Election law reforms are on the table

Posted by AzBlueMeanie:

Participating in the civic duty of voting should not be a test of physical endurance. This is not a reality TV show of "Survivor." The long waits in line to vote, exceeding eight hours in some locations around the country, is unacceptable in the most technologically advanced country on Earth.

Now I realize that this was not a bug but a feature in several states, e.g., Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Forida, where hyper-partisan secretaries of state sought to make voting more difficult and a challenge to certain voters — college students, the poor, minorities, and the elderly — because they tend to vote Democratic.

But far more frequently it is because of poor logistical management, e.g., not enough polling locations, not enough voting booths, not enough ballots, not enough poll workers, old equipment that breaks down, etc. Again, I realize that this is not a bug but a feature in several states. This is a classic form of voter suppression. See this Hart Research study sponsored by the AFL-CIO which found that:

16 percent of Obama voters waited more than 30 minutes to vote, versus
only 9 percent of Romney voters. Strikingly, 24 percent of Latino
voters, and 22 percent of African Americans, waited longer than 30
minutes, while only 9 percent of whites did.

President Obama mentioned the long lines to vote in his victory speech Tuesday night and said "By the way, we we have to fix that" to loud applause.

In a report at the Washington Post today Obama faces a host of tough issues as second term begins is buried this passage:

[Obama] also made a glancing reference to another issue that many Democrats,
and Obama himself, have elevated recently to a possible priority in a
second term: political reform.

A package of legislation could include bills to make voting easier
across the country and a constitutional amendment to invalidate the
Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision
, which allowed
corporations, labor unions and other interest groups to spend unlimited
amounts of money on behalf of candidates.

Asked two months before Election Day what
he would do about “the corrupting influence” of money in politics,
Obama said he would “seriously consider” such a push, noting that “even
if the amendment process falls short, it can shine a spotlight of the
super PAC phenomenon and help apply pressure for change.”

Some state efforts to make it more difficult for people to vote and
the long lines Tuesday outside some polling stations — many of them in
urban neighborhoods where Obama was expected to do well — have drawn
calls over the campaign and in its immediate aftermath for an overhaul
of U.S. election laws.

There are reforms we could adopt at the state level as well. Unlike other states that have sought to limit absentee or early voting, Arizona has long been a pioneer of absentee and early voting. Most votes cast in Arizona today are by vote-by-mail early voting.

As vote-by-mail in Arizona has increasingly become more prevalent, it has also led to problems with election day voting. The traditional precinct poll locations have been consolidated into voting areas for several precincts. And these voting areas seem to change every year because fewer and fewer voting areas are needed. It has become more difficult to contract ADA-compliant buildings for voting. Polling locations are a sizable expense in relation to the cost-benefit analysis of the number of votes actually cast at voting areas on election day. Vote-by-mail is far less expensive.

I would be the first to admit that I miss the traditional ritual of voting at my neighborhood school on election day. That Norman Rockwell portrait of America has not existed for some time. I am far more concerned that any voter is unfairly denied  his or her constitutional right to vote through incorrect information, or poll worker errors, or poor logistics, provisional ballots, etc.

Therefore, I propose that Arizona adopt the state of Oregon's all-mail balloting system. Oregon has been doing this for a decade and it has worked out all the bugs and ballot security issues. It is a model for the state of Arizona.

Every registered voter would receive the correct ballot for their home address, and would simply need to mail the ballot or drop it off at an early voting location. This eliminates the confusion caused by ever-changing polling areas; it eliminates long waits in line to vote; it eliminates poll worker errors; it eliminates voter intimidation at polling locations; it reduces the number of provisional ballots (that may not be counted); and it reduces the expense to local governments for poll locations and poll workers. That money would be better spent on hiring more trained and qualified staff to verify the signatures on the mail-in ballots to speed up the counting process.

That money would also be better spent on purchasing state of the art optical scanners that can make scanned copies of processed ballots to be posted on-line to allow for an independent audit of the vote by election integrity advocacy groups. A pilot project to do this was approved by the Arizona legislature and the Secretary of State, but its implementation has been blocked by partisan political opponents in Pima County.

Voter registration could be greatly simplified by adopting the "Universal Voter Registration" proposal advocated for by the Brennan Center for Justice. Under this proposal, all eligible Americans would be automatically and
permanently registered to vote — the burden is on the government to maintain accurate voter registration information, not the individual voter — and is transportable, with the
failsafe opportunity to correct any errors on Election Day. Click here to learn more.

The restoration of the right to vote to felons who have served their sentence and paid their debt to society should be greatly simplified. The present unduly burdensome system of restoration of rights imposes an enduring penalty of law — the deprivation of the constitutional right to vote — not within the scope of any penalty imposed by a jury or judge in a sentencing order.

In fact, the U.S. Constitution should be amended to declare that the right to vote is a "fundamental constitutional right." This would impose the "strict scrutiny" standard of review on the government for any actions taken affecting voting, rather than the "rationally related" standard of review, a very low burden of proof, imposed today. The Indiana photo ID requirement in Marion County Election Board, 553 U.S. 181 (2008), would never have passed constitutional muster under the strict scrutiny standard of review.

The 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution should also be amended to clarify "persons" to "natural persons," i.e., a human being. This would eliminate the legal fiction of "corporate personhood" fraudulenty recognized by the U.S. Supreme Court in
Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad, 118 U.S. 394 (1886). See UnequalProtection.com for details, or read "Unequal Protection: How Corporations Became People," by Thom Hartmann.

Overturning Justice William Rehnquist's legal fiction that "money = speech" in Buckley v. Valeo, 424 U.S. 1 (1976) and its progeny may prove to be a bit trickier to do. This may require a public financing of campaigns amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Arizona can at least follow the lead of the state of Montana in adopting its I-66 initiative this week that declares the public policy of Montana to be that "the rights under the United States Constitution as rights of human beings, not rights of corporations," and that "money is property, not speech." Initiative Language – Stand With Montanans.

There is no legally justifiable reason to allow the anonymity of donors to non-profit corporations whose primary function is political activity. The millionaire and billionaire plutocrats, Handful of megadonors dominate campaign money chase, who want to hide in the shadows behind the veil of non-profit organizations has to end. Even the U.S. Supreme Court in Citizens United v. FEC stated that disclosure laws are legitimate. Congress should pass the DISCLOSE Act that was blocked by Tea-Publicans.

Finally, elected officials who are in charge of running elections, from the Secretary of State to County Recorders, should be prohibited from serving as campaign co-chairs to any campaign. This is a no-brainer "appearance of impropriety" ethical standard that one would think does not need to be spelled out in law, but apparenty it does.

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