Monthly Archives: April 2019

“GOP appeals Michigan gerrymandering ruling to Supreme Court”

Detroit News:

Michigan legislative and congressional Republicans are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse a blockbuster ruling that the state’s political maps must be redrawn because of an unconstitutional gerrymander of “historical proportions.”  

Attorneys for GOP lawmakers on Tuesday filed notices of appeal with the U.S. District Court in Detroit, where a three-judge panel last week ordered officials to create new boundaries for at least 34 state House, Senate and congressional districts.

The brief notices did not include arguments for the appeal, which would be filed separately with the U.S. Supreme Court. Attorneys are also expected to seek a “stay” delaying the panel ruling while the nation’s highest court considers separate gerrymandering cases out of North Carolina and Maryland.

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“GOP Advances Bill That Could Let Missouri Exclude Non-Citizens From Redistricting”


The Missouri legislature moved one step closer on Monday to putting on the ballot a measure that would gut an anti-gerrymandering initiative passed by voters last year. The proposal, if it becomes law, would set the stage for the state to exclude non-citizens from its redistricting process, kicking off a major legal battle over who deserves political representation in the country.

The Missouri House passed the ballot measure out of its chamber Monday. The vote was  104-49, with eight Republicans opposing.
It moves now to the state Senate, and if passed there, it will need final approval from voters in the 2020 election.

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“Does State Online Voter Registration Increase Voter Turnout?”

Jinhai Yu writes for Social Science Quarterly. From the abstract:

The results of this study demonstrate that state online voter registration increases voter turnout. The difference‐in‐difference analysis shows that the states’ implementation of online voter registration increases the turnout of young voters by about 3 percentage points in presidential election years. The instrumental variable analysis shows that the usage of online registration by voters increases their turnout by about 18 to 20 percentage points.

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New Jersey: “Bergen election officials ignored notice of voter fraud”

NJ Globe:

County election officials were told about allegations of vote-by-mail improprieties in Elmwood Park two months before the November 2018 general election but did nothing to investigate at the time, the New Jersey Globe has learned.

“I have become aware of serious concerns regarding alleged improper actions in the handling of Vote-by-Mail applications, voter certifications and completed ballots, during the 2017 elections,” John J. Piserchia, an attorney for the Republican borough council candidates, wrote to mayor Francisco Caramagna on September 6, 2018, putting him on notice as to the legal requirements of mail-in ballot applications.

Piserchia sent copies of his letter to the Bergen County Board of Elections and the director of the state Division of Elections.

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“Gerrymandering lawsuit stunner: Daughter of deceased GOP mapmaker turns over his documents to Common Cause”

NC Policy Watch:

The daughter of late GOP mapmaker Thomas Hofeller – the man responsible for some of North Carolina’s most infamous gerrymanders – turned over four of his external hard drives and 18 thumb drives after his death to the plaintiffs suing North Carolina lawmakers.
Stephanie Hofeller Lizon gave the documents to attorneys in March, a month after she was issued a subpoena in the state partisan gerrymandering case Common Cause v. Lewis. No one objected to the subpoena initially, but Phil Strach, who represents the lawmakers in the case, is objecting to the plaintiffs’ decision to refrain from opening Hofeller’s sensitive tax and medical documents and to withhold them from the other parties to the litigation.

A three-judge Superior Court panel assigned to the case (Judges Paul Ridgeway, Joseph Crosswhite and Alma Hinton) will consider questions today related to civil procedure and subpoenas to determine whether the legislative defendants can have access to all of the documents Lizon turned over or just the ones that don’t contain confidential information about things unrelated to mapmaking.

After Lizon mailed the documents to the plaintiffs’ attorneys, they sent them immediately to a third-party vendor for processing, according to court documents. During that process, it became apparent to the vendor from file and folder names that those materials may have included personal information, such as tax returns and medical and family information.

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“Mueller Report Opens Door for Civil Enforcement by FEC”


Today, Common Cause, the Campaign Legal Center, and Democracy 21 filed a supplementto a complaint filed in July 2017 against President Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign committee for soliciting contributions from foreign nationals in the form of opposition research offered by Russians. Although Special Counsel Robert Mueller declined to bring criminal charges against Donald Trump Jr., Mueller provided a roadmap by which the Federal Election Commission (FEC) could pursue civil penalties.

Mueller concluded that Donald Trump Jr. setting up a meeting to accept “high level and sensitive” opposition research from a foreign government could violate federal law’s prohibition on soliciting a contribution from a person he knew was a foreign national. Mueller declined to bring criminal charges because he believed he could not meet the high prosecutorial standard for proving Trump Jr. acted “willfully,” and because of challenges in calculating the value of the promised documents—but this has no bearing on the FEC’s pursuit of civil penalties.

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“New Findings: FEC Stonewalling Candidates, Parties, Seeking Guidance About Super PACs, Other Substantive Issues”


New data and analysis from the Brennan Center show that the deadlocked Federal Election Commission has failed to provide guidance to candidates, parties, and others seeking to understand their legal obligations; update regulations to reflect changes in the law; or investigate allegations of serious legal violations. Fixing the FEC: An Agenda for Reform demonstrates that the commission’s breakdown has left American elections more vulnerable to foreign interference and otherwise exacerbated the effects of the Citizens United decision. The report pinpoints the causes of the FEC’s dysfunction — an organizational structure that creates partisan deadlocks and a lack of accountability for key management decisions — and makes recommendations for reform.

“FEC paralysis has made the impact of Citizens United worse than it should have been, endangering American sovereignty,” said Daniel Weiner, author of Fixing the FECa former senior staffer at the Federal Election Commission, and senior counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law. 

“Due in large part to the commission’s inaction, more than $1 billion in dark money has poured into federal elections — one of many avenues that a foreign government can use to meddle in our campaigns. Citizens United greenlit unlimited corporate spending on campaigns, but the court assumed that the sources of this spending would be fully disclosed to the public. For that to happen, the FEC would need to update its disclosure rules and enforce those on the books. Nine years later, the commission has done neither.”

In Fixing the FEC, the Brennan Center provides new data on the impact of partisan gridlock on the commission’s responsiveness to candidates, parties, and other political actors seeking guidance about their legal obligations through the advisory opinion process.

In a review of all 1,996 requests for advisory opinions the commission received between 1975 and 2018, the Brennan Center report found a steep decline in responsiveness. In the first 32 years of its existence (1975-2007), the commission deadlocked — that is, failed to respond to at least one question — on 4.9 percent of requests per year, with a number of years featuring no deadlocks. Since 2008, the annual deadlock rate has jumped to 24.1 percent. While the FEC has been able to produce advisory opinions on straightforward and routine matters, requests stuck in deadlock cover novel or controversial issues, such as whether candidates can appear in super PAC ads and how political action committees can use Twitter.

Like the advisory opinion process, the commission’s rulemaking has also ground to a halt, as Fixing the FEC explains. For instance, a routine proceeding to update disclaimer rules for types of ads used by Russia to meddle in the 2016 presidential race remains stalled. More than nine years after Citizens United, the FEC hasn’t amended its regulations to account for super PACs. In fact, the term “super PAC” doesn’t appear in any of the commission’s rules.

“The FEC, in its current state, is doing the opposite of what our democracy requires. Its dysfunction hurts those who are trying to follow campaign finance law while making it easier for those who would rather ignore it,” said Weiner.

The FEC’s deadlocks have also prevented investigations of numerous alleged campaign finance law violations. According to 2017 findings by then-Commissioner Ann Ravel, the annual percentage of enforcement cases in which the commissioners deadlocked on at least one alleged violation increased to 37.5 percent in 2016 from 4.2 percent in 2006. In that period, the money collected by the FEC for civil penalties fell from $5.6 million to $595,000.

The Brennan Center’s Fixing the FEC proposes reforms to stop the deadlocks and create accountability for management decisions. In the current structure, the commission can’t issue an advisory opinion, enact a regulation, start an investigation, or take any other substantive action without four votes among its six commissioners. The six commissioners are evenly divided between the two major political parties and repeatedly deadlock along party lines. Fixing the FEC recommends such reforms as: 
Change the composition of the FEC to an odd number of commissioners, with at least one political independent;
Redesign the role of the FEC chairperson to become the commission’s chief administrative officer and establish accountability for management decisions;
Overhaul the agency’s civil enforcement process to make it timelier and to provide an effective legal remedy for complainants and alleged violators to obtain legal clarity if the commission fails to act on an enforcement complaint within one year;
And end the practice of allowing commissioners to remain in office indefinitely after their terms expire.

Several of the reforms outlined in Fixing the FEC are part of the For the People Act, an omnibus democracy reform package passed in March by the House of Representatives as H.R. 1 and introduced later that month in the Senate as S. 949.

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“Misdemeanor Disenfranchisement? The Demobilizing Effects of Brief Jail Spells on Potential Voters”

Ariel White for the APSR. Here is the abstract:

This paper presents new causal estimates of incarceration’s effect on voting, using administrative data on criminal sentencing and voter turnout. I use the random case assignment process of a major county court system as a source of exogenous variation in the sentencing of misdemeanor cases. Focusing on misdemeanor defendants allows for generalization to a large population, as such cases are very common. Among first-time misdemeanor defendants, I find evidence that receiving a short jail sentence decreases voting in the next election by several percentage points. Results differ starkly by race. White defendants show no demobilization, while Black defendants show substantial turnout decreases due to jail time. Evidence from pre-arrest voter histories suggest that this difference could be due to racial differences in exposure to arrest. These results paint a picture of large-scale, racially-disparate voter demobilization in the wake of incarceration.

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“Conservatives, Often Wary of Foreign Law, Embrace It in Census Case”

Adam Liptak NYT Sidebar column:

Two years ago, at his confirmation hearings, Justice Neil M. Gorsuch said that what happens abroad should not influence American judges in constitutional cases.

“We have our own tradition and our own history,” he said, “and I do not know why we would look to the experience of other countries rather than to our own.”

But last week, during arguments over whether the Trump administration may add a question on citizenship to the 2020 census, Justice Gorsuch did not hesitate to consider what he called “the evidence of practice around the world.”

“Virtually every English-speaking country and a great many others besides ask this question in their censuses,” he said.

Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh has also been skeptical about the use of foreign and international law by American judges in at least some kinds of cases. In 2010, when he was an appeals court judge, he wrote in a concurring opinion about a Guantánamo detainee that “international-law norms are not domestic U.S. law.”

But he was curious about those norms in the census case. “The United Nations recommends that countries ask a citizenship question on the census,” he said. “And a number of other countries do it. Spain, Germany, Canada, Australia, Ireland, Mexico ask a citizenship question.”
“It’s a very common question internationally,” he added.

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“Democrats in N.Y. Find Unexpected Foe in Campaign Finance Overhaul”


As New York’s progressive lawmakers fought a deadline last month to persuade the State Legislature to reduce the influence of money in politics, they hit an unexpected roadblock.

It was not opposition put up by billionaires or big corporations, but an 11th-hour warning issued by Mario Cilento, the president of the New York A.F.L.-C.I.O., an umbrella group of more than 3,000 affiliated unions.
“Now is not the time,” Mr. Cilento said in a statement.

The last-minute opposition helped derail a push to introduce a small-donor matching system to state candidates; lawmakers ultimately agreed to allow a nine-member commission to decide later on a framework for public financing.

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“Federal judge weighs lawsuit over Georgia voting problems”


A lawsuit asking a judge to correct problems with Georgia’s elections reached a packed federal courtroom Monday, where election officials argued that the case should be thrown out because a new state law could solve issues with voting machines, voter registration cancellations and election security.

U.S. District Judge Steve Jones didn’t immediately rule on the motion to dismiss the lawsuit, which was filed by allies of Democrat Stacey Abrams in the days after she lost last year’s election for governor to Republican Brian Kemp.

Jones questioned the state’s argument that a recent overhaul to election laws invalidates the lawsuit, which accuses the government of managing a broken system with unreliable voting machines, incorrectly canceled voter registrationsand many other obstacles to voting.

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