News

8/29/2014

Dozens of lawyers will gather in a federal courtroom in Corpus Christi, Texas, on Tuesday for the start of a new challenge to the state's controversial voter ID law.

The trial is expected to last two to three weeks, but it's unlikely to be the end of what's already been a long, convoluted journey for the Texas law — and many others like it. ...

It pits the U.S. Department of Justice, the NAACP, the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, numerous Texas voters and others against the state. The groups argue that the law discriminates against black and Latino voters, because they're less likely to have the required photo ID, which includes things such as a valid driver's license, passport or concealed handgun license.

They'll also argue that these voters are more likely to be poor, which means additional burdens. Attorneys for the groups say they'll cite the cost of documents needed to get the ID, such as a birth certificate, and the fact that many low-income voters have a hard time getting off work to travel long distances to state offices where the ID is available.

8/29/2014

Voter ID requirements and other new voting restrictions not only pose unique barriers to African-American, Latino and low-income voters, they say, but also disproportionately affect students and youth, despite the 26th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that declares the right to vote "shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any state on account of age."

Next week, a federal court will begin hearings over a lawsuit filed to block Texas' voter ID bill, which went into effect in 2013. Late last year, the Texas League of Young Voters, represented by the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, joined the U.S. Justice Department in suing Texas over the bill, which allows military IDs and concealed handgun licenses to be shown at the polls -- but not student photo ID cards.

In Texas and other states, lawmakers have typically justified leaving student IDs off the list of accepted forms of voting identification on the grounds that students frequently move so their address may not be current. But students and voting rights advocates counter that the purpose of voter ID laws has never been to verify a voter's address -- it's to confirm their identity, as the photo will ostensibly prove that the voter is truly who he or she claims to be.

8/28/2014

She's voted in every election for nearly 70 years, until this year.

"As far as I knew I needed to re-register and I needed a Kansas driver's license," said Elizabeth Gray of Winfield. "That's what I thought."

Gray says confusion over the state's Voter ID Law and problems with the DMV not accepting her paperwork kept her at home<icon1.png> during the August primaries.

From those who simply don't have a birth certificate because they were born before it was common to issue one to others who misunderstand what kind of identification they need to vote, some say there's still confusion about Kansas's Voter ID Law.

"I've always voted," said Gray. She's lived all over the country but says she's never had this much trouble making her voice heard at the polls.

"And it really upset me," she laughed. "I believe it's our duty to vote. We can't, we don't have any right to complain if we don't vote."

The August primaries were the first election Gray has missed since she was eligible to vote. And it's all because she was trying to comply with state law.

"I agree. We do need ID to vote. I'm all for it," she said. "I have stacks of ID and they won't take it. Now that's ridiculous."

8/28/2014

One of the gestures toward states’ rights that the Founders made in writing the Constitution was to give the states a primary role in deciding who gets to vote – not only in state and local elections, but also in federal elections. But, to protect national interests of the new government they were setting up, the Founders also gave Congress a veto power in this area.   It has never been quite clear how the two provisions were supposed to work together, instead of in conflict, and that is at the heart of a new controversy over who controls the right to vote.

The controversy arises at the intersection of two recent trends in the management of elections. First, a number of states, out of a fear of voter fraud (especially, a suspicion that non-citizens who are illegally in this country are voting), have been imposing tight new ID requirements to ensure that only citizens get to vote. Second, Congress and a federal election management agency have been proceeding, under a 1993 law, to try to ensure that barriers to registration are eased so that more people get to go to the polls.

Those contrasting trends have been made more difficult to sort out, as a constitutional matter, because the Supreme Court in a major ruling last year gave guidance that points in two directions: buttressing federal power to try to make registration requirements uniform, but virtually inviting states to sue to try to get their way in enforcing their own registration rules. ...

In passing the 1993 Act, Congress had considered, but rejected, a proposal to add a voter ID requirement to the conditions for registering to vote in federal elections.

8/27/2014

A Kansas board on Wednesday approved a 92-year-old woman's voter registration after she and her daughter presented copies of census records and a page from a battered family Bible to show that she is U.S. citizen.

Evelyn Howard, of Shawnee, went before the State Election Board because she has no birth certificate. Daughter Marilyn Hopkins said her mother was born in a midwife's home in northern Minnesota in February 1922.

Kansas requires new voters to provide a birth certificate, passport or other proof of citizenship when registering. Howard moved to Kansas from Missouri in 2013 and lives in an assisted living center. She sought to register as a Republican earlier this month.

The proof-of-citizenship law allows prospective voters to appeal to the three-member Election Board, and Howard's is the third case it has considered since the law took effect last year.

8/27/2014

“Just toss it,” says the director of the Mercer County elections about Voter ID information.

Jeff Greenburg is asking post offices, libraries, municipal buildings, state liquor stores, state lawmakers’ offices and political headquarters/candidates – and any other agency or group – to throw out information his office gave them about citizens needing photo identification when they vote.

In January, the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court invalidated Act 18, also called the Voter ID law, after a two-year appeal. Now, voters don’t need to show an ID when voting, unless [per federal law] they are new voters or voting in a new precinct. ...

New voters can use a photo ID, or anything else with their name on it without photo – even a utility bill – to vote. ...

...[R]epresentatives from the American Civil Liberties Union and Common Cause issued a joint letter via email to county election directors to remind agencies and groups to pitch the outdated information before the November election.

8/27/2014

Arizona law requires would-be voters to provide documents proving their citizenship when they register, documents that some eligible citizens don’t have. But the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) requires states to “accept and use” the national voter registration form, commonly known as the “federal form.” And that form’s instructions don’t require documentary proof of citizenship. In [the] Arizona [case], the Supreme Court said that states must register voters who used the federal form, even without these documents. But the Court allowed Arizona to ask the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) to add the state’s proof-of-citizenship requirement to the federal form.

That’s exactly what Arizona, along with Kansas, sought to do. But there’s a problem. The EAC had no sitting commissioners – hasn’t had any for years, in fact, due to gridlock in Congress. With no Commissioners to vote on the states’ requests, they went to federal court to force the commissioner-less EAC to incorporate their proof-of-citizenship requirements on the federal form’s instructions.

While the Supreme Court said that Arizona may ask the EAC to change the federal form, it didn’t say that the EAC must grant the state’s request. The central issue in Kobach is whether and when state requests to add proof-of-citizenship requirements to the federal form must be granted.

8/26/2014

[A] number of...states have passed...laws demanding that citizens produce documentary evidence of citizenship in order to register to vote. On August 25, 2014, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit heard oral arguments in the latest case testing how far such laws can go. ...

This case has far-reaching implications for voter participation in our democracy because it thwarts so many individuals from registering to vote and therefore voting.  In 2004, Arizona was the first state to impose a documentary proof-of-citizenship requirement on its voters, and Kansas passed its proof-of-citizenship law in 2011.  Alabama recently joined them, and Tennessee and Georgia have passed similar laws in recent years. ...

These states insist that requiring such evidence is necessary to ensure that non-citizens do not fraudulently register to vote—something that occurs extremely rarely, if at all.  In fact, these laws prevent numerous eligible voters from registering simply because they do not have an acceptable document showing their U.S. citizenship.  At the same time, documentary proof-of-citizenship requirements do no more to prevent voter registration fraud by non-citizens than the threat of criminal prosecution and deportation has done ever since states began registering voters. ...

Many eligible voters lack documentary evidence of their citizenship sufficient to satisfy state proof-of-citizenship laws. Those most likely to be affected by these laws are students, the elderly, the disabled, low-income individuals, the homeless, and naturalized citizens. Aside from these narrow populations, across the board, Native Americans, African Americans and members of other historically disadvantaged and disenfranchised groups are also less likely to have, or have ready access to, documents that will satisfy documentary proof-of-citizenship requirements.

Birth certificates, the most widely recognized documentary evidence of citizenship, pose a number of problems for many individuals. Many elderly people and those born at outside of hospitals may never have had a birth certificate and may be unable to obtain one, as seen in the case of Ms. Lewis. Young people and many low-income people often do not have a copy of their birth certificates at home. Birth certificates can usually be obtained from vital records offices in the state of the voter’s birth, but a fee typically applies. In addition, given America’s highly mobile work force, many individuals do not live in the city or state in which they were born, and most vital records offices require individuals to appear in person or to already have another form of government-issued identification to order a birth certificate online or by telephone. Even those who do have a birth certificate may not be able to use it to establish their citizenship. For example, many married women do not have a birth certificate that reflects their current name. 

Likewise, both Kansas and Arizona will accept a U.S. Passport, but only about 39% of U.S. citizens nationwide have a passport. Worse, this percentage is much lower among those who lack other forms of proof of citizenship. ...

In addition to making it more difficult for individual citizens to register to vote, documentary proof-of-citizenship laws make voter registration drives by community groups and other organizations virtually impossible. ...

Even if the voter does have an acceptable form of proof of citizenship, she may be unwilling to provide even a copy of her driver’s license, birth certificate, or passport to a stranger, given very legitimate concerns that it will be lost or stolen or that identity theft will occur.

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