CHICAGO (AP) - Up and down the state, Illinois voters are electing mayors, highway commissioners and filling school boards and fire protection districts.
Tuesday's turnout is expected to be low. And it won't be helped by rain in some parts of Illinois or by the many races in which candidates are running unopposed. Still, a number of communities do have real contests, including West Chicago, where three candidates are running for mayor.
The race to replace former U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. has received the most attention in the Chicago area.
Voters in some places will be asked to do more than elect candidates, including Tazewell, Woodford, Marshall and Fulton Counties, where voters will decide if they want to add a 1 percent sales tax to fund school facilities improvements.
The high court will hear arguments Monday over the legality of Arizona's voter-approved requirement that prospective voters document their U.S. citizenship in order to use a registration form produced under the federal "Motor Voter" voter registration law that doesn't require such documentation.
This case focuses on voter registration in Arizona, which has tangled frequently with the federal government over immigration issues involving the Mexican border. But it has broader implications because four other states - Alabama, Georgia, Kansas and Tennessee - have similar requirements, and 12 other states are contemplating similar legislation, officials say.
The Obama administration is supporting challengers to the law.
If Arizona can add citizenship requirements, then "each state could impose all manner of its own supplemental requirements beyond the federal form," Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr. said in court papers. "Those requirements could encompass voluminous documentary or informational demands, and could extend to any eligibility criteria beyond citizenship, such as age, residency, mental competence, or felony history."
A federal appeals court threw out the part of Arizona's Proposition 200 that added extra citizenship requirements for voter registration, but only after lower federal judges had approved it.
Arizona wants the justices to reinstate its requirement.
Kathy McKee, who led the push to get the proposition on the ballot, said voter fraud, including by illegal immigrants, continues to be a problem in Arizona. "For people to conclude there is no problem is just shallow logic," McKee said.
Opponents of Arizona's law see it as an attack on vulnerable voter groups such as minorities, immigrants and the elderly. They say Arizona's law makes registering more difficult, which is an opposite result from the intention of the 1993 National Voter Registration Act. Proposition 200 "was never intended to combat voter fraud," said Democratic state Sen. Steve Gallardo of Phoenix. "It was intended to keep minorities from voting." With the additional state documentation requirements, Arizona will cripple the effectiveness of neighborhood and community voter registration drives, advocates say. More than 28 million Americans used the federal "Motor Voter" form to register to vote in the 2008 presidential elections, according to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission. An Arizona victory at the high court would lead to more state voting restrictions, said Elisabeth MacNamara, the national president of the League of Women Voters. Opponents of the Arizona provision say they've counted more than 31,000 potentially legal voters in Arizona who easily could have registered before Proposition 200 but who were blocked initially by the law in the 20 months after it passed in 2004. They say about 20 percent of those thwarted were Latino. Arizona officials say they should be able to pass laws to stop illegal immigrants and other noncitizens from getting on their voting rolls. The Arizona voting law was part of a package that also denied some government benefits to illegal immigrants and required Arizonans to show identification before voting. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the voter identification provision. The denial of benefits was not challenged. Opponents "argue that Arizona should not be permitted to request evidence of citizenship when someone registers to vote, but should instead rely on the person's sworn statement that he or she is a citizen," Arizona Attorney General Thomas C. Horne said in court papers. "The fallacy in that is that someone who is willing to vote illegally will be willing to sign a false statement. What (opponents) are urging is that there should be nothing more than an honor system to assure that registered voters are citizens. That was not acceptable to the people of Arizona." The Arizona proposition was enacted into law with 55 percent of the vote. This is the second voting issue the high court is tackling this session. Last month, several justices voiced deep skepticism about whether a section of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, a law that has helped millions of minorities exercise their right to vote, especially in areas of the Deep South, was still needed. This case involves laws of more recent vintage. The federal "Motor Voter" law, enacted in 1993 to expand voter registration, allows would-be voters to fill out a mail-in voter registration card and swear they are citizens under penalty of perjury, but it doesn't require them to show proof. Under Proposition 200 approved in 2004, Arizona officials require an Arizona driver's license issued after 1996, a U.S. birth certificate, a passport or other similar document, or the state will reject the federal registration application form. This requirement applies only to people who seek to register using the federal mail-in form. Arizona has its own form and an online system to register when renewing a driver's license. The court ruling did not affect proof of citizenship requirements using the state forms. State officials say more than 90 percent of those Arizonans applying to vote using the federal form will be able to simply write down their driver's license number, and all naturalized citizens simply will be able to write down their naturalization number without needed additional documents. Former Arizona Senate President Russell Pearce, a leading Republican proponent of Proposition 200, strongly disputed claims that Arizona doesn't have voter fraud problems. "They turn a blind eye," Pearce said of the state's election officials. But Karen Osborne, elections director for Maricopa County, where nearly 60 percent of Arizona's voters live, said voter fraud is rare, and even rarer among illegal immigrants. "That just does not seem to be an issue," Osborne said of the claim that illegal immigrants are voting. "They did not want to come out of the shadows. They don't want to be involved with the government." The main legal question facing the justices is whether the federal law trumps Arizona's law. A 10-member panel of the 9th Circuit in San Francisco said it did. The appeals court issued multiple rulings in this case, with a three-judge panel initially siding with Arizona. A second panel that included retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who from time to time sits on appeals courts, reversed course and blocked the registration requirement. The full court then did the same, and that decision will be reviewed by the justices in Washington. The case is 12-71, Arizona v. Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, Inc.
The 115 cardinals who have locked themselves inside the Sistine Chapel revealed to the world that they have failed to select a new pontiff on their first ballot — a widely expected outcome as the papal conclave got underway Tuesday afternoon.
The cardinals will return for two votes Wednesday morning and, if no white smoke billows over the Vatican, two more votes in the afternoon.
The process will continue until one of the cardinals emerges with a two-thirds majority — 77 votes.
The last nine conclaves have lasted an average of three days.
The puff of black smoke came about three hours after the cardinals locked themselves into the Sistine Chapel to be alone with their thoughts and their prayers as began the selection process for a new Pope.
The House Elections Committee held a hearing on the measure Tuesday. Republican Rep. Tim Remole, of Excello, is sponsoring the legislation. He says it will protect voting rights for registered offenders while also protecting children in schools that are designated as polling places.
No one testified in opposition to the proposal, but the Missouri Association of County Clerks says it would cost money to turn local election offices into polling places on election day.
If offenders can't make it to the clerk's office on the election day, they would be required to cast an absentee ballot.
Slay says, "The most important thing about the election is about leadership, competency, integrity and that's what we brought the city government and that's what we ask voters is to keep the city moving forward."
It's also the day we'll learn who will be the next mayor. That's because the winner of today's Democratic Primary will face only Green Party Candidate James McNeeley in the general election April 2nd. And city voters haven't elected a non-Democrat to the post since 1945.
The Democratic incumbent, Mayor Francis Slay is running for a record fourth term. His chief Democratic rival is Aldermanic President Lewis Reed. Both candidates spent Monday night going over their "get out the vote" efforts -- preparations that could prove critical, with rain falling when the polls opened and snow forecast for later in the day. The polls opened at 6.
There are more than a dozen offices on the ballot, but the biggest contest is for Mayor. Mayor Slay is seeking his fourth term and is challenged by Lewis Reed, president of the Board of Aldermen.
The general election is April 2.
The Voting Rights Act effectively attacked persistent discrimination at the polls by keeping close watch, when it comes to holding elections, on those places with a history of preventing minorities from voting. Any changes, from moving a polling place to redrawing electoral districts, can't take effect without approval from the Justice Department or federal judges in Washington.
But the Voting Right Act allows governments that have changed their ways to get out from under this humbling need to get permission through a "bailout provision." Nearly 250 counties and local jurisdictions have done so; thousands more could be eligible based on the absence of recent discriminatory efforts in voting.
The viability of the bailout option could play an outsized role in the Supreme Court's consideration of the voting rights law's prior approval provision, although four years ago, conservative Justice Clarence Thomas said the prospect of bailing out had been "no more than a mirage."
The court will hear arguments Wednesday in the case, which is among the term's most important, in a challenge from Shelby County, Ala.
Opponents of the law say they no longer should be forced to live under oversight from Washington because the country has made enormous racial progress, demonstrated most recently by the re-election of President Barack Obama. They object in particular to the 40-year-old formula by which some jurisdictions, most in the Deep South, are swept under the law and others remain outside it.
The administration and its allies acknowledge that there has been progress. But they say minority voters still need the protection the law affords from efforts to reduce their influence at the polls. Last year, federal judges in two separate cases blocked Texas from putting in place a voter identification law and congressional redistricting plan because they discriminated against black and Hispanic residents.
Obama himself talked about the case in a radio interview last week. He told SiriusXM host Joe Madison that if the law were stripped of its advance approval provision, "it would be hard for us to catch those things up front to make sure that elections are done in an equitable way."
Also, the law's defenders say places that have changed their ways can win release from having to get Washington's blessing for election changes. Governments seeking to exit have to show that they and the smaller jurisdictions within their borders have had a clean record, no evidence of discrimination in voting, for the past 10 years.
Shelby County has never asked to be freed from the law, but would seem to be ineligible because one city in the county, Calera, defied the voting rights law and prompted intervention by the Bush Justice Department.
Yet places with a long, well-known history of discrimination probably could find their way out from under federal monitoring, according to a prominent voting rights lawyer who used to work for the Justice Department.
"Birmingham, Ala., where they used to use fire hoses on people, may well be eligible to bail out," said the lawyer, Gerry Hebert. Birmingham officials said they've never considered asking.
The Supreme Court made clear its skepticism about the ongoing need for the law when it heard a similar case in 2009. "Past success alone, however, is not adequate justification to retain the preclearance requirements," Chief Justice John Roberts said for the court. That ruling sidestepped the constitutional issue and instead expanded the ability of states, counties and local governments to exit the advance approval process.
At that point, so few governments had tried to free themselves from the advance approval requirement that, in 2009, Thomas said the "promise of a bailout opportunity has, in the great majority of cases, turned out to be no more than a mirage."
At the time, Thomas said, only a handful of the 12,000 state, county and local governments covered by the law had successfully bailed out.
The overall numbers remain low, but the Obama administration argues that "the rate of successful bailouts has rapidly increased" since the high court last took up the Voting Rights Act nearly four years ago.
In the past 12 months, 110 local governments have been freed from the requirement to show in advance that their proposed election changes are not discriminatory. Places that have won their release from coverage include Prince William County, Va., with more than 400,000 residents, and Merced County, Calif., and its 84 municipalities.
Shelby County says that even with the recent jump in bailouts, "only a tiny percentage" of governments have found their way out of oversight from Washington.
The advance approval was adopted in the Voting Rights Act in 1965 to give federal officials a potent tool to defeat persistent efforts to keep blacks from voting.
The provision was a huge success, and Congress periodically has renewed it over the years. The most recent occasion was in 2006, when a Republican-led Congress overwhelmingly approved and President George W. Bush signed a 25-year extension.
The requirement currently applies to the states of Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia. It also covers certain counties in California, Florida, New York, North Carolina and South Dakota, and some local jurisdictions in Michigan and New Hampshire. Coverage has been triggered by past discrimination not only against blacks, but also against American Indians, Asian-Americans, Alaskan Natives and Hispanics.
The 10 covered towns in New Hampshire are poised to become the next places to win their release from the law. An agreement between the Justice Department and the state is awaiting approval from a federal court in Washington.
Critics of the law contend the Justice Department is highlighting the escape hatch and agreeing to allow places such as the New Hampshire towns to exit to try to make the entire law look more palatable to the court.
Alaska Attorney General Michael Geraghty says in his court filing in support of Shelby County that the Justice Department "commonly agrees to bailouts for jurisdictions that are not legally entitled to receive them."
But supporters of the law argue in response that the federal government's willingness to agree to free places from the need to get permission shows that the voting rights act is flexible and helps focus attention on potentially discriminatory voting schemes.
Proponents say requiring voters to show a government-issued photo ID before casting ballots would help prevent election fraud. Critics argue Missouri has had no known recent instances of voter impersonation. They also say the rule could make it harder for some people to vote.
Lawmakers have discussed the proposal several times in recent years, with the debate generally falling along party lines.
On Wednesday, House members approved a constitutional amendment allowing for a photo ID requirement. Lawmakers then endorsed separate legislation that would implement it. Both measures require another vote before they move to the state Senate.