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Wisconsin faces lawsuit as civil rights groups cry foul over new voting rules December 14, 2011

A tough new law in the state of Wisconsin requiring voters to carry a photo ID card before they can cast their vote is being challenged in a federal lawsuit that claims thousands of poor, black and elderly people could be disenfranchised.

The legal action, lodged in the federal court for the eastern district of Wisconsin, opens a new front in the battle over voter registration before next year’s presidential election. Civil rights groups are warning that a wave of legislative restrictions introduced in more than 30 states amounts to a concerted attack on voting rights in America on a level not seen since the days of segregation.

The lawsuit has been brought by the American Civil Liberties Union against Scott Walker, the Republican governor of Wisconsin, and other state officials. It is the only active federal challenge to the imposition of ID laws on voters.

The suit comes as attorney general Eric Holder is scheduled to deliver a speech in Austin, Texas, on voting rights. Holder is expected to announce on Tuesday evening that the Justice Department will more aggressively review new laws in states that civil rights advocates say would discourage minority participation in next year’s elections.

Thirty-four states have tried to introduce photo IDs into the electoral process, ostensibly as a means to counter fraud, with nine introducing restrictions into law. Of those, Wisconsin, which passed its new law in May that will become effective from February next year, is seen as one of the most draconian.

Under its terms, voters who used to be able simply to provide proof of residence to register to vote now have to jump through an intricate series of hoops before they can cast their ballot. Only a limited list of photo identification is accepted, and the law applies both to people voting in person in voting booths and by absentee ballot.

Among the 20 plaintiffs listed in the action are Ruthelle Frank, 84, who has voted in Wisconsin elections since 1948. But she has no form of photo ID acceptable under the new law, and does not have a copy of her birth certificate.

Another plaintiff, Barbara Oden, 57, was trapped in a catch-22. In order to get an eligible photo ID, she was advised that she needed to obtain a social security card as proof of citizenship; but when she turned up at the relevant office she was told she couldn’t have a social security card because she didn’t have a photo ID card.

The lawsuit catalogues a Kafkaesque world in which voters are being made to travel across the state in a search for the correct documentation. Justin Luft, 20, travelled twice to an office to get a driver’s licence – an eligible photo ID under the voter law – only to be told on both occasions that he could not have one because he didn’t have a social security card.

“This law will leave thousands of people discouraged and disenfranchised,” said Jon Sherman, a lawyer with the ACLU’s voting rights project. “What’s so galling about this is that we’ve already had this conversation in the US – we don’t make people run around and pay money in order to cast their ballot.”

The lawsuit argues that the photo ID law is unconstitutional under the 14th amendment, which bans the imposition of burdens on the right to vote, and the 24th amendment, which says that the right must not be removed because someone has failed to pay their taxes.

The complaint says numerous groups are at risk of being disenfranchised, including poor people who may not be able to afford petrol to travel to the driver’s licence office, or the $135 to obtain a US passport. There are more than 12,000 families in Wisconsin who have no income of any sort other than food stamps.

Other potentially vulnerable groups are students, elderly people and the disabled. African Americans are also disproportionately represented among those potentially deprived of the right to vote; the NAACP earlier this month petitioned the UN over what it says is the greatest threat to voter participation in America since the early 20th century.

An early draft of Holder’s Tuesday speech, obtained by the New York Times, urges Americans to “call on our political parties to resist the temptation to suppress certain votes in the hope of attaining electoral success and, instead, achieve success by appealing to more voters.”

States that have tried to impose photo identification requirements argue that it is necessary to combat fraud at the ballot box. But studies have shown that fraud is not as ubiquitous a problem as has been made out.

A Department of Justice study found that of 300m votes cast between 2002 and 2007, there were only 86 cases of confirmed fraud.

“You have to consider the cost of contracting the electorate by hundreds of thousands of people. In order to kill a fly, they are using a nuclear weapon,” Sherman said.

The other states that already have photo ID requirements on the statute books are: Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas.

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Voter Turnout Low in Syria Municipal Elections Amid Protests December 13, 2011

Despite violence that continues to roil the country, Syria’s government is holding local council elections Monday as it downplays anti-government unrest as the work of a small group of foreign-backed terrorists.

In Syria’s northern, heavily Kurdish province of Hasaka a crowd chants slogans against local council elections taking place across the country Monday. Witnesses say voter turnout for the elections across the country was light.

Watch Syria video clip:

But Judge Khalaf Azawi, who heads Syria’s electoral commission, told journalists that the voting process was a success and that many voters turned out to cast their ballots.

He says the democratic process was positive, thanks to the a electoral law which guarantees that elections take place in a free, democratic, and transparent way. He adds that voter turnout seemed heavy, during his visits to polling stations, showing democracy at work.

But in a suburb of Syria’s second largest city of Aleppo, opposition activists crumpled and burned election posters, calling candidates “government lackies.” Parts of Aleppo and many other Syrian towns and cities took part Monday in the second day of an opposition-led general strike.

In a video on an opposition website, a mostly young crowd participated in what appeared to be a mock election in Syria’s northern Idlib province. Young men placed paper ballots into a plastic voting box, with slogans of “regime change,” “resignation” of President Assad, and “a new government,” into the box.

Syria’s Information Minister, Adnan Mahmoud, said given that the elections took place during the current political conditions, it demonstrated that they were a success.

He stresses that the elections happened on schedule, despite the current events that Syria is living through, showing the resolve of Syrian leaders in moving forward.

Timor Goksel, who teaches at the American University of Beirut, argues that the elections are a step in the right direction, but could be too little, too late.

“Although I can say it’s a positive step, it seems to be a bit too late,” said Goksel. “These are the sort of moves they could have done at the beginning without taking on the people and making this a regime-change war. Now, whether it will be a beginning step or a remedy, I’m not sure. I’m not sure how effective it will be.”

The government has also scheduled to hold parliament elections in February.

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First Round of Voting Ends in Egypt November 30, 2011

Egyptians have completed the first round of voting in the first parliamentary elections since a popular uprising forced President Hosni Mubarak to resign in February.

The country’s interim military leaders are hailing round one as a success and say voter turnout was high. No major problems are reported.

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is congratulating Egyptians for what he calls their enthusiastic participation at the ballot box. U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner calls the voting peaceful and a success.

Photo Gallery: Egyptians Cast their Votes

But the chief of Egypt’s National Human Rights Council, Hazem Mounir, said the voting process is confusing. He blames it on what he calls a weak legal framework for elections and no independent election commission.

Voters cast ballots for the lower house of parliament Monday and Tuesday in Cairo, Alexandria, and seven other provinces. The rest of the country will vote later and the entire election, including runoffs and choosing the upper house, will not be over until March.

Nine days of clashes between protesters and police leading up to the elections killed 42 people and left more than 3,000 injured.  

The historic elections will determine whether Egypt moves down a more Islamic path after nearly 60 years as an authoritarian secular state essentially run by the military.

Some information for this report was provided by AP and Reuters.

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Delays Threaten Elections in Democratic Republic of Congo October 24, 2011

Presidential campaigning begins this week in the Democratic Republic of Congo.  But opposition parties and international election observers have expressed concern next month’s poll may be postponed.  VOA West Africa Correspondent Scott Stearns has more.

Incumbent President Joseph Kabila’s biggest challenger in this vote is longtime opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi.

Unlike in the last presidential election, Congo’s constitution no longer requires a candidate to win more than 50 percent of the vote. Without a second round, whoever gets the most votes wins.

With official campaigning set to begin Friday, President Kabila says Congo is ready.

Reuters

DRC President Joseph Kabila (file photo)

“If the electoral commission tell us they are ready, then we also have to be ready. I am sure that up to now they are ready and we will go for elections.”

Opposition parties say the electoral commission is not ready for the poll because the preparation and distribution of voting materials is behind schedule and voter registration was not honestly conducted. Jacquemin Shabani is the secretary general of Tshisekedi’s Union for Democracy and Social Progress party.

Shabani says the party has notified the electoral commission in writing about what it says are various irregularities in the process, including questions of identification during voter registration. Shabani says it is important that this vote be credible and transparent, so the process must be adjusted.

President Kabila’s opponents say they will not know the extent of problems with voter lists until they are published at each local polling station. But the locations of more than 62,000 polling stations have not yet been announced, slowing the process further.

Reuters

Etienne Tshisekedi – Kabila’s most formidable opponent in the presidential race (file photo)

Election observers from the U.S.-based Carter Center say there are serious threats to the election schedule that must be addressed now. Baya Kara heads the Carter Center observation team in Kinshasa.

Kara says that if the electoral commission stays on course with the printing and delivery of ballot papers, and if ballot boxes are delivered on time and poll workers are hired and trained promptly, the election date of November 28 can be maintained. But Kara says this is a challenge that needs a huge effort, including the publication of voter rolls as fast as possible.

The electoral commission says the printing of ballot papers in South Africa is underway and the delivery of ballot boxes made in China is on schedule.

Information Minister Lambert Mende says Congolese security forces are taking “practical measures” to ensure that all campaigns have equal protection and freedoms.

“Every man, every woman in Congo is free to defend his ideas. Every organization is free to dispatch its ideas. Everybody is free to elect who he likes to elect while protected by the state.”

But the International Foundation for Electoral Systems director in Kinshasa, Gregory Kehailia, says security is already a problem.

Kehailia says part of the security problem is a lack of dialogue between the electoral commission and opposition parties concerning the electoral timetable and the publication of voter lists – delays that Kehailia says appear to be making President Kabila’s opponents more radical.

When the voter lists are published, Kehailia says that could be a flashpoint for violence if opposition parties are not convinced the process was transparent.

If the poll is delayed, Kehailia says it should not be delayed on the eve of the vote because that would be seen by the opposition as an intentional manipulation of the process. If transparency and security are not guaranteed, Kehailia says the leading opposition candidate and the president will each claim victory, a move he says will provoke tension and violence.

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G.O.P. Gains House Seat Vacated by Weiner September 14, 2011


September 14, 2011

by legitgov

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G.O.P. Gains House Seat Vacated by Weiner 14 Sep 2011 A little-known Republican businessman from Queens, channeling voter discontent with President Obama into an upset, won election to Congress on Tuesday from the heavily Democratic district in New York City last represented by Anthony D. Weiner. The Republican, Bob Turner, a retired cable television executive, defeated Assemblyman David I. Weprin, the scion of a prominent Democratic family in Queens, in a nationally watched special election. With 73 percent of the precincts counted early Wednesday, Mr. Turner was leading Mr. Weprin by 53 percent to 47 percent, according to The Associated Press.

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