the election, which is largely considered to be fraudulent. Official records show a 46 percent turnout; the coalition of opposition candidates estimates 30 percent. Either way, it’s the lowest turnout since the 1940s.
The country is faced with rampant hunger, shortages of medication, and a migrant crisis, which many attribute to mismanagement and corruption on the part of the current administration. Maduro’s leading opponent, Henri Falcón, called for a new election. He refused to recognize the results, alongside US Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan.
Trump Racked Up Twice the Legal Fees in One Year Than Obama Did in Two
President Donald Trump and his team have accrued more than twice the amount of legal fees this election cycle than his predecessor did in 2010 and 2014. The Republican National Convention forked over nearly $3.2 million while the Democratic National Convention spent just $1.2 million — in twice the time. Though the legal fees accounted for just 2 percent of the RNC’s total expenditure, they comprised 17.6 percent of the Trump campaign’s. (In contrast, legal consulting made up just 11.9 percent of spending by the Obama committees in the 2009 cycle.)
The propriety of using party funds to cover the legal costs for a president and his staff has incited testy discussions among members. But none seemed to have deterred current and former occupants of this White House, who continue to field subpoenas from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia election interference. Last Sunday, reporters revealed that the RNC paid half a million dollars to a law firm representing former communications director Hope Hicks and others in the special counsel inquiry.
Will the Russia Probe Make or Break Democrats in the Midterms?
Bombshells revelations from the concurrent inquiries into Russian meddling in the 2016 US presidential election could determine which party dominates the midterms — and wins control of Congress. For more than a year, the Senate Intelligence Committee and Mueller have been investigating possible coordination between the Trump campaign and Russian agents. Mueller’s inquiry is the more prolific, having produced 22 indictments of individuals and companies and led to five guilty pleas. Both probes are expected to continue, if not escalate, into the midterm season. (A third, by the House Intelligence Committee, concluded in acrimonious fashion last month.)
With the adoption of early voting, any new findings announced by the Senate panel or Mueller’s team from September to November could affect the election outcome. A major development pointing to an “impeachable offense by the president” could spell doom for not just Trump loyalists but also moderate Republicans. But a spate of Russia updates is no guarantee of a blue wave. If neither investigation yields damning evidence of collusion, more credence could be awarded to the president’s “witch hunt” narrative, and Republicans may regain the upper hand, particularly in swing states.
Election Infrastructure Is in Dire Straights, Experts Say
Experts believe that the United States faces a national crisis: the state of its voting machines. A recent survey collected opinions from over 100 cybersecurity experts. The general consensus was that the situation is dire, especially with midterm elections less than six months away. Congress made a small dent when it allocated $380 million for states to secure local election systems, but more action is needed.
States determine the specifics of their own elections and often resist oversight or intervention from the federal level. But lacking adequate funds and leadership alongside vulnerable machines, states may not be well equipped to manage the threats of interference from abroad. Many of the experts interviewed called for stronger federal action around cyber threats and election security. Dave Aitel, chief executive of Immunity Inc. and a former National Security Agency security scientist called state-level control “insane.”
States rely on voting machine vendors to secure their own systems and software. Many machines don’t produce any paper record of votes cast, eliminating the possibility of a true audit. But the machines are far from the only vulnerability: voter registration databases are easy targets. In 2016, Russia accessed Illinois’s statewide voter database — the potential to create mass confusion and disenfranchise voters is enormous. States and counties often don’t have the IT resources or expertise to combat such threats.
Latest News: May 15-19
Colorado Delivers Two Anti-Gerrymander Measures to November Ballot
Colorado voters will get two chances to overhaul the state’s redistricting process this November. The pair of bills lawmakers signed last Wednesday could serve as a national model against gerrymandering: they would change the state constitution to explicitly ban the practice, better protect minority voters, transfer map-drawing duties and approval rights to a non-partisan commission, and recruit more moderates to the process at large.
Colorado’s current electoral districts favor Democrats, allowing them to win a majority in the state House in 2016 despite nabbing fewer popular votes than Republicans. Disagreement over the fairness of the state’s redistricting process has led to bitter altercations between the two parties, so much so that the courts have had to intervene in four of the past six redistricting cycles.
Louisiana Restores Voting Rights to Felons on Parole and Probation
More than 3,000 felons in Louisiana could be heading back to the polls: the House approved a bill restoring voter rights to people on probation and parole. After a lengthy — and unexpected — debate during a routine amendment session, the bill passed 54-42 and is on it’s way to the governor’s desk, who is expected to sign it.
House Bill 265 will eliminate a decades-old statute which extended — to felons on parole and probation — the state’s ban on felony prisoners voting. The rights will be restored five years after leaving prison and will be effective March 1st, 2019. The state currently has 70,000 formerly incarcerated people.
This legislation is a boost after an appellate court judge reluctantly rejected a challenge to the 1976 law by rights group Voice of the Ex-Offender (VOTE), saying that — although he agreed the law is unfair — it isn’t unconstitutional and therefore is out of his jurisdiction.
Counties, States Lose Faith in Paperless Voting Machines
Many of the voting machines in use in America don’t produce paper records of votes cast. Ballots are tabulated electronically, and we are supposed to trust the software (and voting machine vendors) and hope that everything adds up correctly. But experts on voting and cybersecurity have long been ringing the alarm bell: the lack of a verifiable, paper audit trail makes it impossible to verify election outcomes.
Despite a report last week from the Senate Intelligence Committee that recommends replacing machines that don’t produce a paper record, several states will rely on such equipment in upcoming primary elections. Georgia, where there will be a primary election on Tuesday, exclusively uses electronic voting equipment without a paper trail, alongside several other states and counties.
Efforts to upgrade equipment are underway nationwide. Congress allocated $380 million in funds to defray the costs of changing voting machines for states, but many local officials have reported that the funds are wildly insufficient. Advocates across the country are pushing to abandon electronic equipment like optical and digital scanners in favor of the simplest strategy: hand counted paper ballots and public tabulation of election results.
Senate Breaks With House, Concludes Russia Meddled in 2016 Election
The Senate Intelligence Committee, headed by Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), broke from the House Intelligence Committee and White House by announcing that it agreed with the assessment of the intelligence community: Russia did try to intervene in the 2016 US presidential election on behalf of Trump. Burr stated that the panel has been “reviewing the sources, tradecraft, and analytic work, and we see no reason to dispute the conclusions.” This is a radical departure of the House panel’s report, which concluded that Russia did interfere but not on behalf of Trump, and urged Mueller to end his investigation.
Mueller, who has indicted 19 people and three companies in the past year (five pleaded guilty), has expressed interest in interviewing Trump, though the president (and recently Vice President Mike Pence) have called on the special counsel to end the investigation.
The Obstacles Native Americans Face Just to Vote Are Many and Varied
Native Americans still face major hurdles just to vote in the US. Be it registering, traveling to the polls, or simply reading the forms, every step in the process is a major obstacle which leaves many unable to partake in the electoral process.
A look into these obstacles in Arizona — a state that only granted Native Americans the right to vote in 1948 — shows just how far the country needs to come to make elections equal and fair. For example, a law in 2015 removed four Native American languages from the mandatory list, leaving only Apache and Navajo as the official languages. Although the numbers of speakers of this language are dropping, removing these languages made it impossible for many to vote.
On top of language issues, the forms require a fixed street-address. This is something a lot of Native Americans cannot provide as they live in places that do not have traditional addresses, such as reservations or extremely rural areas. In Arizona, a voter has the option to draw a map and describe surrounding areas, but this can cause problems should election officials put all of these voters under the same address, such as a government office in that area.
Another issue Native Americans face is the photo ID requirements, which depend upon the possession of a birth certificate, a tribal ID number, or a passport — all of which are very difficult to obtain in rural areas. Also, living rurally means travelling hours to get these IDs, and to vote, creating a barrier to the ballot box.
Overcoming the problems of language, addresses, and photo IDs are crucial if we want the system open to all Americans. Although Native Americans do not make up a huge a portion of the population, a nation that prides itself on free and fair elections has to do better to include them in the process.
Is Venezuela Politicizing Government Aid?
Venezuela’s election cycle falls in the midst of several ongoing national crises: chief among them is hunger. About 70 percent of Venezuelans rely on subsidized food to survive and leadership is using it as a sinister get-out-the-vote strategy. To receive subsidized meals, medicine, and government cash bonuses, Venezuelans have to show a “Carnet de la Patria” or “Fatherland Card.” The idea is that citizens will register their cards at booths attached to polling stations so that data about who has and has not voted will be tied to the card. Critics argue that this threatens voters — if you don’t vote, or vote wrong, what will that mean for future government aid? The government claims that there is nothing political about the project.
Moreover, Venezuela uses electronic voting machines; some wonder if the data is shared between the machines and the records associated with Fatherland Cards. Others have expressed concern about the privacy of their votes. Michael Penfold, a political science professor in Caracas and a Global Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, D.C. has researched the issue and found that the cards do increase turnout, but mostly in favor of the current administration. He is wary of how the cards intimidate opposition voters who fear a vote against the current power structures could imperil their access to much-needed aid.
Michigan Anti-Gerrymander Group Awaits Approval for Ballot Proposal
Voters Not Politicians, a prominent anti-gerrymandering group in Michigan, collected nearly half a million signatories in an online petition calling for reforms in the state’s redistricting process. Now, it just needs to collect one more signature — from the Board of State Canvassers — to send their proposed constitutional amendment to the ballot.
Michigan has one of the most egregious cases of gerrymandering in the US. Since maps are drawn by state legislators, the majority party always controls the process. Under the measure, redistricting rights will be given to a bipartisan, independent commission of state citizens.
Latest News: May 12-15
Judge’s Ruling Leaves Door Open for Online Voter Registration in Texas
Texas may be dragged — kicking and screaming — into the 21st century: a federal judge’s recent ruling now allows online registration in the state. Currently voters can only register through paper submissions, but a May 10 decision may change that. The National Voter Registration Act is a decades-old law which aims to make registering to vote easier by forcing states to allow drivers to register when applying for or renewing their licenses. Texans are currently allowed to renew their licenses online but are not offered the option to register to vote while doing so, therefore violating the National Voter Registration Act — at least in the opinion of US District Judge Orlando Garcia.
While the state has promised to appeal this decision, activists are hoping this will open the door to Texas joining the other 38 states that allow online registration. Should the platform to register online while renewing a license be created, proponents argue, there is no reason for it not to be adopted across the board.
With other states adopting automatic registration, Texas is behind the times on this issue. There have been previous legislative attempts to implement online voting, but each has failed at the hands of Republicans. With online registration predominately benefiting young and minority voters, there isn’t a lot of appetite on the right to advance the issue. However, Garcia’s ruling at least gives an alternative way to secure what is becoming a commonplace feature of elections.
Florida Judge Orders Expert to Watch Over Broward County Election Following Destruction of Ballots
Woes continue to pile up in Broward County, Florida, where Circuit Judge Raag Singhal has ruled that County Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes illegally destroyed ballots in a 2016 congressional election. This ruling is the latest step in an 18-month battle that started when Tim Canova, worried about the election’s integrity, requested to see the ballots for a Democratic primary race he lost to Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz by 16 points. Snipes ignored the request until Canova sued, creating a legal battle — which took a twist in November when Snipes’s office admitted the ballots had been unintentionally destroyed. There were however digital copies made of every ballot.
While Snipes’s attorney has stated that the destruction of ballots is not illegal and has promised to appeal the ruling, the immediate impact is the presence of election experts in the county to ensure “all laws are followed.” Canova was also awarded attorney fees for his troubles. He is once again challenging Wasserman Schultz, this time as an independent.
This ruling will cause concerns over the validity of the election in one of the state’s most reliably Democratic counties. Hopefully the presence of an expert will restore some order to an election office that has seen its fair share of issues over the years. The most notable is the infamous 2000 recount, but Snipes has also been unsuccessfully sued once, and investigated by Broward prosecutors another time.
Austin Explores Alternative, Open Source Voting Machines
Voting machines nationwide have been proven to fail a basic requirement: election security. Thanks to outdated technology and design flaws, many are vulnerable to hacking and manipulation. Congress recently allocated federal funds to upgrade equipment nationwide (though, overwhelmingly, the available resources are wildly insufficient to cover the costs of wholesale upgrades to old and inadequate voting machines).
Austin is at the forefront of efforts to provide more secure elections. Texas is one of over a dozen states that uses a kind of direct record electronic voting machine that leaves no paper trail — voters cast their vote at the push of a button, and that’s it. This has long been a subject of concern among cybersecurity experts and academics.
Local advocates for more secure elections have taken matters into their own hands, devising a new system called STAR Vote (Secure, Transparent, Auditable, and Reliable). Unlike the existing systems, STAR was designed with streamlined audits in mind — the system produces a paper record that can be used to verify electronic vote totals.
But the system is built on open source software, and voting machine manufacturers are refusing to build the machines. The creators of the STAR system see open source voting equipment both as an important security measure and key cost-reducer. With open source voting machines, counties wouldn’t have to rely on single vendors for hardware and software. Voting machine companies not only charge for the equipment, they also license expensive, proprietary software. Open source voting machines present a direct challenge to the grip of manufacturers over election infrastructure. Until the group behind STAR can find a willing partner, secure, open election equipment will remain a mere idea.
Canadian Oil Company Donates to the Pro-Gerrymandering Cause in Michigan
Michigan is notorious for its gerrymandered legislative districts — the leading party has historically drawn the lines to support its own interests. Right now, that means Republicans, but Democrats have been equally enthusiastic in the past. But the advocacy group Voters Not Politicians has proposed a constitutional amendment that would create a new redistricting process. Rather than sitting legislators, a nonpartisan citizen redistricting commission would draw the map. A majority of Ohioans voted in favor of a similar measure in last week’s elections.
But the major opposition for the proposal suggests an uncomfortable alliance between a local lobby and Canadian oil money. The Michigan Chamber of Commerce has opposed the ballot initiative while the Canadian oil giant Enbridge simultaneously contributed to the Chamber’s political action committee, Chamber PAC II.
The Detroit Free Press reports that the donations from Enbridge account for over half of the total funds Chamber PAC II has acquired this election cycle. Both claim the timing and scale of the donations are unrelated — local activists see it differently. Enbridge Oil manages a controversial pipeline that cuts through the Straits of Mackinac in Michigan. Some see the company’s opposition to the redistricting reform as an effort to keep sympathetic lawmakers in office.
Voter Misalignment May Have Cost Democrats a Crucial Seat in the Virginia House
Last November’s nailbiter state delegate race in Newport News, Virginia, was so tight it had to be decided by a coin toss. Democrat Shelly Simonds, who received one more vote than Republican David Yancey in the recount, had to swallow her disappointment and prepare for a 2019 run. But it turns out she may have been the outright winner had local election officials handed correct ballots to 26 voters in a majority-black precinct. Had Simonds won, Democrats would have split control of the House, after notching 15 seats in a blue wave that swept across the nation after Trump’s elections.
After new maps are drawn, local registrars are charged with the unenviable task of matching streets to districts, which are sometimes so precise that voters living on opposite sides of a street would vote in different races. Numerous apartment buildings in Newport News — home to 76 registered voters — were misassigned to a neighboring district that a Democrat comfortably won. The error is particularly tragic for Simonds because records suggest that 17 of the 26 people who cast the wrong ballots had voted since 2008 exclusively in Democratic primaries. Only one had voted in Republican primaries.
New Transatlantic Commission Seeks to Counter Election Meddling
Former Western leaders have created a new multinational council to address and preempt foreign interference in democratic societies. The Transatlantic Commission on Election Integrity, led by former NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen and former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, will focus on Russian meddling in not just the 2016 US presidential race but also European elections.
In addition to identifying threats to election security, the panel will also investigate Russia’s financial contributions to fringe candidates in Europe. Marine Le Pen, the president of France’s National Front who lost the presidency to centrist Emmanuel Macron, received a €9 million loan from a Russian bank.
The commission will hold its first meeting in Denmark at the end of June; its primary focus will be the Ukrainian presidential and parliamentary elections next year. Former Vice President Joe Biden is a member on the commission.
Latest News: May 8 – 12
Ohio Supreme Court Rules Voter ID Laws Constitutional, NY Considers Similar Law
It’s been a busy week for election integrity and frankly it hasn’t gone well. First a ruling by Ohio’s Supreme Court has decided that the state’s Voter ID laws are constitutional. The law, which was passed in 2010 with 74 percent of the public vote, requires voters to present a valid government or tribal-issued photo identification, or a county voter registration card at the polls. Failure or unwillingness to do so means the voter must sign an affidavit confirming their identification and then cast a provisional ballot.
The suit was brought forward by a Tulsa citizen who argued that this placed a condition on the right to vote and would discourage many minorities from voting. She said this was all unnecessary as there is very little evidence of voter fraud, either in Ohio or the country as a whole. The court disagreed however, stating in its opinion that the law was a proactive way to maintain the integrity and reliability of the state elections.
This same conversation could be happening in New York state in the future though. Using the same argument of preventive measures, state senators are proposing a bill that would require voters to present ID before voting. Despite acknowledging there is close to zero evidence of voter fraud in the state, Republicans are still touting the law as a way to safeguard their elections. Democrats are against the law, stating it will damage the ability of minorities to vote in the state. New York would become the 33rd state to have voter ID laws should it pass.
Former Felons Advocate for Right to Vote
Nationwide, activists and organizers are advocating to grant ex-felons the right to vote. Most states restrict voting rights after incarcerated individuals have finished their sentences, though the severity varies widely. Florida recently came under fire for its policies that make it extremely difficult for formerly convicted felons to restore their voting rights. Estimates suggest that at least 6 million Americans can’t cast their ballot because of felony convictions. Many formerly incarcerated people see gaining the right to vote as an enormous opportunity to participate in the decisions that shape carceral policy. How much political sway former felons could exert depends on place more than anything, experts say. In urban areas that tend to vote Democratic, it’s unlikely to be a political game changer. But in Florida — where 10 percent of adults can’t vote — the restoration of voting rights to felons could have a major impact.
Federal Judge Rejects Challenge on Law Banning Early Ballot Collection
A federal judge has rejected a Democratic effort to block an Arizona law prohibiting the state from collecting early ballots. The state’s Republican-controlled legislature enacted the law in 2016 to reduce voting fraud and misplaced ballots.
While the law’s conservative backers, led by Gov. Doug Ducey (R), championed it as a “common sense” policy to protect election integrity, its liberal detractors blasted the ban as an attempt to suppress minority turnout — and thereby a violation of the Voting Rights Act. US District Court Judge Douglas Rayes disagreed in his ruling on Tuesday, arguing that the Democratic plaintiffs did not supply sufficient proof that the law “severely and unjustifiably” burdened minority voters, or that it overstepped “permissible constitutional and statutory bounds.”
Latest News: May 5 – May 8, 2018
Essex County Moves Toward Appeal of FOIL Decision
Following a state Supreme Court decision in New York that declared ballot images are public records in Essex County, local officials have taken steps that could be the beginning of an appeals process. In an 11-7 vote on Monday, lawmakers confirmed the right of Essex County attorney Dan Manning, Essex County Republican Board of Elections Commissioner Allison McGahay, and Democratic Board of Elections Commissioner Sue Montgomery Corey to file paperwork that could lead to an appeal. The appeals process could cost taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars — local members of the Board of Supervisors called the prospect of an appeal a “frivolous lawsuit.”
Ohio Voters Brace for Crucial Redistricting Measure
Ohio’s Republican-led legislature, transcending ideological differences and party fealty, passed a sweeping initiative to reform the process by which the state draws its electoral maps. The measure was up for a statewide vote on Tuesday, and it may well inspire similar bipartisan proposals across the country.
Since the GOP used their majority to gerrymander swaths of districts in 2012, Ohio Republicans have held onto 12 of the state’s 16 congressional seats, despite winning just half of the overall popular vote. The map-drawing authority fell on the Ohio legislature, which only needed a simple majority to reconfigure district lines.
The new amendment, titled Issue 1, provides lawmakers four different paths to create maps with sufficient bipartisan support. The first option still allows the legislature to draw the map, but it needs three-fifths of votes to pass, including backing from at least half the members of both parties in both chambers. If the legislature cannot reach a deal, the responsibility falls to an independent commission, whose map will need validation from at least two minority-party members. If that fails, the legislature gets another shot at redistricting, and this time it needs support from just a third of each party’s members. Only when all three safeguards fail would the legislature be permitted to pass a map with a simple majority vote. Then there’s still another catch: maps that passed with only a majority vote have to be redrawn every four years instead of every 10.
Latest News: May 2 – May 5, 2018
Michigan Puts Up Barriers to Recounts
Candidates looking to recount votes in Michigan will now have to prove a “reasonable chance of victory” to be able to instigate the process. The shift would apply in situations much like the one Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein founder herself in following the 2016 presidential election. Uncertain about the integrity of the election results, Stein pushed for a recount. The rules then required that Stein allege fraud or error and pay a per-precinct fee.
But now, the obstacles are higher. The new regulations will apply for the upcoming 2018 election, when Michigan will elect a new governor and hold elections for its members of congress. Representative Jim Lilly (R, Park Township) sponsored the bill, stating, “The last election cycle just brought to light something with our election law in Michigan that could be exploited” and that he “didn’t want to see somebody taking advantage of that again for basically political gain.” Democrats have come out against the new laws, citing concerns over how it might limit the integrity and verifiability of elections. Following the turmoil of the 2016 elections, though, Michigan has implemented manual audits for the midterm election season.
Native Americans Get Injunction on Photo ID Laws
Election integrity scored a victory in North Dakota this week, with a federal judge siding with six Native American plaintiffs who claim a voter identification law was extremely prohibitive. Last week US District Judge Daniel Hovland struck down a ruling requiring a residential address, and then yesterday rejected a motion to reinstate the requirement. A large portion of Native Americans live on reservations or live in rural areas with P.O. boxes, meaning they are unable to prove their address.
Native Americans claim this law was passed to suppress their votes and the numbers support this: Voter turnout in areas heavily populated by Native Americans dropped by 12 percent in 2014, despite statewide numbers remaining the same, following the passage of voter ID laws.
Why target a demographic that only accounts for 2% of the entire nation’s population? Well, because in 2012 Democratic Senator Heidi Heitkamp carried over 80% of the Native American vote on the way to a surprise election win by just 3,000 votes. Since then, laws preventing Democratic-leaning voters from casting a ballot has been a main priority for the GOP. The Republicans have even partially admitted this, with state representative Dan Ruby (R) stating that Heitkamp’s win “shined a light on it in a way that it was decided that now we should fix the issue.” North Dakota is a very red state, with Republicans owning every statewide office and both legislative chambers before Heitkamp’s win. With Heitkamp in for a tough reelection fight in November, this ruling could have a huge impact.
The injunction by federal district-court judge means Native Americans can again use their federally issued tribal ID — along with other easily accessed tribal documents as supplemental evidence of identity and address — to vote in November. The future of the law after November however is unknown, with Republicans seemingly very intent on keeping as many Democrats home as possible.
New Research Shows How Gerrymandering Threatens Economic Security
Far more serious than flipping party control in Congress, gerrymandering also chips away at the economic welfare of voters, according to a new research paper. The trend has been observed in both Democratic and Republican strongholds.
Gerrymandered electoral maps allow one party to establish lasting sway in competitive, often racially diverse, states. Relieved of the pressure to win re-elections, politicians become less invested in the needs and grievances of their constituents. The researchers found that, the more heavily gerrymandered the state, the more difficulties consumers encounter in getting credit access. In fact, people living in heavily gerrymandered districts need to earn $3,400 more in personal income to obtain a loan approval from a lender.
Lenders answer to state regulations and oversight, which are, in turn, determined by politicians. Public support matters only if it translates into voting power; as long as gerrymandering continues, politicians will be less and less inclined to do right by the people.
Popular Georgia Democrat Under Fire for Backing Gerrymandered Map
Progressive darling Stacey Abrams, who is vying to become Georgia’s first black female governor, allegedly approved a racially gerrymandered map in 2015 while she was minority leader in the state House.
Last year, the NAACP and a group led by former Attorney General Eric Holder filed separate lawsuits against Georgia’s reconfigured maps, arguing that they diluted African American voting power. Republican lawmakers, discrediting the lawsuits, testified that Abrams “signed off” on the measure and instructed the Democratic caucus to support it, too. With help from the tinkered boundaries, Georgia Republicans easily held onto their majority in the 2016 elections. Many Democratic candidates didn’t even enter races they thought they had no shot at winning, and the state recorded the highest number of uncontested seats in the country.
The controversy is notably ironic given Abrams’s carefully cultivated reputation as a protector of voting rights; equally as jarring is the image of a leading African American lawmaker scheming to undermine the voices of African American constituents. Worse still, if Abrams did in fact back the redistricting proposal, Holder’s effort to instate fairer boundaries could be thwarted by the court. Abrams has denied consenting to final tweaks on the maps, and insisted that she was mislead in the initial district-drawing discussion.
Latest News: April 28 – May 1, 2018
New York City Could Be Next for Ranked Choice Voting
New York City is the latest municipality to consider a transition to ranked choice — or instant runoff — voting. Advocates are pushing for change through the Charter Revision Committee that would mean the end of local primary races. In an instant runoff system, voters rank the candidates according to preference. Through a process of elimination, the candidate who receives the majority of the vote wins.
Primary runoff elections cost the city millions and narrow the field on election day. Prominent figures (and potential hopefuls for the 2021 mayoral race) like Public Advocate Letitia James, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, and Comptroller Scott Stringer have noted the lower costs and higher turnout rates that instant runoff elections can deliver. James has called the system the “most democratic option.” With instant runoff, voters only have to come to the poll one time, which could increase turnout in New York, where participation rates are extremely low in primary elections. Moreover, in such elections the field of candidates is often more diverse and less driven by big dollar donations.
Kobach’s Office: Stopping Him From Paying Contempt Fine With State Money ‘Illegal’
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach is reportedly trying to use state money to pay the fines associated with having been found in contempt of court. The Kansas House of Representatives is trying to stop him, and the Kobach camp says the intervention is illegal. In its most recent budget, the House included a prohibition on using state funds to cover defense or penalties for elected officials related to contempt of court findings. Kobach’s senior counsel has taken issue with the provision, calling it illegal and an unnecessary draw on state resources. Nevertheless, the change passed in a 103-16 vote, though it still will need to weather negotiations between the House and Senate.
Department of Justice Internal Manual Review Producing Questionable New Policies
The Department of Justice’s US Attorneys’ Manual — the document all federal prosecutors use as a reference point on the department’s policies and priorities — has been under review since the fall. The results are starting to trickle out … and they’re not good for election integrity.
In the section of the manual that deals with civil rights, the DOJ has removed any direct references to redistricting and racial gerrymandering, although the document does still mention other forms of discrimination such as bans on literacy tests and poll taxes. This follows the administration’s stance on this issue, as they are currently supporting Texas in a Supreme Court battle to keep their gerrymandered districts. The administration switched sides in this case when President Donald Trump took office.
The implications of this removal could have a massive impact going forwards, as manual reviews like this are not common — the last one was twenty years ago. Although each attorney general makes changes through memos and other avenues, the manual still sets the standard for the country. Completely removing racial gerrymandering and redistricting from the manual is a stark reminder of not only how we can expect this issue to be treated in the future, but also how the administration truly feels about election integrity.
Arkansas Appeals Judge’s Decision to Block Voter Identification Laws
With early voting for Arkansas’s upcoming primary scheduled for May 7th, the state has predictably appealed a judge’s decision to block a voter identification law requiring voters to present photo ID at the polls. Judge Alice Gray ruled on Thursday that the law introduces a new criteria for voting, meaning people who have already registered to vote but don’t have appropriate photo ID are now barred from voting.
The Arkansas law is nearly identical to legislation that the state Supreme Court deemed unconstitutional four years ago. Interestingly, the discussion in both cases never hinged on the legality requiring photo ID itself but rather concerned the constitutionality of implementing the law. Arkansas’s constitution contains a section that outlines the qualifications for voting — a photo ID is a requirement. Judge Gray’s decision states that the law creates a new voter qualification but does not place it into the correct section of the constitution, therefore rendering it void.
Due to the obvious time constraints, the state’s appeal addresses the State Supreme Court directly, rather than petitioning Judge Gray to stay her decision. With this law already having been struck down once, the government doesn’t have much time to persuade the court and reinstate this potentially disenfranchising law.
Latest News: April 24 – April 28, 2018
Republicans on House Intelligence Panel Absolve Trump Campaign in Russian Meddling
House Republicans found no substantial evidence that the Trump campaign had much of anything to do with Russian election meddling over the course of a lengthy investigation led by the House Intelligence Committee. A new report details the findings of the investigation, targeting intelligence agencies for insufficient responses to interference from Moscow and highlighting dubious ties between the Clinton Campaign, the DNC, and Russian actors.
President Donald Trump himself celebrated the announcement on Twitter, to no one’s surprise. The Republicans did find evidence of bad decisions and “ill-advised” contacts, but by their evaluation, none amounted to collusion. House Democrats on the Intelligence Committee disagree, arguing that the Republican contingent is closing the book with far too much haste.
So Long As Politics Stay Polarized, Gerrymandering Isn’t Going Anywhere
For the past four months, state courts have delivered a string of victories to opponents of partisan redistricting. They’ve struck down electoral maps that reduce the influence of minority voters, ordered new districts drawn before the upcoming midterms, and forced the US Supreme Court to seriously address a practice many consider the biggest threat to democracy. But such incremental steps have little chance of ending it, according to Richard Pildes, a law professor at New York University.
Pildes credits two key developments for turning gerrymandering into an entrenched and pervasive practice: the proliferation of one-party states and the polarization of national politics. The herculean, existential battles over the House we’ve become accustomed to are in fact a relatively new phenomenon; Democrats controlled the lower chamber of Congress for most of the 20th century. But since 1994, power has shifted back and forth between the two parties by consistently thin margins. The constant threat of losing the House — and the country’s cultural identity — has increased the stakes in redistricting cycles.
The opportunity to consolidate power is greater for state governments whose governorships and legislatures are controlled by the same party. The number of these one-party states have increased from 21 in 2000 to 33 in 2010. As party parity becomes simultaneously more vital and more tenuous, the incentive to gerrymander rises. This year, for examples, Democrats need to flip just 24 seats to regain control of the lower chamber; nabbing a few decisive districts could make a crucial difference.
FEC Plans Crackdowns on ‘Zombie’ Campaigns
In a rare display of action, the FEC intends to intensify crackdowns — but not on issues like dark money, or independent spending. Instead, the agency will target ex-representatives who keep spending campaign donations after leaving office. Officially called “dormant” campaigns, but often referred to as “zombie” campaigns, the FEC wants to close the loophole that allows former lawmakers to spend campaign donations long after the close of an election season — in some cases, after the death of the candidate. The new pursuit of such spending follows an investigation by the Tampa Bay Times and 10News WTSP that demonstrated how the FEC glossed over campaign finance reports that included “zombie” spending from upwards of 100 politicians. Reportedly, the issue was “not on the FEC’s radar.”
Latest News: April 20 – April 24, 2018
US Supreme Court Split on Texas Gerrymandering Case
As has become the norm for pivotal gerrymandering cases, the US Supreme Court appeared divided on a challenge to reinstate Texas’s Republican-drawn electoral map. A lower court had tossed the state’s districts after finding that some of its configurations reduced the power of black and Hispanic voters.
The division during oral arguments may not appear surprising to those who followed the Supreme Court’s initial consideration of the case last fall, wherein the justices splintered along ideological lines and stalled the lower court’s decision while they mulled its implications. The split call meant that Texas would likely retain its disputed map in the upcoming midterm elections.
Chief Justice John Roberts argued that the mere creation of the current map — court-imposed in 2013 after previous iterations were overturned on grounds of racial discrimination — deserves “the presumption of good faith.” That Texas demonstrated good faith in drawing these districts,” Roberts said, “is significant to the determination of their intent to discriminate.”
As they did at the first hearing, the court’s liberal justices maintained that it had been premature to hear the case before the lower court ordered the state to redraw its map. By doing so, the Supreme Court lost its jurisdiction to hear a challenge.
140,000 Maricopa County (AZ) Residents Still Awaiting Registration Card Days Before Special Election
Although voters are hitting the polls in Arizona’s Maricopa County today, there are 140,000 voters still awaiting their registration card. While this isn’t a necessity to vote, members of both parties worry the snafu will lead to confusion, especially for first-time voters. Voter registration is activated regardless of when the cards are mailed and there are multiple other methods to provide registration come election day. Should a voter not know this however, the lack of a voter registration card could keep them away from the polls.
The delay is a result of a change in printers that was made in December. However, it took officials until March to test for accuracy, and it was late March before they were able to send any cards out. While they have sent out 60,000 cards since then, there are still 140,000 to go and time is running short.
The special election is to replace Trent Franks (R) who had to resign after allegations emerged that he had asked a female staffer to have his surrogate baby in exchange for $5 million. Republicans are expected to win this conservative district, which President Donald Trump won by 21 points. However with the 2018 midterms on the horizon, Democrats are hoping to use the election as a gauge of their chance of winning back Congress.
DNC Sues Trump Campaign for Not Doing Enough About Russian Meddling
The Democratic National Committee (DNC) has brought a civil lawsuit against the Trump campaign, WikiLeaks, and Russia in an attempt to deter interference from Moscow in the upcoming midterm elections. In an interview with chief ABC News anchor George Stephanopoulos, DNC chairman Tom Perez expressed his concern over continued foreign interference. Perez sees the civil suit as wholly independent of the criminal investigation led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Democrat David Axelrod expressed his concern that the civil suit would make it easier to treat the Trump-Russia question as a partisan issue, an opinion echoed by several members of the party and elected representatives.
The United States Remains Unprotected From Possibilities of an Attack on the Midterms
If Russia were planning a repeat attack on this year’s midterm elections, the United States would not have adequately protected itself, the editorial board of the Washington Post says in a scathing editorial.
While more than $300 million in federal funds have been set aside to help states invest in election infrastructure that is more up-to-date and could help prevent interference, not much has been done in the past month since Congress has introduced the spending bill.
According to New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice, most states continue to use outdated electronic voting machines that are paperless and leave behind no physical record of having had a vote cast. Since 2016, Virginia is the sole state to have disposed of their antiquated machines. Other states have merely recognized the need for change in election security. While efforts have been made to swap out paperless machines, bills have either not been passed (like in Georgia), or upgrades will not be active until after the November vote.
However, even if upgrades and paper-friendly machines were to be implemented on time, the US would remain unprepared in the face of a Russian attack. Electronic voting rolls and vote-tallying servers are among the electronic resources that Russia hacked into in 2016.
Among all these possibilities and lack of election infrastructure, President Donald Trump continues to be unclear on how he would protect election integrity or respond to an attack if it were to occur this coming November.
Latest News: April 17 – April 20, 2018
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach Held in Contempt in Voter Registration Case
US District Judge Julie Robinson has held Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach (R) in contempt of court over his failure to appropriately manage voter registration in the state. Kobach has been a staunch advocate of stricter voting regulations, and formerly served as the vice-chair of President Donald Trump’s voter fraud commission. He was instrumental in establishing a 2013 Kansas state law that blocks voters unable to provide proof of citizenship from registering to vote. The state would send postcards notifying voters of incomplete registrations, but if after 90 days, voters were unable to or failed to prove citizenship, they were removed from voter rolls. The ACLU estimates that the law prevented about 35,000 voters in the state from completing their registration.
Robinson first issued an injunction blocking the law in 2016 and inquired whether or not the Kansas voters who had been removed from the rolls would be notified of their polling places in the same manner as other voters. Kobach affirmed that anyone who had failed to prove citizenship would receive a postcard just the same as any registered voter. But the postcards never arrived in the mailboxes of many of potential voters. Kobach maintains that he issued an order to county election officials, but never actually followed up with written instructions or checked back to make sure the postcards had been sent.
Illinois Governor May Block Withdrawal from Controversial Interstate Crosscheck Program
Illinois’s House voted on Thursday to pass legislation that could dramatically transform the state’s voting infrastructure. The state seeks to join several other states that are moving to leave the Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck Program, a controversial voter database intended to detect and flag duplicate registrations. The system has been widely criticized for inaccurate calculations, a failure to protect personal data, and a lack of safeguards against hackers.
But those hoping that Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, who could veto the measure, will end the state’s participation in the program may be disappointed after hearing the first statement from his team. Spokeswoman Rachel Bold called the legislation “troubling,” for undermining a system meant “to ensure access to voting, while preventing opportunities for fraud.” Bold also mentioned that the program has proved to be a valuable source of information for county clerks, who collect and maintain voter data across the state.
New Jersey Moves Ahead with Automatic Voter Registration
New Jersey joined 12 other states when it passed a law requiring automatic voter registration this week. Automatic voter registration encompasses a variety of options, from pre-registering 16 and 17 year-olds to Election Day registration to signing up people registering with agencies like the Department of Motor Vehicles. The Center for American Progress estimates that automatic registration could add as many as 22 million voters in its first year alone, were it to be adopted nationwide.
Automatic registration is one of the first major bills signed by New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy (D). It’s a sharp turn away from former governor Chris Christie’s (R) more conservative policies. Maryland and Washington State also passed similar bills recently. By all counts, registering more voters brings more people to the polls. The mounting enthusiasm for automatic voter registration follows several years of attempts by Republicans to restrict access to the polls, measures that overwhelmingly impact low-income communities and people of color. Republicans often cite concerns over “voter fraud” and a need to provide “clean and honest elections.” But research shows that incidents of fraudulent or noncitizen voting were entirely negligible.
New York Governor Cuomo to Use Pardons to Grant Voting Rights to Felons
One way or the other, paroled felons in New York will likely be able to vote in November. After watching so many attempts to reform the criminal justice system die in the Republican-held Senate, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) announced his intention to grant voting rights to paroled felons via pardons granted by an executive order. The governor — who has issued 174 pardons in his seven years in office — would initially grant pardons to the 35,000 parolees currently living in the state, and then require the commissioner of the state’s Department of Corrections and Community Supervision to send a monthly list of all those newly eligible for parole in the future. As long as they’re not flagged for special concerns, paroled felons will be pardoned “without delay,” according to the order.
Cuomo’s office has described the order as a narrow use of power. The pardon would not expunge a felon’s record or restore other civil rights, such as serving on a jury — it would just allow them to vote.
While New York Republicans have reacted in shock and outrage, the state would join Iowa and Virginia in using executive orders to grant pardons — and therefore voting rights — to felons. There are 18 states in total, plus Washington, DC, which allow parolees to vote. With Cuomo facing a runoff in the September primary against newcomer Cynthia Nixon — best known as a star from Sex and the City — Cuomo is hoping that a strong stance on criminal justice reform will guarantee a third term.
Senator Marco Rubio Sounds Alarm Over Florida’s Election Security
Florida’s Republican senator and intelligence committee member Marco Rubio issued a grave warning to his home state’s election officials: Florida’s election system is a “beacon” for foreign meddling. Accusing the state’s election officials of being “overconfident,” he cited concerns of foreign meddling with voter registration data. Rubio worries that if foreign actors were to alter or remove registration data and prevent people from voting, it would rip open the divides between left and right even more: “The narrative out there is going to be the Democrats in Broward County are keeping Republicans from voting. And suddenly, you are going to have mass chaos across this country and anger and division.”
Talking to the Florida Association of Counties about this issue, he openly pondered the lasting effects of this kind of election tampering. He accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of interfering in a similar manner in other former Soviet states and even stated he believes the Russians could have done it in 2016, should they have wanted to. He believes Florida to be very susceptible to Russian interference — due to its early poll closings and role as a swing state — and is concerned by the lack of urgency expressed by Florida’s election officials.
His solution is to have more information sharing. He also recommends having at least one person in every county election office with enough security clearance that they can be briefed on electoral threats in real time.
Latest News: April 14 – April 17, 2018
Overcrowded Ballots Could Invalidate Thousands of Votes in California’s Races
Stacked fields in California’s upcoming elections for governor and US Senate may cause scores of constituents to nullify their votes by inadvertently over-voting. Because the list of candidates for a crowded race often take up two or three columns on both sides of the ballot form, voters can mistakenly vote for multiple candidates by marking one name from each side.
In California’s 2016 US Senate primary, nearly a quarter million voters marked their ballots for multiple candidates. The 33 counties that listed the candidates in multiple columns yielded four times as many “overvotes” as those that needed only a single column. The margin of error is notably greater in counties that didn’t use machines to screen ballots for mistakes, according to a university study.
The threat of “overvoting” is more pronounced this year: 32 candidates are dueling in the Senate primary, and 27 are eyeing the race for governor. Ballots for both elections have two columns of names.
Candidates Employ Targeted Campaigning to Win Tight Race for Maryland Governor
So little separates the seven candidates vying for the Democratic nomination in Maryland’s governor race that only a 125,000-votes margin (or 25 percent of voters) is needed to crown a victor. And the stakes are higher than usual: in an increasingly liberal state like Maryland, the winner of the Democratic primary may have a shot at unseating Republican incumbent Larry Hogan.
An unusually crowded field means that the candidates also have less money than those in the past gubernatorial primaries. Due to a lack of funding and a need to secure every last vote they can, some candidates have devised unorthodox outreach strategies to cater to specific constituencies rather than the Democratic populace at large.
Benjamin Jealous, former NAACP head and one of the seven hopefuls, decided to target progressive voters, civil rights groups, and backers of Sen. Bernie Sanders’s (I-VT) 2016 presidential campaign. “The only way you can win with a field this crowded is you have to build a solid coalition,” Jealous campaign spokesman Kevin Harris said. “We’ve gone after endorsements that either bring money or bring people who can help go out and reach voters.”
Florida Lawyers Accusing State of Dragging Feet on Restoring Voting Rights to Felons
Lawyers fighting to restore voting rights to felons in Florida are accusing the state of “foot-dragging,” after an appeal to stay an earlier decision to revamp the state’s controversial rights-restoration process was rejected by the federal appellate court. Back in February the court set a deadline of April 26 for the state to overhaul the current system, but this time has instead been spent fighting the court’s ruling. With the deadline now looming, the state is asking for more time or for the ruling to be halted. However, neither of those outcomes appear likely.
Lawyers from the firm that filed the initial lawsuit last year have said the state could have implemented a new system while also fighting it in court. However, the state has now backed itself into a corner by not implementing a new system and losing its appeal to overturn the decision.
They are arguing the court did not give them enough time to change the current system. The judge is not concerned the state will disregard his decision completely — since the government has walked back from these threats — and has therefore decided not to file an injunction. But the felons’ lawyers are still skeptical about the state’s willingness to implement a new system.
This all stems from a movement led by a political committee known as Floridians for a Fair Democracy, which gathered over one million signatures on a petition to get the issue of felons’ voting onto the ballot in November. If passed, voting would be immediately restored to all ex-felons who have finished probation in Florida, with the exception of those convicted of murder or sexual violence.
Wisconsin’s Republican Attorney General Says Voter ID Laws Helped Trump Win the State
Wisconsin’s Attorney General Brad Schimel (R) stated on a local radio station that he believes Donald Trump was able to win his state because of the voter ID laws he has fought so hard to keep. Both Democrats and the lawyers attempting to remove the laws jumped on the comments, seeing them as him admitting the laws are capable of rigging elections in the GOP’s favor. Schimel has fought hard to ensure voter ID laws stay in the state. Recent legal challenges have struck down parts of the law, but the general aim of voter suppression has remained.
While Schimel’s comments will not necessarily have any effect on the legal battles, they have turned attention toward voter ID laws ahead of the November election. Studies have shown the laws have had a negative effect on the turnout of minorities within the state, and many people believe Schimel’s support comes mainly from the fact he directly benefits from this.
Lancaster County in Need of 45 More Voting Machines
Lancaster County, South Carolina, is in need of 45 more voting machines come election time. South Carolina state law requires the governing body of any county to provide one voting machine per 250 registered voters. But following an uptick in registered voters from 35,000 to 58,000, the counties’ 190 machines are spread too thin — currently, each machine serves 305 voters.
Rick Crimminger, Lancaster County Election Commission chairman, notes that “the election commission is an unfunded mandate.” The county only had 160 machines until it purchased 30 more in the last few years, still falling short of the necessary machine-to-voter ratio thanks to a lack of funds.
Lancaster County Administrator Steve Willis observes that understanding financial difficulties in state government can only go so far: “2010 rolls around and today rolls around and they’re just not paying us.”
South Carolina’s Act 388, which limits a municipality’s power to raise taxes, has only made it harder for Lancaster County to purchase more machines. It has prevented Lancaster County from raising taxes in order to support itself and purchase additional voting machines over the years. Crimminger says he is worried about how the lack of voting machines and their accessibility may affect county constituents: “All it takes is if you get a candidate, or voter, saying that voting rights were infringed due to five-hour wait lines at the polls. All because the county isn’t providing the correct amount of voting machines.”