SCOTUS: Judicial Candidates Cannot Personally Solicit Campaign Donations

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The Supreme Court of the United States this week made a ruling in a highly anticipated election-related case regarding how political donations are handled in judicial campaigns, saying: Sorry, candidates, you can’t personally solicit them.

The 5-4 decision is being hailed by fair elections advocates as one that will make it easier for states to regulate judicial elections.

By way of background: The case went to the Supreme Court after a Florida candidate asserted that limiting his capacity to solicit political donations violated his Constitutional right to free speech.

Here is an excerpt from an NPR report on the matter:

Writing for the majority, Chief Justice Roberts said that judges are not politicians, even when they’re elected to their positions. And states have an overriding interest in assuring citizens that their cases will be decided without fear or favor. Roberts said there’s a distinction between judicial candidates and candidates for a legislative or executive office. While politicians are expected to be appropriately responsive to the preferences of their supporters, the same is not true for judges. Indeed, he said, judges are not meant to give any special consideration to campaign donors. Ultimately, said the chief justice, our judicial system depends on public confidence. And if that confidence erodes, people will not abide by judicial decrees.

To read the entire NPR piece, click here.

To read more news stories on the matter, click here.

Could Residency Requirements for Political Donations Solve Campaign Finance Problem?

A professor emeritus from right here in the Keystone State (The University of Pennsylvania, to be exact) has recently published a draft of a paper regarding federal elections and what he calls their “campaign finance problem.”

William G. Grisby’s 12-page paper, titled, “The Federal Election,” includes an executive summary with eight key points, which features background on Constitutional law related to elections, as well as residency requirements and more.

He also offers up a partial solution to the problem: Consistency in residency requirements.

Grisby notes: While residency and other requirements related to citizens’ voting rights, there is a “sharp contrast” when considering campaign finance laws.

He writes:

“This huge difference between the two sets of rules is striking because the right to make campaign finance contributions is the child f our right to vote; that is, without the right to vote, campaign contributions would not even exist. Making residency requirements for contributions the same as they are for voting would give recognition to this familial relationship and in the process would bring some consistency to this area of election law.”

And what’s more, he said: Placing residency requirements on political campaign contributors would ensure that outside interests or groups could not spend an inordinate amount of money to influence the outcome of an election.

To read more about what the author describes as a “partial solution,” click here.

Array of Groups, Investors Call on SEC to Require Disclosure of Political Spending

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For the sake of a functioning and accountable corporate democracy, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission should require disclosure of corporate political spending, 57 organizations and investors said in a letter (PDF) today. The groups ranged from environmental groups to asset managers to religious organizations.

“The resources of the Securities and Exchange Commission are required to write numerous rules, police the markets, and react to changes in company structure,” the letter stated. “To enact its mandate to protect investors, the SEC needs to require material disclosures of critical business information for investors, and this includes being able to react quickly to the changing practices and priorities of corporate entities.”

The increased amount of spending in politics by corporate entities has come in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision. A petition to the SEC for rulemaking on disclosure of this spending has received more than 1.2 million comments in support – a record for that agency.

“Without adequate disclosure of corporate political spending, shareholders and investors have little means to hold corporate directors accountable and to safeguard their investments,” the letter says. “And investors understand this; a recent survey of members of the CFA Institute, an association of professional investors, found that 60% of members believe that if corporations are able to spend money in elections, they should be required to disclose the spending.

“Without an SEC rule requiring full disclosure for all public companies, shareholders have no uniform means to monitor these activities, or assess the risks of corporate political spending. Voluntary disclosure has led to a patchwork of understanding which makes it impossible for investors to manage, and potentially mitigate, the full range of risks presented by corporate political spending.”

The Corporate Reform Coalition maintains that the SEC must obey its mandate to protect investors and heed this request for action.

Complain Filed Against Citizens United Over Political Spending

On Friday, Colorado Ethics Watch filed a complaint with the Colorado Secretary of State against Citizens United for failure to file an electioneering disclosure report in connection with their television ads mentioning Governor John Hickenlooper, then a candidate for re-election, in the last days before the 2014 general election.

On October 20, 2014, Citizens United purchased $168,651 of advertising time on Comcast to run ads promoting their “documentary film” called “Rocky Mountain Heist.” The ads specifically identified Governor Hickenlooper.

Under Colorado law, spending on ads that identify a candidate for office within sixty days of a general election must be disclosed, regardless of whether the ads expressly urge a vote for or against a candidate.

This is not the first time Citizens United has attempted to avoid disclosure of TV ads for a “documentary film” that was little more than a thinly veiled attack ad. In 2010, the United States Supreme Court ruled that Citizens United could be required to disclose spending on TV ads promoting “Hillary: The Movie,” about then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

Last year, Citizens United filed a federal suit against the Colorado Secretary of State seeking to be exempted from Colorado electioneering disclosure requirements. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that while spending on the film itself was not subject to disclosure, electioneering communications laws disclosure laws could be enforced against Citizens United if it failed to disclose spending on TV ads touting the “documentary.”

Under Colorado law, Ethics Watch’s complaint will be referred to an administrative law judge for a hearing. Citizens United faces penalties of $50 per day from the date its disclosure was due, October 27, 2014. Those fines total $8,950 as of the date the complaint was filed.

Paper Asks: Do Facts of Voting Rights Support Chief Justice Roberts’s Opinion in Shelby County?

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Since the Supreme Court in 2013 weakened the Voting Rights Act, “it described the landmark civil rights law as outdated. The formula that Congress had used back in 1965 to decide which areas of the country should have their voting laws placed under federal supervision no longer matched modern patterns of discrimination, Chief Justice John Roberts claimed,” according to a story posted on MNSBC.com this week.

But a recent paper rebuts that – and asks the question: Do the Facts of the Voting Rights Support Chief Justice Roberts’ Opinion in Shelby County (which is also its title).

The author of the 39-page paper, which is available for download here, offered these remarks in his abstract:

Neither the Chief Justice nor any scholars or civil rights proponents or opponents have systematically examined the evidence on the entire pattern of proven voting rights violations over time and space. Was the Chief Justice correct in asserting that such violations no longer tracked the coverage scheme in Section 4 of the Act – that, as he put it, the relationship of the formula to problems of vote dilution was purely “fortuitous”? Had the number of violations diminished so much in the years leading up to the 2006 renewal of Section 5 that Congress should have ended preclearance altogether because discrimination had basically disappeared? If the number of voting rights lawsuits has diminished, why is that so?

Based on the largest database of voting rights “events” – successful lawsuits, Section 5 Justice Department objections and “more information requests,” and consent decrees or settlements out of court that led to pro-minority changes – ever compiled, this paper provides a unique overview of the history of U.S. voting rights from 1957, when the first U.S. civil rights law in 82 years passed, through 2013. It shows that the Chief Justice’s factual assertions were incorrect, that the coverage formula was still congruent with proven violations, and that to the extent that recorded violations had decreased, that was not because problems had ended, but because the Supreme Court had made it more difficult to win lawsuits.

Need a little more background on the Voting Rights Act itself? We’ve got you covered – just click here.

New Paper: How to Prevent Mistakes at the Polls on Election Day

The University of Kentucky’s Joshua A. Douglas has published a draft recently regarding mistakes made at the polls on election day – and how to prevent them.

The 48-page paper, titled, “A Checklist Manifesto for Election Day: How to Prevent Errors at the polls.
At bottom, the paper asks: Can a simple checklist help save election administration officials headaches and errors the day people go en mass to cast their ballots?
Because the author acknowledges: Mistakes happen. And they happen at the polls – on Election Day.
Here’s an excerpt:
Mistakes happen – especially at the polls on Election Day. To fix this complex problem inherent in election administration, this Article proposes the use of simple checklists. Errors occur in every election, yet many of them are avoidable. Poll workers should have easy-to-use tools to help them on Election Day as they handle throngs of voters. Checklists can assist poll workers in pausing during a complex process to avoid errors. This is a simple idea with a big payoff: fewer lost votes, shorter lines at the polls, a reduction in post-election litigation, and smoother election administration. Further, unlike many other suggested election reforms, this idea is likely to gain traction and see actual implementation. That is because the idea is “non-legal” in nature, in that it comes from the private sector and is achievable outside of the political process. Given the structural impediments to legislative or judicial change, non-legal solutions such as the use of checklists are the way forward in election reform.
Want to check out the whole thing? You can view and download it now by clicking here.

How Prominent Is Voter Fraud? RNC Official Says Not Very

A prominent Republican National Convention data official recently cast doubt that voter fraud is a problem in the United States, indicating that he believed the number was around 1 percent.

Here’s an excerpt from a story on the matter from TMP:

At a panel of RNC officials Friday at the First In The Nation Republican Leadership Summit in New Hampshire, RNC Chief Data Officer Jesse Kamzol responded to a question about voter fraud ambiguously saying “it’s only about 1 percent.” That number was in response to a question by an attendee at the event asking if the RNC “had looked at voter fraud data.”

Conservatives have warned about widespread voter fraud diluting the power of legitimate votes and swinging elections in favor of Democrats. Those claims have served as the core rationale for voter identification laws, even in the face of studies (flagged by TPM) showing that voter fraud, especially in person voter identification fraud, is extremely rare. The same claims have been used to justify other voting restrictions, like early voting and same day registration.

A simple Google search of the matter will show that the idea that voter fraud exists, and whether it affects elections is a polarizing issue. Some say it’s as rare as a UFO sighting. Others say there is proof that it is widespread.

In Pennsylvania, though, there have been several stories about voter fraud in the past year.

Just this past January, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported that as many as 731 Pennsylvania voters may have cast two ballots in recent elections, and quoted the secretary of state as saying that “there’s potential voter fraud in Pennsylvania.”

In February, for example, a Philadelphia Election board worker was charged with voter fraud for allegedly attempting to tamper with voting machines, among other things.

The Pennsylvania Independent also reports that first-term state Rep. Jason Ortitay, a Republican serving portions of Washington and Allegheny counties, is facing an investigation by the state attorney general over allegations of voter fraud.

In 2013, two Democratic officials from Fayette County were also charged with voter fraud, according to a story in PennLive.

So we ask you: Do you think voter fraud is a problem in Pennsylvania? In the United States?

Last Call: Today is the Last Day to Register to Vote in May 19 Primary in PA

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Just wanted to mention one last time: Today, April 20, is the last chance for you to register or change your party affiliation in advance of the May 19 primary election.

If you live in Pennsylvania, are eligible to vote and intend to head to the polls May 19 to support a candidate in the primary election, please note: The deadline to register to vote – or change your registration – is April 20.

Not sure if you’re eligible to vote in Pennsylvania? Here’s what you need to be be able to cast a ballot in the Keystone State:

  • You must be a citizen of the United States for at least one month before the primary.
  • You must be a resident of Pennsylvania and the election district in which the individual desires to register and vote for at least 30 days before the primary.
  • You must be at least 18 years of age on or before the primary.

And just in case you weren’t aware: Applications for new voter registration, change of address or change of party affiliation must be postmarked or received in county voter registration offices by April 20. Remember that you can always drop off your voter-registration documents to the elections office in the county in which you live, as well.

For more info on deadlines, types of registration and the process of filling out and turning in your voter registration form, click here.

Happy voting!

Early Voting Victory: Ohio Settlement Means Grater Access to Polls, ACLU Says

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Ohio voters will gain greater access to the ballot in a settlement announced today by the American Civil Liberties Union. The agreement with Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted stems from a federal lawsuit filed last year by the ACLU challenging Ohio’s attempt to slash early voting opportunities.

Under the agreement, Ohioans will be allowed to vote on multiple Sundays leading up to a presidential election, and their access to additional evening voting hours will be restored for all elections. The agreement takes effect after the May 2015 primary and continues through 2018.

Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, said:

“Thousands of Ohioans rely on early voting opportunities as their only chance to cast a ballot in an election. This is a victory for all those who know that a healthy democracy depends on the participation of its people.”

Specifically, new early voting opportunities include:

  • For the upcoming presidential general election, an additional Sunday of voting will be included.
  • For the presidential primary election and general elections, there will be a week of expanded weekday evening hours from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.
  • For regular municipal elections, primary elections and special elections, hours have been similarly expanded from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Saturday hours have been expanded from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The ACLU filed the legal challenge on behalf of the Ohio Conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the League of Women Voters of Ohio, the A. Philip Randolph Institute, Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, and other African-American churches.

The complaint, NAACP v. Husted, was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, Eastern Division.

The settlement is at: https://www.aclu.org/legal-document/naacp-v-husted-settlement-agreement-…

More information is at: https://www.aclu.org/cases/voting-rights/naacp-v-husted

Event of Note: Democracy Slam 2015 to be Held April 22

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For those who are following fair-election related issues, we wanted to let you know about an event upcoming next week that deals with a wide array of subjects, including gerrymandering, bipartisan deadlock and how to improve problems associated with those issues.

The forum will be held at the Washington College of Law from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. April 22 – but will also be webcast for those outside the area.

Here’s a quick heads up on how the panel discussion will be handled, according to the invite:

Seven advocates of democracy innovations make their case. Opening argument in six minutes. Two minutes of rebuttal and/or skeptical questions, drawn from participants in the day’s panel discussions. One minute response. Audience electronic vote on merits of proposal.
The advocates will be arguing in regard to proposals dealing with everything from a Right to Vote constitutional amendment, to mandatory voting to campaign finance reform and access to the polls for third-party candidates.
Sound of interest? Check out more here.
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