Posted by Kristin McCarthy on August 28, 2015 in Blog

AAI compiles a weekly roundup of election news tracking key races across the country as well as legislation that will impact voting rights ahead of the 2016 elections. For AAI’s coverage of presidential candidates and races, make sure to check out our profiles over at #YallaVote’s Election Central. And for more state specific information, head over to our election map and click on your state.

California Expands Voting Rights

California has restored the right to vote to tens of thousands of voters who were placed in a criminal justice supervision program – which began in 2011 to alleviate over-crowded California prisons. California does not allow incarcerated felons or parolees to cast their ballots, but does permit otherwise eligible voters who are on court ordered probation to vote. Now, those who are assigned to this new program – which is neither parole nor probation – will also have the right to vote. The right to vote for felons varies widely from state to state; California’s decision sets an important precedent for other states including New York, New Jersey, and Massachusetts, who have related bills pending in their legislative bodies. What’s more, California is also moving on a bill that automatically registers new voters when he/she gets a driver license. Read more about California.

New York’s Contested Races

The 24th and 19th districts of New York are posing early challenges to both state parties. In the 24th, freshman Republican Congressman John Katko – who shockingly defeated a democratic incumbent in 2014 – will face an uphill battle to win reelection in a district that is squarely in the cross hairs for democratic retribution this cycle. The 24th was easily won by President Obama in 2008 and 2012, but the revenge-seeking Democrats still have not found a candidate up for the challenge. The race is only 1 of 12 House races nationwide that is considered a true “toss-up” by the famed Larry Sabato. The 19th district is also rankling the state parties. It is the 2 of 12 true House “toss-ups” thanks to Republican Rep. Chris Gibson’s surprise decision to not seek reelection. The district is considered to be competitive for Democrats because it went to Obama in 2012, though Gibson destroyed his challenger last cycle. With candidates slow to announce, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has expressed an overt interest in taking this particular seat. Read more about New York.

Virginia Moves to Improve Outdated, Unsafe Voting Systems

Following the hopeful news that Virginia Board of Elections is considering changes to simplify the state’s voter registration form, last week the Board announced that over 10,000 touch screen voting machines are being decommissioned. The machines are infamously vulnerable to hackers, which raises obvious concerns about their security and potential for manipulation. The decision has been welcomed by election reformers, but is burdening Virginia polling locations that relied on the touch screen machines. 30 localities currently use the banned machines, and only have until June 2016 to replace the costly machines before the primaries. The commission of the Department of Elections estimates that it will cost $6.24 million. Read more about Virginia.

Debate Drama for Democrats and Republicans Alike

Donkey_and_Elephant_Face_Off.pngIt has not been an easy primary season for either of the two national parties. The Republican National Committee (RNC) has faced a huge, divisive, and unruly slew of candidates that are proving impossible to wrangle. And the Democratic National Committee (DNC) has fought to not appear prematurely “anointing” one candidate without giving others a shot. The parties share a challenge in squelching controversy around their sanctioned debate schedule. The Republicans have 10 debates lined up (with the first already been held), but two huge issues dog the party leadership. First, in light of Donald Trump’s on air refusal it pledge against running as a third party candidate, the next Republican debate has opted to only consider candidates who pledge to support the party’s eventual nominee. Of course this criteria would exclude Trump, the current front-runner, who is less than pleased. The Republican Party is also facing backlash from Carly Fiorina, whose popularity is on an upswing following her performance at the first Republican debate. Fiorina has gone on the offensive, accusing the party of “cater[ing] to the political establishment” by excluding her from the next prime time debate despite her rising stock. The Democratic Party, on the other hand, has faced an onslaught of criticism from their candidate field for only hosting a meager 6 debates, compared to the Republican’s 10 this year, and a whopping 26 the democrats held in 2008.  Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley, both running for the nomination, have accused the Party of trying to silence debate in order to line up support for their chose candidate – Hillary Clinton. Since DNC Chairwoman Debbi Wasserman Schultz announced the plan August 6th, their criticism has not slowed. There are reports that O’Malley and Sanders are considering hosting their own debates without Party approval. The DNC has only further fueled the “anointment” theory by signing a joint fundraising deal with the Clinton campaign. Whether either party changes course is yet to be seen.