News

10/1/2014

The 4th Circuit on a 2-1 vote (on a panel made up of all Democratic appointees) has issued an opinion requiring North Carolina to restore same day voter registration and the counting of out of precinct ballots in the upcoming election. The majority offers a generous but reasonable reading of the scope of section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. The main difference with the dissent is over the question whether making these changes now is going to cause confusion and impose a burden on election officials and the state in light of Supreme Court admonitions not to change election rules so close to the election.

This is a case that North Carolina could take to the 4th Circuit en banc, although given the press of time I expect they will go right to the Supreme Court. I would not be surprised to see the Supreme Court reverse this 4th Circuit panel decision on the same 5-4 conservative/liberal lines that we saw earlier this week in the Ohio voting case. That would not necessarily mean that the Court would reject the broad reading of section 2 of the Voting Rights Act offered today by the 4th Circuit. The split could be over the issue, also present in the 7th Circuit Wisconsin voter id case (which could head to the Supreme Court today) about the dangers of courts changing election rules just before the election.

...Judge Motz in dissent said that the Supreme Court’s Purcell v. Gonzalez case means that the 4th Circuit should not be changing election rules so close to the election. (This is the key issue in the Wisconsin voter id appeal which could be heading to the Supreme Court at any moment.) The dissent said that this ruling will change the status quo, when sate election officials are ill prepared to make these changes, and it is being done for a duly enacted statute which has not been finally found to be illegal. The majority’s response is to (a) distinguish Purcell as a case where the Ninth Circuit provided no reasons and (b) to argue that these new rules, although risking some voter confusion, will err on the side on enfranchising voters and thereby serve as a safety net.

10/1/2014

In May of 2011, Wisconsin Republicans took the rather extraordinary step of stopping work on the budget to pass a voter ID bill in advance of the recall elections. Earlier this year, Walker vowed to call the legislature back into session to pass a new voter ID law if courts didn't ultimately uphold the measure, which lower courts had blocked.

Yet now that the voter ID law has been reinstated, Walker and legislative Republicans have, thus far, declined to make any effort to mitigate the law's negative impact on the 300,000 voters who don't have the forms of ID required under the law. Most of those who don't have ID are people of color and students -- which happen to be populations that tend to vote for Democrats.

On September 13, with just five weeks before election day, an all-Republican panel of 7th Circuit judges put Wisconsin's voter ID law back into effect, leaving hundreds of thousands of people just weeks to get the ID necessary to vote.

The Advancement Project and ACLU have noted that the state would need to issue 6,000 IDs per day to protect the right to vote. Yet two-thirds of the state's Department of Motor Vehicles offices are only open part-time, and just one is open on Saturday, making it exceptionally difficult for working people to get an ID or to drive a friend or family member who doesn't have one. ...

The state elections board has no budget to launch a public education campaign, so many in the state are unaware that, in contrast with past elections, they will need identification at the polls. According to a Marquette University poll issued October 1st, 20 percent of registered voters don't know they'll need ID on election day. The board has asked the legislature for $460,000 in already-appropriated funds to support a public education campaign, but has not yet received a response.

10/1/2014

Taken together, more than 22,000 of Northern Virginia’s close-in voters right now do not have the photo identification now required to vote in the coming election. While there are simple ways to get an identification card for Election Day, so far, only a handful of voters have done so. ...

These numbers are analysed by the State Board of Elections, and include voters who do not have a match in the DMV data, and also are not designated as military, overseas or federal only voters, who do not have an active Federal Postcard Application or Annual Absentee application, and who have voted or registered since and including the last presidential election.

Across the Commonwealth, 93,117 active voters also lack photo ID from DMV or the other likely sources.

When you consider that in the last election, Virginia’s Attorney General was elected by a margin of 165 votes out of more than 2 million votes cast, these numbers are staggering.

9/30/2014

Ohio accepts the following documents for voter ID purposes:
• Driver's license or state ID card with voter's name and photo issued by the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles. Must be current (not expired), but may have an old address.
• U.S. Military ID with voter's name and photo (address not required).
• A government ID with voter's name, current address, and photo. Note: a student ID is not acceptable.
• An original or copy of one of the following documents that shows the voter'™s name and current address:
  • Utility bill, including cell phone bill
  • Bank statement
  • Pay stub
  • Government check or other government document

(These documents must have a date within one year of Election Day to be accepted as current.)

If none of the above documents is available, voters may use the last 4 digits of their Social Security numbers. Voters will then be given a provisional ballot. If the Social Security number matches a voter's registration the ballot will be counted.

9/30/2014

“The right to vote is the foundation upon which our country is built,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Molly Moran for the Civil Rights Division.  “For too long in our history, many people with disabilities have been excluded from exercising this fundamental right and have been prevented from being a full participant in our democracy.  A number of federal civil rights laws, including the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Voting Rights Act, have been put in place to address fairness in the voting process for people with disabilities.  The Justice Department is fully committed to enforcing these laws to ensure that voters with disabilities are no longer discriminated against in the election process.”

The publication provides guidance about how the federal disability rights laws apply to the election process, from registration to voting.  The publication discusses the need for policies, procedures, and programs to be in place to ensure that voters with disabilities are not discriminated against or illegally excluded from voting.  For example, the guidance discusses local governments’ obligations under the ADA to ensure polling places are physically accessible to voters with mobility disabilities, as well as their obligation to provide effective communication with voters who have vision and hearing disabilities.  Voters with disabilities must be able to access their polling place like everyone else, and vote alongside their neighbors and friends. 

9/29/2014

The fights in our states over how hard or easy it is to vote have been filling the courts and are headed toward the Supreme Court. The cases range from voter ID laws to early voting rules and beyond. Already there is a case from Ohio, with ones from Wisconsin, North Carolina, and Texas potentially on the way in a matter of days or weeks. The stakes are high, not only for the lazy 2014 midterm elections but also for the 2016 presidential election and for the protection of voting rights in the next decade.

The fact that the cases are making it to the Supreme Court at about the same time is no surprise. Over the past decade, in the period I have called “the voting wars,” we have seen both an increase in restrictive voting rights legislation passed by Republican legislatures, such as voter ID laws, and litigation from both Democrats and Republicans to manipulate the election system to their advantage. In 2008, the Supreme Court rejected a constitutional challenge to Indiana’s voter identification law, and in 2013, the Supreme Court in the Shelby County case struck down a key portion of the Voting Rights Act providing that states with a history of racial discrimination in voting get approval before making changes to their voting rules and procedures. ...

If the Supreme Court gives the green light to all the voting cutbacks, and especially if it does so reading the Constitution and the Voting Rights Act narrowly, then expect to see even more Republican legislatures pass voting cutbacks in time for the 2016 elections. ...

But the longer-term prospects for court protection of voting rights appear bleak. We cannot expect the Supreme Court to read voting rights protections broadly, and we cannot expect a polarized Congress to pass any new voting rights protections to make up for the loss of preclearance. Instead, the battle over voting rights will have to be fought state by state, through political action and agitation.   

9/28/2014

Starting in early October, the Oshkosh Student Association will make a concerted effort to educate students about the voter ID requirement and how they can obtain a valid ID if they do not already have driver's license or identification card, a U.S. passport or a military ID, said Reginald Parson, one of the association's co-directors for legislative affairs. ...

A student's university ID is not an acceptable form of identification at the polls because it doesn't meet the law's requirement of a signature and expiration date.

UWO and other UW campuses are offering free IDs that meet those requirements, although students will also need to present verification of their enrollment in order to vote. That verification is available online through the University's TitanWeb system. ...

"It's amazing how students don't realize how much influence that they can have in elections," [Reginald Parson, one of the student association's co-directors for legislative affairs] said. "You may not think it's important, but your vote is going to have an impact on the decisions that are going to affect you and people around you."

9/28/2014

Arkansas' highest court is set to take up a case this week that could decide whether the state's voters will be required to show photo identification at the polls in the November election.

The state Supreme Court on Thursday is scheduled to hear oral arguments in the lawsuit over Arkansas' voter ID law, which took effect in January. With a U.S. Senate race that could determine which party controls that chamber, how the court rules could have national implications. ...

Under the law, which took effect Jan. 1, voters who don't show photo identification are allowed to cast a provisional ballot. That ballot would be counted only if they provide an ID to county election officials or sign an affidavit stating they are indigent or have a religious objection to being photographed by noon Monday following the election. Absentee voters are required to include a copy of their ID — or some other government document such as a utility bill that shows their name and address — with their ballots, but the law doesn't include a cure period if they don't. ...

It's unclear when the court will issue a ruling in the case, but they face a narrow window before voters start casting ballots for the Nov. 4 election. Early voting for the election is set to begin Oct. 20, and the deadline to register to vote is Oct. 6. ...

Oral arguments are open to the public at the Justice Building near the state Capitol, but there's limited seating. You can also watch a livestream of the arguments online at https://courts.arkansas.gov/courts/supreme-court/oral-argument-videos

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