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Archive for the ‘Electoral Reform & Voting Rights’ Category

Waiting for Shelby

June 19, 2013 Comments off

Seal_of_the_United_States_Supreme_Court.svgSomehow, some way, the Supreme Court has managed to maintain its shroud of secrecy, despite being located in Washington, D.C. where government leaks are commonplace. Those with information like to talk (even as “unnamed sources”) but that’s not the way the Supreme Court operates.

As such, we don’t know what the Court will be announcing tomorrow. Much like waiting for the white smoke to come out of the Vatican, we won’t know what’s coming until it’s actually given to us. Maybe they’ll release an opinion on Shelby County v. Holder, the case involving Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Maybe they won’t. We’ll find out tomorrow, and if not tomorrow, then on Tuesday, and if not on Tuesday, then perhaps later next week.

In the meantime, however, groups have been speculating and gathering up info on the case, bracing for what might come if the preclearance provision is declared unconstitutional.

The Columbia Journalism Review has an exhaustive roundup of the case, linking to stories that provide background, while also providing state examples and a toolkit for reporters.

Colorlines has speculated that states have been holding off on instituting their restrictive voting laws, such as voter ID in Virginia, until the Court hands down its decision. Virginia’s strict law might not hold up through Department of Justice review (although a weaker voter ID bill was cleared by the DOJ last year), but depending on the outcome of the case, it might not have to.

Other states could jump into the fold and introduce their own restrictive voting laws without having to worry about preclearance, says the Brennan Center. In their report, If Section 5 Fails: New Voting Implications, Myrna Pérez and Vishal Agraharkar say that jurisdictions could re-enact changes that were previously struck down or deterred by Section 5 and adopt new restrictions, while in the process creating new barriers for voters, and particularly voters of color.

If Section 5 falls, democracy takes a huge, huge hit. Until we get the decision, though, all we can do is wait.

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SCOTUS NVRA decision is a victory for voters — for now

June 17, 2013 Comments off

voteThe Supreme Court has a number of high profile, potentially wide reaching cases in front of it this term, and…we’re still waiting for decisions on most of them. However, on the slate today was a decision in Arizona v. Inter Tribal Council of Arizona (ITCA) which challenged the citizenship verification that the state demanded to be included on voter registration forms provided under the Motor Voter law (aka the NVRA).

In an opinion written by an unlikely voting rights ally, Justice Antonin Scalia, the Court ruled 7-2 that the citizenship requirement should not be included on the voter registration forms used under the NVRA, overturning the restrictive provisions put in place by Arizona.

Brenda Wright of Demos said that the decision would preserve community voter registration drives, such as the ones hosted by League of Women Voters chapters across the country. The League also declared that state driven restrictions lost while “voters won.” Common Cause took part in the lawsuit along with a coalition of individuals and advocacy groups, with representation from MALDEF. Jenny Flanagan of Common Cause also hailed the decision as “a major victory for American voters.”

The decision this morning not only provides protection for voters amidst real, serious threats that impact real people, many of whom have already had their registration forms tangled up in the system. The case affirmed that all citizens have the right to vote, not anyone else.

While the decision provides some immediate relief against this type of restrictive voting law, some are saying that we should prepare for future challenges and be weary of the narrow ruling.

In their release, Project Vote said that the decision is a strong affirmation of the NVRA, but at the same time the door remains open for future litigation. The American Prospect also outlined the path that Arizona could take to get the provision back on registration forms:

Scalia’s opinion concludes by providing a road map for Arizona to challenge the regulations of the Election Assistance Commission: “Arizona may, however, request anew that the EAC include [a proof of citizenship] requirement among the Federal Form’s state-specific instructions, and may seek judicial review of the EAC’s decision under the Administrative Procedure Act.” It’s possible that there will be a similar attempt by Arizona to burden voters that ends up in federal court.

Professor Spencer Overton of the George Washington Law School and Demos says that Scalia’s opinion can ultimately lead to Arizona getting what it wants, and that, more importantly, states might have “exclusive control over voter qualifications”:

…Scalia’s explicit pronouncement that states have exclusive control over voter qualifications could jeopardize Congress’ power to protect voting rights. For example, today’s opinion could undermine efforts to encourage Congress to restore voting rights in federal elections to all former offenders nationwide who have paid their debt to society. Professor Marty Lederman has pointed out that today’s opinion could bring into question a federal law that requires a state to register a U.S. citizen who moved from the state and now lives abroad (e.g., many members of the military). Another thorny question left unresolved by the opinion is whether photo identification is itself a qualification the state can impose on federal elections (even in defiance of a federal statute to the contrary), or whether photo ID is simply evidence of a qualification like residency.

There’s more to come from the Supreme Court over the next couple of weeks. Still, there’s plenty to digest, even in this opinion. We’ll be waiting to see what comes next.

Restoring ex-felon voting rights: Virginia and beyond

May 30, 2013 1 comment

cantvoteWe herald the news from Virginia: restoration of voting rights for non-violent felons who have served their time. This is a step forward for the nation. Virginia adds itself to the column of states that recognize that a prison sentence should not be for life, and, that participation in all aspects of society (work, family, civic life) actually improves long-term outcomes for a challenged and stigmatized group.

Do a little thought experiment: replace the words “criminal”, “convict”, “felon”, “prisoner” in the text of whatever you hear or read next with the word “citizen” (or “human being” if the incarcerated is not a citizen) and you will start to understand the slippery slope we slide down as a nation. We certainly do have two classes of citizens, as long as certain citizens have the right to vote and others do not.

Virginia’s move is a step in the right direction in two ways: it is another crack in the set of laws nationwide that dehumanize and delegitimize people who have been convicted of crimes, and it adds another group of folks to the rolls of voting citizens. The possibilities only grow: more states, all released citizens, all citizens even in prison. Fancy that!

Kudos to the organizers in Virginia: Virginia New Majority, Advancement Project, the NAACP, SOBER, and others (as well as their counterparts in other states)–your work is vital, and making a difference!

Let’s take the “ex-” and “formerly” out of our lexicon as well. While it serves a certain moral perspective to have “lifetime” sentences, it does not serve society. We can do better at rehabilitation and we should. More importantly, we should not hand our government, civil infrastructure, and our democracy over to our baseless fears. Wardens and local governments with an ounce of wisdom are challenging overly long sentences, solitary confinement, the effectiveness (cost-benefit ration) of prisons generally, and the warehousing of men and women into their senior years for distant and often first time offences. There is a great deal of productive talent and wisdom being squandered for no good.

Witch hunts in recent years for “illegal voters” have targeted the formerly incarcerated in quite a few states, disenfranchising potential and valid voters. The miserable outcome has been pushing our nation into shameful fellowship with an ugly set of global peers whose elections we know cannot be trusted, and in the process embarrassing a nation proud of its democratic history and credentials in world opinion.

We can do better.

“Right to Vote” amendments and voter suppression

May 14, 2013 Comments off

Ready,_Set,_Vote_3Some good news on the federal front, with regard to voting rights. A pair of Congressmen have plans to introduce a Constitutional Amendment that would guarantee the right to vote. Congressmen Mark Pocan of Wisconsin and Keith Ellison of Minnesota have drafted the amendment, via the Nation —

SECTION 1: Every citizen of the United States, who is of legal voting age, shall have the fundamental right to vote in any public election held in the jurisdiction in which the citizen resides.

SECTION 2: Congress shall have the power to enforce and implement this article by appropriate legislation.

Earlier in May, the Tennesseean reported that Rep. Jim Cooper was also working on a “right to vote” amendment in the House, albeit in a potentially very off-color manner.

This is a welcome trend, and it echos a slight shift that we have seen on the state level this year. While (some) reps in Congress are looking towards guaranteeing the right to vote, the Brennan Center reports that eight bills that expand opportunities for eligible citizens to register and vote have passed at the state level. Brennan Center also reports that eight restrictive bills have passed, and while those should not be overlooked, the pendulum is swinging away from restrictive laws, considering the number that passed in 2011 and early 2012.

The importance of expanding voter access and registration opportunities cannot be understated. True, 2013 is not a major election year, but the laws passed now will have lasting effects on elections to come, and legislation proposed during election years has a greater tendency to be met with resistance with partisan intentions coming into play.

However, Jotaka Eaddy of NAACP notes that the voter suppression efforts aren’t letting up, and she is right. Despite the introduction of some access opportunities, efforts to restrict the vote are not going anywhere, and this will have consequences for the “rising American electorate,” made up largely of women, people of color, young folks, and those who are multiple of the above.

The consequences of successful efforts to suppress voting rights are dire for communities of color.  With the United States projected to become a “majority-minority” nation for the first time in 2043, civic engagement in Black, brown and youth communities has never been more important. But without full and unfettered access to the ballot box, this rising electorate’s ability to fully participate in our democracy will be at stake.

We need immediate action from our leaders on voting rights. Thank you to the Congressmen who have worked on introducing these laws at the federal level, but with 50 different states administering 50 different sets of election laws, (and 13,000 voting districts at the local level nationwide) the work in the near term will be done on the state and local levels. While at least some of the future work will be dictated by how the Supreme Court rules on some voting rights cases this summer, states will have to decide for themselves whether they want to protect or dismantle the right to vote.

Project Vote report shows voting rights threats AND opportunities

March 27, 2013 Comments off

project voteYesterday we mentioned here that two states (Virginia and Arkansas) are on the path to implementing voter ID requirements. According to a new report from Project Vote released today, the number of states trying to restrict voting rights is actually closer to 30. Election Legislation 2013: Threats and Opportunities Assessment (PDF) shows that while legislators in 30 states have tried to restrict voting, some legislators have also tried to make the ballot box more accessible.

From the press release:

While the lawmakers’ continued focus on voter restrictions is disturbing, the report also finds a groundswell of support for ways to protect and improve access to the democratic system.

“Following widespread reports of problems in the 2012 election, lawmakers, the media, and the American people seem to have finally taken notice of the damage caused by this prolonged assault on voting rights, and have decided to fight back,” writes [report author Erin Ferns Lee]. “While there are many threats to voting rights pending in the states, many more bills to improve access to the democratic process have been introduced.”

Restrictive laws have come in the forms of voter ID and proof-of-citizenship, and restrictions on voter registration drives. At the same time, however, Project Vote found that online registration, same day registration, pre-registration for those under 18, and early voting have gained support from legislators.

Read the full report over at Project Vote.

The voter restriction battle continues

March 26, 2013 Comments off

Photo ID report coverElection season is over, but that’s not stopping some states from continuing to push restrictive laws that will prevent some people from voting. Today brings news out of two states that have passed restrictive measures.

In Virginia, Governor Bob McDonnell (R) has signed a law which eliminates many forms of identification that voters had been able to use in the past. MSNBC reports that utility bills, pay stubs, bank statements, government checks and Social Security cards will no longer be permitted as identification at the polls, leaving only drivers licenses, state ID cards, student IDs, and handgun permits.

Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe (D), on the other hand, vetoed a voter ID bill passed in his state. However, Arkansas law allows legislative override of vetoes by a simple majority in both houses, and the Republican controlled legislature passed the bill with considerable room to spare in both houses. MaddowBlog notes that the law could be a violation of the Voting Rights Act, but also mentions that the U.S. Supreme Court could take away much of the Voting Rights Act’s power to govern such restrictive laws.

The fight against voting restrictions isn’t anywhere close to over.

Voter ID laws hurt young voters

March 13, 2013 Comments off

voter-id

A study from Cathy J. Cohen of the University of Chicago and Jon C. Rogowski of Washington University in St. Louis previewed today on Politico finds that voter ID laws disproportionately affect young voters of color, and that even in states without voter restriction laws, young people are more likely to stay away from the polls if they lack an up-to-date I.D. card. Here’s more:

According to the study, previewed before its release to POLITICO, significantly more minority youths age 18-29 were asked to show identification than white youth: 72.9 percent of black youth were asked for ID, compared with 60.8 percent of Latino youth and 50.8 percent of white youth.

Even in states where there are no voter ID laws on the books, 65.5 percent of black youth were asked to show ID at the polls, compared with 55.3 percent of Latino youth and 42.8 percent of white youth.

And for many young minority youths, even the concept of a required ID was a primary reason they didn’t go to the polls last year: 17.3 percent of black youth and 8.1 percent of Latino youth said their lack of adequate ID kept them from voting, compared with just 4.7 percent of white youth.

We’ll post up the full study once it comes across, but this shows some of the true impact of restrictive voting laws on young people, and it also shows that people from all states can be affected by voter ID laws, even though requirements are not nationwide.