Proposes Maryland Governor Introduces Bill to Curb Gerrymandering in State

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Photo courtesy http://governor.maryland.gov/governor-larry-hogan/

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan this week introduced a bill prohibiting the drawing of legislative districts for political advantage and establishing an independent citizen commission to draw district lines.

Hogan’s bill would end a redistricting process in Maryland that resulted in some of the most gerrymandered districts in the country. The proposal turns into legislation solutions the bipartisan Maryland Redistricting Reform Commission recommended in a report they released last year.

“Allowing elected officials to manipulate General Assembly and congressional districts to rig elections is a clear conflict of interest that keeps Maryland voters from holding politicians accountable,” said Jennifer Bevan-Dangel, executive director of Common Cause Maryland. “We urge the General Assembly to pass this fair and transparent approach to redistricting to give the people a true voice in who represents them.”

Redistricting is required following each decennial census to update district boundaries so they have equal numbers of people. Current Maryland law gives the governor significant power to propose maps, which are too often drawn behind closed doors without meaningful public involvement.

Following the 2010 census, former Gov. Martin O’Malley and General Assembly leadership used this power draw maps that have been criticized as the most contorted and gerrymandered in the nation. Following an extensive public education campaign by the Tame the Gerrymander coalition, Gov. Hogan created the Redistricting Reform Commission last year to make a detailed set of policy recommendations to end political gerrymandering.

The legislation includes the following proposals:

  • District lines should be compact, contiguous and respect county and municipal lines.
  • Both congressional and state legislative districts should be drawn by an independent commission.
  • The independent commission should be politically diverse, including three from the majority party, three from the minority party and three members from neither political party. The applicants will go through a screening process and final members will be drawn through a lottery. Elected officials, candidates, lobbyists and political staff are prohibited from serving.
  • The commission will draw lines without regard to party affiliation or incumbent residency. The commission will hold “ample” public hearings on the proposed plan.
  • The legislature may reject the map through a super majority vote.
  • State legislative districts shall be far more consistent in size. Districts must be within 1 percent variance in population (as opposed to the current 5 percent) and there should be consistency between single-member or three-member delegate districts.

The bill will be available on the General Assembly’s website.

Native American Voters File Suit Challenging North Dakota Voter ID Requirements

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Seven Native Americans from North Dakota recently filed suit under the Voting Rights Act and the U.S. and North Dakota Constitutions challenging North Dakota’s recently enacted voter ID law on the grounds it disproportionately burdens Native Americans and denies qualified voters the right to vote.

The plaintiffs are challenging North Dakota House Bills 1332 and 1333, which require North Dakota voters to present one of only four qualifying IDs with a current residential address printed on it in order to vote.

Before enactment of these laws, North Dakota required a poll clerk to request an ID, but a voter without one could still vote if the clerk vouched for their qualifications or the voter signed an affidavit of identity.

While other states also have voter ID requirements, North Dakota is the only state without a fail-safe provision, such as provisional balloting that allows a voter to produce their ID within a few days of the election or an affidavit of identity. Additionally, North Dakota’s list of acceptable IDs is much more limited than other states, which allow U.S. passports and military IDs to be used.

Many Native Americans living on Indian reservations in North Dakota do not have qualifying IDs, such as driver’s licenses or state ID cards containing a residential address. Thus, in both the primary and general election in 2014, many qualified North Dakota Native American voters were disenfranchised because their IDs did not list their residential address.

The lawsuit alleges that North Dakota’s new voter ID requirements limit the right to vote arbitrarily and unnecessarily, and disproportionately burden Native American voters in North Dakota. The burdens are substantial for a number of Native Americans who cannot afford to drive to the nearest driver’s license site (“DMV”). There are no DMV locations on any Indian reservations in North Dakota, and for many Native Americans, a DMV location may be over 60 miles away. Many Native Americans live below the poverty line, and do not have dependable access to transportation or cannot afford travel to a distant DMV location.

“As a veteran who served this country, I know how important it is to vote,”  plaintiff Richard Brakebill said. “But I wasn’t permitted to vote in 2014 because my address wasn’t listed on my ID. That was very upsetting.”

Elvis Norquay, another plaintiff who is a veteran added: “I felt bad about being turned away from the polls at the last election. It is my right to vote for whomever I want. I shouldn’t be turned away just because I didn’t have my address listed.”

The plaintiffs are represented by The Native American Rights Fund, Richard de Bodo of Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP, and Tom Dickson of the Dickson Law Office.

NARF won important Voting Rights cases in Alaska in 2010 and again in 2015, establishing that the State of Alaska should be required to provide greater language assistance to voters who speak Alaska Native languages.

A full copy of the complaint can be accessed here.

Appeals Court Panel Overturns Van Hollen v. FEC, Reopening Disclosure Loophole for 2016 Cycle

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Recently in Van Hollen v. FEC, the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit again upheld an FEC rule that voting rights advocacy groups say “severely” limits federal disclosure requirements connected to “electioneering communications.”

The appellate panel overturned a district court decision holding the rule “arbitrary, capricious, and contrary to law” for improperly narrowing the scope of the McCain-Feingold law’s disclosure requirements and allowing nonprofit 501(c)(4) advocacy groups, 501(c)(6) business associations, and others to spend millions on “electioneering communications” without disclosing their donors.

“(The) decision is deeply disappointing,” said Tara Malloy, Campaign Legal Center deputy executive director. “And all but guarantees that there will be no disclosure of the donors funding the vast sums already being spent on political advertising by 501(c)(4) and other groups in the 2016 election cycle. Once again, the Court of Appeals has effectively sanctioned the wholesale evasion of federal disclosure laws. Neither Supreme Court precedent nor the underlying statute provided any justification for the FEC to adopt a rule narrowing disclosure.”

The Van Hollen case is a long-running challenge to a 2007 FEC regulation providing that only donors that specifically earmark their contributions for election ads are subject to disclosure. The district court first ruled in favor of Van Hollen in 2012, holding that the FEC regulation was contrary to the clear language of the federal campaign finance statue it purported to implement.

The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals also overturned the first lower court decision, disagreeing that the federal statute was unambiguous and holding that the district court should have instead analyzed whether the rule was a reasonable interpretation of the statute under a more deferential mode of judicial review. The case was remanded back to the district court, which found that the rule promulgated by the FEC was “arbitrary, capricious, and contrary to law” and an “unreasonable interpretation” of the McCain-Feingold law.

The Campaign Legal Center is part of the legal team representing Van Hollen in this case, which is led by Catherine Carroll of WilmerHale. The legal team also includes lawyers from WilmerHale, Democracy 21 and Public Citizen.

To read the opinion, click here.

To read the brief filed by Van Hollen’s legal team, click here.

FEC Complaint Filed Against Cruz, His 2012 Senate Campaign, for Failure to Report Loans and Possible Improper Use of Assets to Secure the Loans

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The Campaign Legal Center, with Democracy 21, filed a complaint recently with the Federal Election Commission urging the FEC to investigate apparent violations of campaign finance laws by Sen. Ted Cruz and the 2012 Cruz for Senate Campaign relating to loans he obtained from Goldman Sachs and Citibank for use in his 2012 Senate campaign.

According to the complaint, Cruz failed to report the loans to the FEC, as required by law, and may have used a portion of his wife’s assets to secure the loan resulting in the campaign accepting excessive contributions.

The complaint asks the FEC to formally investigate the apparent violations and seek appropriate sanctions.

According to published reports, Cruz used loans from Citibank and Goldman Sachs to help finance his 2012 election to the U.S. Senate, but his campaign committee failed to include the loans on the reports his campaign filed with the FEC.

While it has been reported that Cruz claimed that he and his wife had liquidated their “entire net worth, liquid net worth, and put it into the campaign,” it instead appears that he used both personal and joint assets to secure loans from the two banks, a fact he failed to disclose.

A review of Cruz’s Senate Financial Disclosure Reports for 2011 and 2012 also raise the question of whether he used his wife’s share of their joint assets as security for the loans, which would likely result in the campaign accepting an illegal contribution.

“The failure to report these loans is a clear cut violation of the law and kept voters in the dark about the money behind the Cruz campaign,” said Paul S. Ryan, Deputy Executive Director of the Campaign Legal Center, which took the lead in drafting the FEC complaint. “If he also used his wife’s assets to obtain these unreported loans, he caused his committee to accept illegal excessive contributions from his wife.”

To read the FEC complaint, click here.

Common Cause Backs Lawmakers’ Call for Full Disclosure of Political Ad Funders

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Common Cause urged the Federal Communications Commission to take the advice of the 168 members of Congress who recently called on the agency to require full disclosure of the money behind political ads on broadcast, cable, and satellite systems.

“The 2016 campaign season has already brought a torrent of nauseating, anonymous political smears on the airwaves. “Transparency in political ad sponsorship is the common sense antidote,” said former FCC Commissioner Michael Copps, now a special adviser to Common Cause’s Media and Democracy Reform Initiative.

Copps noted that Section 317 of the Communications Act has long required broadcasters to “fully and fairly disclose” the sponsors of broadcast political ads. The super PACs and non-profit groups that increasingly dominate political advertising are identified in their commercials but typically have names that provide few clues about the money behind the ads.

“The lack of transparency in politics is harming our democracy, breeding even more mistrust in government, and depressing voter participation. The public has a right to know who is trying to influence their vote over the public airwaves and the FCC should honor that right,” the lawmakers’ letter asserts

“Kudos to Reps. (Anna) Eshoo and (John) Yarmuth and 166 of their colleagues for leading the fight for accountable ads. It’s what voters deserve and the law requires. The FCC must act with dispatch,” Copps said.

In late 2015, Common Cause partnered with the Sunlight Foundation, Campaign Legal Center, and the Georgetown University Law Center to file complaints calling on the FCC to compel broadcasters in 18 markets to provide the in-ad, on-air disclosure of the money behind ads sponsored by the Independence USA PAC.

The complaints identified businessman and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg as the sole donor to Independence USA.

Lawmakers Call for Full Disclosure of Political Ad Funders

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This week, 168 members of Congress called on the Federal Communications Commission to ensure the full disclosure of the sponsors of political advertisements in a letter dated Jan. 20.

In the letter, the legislators write:

“In today’s political reality of nonstop campaigning, our system continues to fail the American people by allowing special interests and shadow groups to flood our airwaves with anonymous ads, with no disclosure whatsoever.”

They continued, “We believe the Federal Communications Commission has the responsibility and the legal authority to require disclosure of the actual donors behind these ads.”

The signers of the letter go on to explain that Section 317 of FCC regulations require broadcasters to ensure the “true identity” of the sponsors of political advertisements, and that the FCC has, for years “failed to engage any meaningful enforcement” of the section.

That’s because for decades, the FCC has interpreted the section to mean that the entity that exercised editorial control over the ad was the true sponsor.

But the 168 members of Congress who signed the letter said the FCC must do better.

“In the new era of non-disclosing political organizations with intentionally opaque names, this interpretation is woefully out of date,” they wrote. “While a non-disclosing organization may have had editorial control over the advertisement, the true sponsors are those who contributed money to pay for it.”

To read the entire letter, click here.

 

New Paper: How to Protect Election Integrity Without Disenfranchising Voters

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As America heads into another presidential election year in the midst of pitched battles over the right to vote, the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law has released a six-part agenda to secure our elections from misconduct while maintaining fair access to the ballot.

Since the 2010 election, 21 states have new voting restrictions — and 15 will have them in effect for the first time in a presidential election in 2016. Yet many of these rules address only one form of misconduct, in-person voter impersonation, which is vanishingly rare.

The clamor over voting laws should not obscure a fundamental shared truth: American elections should be secure and free of misconduct, the Center argues in Election Integrity: A Pro-Voter Agenda. Throughout our nation’s history, however, most fraud has been committed by insiders, not individuals.

And, in recent years, states have gone too far by passing voting rules that make it harder for many Americans to participate.

The Brennan Center’s paper outlines a six-part agenda to target fraud risks as they actually exist — without unduly disenfranchising eligible citizens. Proposals include plans to modernize voter registration, increase security of voting machines, and adopt only common-sense voter ID laws.

“We don’t have to choose between election integrity and election access. In fact, free and fair access is necessary for an election to have integrity,” wrote report author Myrna Pérez, deputy director of the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program. “It is vital that we protect voters from the real threats to the integrity of elections. Fortunately, it is possible to protect election integrity without disenfranchising eligible voters.”

Here is the six-part plan:

  1. Modernize Voter Registration to Improve Voter Rolls
  2. Ensure Security and Reliability of Our Voting Machines
  3. Do Not Implement Internet Voting Systems Until Security is Proven
  4. Adopt Only Common-Sense Voter Identification Proposals
  5. Increase Security of Mail-In Ballots
  6. Protect Against Insider Wrongdoing

The paper examines genuine risks to the security of elections, highlights current and future vulnerabilities, and recommends ways to reduce each risk.

Read the full report.

 

Common Cause Backs NJ Student Suit to Force Election Day Registration

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In a case with nationwide implications for the right to vote, Common Cause on filed a brief in support of a case asking a New Jersey appeals court to order the state to begin allowing citizens to register to vote or update their registration on the same day they cast their ballots.

The non-partisan citizen advocacy organization argues in a “friend of the court” brief that a computerized statewide voter registration system now in place allows election officials to verify instantly the eligibility of new voters.  That removes any legal justification for the current 21-day waiting period between the close of registration and the election, the brief contends.

“Election Day Registration is available in (more than) a dozen states across the country.  As President Obama reminded us last week in his State of the Union address, we need to modernize elections for the way we live now,” said Yael Bromberg, a Common Cause legal associate and co-author of the brief.  “It’s time for voting systems to catch up with the 21st Century, and Election Day Registration is a part of that call.”

The case, Rutgers University Student Assembly et al., v. Middlesex County Board of Elections et al. is pending in the appellate division of the New Jersey Superior Court, the Garden State’s second highest tribunal.  The case is brought on behalf of individual Rutgers students and several statewide organizations.

The Common Cause brief reviews the experience of three states – California, Connecticut and Colorado – in using registration systems similar to New Jersey’s to implement Election Day Registration. The systems are able to access other state records to verify each prospective voter’s eligibility and then process the voter’s registration form to add him or her to the rolls “at lightning speed,” the brief asserts.

“It is undisputed that New Jersey’s computerized registration system is fast, efficient, and provides ample safeguards against voter fraud,” said Paul Weissman at Lowenstein Sandler LLP, co-counsel on the brief.  “Now that this technology is in place, we believe New Jersey’s constitution requires the state to move promptly to eliminate the requirement for advance registration, which only reduces turnout, and to allow qualified voters to both register and vote on Election Day.”

While state court rulings are binding only in the state involved, Bromberg said a decision in favor of the Rutgers students who filed the suit would set an important precedent. “This is the first case in the nation in which a court has been asked to decide whether an advance registration requirement remains constitutionally permissible after a state has created and begun to use a fully functioning statewide voter registration system that is easily accessible to registrars.  We know that each state’s Supreme Court routinely weighs the decisions of its counterparts as it hears cases where its own state law is unsettled. Against that backdrop, a decision for the Rutgers students could reverberate across the country, potentially making the ballot box more accessible to millions of people.”

“New Jersey has purchased and installed a 21st Century registration and voting system, but the state’s leaders are running it on a 19th Century mindset,” said Common Cause President Miles Rapoport. “Election Day registration is a common sense step to strengthen our democracy. Common Cause urges Gov. Christie and the Legislature to set an example for the nation and implement it immediately. The state shouldn’t need a court order to force it to do the right thing.”

Fair Elections Ordinance Introduced to Limit Big Money in Politics in Chicago

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A landmark ordinance that aims to remove the influence of big money and special interests in Chicago municipal elections was introduced recently.

The ordinance, sponsored by Aldermen Joe Moore (49th Ward), Michelle Harris (8th Ward) and John Arena (45th Ward), creates a small-donor public-financing system for aldermen and citywide officials, including mayor, city clerk and city treasurer.

“The Fair Elections fund will provide for each candidate a $6-to-$1 match on each individual contribution up to $175 as long as candidates do not accept any donations more than $500 from one individual source,” Moore said. “Elected officials need to be laser focused on working with and for our constituents and not spend an inordinate amount of time on fundraising and meeting with those attempting to influence our political decisions.”

The ordinance will be heard by the City Council’s Committee on Rules and Ethics. “We need to create opportunities to empower citizens, benefit candidates that are not influenced by big money, and support stronger connections between elected officials and the people we serve,” said Alderman Harris.

“Following the Citizens United decision, unlimited contributions, PACs, Super PACs, secret money, corporate donors, lobbyists, and other special interest funders now dominate our elections,” said Alderman John Arena.

“All too often, well-funded lobbyists and large corporate interests determine who is elected and gain an extreme undue influence over public policy decisions including whether resources go to working communities and services for vulnerable populations or for privatization schemes and more corporate giveaways. This legislation will help working people to take back their city government ” Said David Hatch, executive director of The Reclaim Campaign.

According to Brian Gladstein, executive director of Common Cause Illinois, “We created the Fair Elections Illinois campaign because our political system is broken and does not serve the interests of the American people. Political campaigns have become too expensive – with about $7 billion spent in the 2012 presidential race and (more than) $40 million spent here in Chicago during the last mayoral race in 2015.”

“We know the people of Chicago support a public financing system similar to the systems that currently exists in such cities as New York City and Los Angeles. In fact, 79 percent of Chicago voters voted yes on the public financing ballot question last March. Now it is time for our aldermen to pass this ordinance and help us create fair elections,”Gladstein said.

FEC Complaint Filed Against Cruz, His 2012 Senate Campaign for Failure to Report Loans from Goldman Sachs and Citibank and Possible Improper Use of Assets to Secure the Loans

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The Campaign Legal Center, with Democracy 21, recently filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission urging the it to investigate apparent violations of campaign finance laws by Sen. Ted Cruz and the 2012 Cruz for Senate Campaign relating to loans he obtained from Goldman Sachs and Citibank for use in his 2012 Senate campaign.

According to the complaint, Cruz failed to report the loans to the FEC, as required by law, and may have used a portion of his wife’s assets to secure the loan resulting in the campaign accepting excessive contributions.

The complaint asks the FEC to formally investigate the apparent violations and seek appropriate sanctions.

According to published reports, Cruz used loans from Citibank and Goldman Sachs to help finance his 2012 election to the U.S. Senate, but his campaign committee failed to include the loans on the reports his campaign filed with the FEC.

While it has been reported Cruz claimed that he and his wife had liquidated their “entire net worth, liquid net worth, and put it into the campaign,” it instead appears that he used both personal and joint assets to secure loans from the two banks, a fact he failed to disclose.

A review of Senator Cruz’s Senate Financial Disclosure Reports for 2011 and 2012 also raise the question of whether he used his wife’s share of their joint assets as security for the loans, which would likely result in the campaign accepting an illegal contribution.

“The failure to report these loans is a clear cut violation of the law and kept voters in the dark about the money behind the Cruz campaign,” said Paul S. Ryan, Deputy Executive Director of the Campaign Legal Center, which took the lead in drafting the FEC complaint. “If he also used his wife’s assets to obtain these unreported loans, he caused his committee to accept illegal excessive contributions from his wife.”

To read the FEC complaint, click here.