“Trump Inaugural Drew Big Dollars From Donors With Vested Interests”

NYT:

The casino magnate and philanthropist Sheldon G. Adelson wants some big things from the Trump administration: banning the online poker sites that compete with his luxury casinos, for example, and moving the United States Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.

And while President Trump was not Mr. Adelson’s first choice during the Republican primary season last year, he has been generous since: The billionaire donated $5 million to the committee organizing Mr. Trump’s inauguration festivities — the largest single contribution given to any president’s inaugural committee.

Some of the country’s wealthiest Republicans and its largest corporations had similar impulses. Documents released this week by Mr. Trump’s inaugural organizers provide a glimpse of the big-dollar frenzy of influence-seeking and peacemaking surrounding Mr. Trump’s swearing-in, which raised $107 million, twice as much money as any other inauguration.

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“Nevada Secretary Of State Says 21 Noncitizens Could Have Voted For President In Her State”

HuffPo:

Nevada’s Secretary of State says her office believes 21 noncitizens could have voted in the state in the 2016 election.

Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske (R) released the information Wednesday after she accused the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles last week of accepting voting applications from people who provided documents indicating they were not U.S. citizens. The DMV director responded to the letter by noting that federal law requires the department to provide applications to anyone who applies for or renews a driver’s license, and that it’s the responsibility of the Secretary of State’s office to certify the eligibility of voters.

In her Wednesday statement, Cegavske acknowledged the DMV had actually assisted her office in identifying potential illegal votes. In March the department provided a list of just over 100 people who had registered to vote while also providing evidence at the DMV they weren’t citizens.

“After determining that 21 individuals from that list voted, this information was given to investigators with the Secretary of State’s office,” said Cegavske’s office in a statement. “Based upon the information obtained to date we have evidence that three non-citizens illegally registered and voted in Clark County in the last election.”

However, the office did not provide definitive proof of voter fraud.

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“Kobach seeks stay of judge’s order to hand over documents from Trump meeting”

KC Star:

The organization argues that if Kobach lobbied Trump on changes to the act, it would amount to an admission that current federal law precludes him from enforcing the policy. Kobach has argued for several years that the policy prevents non-citizens from casting ballots in Kansas elections, but critics say it prevents some rightful voters from becoming registered.

Judge James O’Hara, a federal magistrate judge in Kansas City, Kan., ordered Kobach on Monday to hand over the documents.

Kobach is appealing O’Hara’s decision to U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson. He has asked O’Hara to stay his order for 14 days to allow him time to file the appeal with Robinson.

“If Judge Robinson ultimately affirms the Magistrate’s decision, the documents will be produced as Magistrate O’Hara required thereafter,” Kobach’s attorney, Garrett Roe, stated in the court filing. “It is unclear that there is any harm to the public interest therefore in a brief delay in disclosure of a few redacted portions of two documents.”

Kobach has a history of legal defeats in Robinson’s courtroom.

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NC: “Report shows Same-Day Registration enabled voter access across the board”

Release:

On April 21, the U.S. Supreme Court is slated to consider whether or not is will hear an appeal to a lower court’s ruling that found North Carolina’s 2013 voter suppression law “targeted African-American voters with almost surgical precision.” This is the fourth time the appeal has been scheduled for the Court’s consideration.

 The lower court’s ruling that found the law unconstitutional required North Carolina to reinstate several voting processes for the 2016 general election including a longer early voting period and Same-Day Registration (SDR), and removed the photo ID requirement.  SDR enables North Carolina’s voting-age citizens to go to any early voting location in their county, register, and vote in one transaction.
The Southern Coalition for Social Justice released a report today analyzing the impact that Same-Day Registration had in North Carolina in the November 2016 election. The report found that Same-Day Registration in North Carolina:
      • Was used broadly by Republican, Democratic, and Unaffiliated voters;
      • Allowed for participation from North Carolinians who move frequently;
      • Created a safety net for voters whose registration had been inadvertently removed or not processed; and
      • Provided a secure and convenient way to register eligible voters.
A PDF of the report can be found at http://www.southerncoalition.org/sdr
 The report found that 100,258 North Carolinians used SDR in the November 2016 election, an increase from the 97,100 who used the process in the 2012 general election.
 The report also found that SDR provides a convenient way for eligible voters to register while also creating ample safeguards for election officials to obtain proper documentation from voters.  In order to register same-day, voters must not only attest to their eligibility to vote; they must also, without exception, provide proof of identity and residence by providing an acceptable document showing the voter’s current name and current address.
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Russian Efforts Regarding Claims of Voter Fraud

Reuters has broken this story, said to be based on confidential documents  prepared by a Putin-controlled Russian think tank, on various strategies for interfering in our 2016 elections.  Among all the other revelations, this particular tidbit stood out as one readers of this blog are likely to find of particular interest:

A second institute document, drafted in October and distributed in the same way, warned that Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton was likely to win the election. For that reason, it argued, it was better for Russia to end its pro-Trump propaganda and instead intensify its messaging about voter fraud to undermine the U.S. electoral system’s legitimacy and damage Clinton’s reputation in an effort to undermine her presidency, the seven officials said.

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“Sheldon Adelson Gave $5 Million for Trump’s Inauguration”

NYT:

Sheldon G. Adelson, the casino magnate and stalwart Republican donor, gave $5 million to support the festivities surrounding President Trump’s inauguration.

The gift was the largest single contribution ever given to an inauguration, but far from the only seven-figure check deposited by the committee responsible for carrying out much of the pomp leading up to Mr. Trump’s swearing in.

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“Democracy NC Calls for Criminal Investigation of McCrory Conspiracy Against NC Voters”

Democracy North Carolina:

Voting rights group Democracy North Carolina released a report providing a first, county-by-county look at the human cost of hundreds of false voter fraud allegations leveled by the 2016 reelection campaign of former North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory. The report entitled The Deceit of Voter Fraud is a product of a five-month investigation into false allegations of voter misconduct and uncovers a pattern of unsubstantiated charges of election fraud and irregularities, without regard for the harassment and harmful impact on innocent voters. Democracy North Carolina is calling for a criminal investigation by state and federal agencies into these findings of wrongdoing

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“One Person, No Votes: Unopposed Candidate Statutes and the State of Election Law”

Noah Lindell has posted this draft on SSRN (forthcoming, Wisconsin Law Review).  Here is the abstract:

In thirty-six states and the District of Columbia, state laws allow candidates running unopposed for certain offices to be “declared elected” without appearing on the ballot. These “unopposed candidate statutes” come in many varieties, but all deny people the ability to vote for the affected offices. This Article surveys the nation’s unopposed candidate statutes for the first time, exploring their idiosyncrasies and their interactions with other election laws. It then analyzes the statutes under four constitutional doctrines––the Burdick right-to-vote doctrine; the congressional voting clauses; one person, one vote; and the Guarantee Clause––showing how the statutes illuminate, and could change, the scope of each. Finally, the Article uses unopposed candidate statutes as a lens through which to examine two major debates in election law: whether courts should focus on encouraging competitiveness, and whether the purpose of voting is tabulative or expressive. Across both doctrine and theory, these unusual laws force us to reconsider our approach to the act of voting, stripped of its ability to affect the outcome of an election.

This is a great piece. Highly recommended!

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“Two plaintiffs join suit against Trump, alleging breach of emoluments clause”

WaPo:

Two new plaintiffs — an association of restaurants and restaurant workers, and a woman who books banquet halls for two D.C. hotels — plan to join a lawsuit alleging that President Trump has violated the Constitution’s emoluments clause because his hotels and restaurants do business with foreign governments.

The new plaintiffs will be added to the case on Tuesday morning, according to a spokesman for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), a D.C.-based watchdog group.

CREW had originally filed suit against Trump in federal court in January, alleging that — by continuing to own his business, which rents out hotel rooms and meeting spaces to other governments — Trump had violated the constitutional provision that bans “emoluments” from foreign powers.

Legal experts had said that the case faced a serious hurdle: It wasn’t clear that the watchdog group actually had standing to sue in the first place. What harm had it suffered, specifically, because of Trump’s actions?

The new plaintiffs are intended to offer an alternative answer to that question. Both say that, as direct competitors of Trump’s restaurants and hotels, they may lose foreign clients, who may book with Trump properties to curry favor with the president.

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Court Orders Kobach to Produce Voting Document Shared with Trump, Suggests ACLU May Pursue Sanctions Against Kobach

Bryan Lowry in the KC Star:

A federal magistrate judge has ordered Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach to disclose documents outlining a strategic plan he presented to President Donald Trump in November, a decision that could have ramifications from Topeka to Washington.

Kobach, who served on Trump’s transition team, was photographed in November holding a stack of papers labeled as a strategic plan for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. That plan, as revealed by the photograph, included the recommendations that the U.S. block all refugees from Syria and engage in “extreme vetting” of immigrants from countries considered high-risk.

It also contained a reference to voter rolls, which was partially obscured by Kobach’s hand in the photograph….

Judge James O’Hara in Kansas City, Kan., ordered Kobach to share the documents Monday after privately reviewing them earlier in the month. The judge will allow Kobach to redact the documents, but he wholly rejected the Kansas official’s argument that the papers were protected by Trump’s executive privilege and even questioned whether Kobach had met his duty of candor as an attorney in his efforts to prevent the ACLU from reviewing the papers.

O’Hara said that “even adopting defendant’s view that the executive privilege may be asserted by a president over communications made before he takes office, defendant doesn’t address the fact that now-President Trump conspicuously has not asserted the privilege over the photographed document.”

From fn 22 of the order:

22 Defendant stated in his response to the motion to compel that the draft amendment “does not propose to ‘amend or alter’ an [sic] ‘eligibility-assessment procedures mandated by the NVRA.’” ECF No. 288 at 18. Defendant also stated “no such document exists” that shows defendant sought an alternative means of assessing voter qualification by amending the NVRA. Id. at 17. These statements, most charitably, can be construed as word-play meant to present a materially inaccurate picture of the documents. After plaintiffs review the documents to be provided under this order, the court leaves it to them to decide whether to seek sanctions against defendant in this regard. But whether plaintiffs elect to file a sanctions motion misses the larger point. As mentioned earlier, Secretary Kobach is both a defendant and counsel of record, and in the latter capacity is an officer of the court with a duty of candor and a duty not to assert frivolous arguments. At the risk of stating what should be obvious, when any lawyer takes an unsupportable position in a simple matter such as this, it hurts his or her credibility when the court considers arguments on much more complex and nuanced matters such as attorney-client privilege, deliberative-process privilege, executive privilege, and indeed, the ultimate issue of whether Kansas’s DPOC law is preempted by the NVRA.

(Emphasis added).

Ouch!

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“Does the World Really Belong to the Living? The Decline of the Constitutional Convention in New York and Other US States, 1776–2015”

J.H. Snider has written this article for American Political Thought. Here is the abstract:

In the preamble to the US Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson wrote that people have an “unalienable” right “to alter” their government. A total of 37 US states would eventually include in their state constitutions a similar provision promising the people the right at all times to alter or reform their government. Jefferson would later also argue that people should have a right to alter their constitution at periodic intervals. Eventually, 14 states, including New York, would adopt a constitutional provision implementing such a right. The distinctive democratic function of that right—except in states with the constitutional initiative—is that it allows the people to bypass the legislature’s gatekeeping power over constitutional reform. This article explains the long-term structural forces leading to increased opposition to calling a state constitutional convention. Some of these forces signal democratic dysfunction and should be cause for alarm.

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Supreme Court Takes No Action Today in North Carolina Voting Case

Today’s order list means the Court has not ruled on whether or not to dismiss the cert. petition in the big North Carolina voting case, as the Democratic governor and AG ask, on the Republican legislature’s attempt to intervene in the case to keep the cert. petition alive, or on the cert. petition itself.

What does it mean that the Court did not act? Too hard to know, other than that someone at the Court wants to take a closer look at one or more of these questions.

UPDATE: The case has been relisted for the next conference,

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“With Trump Appointees, a Raft of Potential Conflicts and ‘No Transparency’”

NYT:

President Trump is populating the White House and federal agencies with former lobbyists, lawyers and consultants who in many cases are helping to craft new policies for the same industries in which they recently earned a paycheck.

The potential conflicts are arising across the executive branch, according to an analysis of recently released financial disclosures, lobbying records and interviews with current and former ethics officials by The New York Times in collaboration with ProPublica.

In at least two cases, the appointments may have already led to violations of the administration’s own ethics rules. But evaluating if and when such violations have occurred has become almost impossible because the Trump administration is secretly issuing waivers to the rules.

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Persily, “Can Democracy Survive the Internet?”

Nate Persily has written this article for the Journal of Democracy.  Here is the abstract:

The 2016 presidential election represents the latest chapter in the disintegration of the legacy institutions that had set bounds for U.S. politics in the postwar era. It is tempting (and in many ways correct) to view the Donald Trump campaign as unprecedented in its breaking of established norms of politics. Yet this type of campaign could only be successful because established institutions—especially the mainstream media and political-party organizations—had already lost most of their power, both in the United States and around the world. The void that these eroding institutions left was filled by an unmediated populist nationalism tailor-made for the Internet age.

Can’t wait to read this one.

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Nevada Secretary of State, Department of Motor Vehicles Spar over SOS’s Allegations of Voter Fraud

Nevada Independent:

Nevada Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske said she’s launching a voter fraud probe after discovering evidence that “noncitizens” cast ballots in the 2016 election.

Cegavske’s office didn’t immediately answer additional questions about the alleged illegal votes, including how many were cast, where, whether arrests have been made, and why the existing system for verifying voters’ eligibility apparently did not catch unqualified registrations….

The Department of Motor Vehicles responded with a sharp letter to the secretary of state’s announcement, saying the letter about its voter registration practices “comes as a complete surprise as you and your office have reviewed, contributed to, and approved the processes you are expressing concerns about.”

The letter, and an accompanying news release, essentially point the finger back at the SOS

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“Nevada: State Supreme Court rules that Judges aren’t subjected to recall law”

Recall Elections Blog:

In its long delayed ruling, the Nevada Supreme Court ruled 4-2 that judges are not subject to the state’s recall law. Both the ruling and the dissent hold that judges are “public officers” as provided for in the recall law, but the majority ruled that the recall law was superseded by the 1976 creation of the Nevada Commission on Judicial Discipline. According to the majority, the fact that the act creating the Commission didn’t specifically mention recalls removed the recall as an option for future judges.

My recommendation is to read the dissent as I think the majority decision is a poorly reasoned one. The majority ruling is a very tortured way to protect judges from the recall — one that other states very clearly don’t follow. Allowing for impeachment or removal by a commission is very common — it is odd and extremely unlikely that voters were voting to remove the recall at the same time that they were putting forth another method of removing judges.Nevada happens to have a very challenging recall law, thanks to another unusual Supreme Court ruling in 2010 that severely constricted the voters’ ability to use recalls (a decision later signed into law with a later bill. Both may actually violate federal law as stated in Bush v. Gore).

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“Freedom Caucus Member’s Book Slams Money-Obsessed Politicians”

Roll Call reports:

In his book, Buck writes: “Money rules in Washington.”

He recounts in detail the contributions that House Republicans are expected to forward to their campaign arm as dues to serve on congressional committees. Lesser committee spots, such as the Judiciary panel, will set a freshman lawmaker back $220,000, Buck writes, while “A” committees, such as Ways and Means, require dues of $450,000….

“Members are required to pay for committee assignments,” Buck writes. “Lobbyists, corporations, and wealthy individuals who need something from Congress raise the money.”

The result of that system, he writes, “is that members routinely vote for defective legislation in order to please party leaders and get money for their re-election campaigns instead of doing what is right for America.”

He tells a story of an Appropriations chairman urging lobbyists not to donate to then-Rep. Cynthia Lummis, who eventually left the panel because she couldn’t raise enough money to cover dues for that “A” committee. The Wyoming Republican did not seek re-election in 2016.

 

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“The Entirely Preventable Battles Raging Over Voting Rights”

Matt Ford for The Atlantic:

Four years later, a series of lawsuits and legal challenges in states formerly covered by preclearance suggest the country perhaps hasn’t changed as much as Roberts thought. Had the provision, Section 4(b), remained intact, it would have largely forestalled the courtroom battles over election laws that have engulfed multiple Southern states.

The foremost example came earlier this week in Texas, where a federal district court handed the state’s controversial voter ID bill a major defeat in a long-running legal dispute over whether it violates the VRA. The evidence presented to the court “establishes that a discriminatory purpose was at least one of the substantial or motivating factors” behind the bill’s passage, federal judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos wrote in her order in Veasey v. Abbott. “Consequently, the burden shifted to the state to demonstrate that the law would have been enacted without its discriminatory purpose. The state has not met its burden.”

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Harvard Law Review Covers New Hampshire Ballot Selfie Case, Rideout v. Gardner

Very nice treatment of the case:

 Vote buying, a practice carried over from England’s early experiments with democracy, was widespread in United States elections until the modern era.. A 1905 study of a New York City election, for example, found that 170,000 people sold their votes at a going rate of five dollars.2 Around this time, states began to introduce the secret ballot and enact other laws intended to prevent voter corruption and intimidation. Since then, the outright buying of votes has receded as a significant issue though occasional prosecutions continue and many Progressive era statutes remain in force. Recently, in Rideout v. Gardner, the First Circuit held that a New Hampshire law prohibiting voters from sharing photographs of marked ballots — which came to be known as a ban on “ballot selfies” — was unconstitutional under the First Amendment. Despite the possibility that legislatures may be better suited than courts to determine if election regulations are needed, the court found New Hampshire’s stated justification — to prevent vote buying and coercion — insufficiently strong. The Rideout court’s approach shows how First Amendment free speech doctrine fails to consider the institutional competence of legislatures when it comes to regulating elections.

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Fewer Than 200 Ultra-Wealthy People Collectively Spent $1 Billion on 2016 Election

That tidbit and much more in Open Secrets tally of Election 2016:

That’s why we also looked at the top 1 percent of 1 percent of donors, a group of less than 200 people who spent almost $1 billion combined in the 2016 cycle. The group’s political contributions more than doubled from 2012 to 2016, from about $390 million to nearly $948 million. And although the group’s size grew by about 33.4 percent, which would naturally raise giving totals, the contribution increase amounted to an even greater 143 percent.

The uppermost crust

Billionaire donors like casino mogul Sheldon Adelson and his wife, Miriam, consistently pile millions of dollars onto federal elections. The pair contributed a combined $82.5 million over the course of the 2016 cycle. But they were eclipsed by a single individual: Tom Steyer, a hedge fund manager and environmentalist, who led all donors by pumping more than $90 million into the election. Despite their political differences, Steyer, a liberal, and the Adelsons, staunch conservatives, are on the same page when it comes to spending millions of dollars on their causes.

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In Surprise Move, Trump DOJ Defends McCain-Feingold’s Soft Money Limits at #SCOTUS

Via Bloomberg BNA, comes news of this motion to dismiss or affirm a challenge brought by the Republican Party of Louisiana to the soft money limits in the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (the McCain-Feingold law). The Court upheld those limits in McConnell v. FEC, but there have been a number of subsequent challenges to the provisions, and this one is the latest.

I was expecting that a Trump Administration with White House counsel Don McGahn (who is a big believer that campaign finance deregulation is mandated by the First Amendment) might do something unusual in defending the case, perhaps even filing two briefs (one on each side), similar to what happened in Buckley v. Valeo.

But the motion reads like a motion that would have been filed by the Obama DOJ; there’s not a hint that the issue is one the Court should hear. It has just the right tone for a brief of this type to say: nothing new here, and this is not the right vehicle to make a big change in campaign finance law.

So that’s a surprise, and good news for reformers.

Now the bad news: I still think the Court is fairly likely to take the case. From a post of mine on this case the day before the election:

Back in August I wrote at NLJ about Republicans’ third attempt to overturn McCain-Feingold’s limits on how much political parties can raise from donors for election related advertising and other things. I wrote that if the Republicans would be successful in getting a three-judge court, that would put the Supreme Court in a position where, because of technical procedural reasons, it would almost certainly take the case. When I wrote that in August, Justice Scalia was still on the Court, and I said there was a good chance that the Roberts Court, if confronted with the soft money rules, could well overturn them, killing the second part of McCain-Feingold. (The Court killed the first part, the limit on corporate and labor union independent spending, in Citizens United).

Well today the three judge court ruled unanimously ruled, and rightly so, that it is bound by the Supreme Court’s earlier decision in the McConnell case upholding the soft money rules.

So the issue is perfectly teed up through appeal to the Supreme Court. But…

No more Justice Scalia means that Court is likely evenly divided at best on the question. So little prospect now the ban would be overturned.

If we get a ninth Justice things could change. A Clinton-appointed Justice would almost certainly vote to uphold the limits, while a Trump-appointed Justice would almost certainly vote to strike them down.

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Must-Read Lyle Denniston on the Coming Fight over Voting Rights Act Bail-in in Texas

Lyle:

Earlier this year, however, a federal trial judge in Houston, District Judge Lee H. Rosenthal, became the first since the demise of Section 5 pre-clearance to impose Section 3 pre-clearance as a remedy for a discriminatory voting practice. That case involves a shift of the way voters in Pasadena, Texas, elect the members of the city council. Judge Rosenthal, after finding that the change discriminated intentionally against the city’s Hispanic voters, adopted a six-year period of pre-clearance for any future change in voting laws in that locality.

That case has now moved on up to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. And that is where one major threat to Section 3 remedies has arisen. It came in a legal brief filed by the state of Texas last month, supporting an appeal by the city of Pasadena as far as the city is challenging the remedy of Section 3 pre-clearance. That remedy, the state brief asserted, “must be sparingly and cautiously applied.”

The state’s filing argued that “misuse” of that mode of pre-clearance “threatens to re-impose the same unwarranted federal intrusion that Shelby County found could not be justified under the Constitution.” The brief contended that Judge Rosenthal had engaged in such a “misuse” of this provision by imposing it for only a single incident of discrimination – the one-time change in the method of electing the Pasadena city council.

The only circumstance in which a Section 3 pre-clearance remedy is valid, under either the specific language of Section 3, the reasoning of the Supreme Court in 2013, or the Constitution, the Texas brief contended, is when a judge can conclude that the discrimination was “pervasive, flagrant, widespread, and rampant.”

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“Iowa’s New Voter-ID Law Would Have Disenfranchised My Grandmother”

Ari Berman for The Nation:

My grandmother Sylvia moved from Brooklyn to Iowa when she was 89 years old. It was a culture shock, to say the least. When my mom took her to vote, she complained of the candidates, “There isn’t anybody who’s Jewish!”

I thought of my grandmother, who passed away in 2005 at 99, when the Iowa Legislature passed a strict voter-ID law today. She didn’t have a driver’s license because she never drove (she’d frequently walk two miles from her apartment to the grocery store). Her passport expired long ago. She never had a US birth certificate because she was born in Poland and fled the Holocaust. She used her Medicare card as identification. She didn’t possess any of the forms of government-issued photo identification that Iowa will soon require to vote.

The ACLU of Iowa reports that 11 percent of eligible Iowa voters—260,000 people—don’t have a driver’s license or non-operator ID, according to the US Census and the Iowa Department of Transportation, and could be disenfranchised by the bill. My grandmother, if she were still alive today, would have been one of them.

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“Contentious voter ID bill advances in Iowa Senate”

Des Moines Register:

A contentious voter identification bill cleared an Iowa Senate subcommittee Wednesday, although critics said there is no evidence it’s needed and a Democratic lawmaker scolded a state elections official for suggesting there is a lack of confidence in Iowa’s election system.

Senate Study Bill 1163, which is proposed by Republican Secretary of State Paul Pate, was approved on a 2-1 vote, advancing the bill to the Senate State Government Committee. Republican Sens. Roby Smith of Davenport and Jake Chapman of Adel supported the bill, while Democratic Sen. Tony Bisignano opposed it. The Iowa House is considering its own version of Pate’s bill, which is House Study Bill 93.

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“Territorial Voting Rights Brief Filed in Seventh Circuit”

We the People project:

Earlier today Plaintiffs from Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico filed their opening brief before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit challenging discriminatory overseas voting laws and making the case that where you live shouldn’t impact your right to vote for President. The brief comes just days after the Harvard Law Review published a special feature, “Developments in the Law: U.S. Territories,” addressing the unequal status facing the over 4 million citizens who live in the Territories.

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“Political Parties and Candidates Dominated the 2016 House Elections While Holding Their Own in the Senate”

New CFI analysis:

Perhaps it is time to stop bemoaning the weakness of political parties in financing federal elections. The prevailing opinion is that since the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. FEC, “outside groups” accepting unlimited contributions have come to play so important a role in competitive races as to be pushing the candidates and political parties to the sideline. A newly released study by the Campaign Finance Institute (CFI) of 2016 general election campaign spending shows decisively that this is not true.

The basic source of misunderstanding stems from the legal categories under which federal financial activities are reported. Formal political party committees are designated, but all others are lumped together as non-party actors. Within the supposedly “non-party” organizations are four major Super PACs clearly associated with congressional party leaders. The Congressional Leadership Fund and Senate Leadership Fund are associated strongly with the House and Senate Republican leaders; the Senate Majority PAC and House Majority PAC are strongly associated with the Democratic leaders.

When the leadership committees are included in the calculations, the picture comes to look radically different from the conventional wisdom. These four committees were massively important in 2016, spending $232 million in general elections for the House and Senate (see table 1). This more than doubled the $114 million of independent expenditures (IEs) by the comparable committees in 2014*. Substantial increases were posted by each of the four leadership PACs – House and Senate, Democratic and Republican. By comparison, the four formal party committees’ IEs and receipts stayed roughly level. (For party receipts since 2002, see table 4.) The remaining non-party committees spent less on IEs in House races in 2016 than 2014 but more for the Senate, with the combined total going up by about 15%. Taken together the formal party committees and the leadership Super PACs combined to outspend all of the other non-party spenders by a margin that was more than four times as large in 2016 ($132 million) as in 2014 ($29 million).

The results are particularly visible in marginal contests. In House races, the parties (defined here to include the leadership Super PACs) were responsible for 88% of the independent spending in the 34 competitive elections with $2 million or more of IEs in the general election (see table 2). These races accounted for 93% of all general election IEs for the House in 2016. Independent spending in those races exceeded candidate spending by 1.31 to 1.

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“Top federal election official: voting fraud ‘not an epidemic’”

CPI:

“You take a look at the registration, you have illegals, you have dead people you have this — it’s really a bad situation, it’s really bad,” Trump told Fox News host Bill O’Reilly in February when asked about election integrity.

That’s not how Matthew Masterson sees it.

Masterson — the newly minted, Republican-nominated chairman of the bipartisan U.S. Election Assistance Commission — ranks Election 2016 among the most trouble-free elections ever.

The Center for Public Integrity last week spoke with Masterson about a range of election-related topics. Among them: voter fraud and suppression, U.S. House Republicans’ attempts to kill the Election Assistance Commission and his own goals for his one-year chairmanship at the tiny agency.

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“Gorsuch Arrives At The Supreme Court At A Crucial Moment For Voting Rights”

TPM:

Less then a week into the job, Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch will have his first chance, behind closed doors at least, to weigh in on voting rights.

When the justices meet Friday for their private conference, the first since Gorsuch’s confirmation, among the cases that they will be considering whether to take up is an appeal of a landmark ruling striking down North Carolina’s mammoth restrictive voting law.

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Look at How Much Influence Super PAC Donors Have Over Even Very Rich Presidents

NYT:

Mr. Bannon’s allies have already begun discussing a post-White House future for him. On Friday, his main political patron, Rebekah Mercer, the daughter of Robert Mercer, a major Trump donor, holed up in her office at Cambridge Analytica in New York, discussing possibilities for Mr. Bannon should he leave, according to two people briefed on the meeting. Mr. Bannon served on the data-mining firm’s board until last summer.

And while the president has grown weary of directives from donors like the Mercers, he is mindful that they are among his major financial backers, and he is said to be conscious of the need to keep it that way.

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“Study: Texas Voter Education Campaign Failed To Prevent ID Confusion”

Texas Tribune:

Texas’ court-ordered $2.5 million voter education campaign failed to prevent widespread confusion about the state’s identification rules ahead of the 2016 general election, according to a study released Monday.

And such a misunderstanding may have kept some eligible voters in key political battlegrounds from showing up to the polls, the University of Houston study found.

A federal judge last year ordered the Texas Secretary of State’s office to spend $2.5 million educating Texans about its voter ID requirements ahead of the 2016 elections. The requirements were relaxed after a federal appeals court last year ruled that Texas’ strict 2011 ID law discriminated against minority voters.

The education efforts — a mix of television and radio advertisements and online media — fell short, the research suggested.

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“Dallas Pastor Concerned About Voter Fraud”

NBC DFW:

West Dallas pastor has raised concerns of multiple attempts at voter fraud after several members of his church received mail-in ballots that they did not apply for.

Community Fellowship Church Pastor James Armstrong said Monday at least 10 members of his church, all of whom are senior citizens, have filed complaints with the Dallas County Elections office after they received ballots for the upcoming May 6 election.

“West Dallas has a history of being taken advantage of and it’s really unbelievable that in 2017 we are still being disenfranchised,” Armstrong said.

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Chief Justice Roberts at Best Half Right About Partisanship on #SCOTUS

In remarks at a college yesterday, the Chief was right to say that the confirmation process is exceedingly partisan:

 “It is a real danger that the partisan hostility that people see in the political branches will affect the nonpartisan activity of the judicial branch. It is very difficult I think for a member of the public to look at what goes on in confirmation hearings these days, which is a very sharp conflict in political terms between Democrats and Republicans, and not think that the person who comes out of that process must similarly share that partisan view of public issues and public life.”

The part where he is wrong is when he says that the Justices decide the cases before them “in a completely nonpartisan way.”

If by that the Chief means that the Justices do not consciously consider the positions of the party of the President that appointed him or her, that’s probably correct. But where he is incorrect is to suggest that there is no partisan valence to the decisions of the Court. On issues like affirmative action, voting rights campaign finance, abortion, environmental law and more—-the most difficult issues to come before the Court—the Court generally divides along ideological lines. And since the retirement of Justice Stevens, those ideological lines correspond with partisan lines as well. All the conservative Justices were appointed by Republican presidents and all the liberal Justices were appointed by Democratic presidents.

To pretend it is “nonpartisan” and balls and strikes ignores reality.

And the trend is likely to get much worse.

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“The Lost History of the Millionaire’s Amendment”

Katherine Shaw has posted this draft on SSRN (forthcoming Election Law Journal).  Here is the abstract:

 This piece excavates the history of the Millionaire’s Amendment, a short-lived provision of campaign finance law that played a significant role in Barack Obama’s successful 2004 Senate campaign. It argues that beyond the Amendment’s role in that single, fateful race, it supplies a useful test case for examining competing paradigms for regulating money in politics.

 

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NC: Deja Vu Dept: NC Again Passes Law Changing Election Boards Now That There’s a Democratic Governor

WRAL:

State legislative leaders and Gov. Roy Cooper are likely headed for another veto fight, this time over a measure that would reconfigure the state’s oversight of elections, ethics and lobbying. Lawmakers sent the bill to Cooper’s desk Tuesday.

In December 2016 during a special session, state lawmakers approved a proposal to do away with the existing State Board of Elections and replace it with the state’s ethics board, half appointed by the governor and the other half appointed by state lawmakers. That law also gave Republicans control of all local elections boards in each election year.

Cooper sued to block the law, saying it violated the separation of powers in the state constitution, and a three-judge panel agreed last month.

Senate Bill 68 is an attempt to revive some of that enjoined law,…

Cooper has already said he intends to veto the measure, calling it a GOP attempt to curtail voting rights.

“Their first attempt to gain control of elections boards through a law passed in December was recently found unconstitutional. And now the legislature is at it again, simply rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic,” Cooper wrote in a post on Medium. “The bill before the House today is another attempt to rig our state and county elections boards, doubling down on a Republican goal of reducing early voting, same-day registration and other tools that make it easier to vote.”

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NC: “Senate halts ethics/elections merger bill for now”

News and Observer:

The state Senate on Monday night voted not to go along with a House bill that would merge the ethics and elections commissions.

Instead, the bill was sent to a conference committee of Senate and House members to work out a compromise.

Gov. Roy Cooper said last week he would veto the bill because it curtails voting rights. It also deprives the governor of the power to control the boards through appointments.

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“Campaign mailer with photoshopped images draws accusations in L.A. City Council race for Valley seat”

LAT:

Phootoshopped campaign mailers sent in a Los Angeles City Council race in the San Fernando Valley are sparking accusations of election law violation and counterallegations of hypocrisy.

A political advocacy group called Latinas Lead California sent a “cease and desist” letter Monday to Council District 7 candidate Karo Torossian, demanding he stop using photoshopped images of rival candidate Monica Rodriguez in his mailers.

 The group is backing Rodriguez in the race for District 7, which includes Sylmar, Sunland and Pacoima.

The mailers show Rodriguez’s head attached to the body of a woman in a black suit holding a sign that states, “I am funded by Chevron,” against the backdrop of an ominous-looking oil-drilling operation.

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“Texas lawmakers consider election law change for language interpreters”

Texas Tribune:

Almost three years after Mallika Das, a naturalized citizen who spoke Bengali, was unable to vote properly because she was not proficient in English, Texas lawmakers are considering a change to an obscure provision of Texas election law regarding language interpreters.

Members of the Senate State Affairs Committee on Monday took up Senate Bill 148 by Democratic state Sen. Sylvia Garcia of Houston, which would repeal a section of the state’s election code that requires interpreters to be registered voters in the same county in which they are providing help.

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AZ: “Secretary of State Reagan to attorney general: Is what I did legal?”

Arizona Republic:

The rocky relations between Secretary of State Michele Reagan and Arizona’s county recorders continue.

The flash point: Voter registration.

Last fall, and again in early February, her office tapped into the voter-registration databases run by Maricopa and Pima counties. The two large counties were perplexed — and more than a little peeved.

They said this had not happened since a test on the system in 2010. Plus, Reagan should have forwarded whatever request for information her office was researching to them, instead of just logging in, Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes and Pima County Recorder F. Ann Rodriguez said.

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