Monthly Archives: February 2010

Elmendorf and Schleicher on San Francisco’s Electoral Dysfunction

Chris Elmendorf and David Schleicher have this op-ed on the proposal that San Francisco move to at-large elections for the board of supervisors. They conclude: “San Francisco’s problems will not be solved by flip-flopping between district and at-large elections. What we need instead is fresh thinking about how to motivate and enable city residents to vote effectively in low-profile supervisorial elections.”

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“Decision Could Allow Anonymous Political Contributions by Businesses”

The NY Times reports here that: “Experts say the ruling [in CU], along with a pair of earlier Supreme Court cases [MCFL & WRTL], makes it possible for corporations and unions to donate anonymously to nonprofit civic leagues and trade associations. The groups can then use the money to finance the types of political advertisements that were at the heart of last month’s ruling…”

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“Missing the Tea Party”

Linda Greenhouse offers these thoughts on the fallout from Citizens United, comparing (and contrasting) it to that which followed Kelo v. New London, the 2005 eminent domain decision:

A major difference between the Kelo decision and Citizens United, of course, is that in the first case, the court was enabling elected legislatures to do what they wanted to do, leaving them free to continue with economic development policies or to stay their own hands. In Citizens United, by contrast, it was the court that tied the legislature’s hands, declaring an act of Congress unconstitutional and taking away a tool that had appeared to offer some hope of restraining the flood of money into politics. That the provision had been only marginally effective, if that, in achieving that goal is less important than the narrative now growing up around Citizens United and rapidly taking on a life of its own, almost independent of what the court actually held.

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“Senator Dikembe Mutombo Blocks Record Amount Of Legislation”

NBA fans will enjoy this piece from the Onion on how “[t]he 7-foot-2 senator … broke the record previously held by Sen. Shawn Bradley (D-NJ), Rep. Arvydas Sabonis (D-OR), and current Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), … sometimes swatting bills so hard that they were sent flying all the way back to committee.” The accompanying photo is not to be missed.

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Should Voter History Be Private?

From Virginia comes this story, highlighting the tension between voters’ interests in privacy and candidates’ interest in reaching voters. A state legislative subcommittee has voted to close off all access to voter history lists. Those lists — indicating the elections in which voters participated but, obviously, not how they voted — are presently available only to elected officials, candidates, and party chairs. A nonprofit group seeking to boost turnout sued in December, arguing that their exclusion is unconstitutional. The subcommittee agreed that the lists should be made available to everyone or no one — and a majority opted for no one. If this becomes law, it will presumably become more difficult and expensive for candidates and parties to reach voters. I wonder whether other states have taken similar action.
Update: Richard Winger reports here that the full committee has now voted to table the bill.

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Fifth Circuit Rejects Challenge to Mississippi Felony Disenfranchisement

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit yesterday issued this interesting opinion in Young v. Hosemann, rejecting a constitutional challenge to Mississippi’s disenfranchisement of felons. Although it’s an equal protection case, the outcome turns primarily on the meaning of Section 241 of the Mississippi Constitution. Plaintiffs maintain that this section permits them to vote in presidential elections and, therefore, that Mississippi has denied them equal protection by preventing them from registering.
Section 241 generally disqualifies a person from voting if he or she has been convicted of certain enumerated felonies, but then says: “…except that he shall be qualified to vote for President and Vice President of the United States if he meets the requirements established by Congress therefor and is otherwise a qualified elector.” Judge Edith Jones’ opinion for the court rejects plaintiffs’ argument that this language creates an exception to the ban on felons voting. According to Judge Jones, plaintiffs’ intepretation “defies logic.” The court instead concludes that one must both meet the requirements set by Congress and be qualified to vote under state law — which includes not having been convicted of an enumerated felony — in order to vote in presidential elections. Finding the language “perfectly clear and perfectly contrary to the construction” urged by plaintiffs, the court declines to abstain or certify the question to the Mississippi Supreme Court.
Is the language really so clear? I don’t think so. If anything, plaintiffs’ intepretation seems more natural to me — but then I come at this from a very different perspective than does Judge Jones.

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