Trump orders voting districts to exclude people in U.S. illegally

By Alexandra Alper and Nick Brown

WASHINGTON/NEW YORK (Reuters) – President Donald Trump signed a memorandum on Tuesday that would prevent migrants who are in the United States illegally from being counted when U.S. congressional voting districts are redrawn in the next round of redistricting.

U.S. Census experts and lawyers say the action is legally dubious. In theory, it would benefit Trump’s Republican Party by eliminating the largely non-white population of migrants in the U.S. illegally, creating voting districts that skew more Caucasian.

“Including these illegal aliens in the population of the State for the purpose of apportionment could result in the allocation of two or three more congressional seats than would otherwise be allocated,” the memo said.

Responses from Democrats and immigration advocates were swift and condemnatory.

Dale Ho, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, vowed litigation.

“We’ll see (Trump) in court, and win,” he said in a statement.

Tom Perez, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, derided what he viewed as an “unconstitutional order that has no purpose other than to silence and dis-empower Latino voices and communities of color.”

Proponents of citizens-only voting districts argue each vote should carry the same weight. If one district has far fewer eligible voters than another, they say, each vote there has more influence on election outcomes.

But the move carries major legal questions.

While the U.S. Supreme Court has left the door open for citizen-based voting maps for state legislatures, experts see it as a long-shot at the federal level, because the U.S. Constitution explicitly says that congressional districts must be based on “the whole number of persons” in each district.

In the memo, Trump said the word “persons” “has never been understood to include … every individual physically present within a state’s boundaries.”

Census experts say that is wrong: multiple federal laws have reinforced that apportionment must include everyone, and U.S. Supreme Court precedent has endorsed that view, said Joshua Geltzer, a constitutional law expert and professor at Georgetown Law.

“All of this makes Trump’s position outrageous,” Geltzer said.

(Reporting by Alexandra Alper in Washington and Nick Brown in New York; Additional reporting by Richard Cowan in Washington, Mica Rosenberg in New York and Mimi Dwyer and Kristina Cooke in Los Angeles; Editing by Nick Zieminski and Matthew Lewis)

Amid coronavirus, reduced voting sites in Kentucky, elsewhere a ‘recipe for disaster’

By John Whitesides

(Reuters) – Kentucky, New York and four other states face another possibly messy day of voting on Tuesday amid the coronavirus outbreak, as officials try to balance a crush of absentee mail ballots with a reduced number of in-person polling locations.

That combination has led to long lines, delays and confusion during primaries in other states, including Wisconsin and Georgia, offering a preview of possible problems if the Nov. 3 general election is conducted under the threat of COVID-19 infections.

Kentucky and New York, which are conducting statewide primaries, encouraged mail-in balloting as a safe alternative to in-person voting during the pandemic, resulting in record numbers of absentee ballot requests. Both also encouraged early voting, while cutting back on polling locations as a safety precaution.

But officials and activists are concerned about the potential for trouble in Kentucky, where polling locations statewide were cut to fewer than 200 from more than 3,000 normally, leaving one each for the biggest counties of Jefferson and Fayette.

“It’s just a recipe for disaster. I fear there will be a lot of people who want to vote but won’t,” said Jason Nemes, a Republican state legislator who joined an unsuccessful lawsuit trying to force the largest counties to open more polls.

A competitive Democratic U.S. Senate nominating battle between progressive Charles Booker and establishment choice Amy McGrath has driven up voter interest in Kentucky. They are vying to take on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in November.

Nearly 900,000 absentee ballots were issued, or about 27% of registered voters, the Kentucky secretary of state’s office said.

Fayette County Clerk Don Blevin said Kentucky officials pushed mail-in voting in hopes of keeping the numbers down at polling places.

“We have warned people from day one – please don’t do this. It’s not safe,” Blevin, a Democrat, said of voting in person on election day.

New York has seen a similar explosion of interest in absentee ballots, issuing nearly 1.9 million, the board of elections said. In the 2016 primary, about 115,000 absentee ballots were cast.

The board did not provide the number of polling places closed across the state, but activists said consolidations had not been as widespread as in Kentucky and some other states.

There are also primary elections for some congressional, state and local offices in areas of South Carolina, Mississippi, North Carolina and Virginia.

(Reporting by John Whitesides; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Peter Cooney)

Georgia’s election mess offers a stark warning for November

By John Whitesides and Jason Lange

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Georgia’s tumultuous primary elections on Tuesday offer a grim preview of what could happen in November if states move to voting by mail and polling places are sharply reduced due to concerns about the coronavirus pandemic.

A huge increase in absentee ballots overwhelmed officials and many voters did not receive requested ballots. That forced some to crowd into consolidated polling places on election day, exacerbating the hours-long waits for those voting in person.

Unless states expand early in-person voting and make more polling places available, the chaos that plagued Georgia’s voting could become the norm in the Nov. 3 general election, Democrats and voting rights groups warn.

The problems, which also included issues with voting machines rolled out for the first time on Tuesday, were particularly prevalent in minority neighborhoods in Democratic strongholds of Fulton County and DeKalb County in metropolitan Atlanta. That has raised fears among Democrats and voting rights groups that tens of thousands of voters, especially African Americans, could be disenfranchised.

Tuesday’s contests were relatively low-stakes primary elections, featuring nominating battles including the White House race where President Donald Trump and Democrat Joe Biden have already secured their parties’ nominations.

But Georgia, a long-time Republican bastion, has emerged as a vital political battleground in November. Biden is hoping a strong African-American turnout can make him competitive with Trump in Georgia, and two U.S. Senate seats are in play that could be crucial to control of the chamber.

“We have to address these problems now,” said Helen Butler, executive director of the Georgia Coalition for the People’s Agenda, a voting rights group. “If we don’t, we’ll be right back in the same place in November.”

The meltdown in Georgia was the latest example of voting problems amid the coronavirus pandemic. Voters in South Carolina and Nevada also encountered long lines on Tuesday.

As in some other states, the final results in some Georgia races were delayed as officials tallied up a record volume of mail ballots. About 1 million voted by mail, roughly 30 times the 37,000 votes cast by mail in the 2016 primary elections.

In Pennsylvania, votes were still being counted on Wednesday a week after its June 2 primary. The state has not reported results for four of more than 9,000 voting districts, according to its election results website.

The delayed results in battleground states such as Pennsylvania and Georgia have raised the prospect that November’s winner may not be known on election night.

Counting mail ballots is often slower because a voter’s identity must first be validated, a process handled in a polling center for ballots cast in person, said Richard Hasen, a professor of law and political science at the University of California, Irvine.

UNPREPARED

Georgia had pushed back it’s voting from March and mailed absentee ballot requests to 6.9 million active voters in response to the coronavirus outbreak. Along with the 1 million Georgians who cast absentee ballots by mail, more than 300,000 voted early.

But Tuesday’s problems suggest officials were unprepared for large numbers also voting in person on election day, particularly in counties with large black populations in and around Atlanta, where dozens of polling stations closed due to COVID-19 concerns.

Fulton, which includes most of Atlanta and is 45% black, was operating only 164 of its planned 198 polling locations. In DeKalb County, which includes part of Atlanta, 27 polling stations in 191 voting precincts were moved because of worries over the novel virus, said county executive Mike Thurmond, a Democrat.

Despite expanded voting by mail, voters of color have been slow to embrace it. A statewide study in May by a University of Florida professor showed Hispanic voters requested absentee ballots at a rate about three times lower than white voters, while black voters requested them at about half the rate of white voters.

“They need to come up with a plan for high voter turnout in person,” said Susannah Scott, the president of the League of Women Voters of Georgia.

In Georgia, difficulties with new voting machines slowed the process further. Many workers were not adequately trained on the new equipment, while some polling locations struggled to start the machines or did not receive the equipment in time to start, officials said.

Fulton County’s top election official, Richard Barron, said Tuesday was a “learning experience” and officials would try to improve poll worker training and the absentee ballot process for November.

Georgia’s Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who called for probes into the problems in Fulton and DeKalb counties, blamed county officials who did not adequately train workers.

Raffensperger told Reuters he would take a “hard look” at whether to send absentee ballot applications to all active voters for November, as he did for the primary.

“We did that because of the situation with COVID-19, and we don’t know where we will be in November,” he said.

(Reporting by John Whitesides and Jason Lange; Editing by Soyoung Kim and Stephen Coates)

The Jim Bakker Show goes LIVE for Election Night Results, Don’t miss it! Vote!

Election night coverage- November 6th, 7PM central

By Kami Klein

We are Americans.  The United States of America has given us the freedom of choice in voting for who we believe are the right people to lead us.  With this great freedom lies great responsibility. It is YOUR responsibility to VOTE!

These mid-term elections are critical and the outcome is not to be taken lightly which is why The Jim Bakker show will be going LIVE on election night to cover this momentous vote of the people.  There have been multiple guests on the show that have spoken out on the importance of Christians getting out to vote. Many of these amazing teachers and prophets such as Rick Joyner, General Boykin, Lance Wallnau, David Horowitz, Jim Garlow, Carl Gallups and more will be discussing election results with us via Skype.  Connect and pray with us as we discuss the implications and Biblical view on America and what we must be ready for as Believers in Christ RIGHT NOW!

Join us LIVE on election night, Tuesday, November 6th, beginning at 7 pm CT on the PTL Television Network on your Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV or by going to jimbakkershow.com or the PTL Television Network at ptlnetwork.com

The Church must be heard in this election.  You must not throw your vote away! Recently in an interview with Dr. David Barton on The Jim Bakker Show, we were amazed at the statistics he brought to us regarding not our “right” to vote but our “responsibility” to make our voice heard.  Please take a few minutes to truly hear this insightful message.

We look forward to election night, Tuesday, November 6th at 7 pm CT as we go LIVE!  Join with us as we exercise our freedom to vote and send a message to the world that God is in control and we believe in His plans for us.  

Please pray for this great country and for God’s continued blessing upon us all.  

 

Counting begins in knife-edge Pakistani elections marred by suicide bomb

Women, clad in burqas, stand in line to cast their ballot at a polling station during general election in Peshawar, Pakistan July 25, 2018. REUTERS/Fayaz Aziz

By Gul Yousafzai Jibran Ahmad

QUETTA/PESHAWAR, Pakistan (Reuters) – A suicide bomber killed at least 29 people near a polling center as Pakistanis voted on Wednesday in a knife-edge general election pitting cricket hero Imran Khan against the party of jailed ex-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

Neither Khan nor Sharif is likely to win a clear majority in the too-close-to-call election, with results likely to be known by around 2 a.m. local time on Thursday (2100 GMT Wednesday).

The Islamic State militant group claimed responsibility for the attack that hospital officials said killed 29 people and wounded 35 in the western city of Quetta. Security sources said the bomber drove his motorcycle into a police vehicle.

About 106 million people were registered to vote in polls which closed at 6 p.m (1300 GMT).

Sharif’s party had called for voting to be extended by an hour, saying people were still lining up and could be turned away without casting ballots. TV channels said election officials denied the request.

About 371,000 soldiers have been stationed at polling stations across the country, nearly five times the number deployed at the last election in 2013.

(GRAPHIC: Pakistan Election – https://tmsnrt.rs/2LaIlGt)

Earlier this month, a suicide bomber killed 149 people at an election rally in the town of Mastung in Baluchistan province. That attack was also claimed by Islamic State militants.

Security officers gather at the site of a blast outside a polling station in Quetta, Pakistan, July 25, 2018. REUTERS/Naseer Ahmed

Security officers gather at the site of a blast outside a polling station in Quetta, Pakistan, July 25, 2018. REUTERS/Naseer Ahmed

Khan has emerged as a slight favorite in national opinion polls, but the divisive race is likely to come down to Punjab, the country’s most populous province, where Sharif’s party has clung to its lead in recent surveys.

The election has been plagued by allegations the powerful armed forces have been trying to tilt the race in Khan’s favor after falling out with the outgoing ruling party of Sharif, who was jailed on corruption charges this month.

“Imran Khan is the only ‎hope to change the destiny of our country. We are here to support him in his fight against corruption,” said Tufail Aziz, 31, after casting his ballot in the north-western city of Peshawar.

ANTI-CORRUPTION CRUSADER

Whichever party wins, it will face a mounting and urgent in-tray, from a brewing economic crisis to worsening relations with on-off ally the United States to deepening cross-country water shortages.

An anti-corruption crusader, Khan has promised an “Islamic welfare state” and cast his populist campaign as a battle to topple a predatory political elite hindering development in the impoverished mostly-Muslim nation of 208 million people, where the illiteracy rate hovers above 40 percent.

“This is the most important election in Pakistan’s history,” Khan, 65, said after casting his vote in the capital, Islamabad.

“I ask everyone today – be a citizen, cherish this country, worry about this country, use your vote.”

Khan has staunchly denied allegations by Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party that he is getting help from the military, which has ruled Pakistan for about half of its history and still sets key security and foreign policy in the nuclear-armed nation. The army has also dismissed allegations of meddling in the election.

People stand in a line as they wait for a polling station to open, during general election in Rawalpindi, Pakistan July 25, 2018. REUTERS/Faisal Mahmood

People stand in a line as they wait for a polling station to open, during general election in Rawalpindi, Pakistan July 25, 2018. REUTERS/Faisal Mahmood

STRUGGLE TO WIN

Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party has inched ahead of PML-N in recent national polls, but even if it gets the most votes, it will likely struggle to win a majority of the 272 elected seats in the National Assembly, raising the prospect of weeks of haggling to form a messy coalition government.

Such a delay could further imperil Pakistan’s economy, with a looming currency crisis expected to force the new government to turn to the International Monetary Fund for Pakistan’s second bailout since 2013. PTI has not ruled out seeking assistance from China, Islamabad’s closest ally.

Sharif’s PML-N has sought to turn the vote into a referendum on Pakistan’s democracy and has said it was campaigning to protect the “sanctity of the vote”, a reference to a history of political interference by the military.

“I voted for PML-N because of Nawaz Sharif’s struggle for the rule of constitution and supremacy of the parliament,” said Punjab voter Muhamad Waseem Shahzad, 41, a farmer. “We want to get rid of the system that steals peoples’ mandate.”

The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), which has been overtaken by Khan’s PTI as the main challenger to PML-N, has also alleged intimidation by spy agencies.

Sharif’s PML-N has been touting its delivery of mega infrastructure projects, especially roads and power stations that helped hugely reduce electricity blackouts, as proof the country is on the path to prosperity.

“If we get the opportunity, we will change the destiny of Pakistan,” said Shehbaz Sharif, brother of Nawaz and the PML-N president, as he cast his vote in Lahore. “We will bring an end to unemployment, eradicate poverty and promote education”.

PML-N’s campaign was reinvigorated by the return to Pakistan of Nawaz Sharif, 68, who was earlier this month convicted and sentenced in absentia to 10 years in prison over the purchase of upscale London apartments using offshore companies in the mid-1990s. He has denied any wrongdoing.

The election will be only the second civilian transfer of power in Pakistan’s 71-year history.

(Additional reporting by Syed Raza Hassan in Karachi and Mubasher Bukhari in Lahore; Writing by Drazen Jorgic; Editing by Alex Richardson and Raju Gopalakrishnan)

Turkey’s Erdogan wins sweeping new powers after election victory

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan greets his supporters from the balcony of his ruling AK Party headquarters in Ankara, Turkey, early June 25, 2018. Kayhan Ozer/Presidential Palace/Handout via REUTERS

By Tuvan Gumrukcu and Nevzat Devranoglu

ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan won sweeping new executive powers on Monday after his victory in landmark elections that also saw his Islamist-rooted AK Party and its nationalist allies secure a majority in parliament.

Erdogan’s main rival, Muharrem Ince of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), conceded defeat but branded the elections “unjust” and said the presidential system that now takes effect was “very dangerous” because it would lead to one-man rule.

A leading European rights watchdog that sent observers to monitor the voting also said the opposition had faced “unequal conditions” and that limits on the freedom of media to cover the elections were further hindered by a continuing state of emergency imposed in Turkey after a failed 2016 coup.

Erdogan, 64, the most popular – yet divisive – leader in modern Turkish history, told jubilant, flag-waving supporters there would be no retreat from his drive to transform Turkey, a NATO member and, at least nominally, a candidate to join the European Union.

He is loved by millions of devoutly Muslim working class Turks for delivering years of stellar economic growth and overseeing the construction of roads, bridges, airports, hospitals and schools.

But his critics, including rights groups, accuse him of destroying the independence of the courts and press freedoms. A crackdown launched after the coup has seen 160,000 people detained, and the state of emergency allows Erdogan to bypass parliament with decrees. He says it will be lifted soon.

Erdogan and the AK Party claimed victory in Sunday’s presidential and parliamentary elections after defeating a revitalized opposition that had gained considerable momentum recently and looked capable of staging an upset.

“It is out of the question for us to turn back from where we’ve brought our country in terms of democracy and the economy,” Erdogan said on Sunday night.

His victory means he will remain president at least until 2023 – the centenary of the founding of the Turkish republic on the ashes of the Ottoman Empire by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. Erdogan’s foes accuse him of dismantling Ataturk’s secular legacy by bringing religion back into public life.

Erdogan responds to such criticism by saying he is trying to modernize Turkey and improve religious freedoms.

With virtually all votes counted, Erdogan had 53 percent against Ince’s 31 percent, while in the parliamentary vote the AKP took 42.5 percent and its MHP nationalist allies secured 11 percent, outstripping expectations.

Turkish markets initially rallied on hopes of increased political stability – investors had feared deadlock between Erdogan and an opposition-controlled parliament – but then retreated amid concerns over future monetary policy.

“MAJOR DANGER”

The vote ushers in a powerful executive presidency backed by a narrow majority in a 2017 referendum. The office of prime minister will be abolished and Erdogan will be able to issue decrees to form and regulate ministries and remove civil servants, all without parliamentary approval.

“The new regime that takes effect from today is a major danger for Turkey… We have now fully adopted a regime of one-man rule,” Ince, a veteran CHP lawmaker, told a news conference.

The secularist CHP draws support broadly from Turkey’s urban, educated middle class. It won 23 percent in the new parliament and the pro-Kurdish HDP nearly 12 percent, above the 10 percent threshold needed to enter parliament.

The HDP’s presidential candidate, Selahattin Demirtas, campaigned from a prison cell, where he is detained on terrorism charges he denies. He faces 142 years in prison if convicted.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, a rights watchdog, said high voter turnout, at nearly 87 percent, demonstrated Turks’ commitment to democracy. But the OSCE also cited some irregularities and echoed opposition complaints about heavy media bias in favor of Erdogan and the AKP.

“The restrictions we have seen on fundamental freedoms (due to the state of emergency) have had an impact on these elections,” Ignacio Sanchez Amor, head of the OSCE observer mission, told a news conference in Ankara.

The MHP takes a hard line on the Kurds, making it less likely that Erdogan will soften his approach to security issues in mainly Kurdish southeast Turkey and neighboring Syria and Iraq, where Turkish forces are battling Kurdish militants.

The Turkish lira and stocks sagged after initial gains, and economists said the outlook was uncertain.

“Any rally could quickly go into reverse if President Erdogan uses his strengthened position to pursue looser fiscal and monetary policy, as we fear is likely,” said Jason Tuvey, senior emerging markets economist at Capital Economics.

The lira is down some 19 percent since January and investors fear Erdogan, a self-declared “enemy of interest rates”, may pressure the central bank to cut recently hiked borrowing costs to stimulate economic growth despite double-digit inflation.

Seeking to reassure investors, Erdogan’s chief economic adviser, Cemil Ertem, told Reuters the new government would focus on economic reforms and budget discipline. He added that the central bank’s independence was “fundamental”.

The EU’s executive Commission said it hoped Erdogan would “remain a committed partner for the European Union on major issues of common interest such as migration, security, regional stability and the fight against terrorism”.

Turkey’s years-long EU accession bid stalled some time ago amid disputes on a range of issues, including Ankara’s human rights record, especially since the post-coup crackdown.

Russian President Vladimir Putin called Erdogan to congratulate him but there were no reports of Western leaders doing so, underlining the chill in relations between Ankara and its traditional NATO allies.

(Reporting by Turkey bureau; Writing by Gareth Jones; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

Americans reflect on Martin Luther King Jr’s legacy 50 years on

FILE PHOTO: People gather to march in the annual parade down MLK Boulevard to honor Martin Luther King, in Chattanooga, Tennessee, U.S., January 16, 2017. REUTERS/Billy Weeks

By Kia Johnson

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (Reuters) – A half century after Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s death, visitors still flock to the Memphis, Tennessee, site where the civil rights leader was assassinated and say that while there has been progress in racial equality, more strides need to be made.

“We still look like there is a shadow over us, still seems like something is holding us back,” Charles Wilson, a black man from Mississippi, said during a recent visit to the site.

On April 4, 1968, King, 39, was shot on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis. The motel is now part of the National Civil Rights Museum, which includes Room 306, preserved as it was when King stayed there, and vintage cars parked out front.

A Baptist pastor and civil rights activist, King worked to end legal segregation of blacks in the United States. He gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech at the August 1963 March on Washington, and won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 at age 35 – the youngest man to have received the award.

Despite King’s advocacy of nonviolent resistance, the days immediately following his death were marked by rioting in several American cities. Thousands of National Guard troops were deployed.

Wilson, the recent National Civil Rights Museum visitor, and his son Charles Jr. were among those who contemplated King’s legacy and the status of civil rights in the United States.

“I think that the changes that people fought for as far as voting and et cetera, a lot of people don’t take advantage of it, and a lot of people gave their lives for that right, they fought for it and people now don’t appreciate it,” Wilson Jr said.

Nancy Langfield, a white woman visiting from Missouri, said politicians in Washington do not reflect the racial makeup of the United States.

She deplored what she called the rhetoric coming out of Washington, calling it hateful and mean. “I look at the government and it looks very white to me, and then I think about the country and it doesn’t seem overly white to me,” Langfield said.

For Hyungu Lee, of Tennessee, who visited the museum with his family, King’s legacy is still alive.

“Even though he is not here, I feel that his spirit is with us now, and because of him, our human rights is getting better and better, so I feel really thankful,” Lee said.

(Reporting by Kia Johnson; Writing by Suzannah Gonzales; Editing by Matthew Lewis)

Supreme Court divided over Ohio voter purge policy

Activists rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court ahead of arguments in a key voting rights case involving a challenge to the OhioÕs policy of purging infrequent voters from voter registration rolls, in Washington, U.S., January 10, 2018.

By Andrew Chung

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Conservative and liberal U.S. Supreme Court justices appeared at odds on Wednesday in a closely watched voting rights case, differing over whether Ohio’s purging of infrequent voters from its registration rolls — a policy critics say disenfranchises thousands of people — violates federal law.

The nine justices heard about an hour of arguments in Republican-governed Ohio’s appeal of a lower court ruling that found the policy violated a 1993 federal law aimed at making it easier to register to vote.

Conservative justices signaled sympathy to the state’s policy while two liberal justices asked questions indicating skepticism toward it. The court has a 5-4 conservative majority.

“The reason for purging is they want to protect voter rolls,” said Justice Anthony Kennedy, a conservative who often casts the deciding vote in close decisions. “What we’re talking about is the best tools to implement that purpose.”

The Supreme Court’s ruling, due by the end of June, could affect the ability to vote for thousands of people ahead of November’s midterm congressional elections.

States try to maintain accurate voter rolls by removing people who have died or moved away. Ohio is one of seven states, along with Georgia, Montana, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, that erase infrequent voters from registration lists, according to plaintiffs who sued Ohio in 2016.

They called Ohio’s policy the most aggressive. Registered voters in Ohio who do not vote for two years are sent registration confirmation notices. If they do not respond and do not vote over the following four years, they are purged.

Ohio’s policy would have barred more than 7,500 voters from casting a ballot in the November 2016 election had the Cincinnati-based 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals not ruled against the state.

Voting rights has become an important theme before the Supreme Court. In two other cases, the justices are examining whether electoral districts drawn by Republican lawmakers in Wisconsin and Democratic lawmakers in Maryland were fashioned to entrench the majority party in power in a manner that violated the constitutional rights of voters. That practice is called partisan gerrymandering.

The plaintiffs suing Ohio, represented by liberal advocacy group Demos and the American Civil Liberties Union, said that purging has become a powerful tool for voter suppression. They argued that voting should not be considered a “use it or lose it” right.

Dozens of voting rights activists gathered for a rally outside the courthouse before the arguments, with some holding signs displaying slogans such as “Every vote counts” and “You have no right to take away my right to vote.”

“This is about government trying to choose who should get to vote. We know that’s wrong,” U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown, a Democrat from Ohio, said at the rally.

Democrats have accused Republicans of taking steps at the state level, including laws requiring certain types of government-issued identification, intended to suppress the vote of minorities, poor people and others who generally favor Democratic candidates.

A 2016 Reuters analysis found roughly twice the rate of voter purging in Democratic-leaning neighborhoods in Ohio’s three largest counties as in Republican-leaning neighborhoods.

The plaintiffs include Larry Harmon, a software engineer and U.S. Navy veteran who was blocked from voting in a state marijuana initiative in 2015, and an advocacy group for the homeless. They said Ohio’s policy ran afoul of the 1993 National Voter Registration Act, which prohibits states from striking registered voters “by reason of the person’s failure to vote.”

Ohio argued that a 2002 U.S. law called the Help America Vote Act contained language that permitted the state to enforce its purge policy. Republican Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted noted that the state’s policy has been in place since the 1990s, under Republican and Democratic secretaries of state.

(Reporting by Andrew Chung; Editing by Will Dunham)

Voters head to polls in Alabama race with high stakes for Trump

Voters head to polls in Alabama race with high stakes for Trump

By Andy Sullivan

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (Reuters) – Voters in Alabama were headed to the polls on Tuesday in a hard-fought U.S. Senate race in which President Donald Trump has endorsed fellow Republican Roy Moore, whose campaign has been clouded by allegations of sexual misconduct toward teenagers.

Moore, 70, a former Alabama Supreme Court chief justice, is battling Democrat Doug Jones, 63, a former U.S. attorney who is hoping to pull off an upset victory in the deeply conservative Southern state.

Polls opened at 7 a.m. (1300 GMT) in the Alabama special election for the seat vacated by Republican Jeff Sessions, who became U.S. attorney general in the Trump administration.

The Alabama contest has divided the Republican Party on whether it is better to support Moore in order to maintain their slim majority in the U.S. Senate or shun him because of the sexual allegations.

Trump has strongly backed Moore but several other Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, have distanced themselves from the candidate.

“Roy Moore will always vote with us. VOTE ROY MOORE!” Trump said in a Twitter post in which he criticized Jones as a potential “puppet” of the Democratic congressional leadership.

Moore has been accused by multiple women of pursuing them when they were teenagers and he was in his 30s, including one woman who said he tried to initiate sexual contact with her when she was 14. Moore has denied any misconduct. Reuters has not independently verified any of the accusations.

On the eve of Tuesday’s election, Moore was joined on the campaign trail by Steve Bannon, Trump’s former chief strategist and an executive at the right-wing Breitbart News site. Bannon framed the Alabama election as a showdown between establishment elites and populist power and excoriated Republicans who declined to support Moore.

“There’s a special place in hell for Republicans who should know better,” he said.

COURTING EVANGELICALS

Moore has made conservative Christian beliefs a centerpiece of his campaign and sought to energize evangelicals in Alabama. He has said homosexual activity should be illegal and has argued against removing segregationist language from the state constitution.

Moore told the rally on Monday: “I want to make America great again with President Trump. I want America great, but I want America good, and she can’t be good until we go back to God.”

Without mentioning Moore by name, Republican former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, an African-American who grew up in Alabama, issued a statement on Monday calling the special election “one of the most significant in Alabama’s history.”

She urged Alabama voters to “reject bigotry, sexism, and intolerance.”

A Fox News Poll conducted on Thursday and released on Monday put Jones ahead of Moore, with Jones potentially taking 50 percent of the vote and Moore 40 percent. Fox said 8 percent of voters were undecided and 2 percent supported another candidate.

An average of recent polls by the RealClearPolitics website showed Moore ahead by a slight margin of 2.2 percentage points.

No Democrat has held a U.S. Senate seat from Alabama in more than 20 years. In 2016, Trump won the state by 28 percentage points over Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Jones has touted a record that includes prosecuting former Ku Klux Klan members responsible for the 1963 bombing of a black church in Birmingham, Alabama, in which four girls were killed.

He spent the past week rallying African-Americans, the most reliably Democratic voters in the state, and hammering Moore in television ads. He has told supporters that his campaign is a chance to be on the “right side of history for the state of Alabama.”

If Jones wins on Tuesday, Republicans would control the Senate by a slim 51-49 margin, giving Democrats momentum ahead of the November 2018 congressional elections, when control of both chambers of Congress will be at stake.

Moore’s campaign has cast Jones as a liberal out of step with Alabama voters, seizing on the Democrat’s support of abortion rights.

Moore, who was twice removed from the state Supreme Court for refusing to abide by federal law, may find a chilly reception in Washington if he wins. Republican leaders have said

Moore could face an ethics investigation if Alabama voters send him to the U.S. Senate.

Democrats have signaled they may use Moore’s election to tar Republicans as insensitive to women’s concerns at a time when allegations of sexual harassment have caused many prominent men working in politics, entertainment, media and business to lose their jobs.

(Additional reporting by Julia Harte and Susan Heavey in Washington; Writing by Caren Bohan; Editing by Peter Cooney and Bill Trott)

Leaders of Venezuela’s bruised opposition to travel abroad to denounce ‘voting fraud’

Leaders of Venezuela's bruised opposition to travel abroad to denounce 'voting fraud'

By Alexandra Ulmer and Corina Pons

CARACAS (Reuters) – Key members of Venezuela’s opposition, divided and dispirited after losing gubernatorial elections over the weekend, will travel abroad to denounce what it says is a “fraudulent” voting system under leftist President Nicolas Maduro.

Congress president Julio Borges said in a press conference on Thursday that the opposition coalition will try to stir up international support, which could result in further sanctions against Maduro’s administration.

His unpopular government unexpectedly swept to victory in Sunday’s regional vote, pocketing 18 of 23 states in the midst of a debilitating economic crisis that has millions skipping meals as soaring inflation destroys salaries.

Polls had forecast the opposition easily beating the ruling socialists. Maduro’s rivals say a mix of dirty tricks, like moving hundreds of voting centers in opposition areas at the last minute and including the names of opposition politicians who lost in primaries on ballots, worked against them.

“We made a huge effort, we aimed to overcome all the obstacles, and what the government did was upgrade its fraud and its cheating,” said Borges, adding that politicians were due to travel to fellow Latin American countries and other supportive nations shortly.

“We have the full records of this electoral process and we’re going to submit them to various international bodies, so that … they can be audited,” added Borges, who did not provide further details on the trips.

OPPOSITION FRAYING

While the opposition first cried fraud, without providing proof, it later scaled back its accusations and is now focusing on the minerals-rich state of Bolivar where it says its losing candidate was robbed of decisive votes.

Maduro blasted his opponents as sore losers who cry fraud when convenient. On Thursday, he inaugurated Hector Rodriguez, a rising star in the Socialist Party, as governor of Miranda state in a ceremony filled with song and dance.

Opposition politicians have acknowledged that demoralization in their own ranks hurt turnout. Many opposition supporters are exhausted after four months of protests earlier this year and were loath to participate in what some saw as a rigged vote that would legitimize Maduro as a dictator.

They were even more downbeat after the vote, however, as it casts doubt on whether they can remove the ruling Socialist Party in next year’s presidential election.

“The government’s handling of (Sunday’s) vote suggests that it is not even willing to entertain anything close to free and fair presidential elections in 2018, even if it prompts growing international isolation, renewed unrest, and increased outward migration,” consultancy Eurasia wrote in a note to clients this week.

(Additional reporting by Anggy Polanco in San Cristobal; Editing by Phil Berlowitz)