Early voting victory in Ohio, but more challenges to come?

In a once sentence ruling, the Supreme Court left intact a US Appeals Court ruling that restored early voting rights for all OH voters the weekend before the Nov. 6 election.  Questions remained over how quickly Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted -- who has led the state Republicans' push to shrink the early voting window aggressively -- would uphold his promise to restore statewide early voting hours.

Steve Benen with some good news: 

Husted has now issued a directive setting uniform hours on the Saturday, Sunday, and Monday before the election, and it's online here (pdf). In a statement, he grudgingly conceded, "Today I have set uniform hours statewide, giving all Ohio voters the same opportunities to vote in the upcoming presidential election regardless of what county they live in." That this is a concession the Ohio Secretary of State fought tirelessly not to make is rather remarkable, but as of this afternoon, it appears the fight is over.

Big win.  But Rick Hasen says voting rights battles may not be over in Ohio.

The state of Ohio still has not announced whether it will appeal further in the other Ohio voting case, involving wrong precinct ballots.  This is by far a more important case in terms of the consequences for the election.

[...]Ohio had a stronger argument in the early voting case on equal protection grounds than they’d have in the wrong precinct case.  But because this is more consequential, potentially outcome determinative in Ohio, there will be partisan pressures to appeal.

Stay tuned.


Early Voting Debuts in Maryland This Week: Will it Improve Turnout?

Schedule conflicts, work commitments, and transportation issues are just a few reasons why some voters don’t show up on Election Day. To help remedy this issue, 32 states have enacted Early In-Person (EIP) voting laws, which have been overwhelmingly favored by voters. While this trend is mainly absent in the northeastern United States, Maryland is currently test-driving its new law this week, perhaps creating a precedent for surrounding states.

“It’s a little bit of variety for the voters,” said Anthony Gutierrez, director of Maryland’s Wicomico County Board of Elections in The Daily Times. The “variety” of voting options didn’t come easy to the state, which introduced early voting laws not once, but twice over the last few years.

“The state’s first Early Voting law was struck down in a state court on grounds that it violated the Maryland Constitution,” according to a new Project Vote policy paper by election counsel, Teresa James. “In response, proponents launched a statewide referendum to place a Constitutional amendment on the ballot to permit Early Voting. The Constitutional amendment passed and, with the passage of the second EIP bill, no excuse Early in Person Voting became the law of the land in Maryland in time for the 2010 elections.”

This week’s early voting period, which precedes the Sept. 14 primary, marks the first time Marylanders will be able to cast early ballots at 46 early voting centers across the state.

Before 2008, EIP was mostly used by typical voters, that is older, educated, wealthy, and white citizens, writes James, who assesses the impact of EIP on voting behavior of young, low income, and minority voters in her report. But the 2008 presidential election proved to be a pivotal time in voter participation and use of EIP among underrepresented young and minority citizens.  Overall turnout among these voters increased by as much as four percentage points since 2004. Further, Convenience Voting measures like Early In-Person and absentee voting accounted for one out of every three ballots cast in 2008.

It remains to be seen, however, whether the increased use of early voting by underrepresented populations was unique to the historic 2008 election, or if it will continue in future elections.

Despite overwhelming support from voters (72 percent voted to amend the Maryland constitution in favor of EIP in 2008), a few concerns have been expressed about the new law and its potential impact.

On Sunday, the Baltimore Sun criticized the allotment of voting centers as a “serious flaw” because “most counties have only one early-voting location,” meaning “long drives or transit rides for many voters, defeating the purpose of making voting less time-consuming.” Though the paper commends the passage of EIP, the editorial board maintains that “Maryland still has further to go in eliminating the headaches and expense of Election Day.”

Maryland partisans also express their reservations.

"From a Republican perspective, we look [at] early voting as something the Democratic legislature passed to increase turnout in their party," said Alan Rzepkowski, chairman of the county Republican Central Committee in a Capital Gazette report Tuesday. "We want to make sure everything is done fairly."

However, the Democratic Central Committee chairman, Stephen Thibodeau states: "To me, it's just a matter … (of) fundamentally giving more people a chance to vote."

Both partisans said that they would be dispatching poll-watchers to ensure “all the rules are followed,” and “no one is intimidated.” The most remarkable concern, however, is the Republican-driven fear of voter fraud.  However, EIP’s susceptibility to fraud is no different from that on the typical Tuesday Election Day, and even that is scarce.

"Project Vote conducted an exhaustive nationwide survey of voter fraud allegations and found that voter fraud of all types is extremely rare, averaging eight cases per year among the millions of voters nationwide,” wrote James. “Voter impersonation and double voting, the professed concerns of Early Voting opponents, are even more rare. "

"It is the same as going in on Election Day," said Gutierrez, noting the same voting machines and verification procedures will be utilized during the early voting period.

In states with EIP in place for several years, more than 50 percent of voters choose this option. The coming weeks will tell if the same majority of Marylanders who approved EIP will capitalize on the state’s increased access to the ballot.

Mo.Voter ID Debate is Down to the Wire: Early Voting Provision Rejected by Advocates

Cross-posted at Project Vote's blog, Voting Matters

The Missouri legislature is once again pushing a controversial measure to combat a mythical problem in the state—registration and voter fraud. The costly measure that critics say is "based on a lie and emotional fear" would essentially amend the state constitution to enact a 2006 photo voter ID law that was declared unconstitutional by the state Supreme Court.  In the last days of the legislative session, tension mounts over the potential to disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of voters to prevent a crime that has never occurred in the state.

There's more...

Election day in Iowa House district 90

Today's the big day in Iowa House district 90, where Republicans and conservative interest groups are all-in for Stephen Burgmeier against the Democratic candidate Curt Hanson. Polls close at 9 pm Central Daylight Time. Going into this election, Democrats have a 56-44 majority in the Iowa House, and a victory in this rural swing district would be a boost for the GOP. Beth Dalbey wrote a good feature on the campaign for Iowa Independent. Other news from the race:

Democrats had an early lead in terms of absentee ballots returned, and according to the field organizer for the Fairness Fund, efforts to collect outstanding absentee ballots continued through Monday. We won several Iowa House seats in 2008 through big leads in early voting. A strong absentee ballot showing will be crucial for Hanson, because the national political environment for Democrats is less favorable now than it was last November, conservative groups are heavily invested in this race, and same-sex marriage has galvanized the Republican base in Iowa.

Speaking of gay marriage, the National Organization for Marriage has spent nearly $90,000 trying to get Burgmeier elected. It's an astronomical sum to spend in a rural Iowa House district. The group will have to do things differently if they want to get involved in our statehouse races next year:

An out-of-state anti-gay marriage group will likely need to form its own Political Action Committee and disclose its donors if it continues its Iowa activities, a state official warned today [Friday]. [...]

NOM will likely need to disclose future donors if it continues its Iowa activities, Charlie Smithson, the head of the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board, warned NOM in a letter today.

"I'm not as much concerned with this particular race as I am that Iowa is not going to become a dumping ground for undisclosed campaign contributions," Smithson said in an interview.  "Anyone can play the game here, but they are going to play within the rules."

The One Iowa blog has more details and a link to Smithson's letter. The bottom line is that the National Organization for Marriage will need to form a PAC that discloses donors in order to spend more than $750 on advocacy activities in Iowa. Click here to sign One Iowa's petition calling on NOM to disclose their funding sources. (By the way, a money laundering complaint has been filed in Maine in response to the way groups including the NOM are funding efforts to overturn same-sex marriage rights by passing Prop 1.)

Yesterday One Iowa and the Interfaith Alliance of Iowa Action Fund filed a formal ethics complaint against the National Organization for Marriage with the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board. The NOM claims to be in compliance with Iowa law.

Jason Clayworth of the Des Moines Register and Jason Hancock of Iowa Independent reported on the disclosure reports filed by Hanson and Burgmeier. The Republican is getting much more help from outside groups, including Iowans for Tax Relief and the Iowa Family Policy Center as well as the National Organization for Marriage.

If you're on Twitter, use #HD90 to find updates from Republicans and Democrats who are involved in this race.

Post any thoughts or election predictions in this thread. I am having trouble making a prediction. This race "should" go to Burgmeier because low-turnout special elections favor the opposition party, and because conservative interest groups have advertised much more in the district. On the other hand, I hear field organizers supporting Hanson on the ground have been doing a tremendous job. The district is also unusual because it includes Fairfield, which has a high number of Green and Libertarian voters. I don't know whether either party has been targeting those groups. I will update this post with my final prediction this afternoon.

Update [2009-9-1 19:39:21 by desmoinesdem]: Volunteers and field organizers are working hard today GOTV for Hanson, but I fear the Republican is going to narrowly win. My wild guess is 53-47 for Burgmeier, but I'd love to be wrong!

There's more...

Most "Devastating" Election Reform Gains Support in Georgia

Cross-Posted at Project Vote's Voting Matter's Blog

Weekly Voting Rights News Update

by Erin Ferns

If you wanted to register to vote today, would you be able to provide a copy of a birth certificate, U.S. passport or naturalization papers? Would those documents reflect your current name?

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