News

1/25/2015

As brilliant as the [Harvard] students who took this [1964 Louisiana Literacy] test are, none of them passed it. None of them passed because no one can pass. The 1964 Louisiana Literacy Test, like the other literacy tests given to black and poor white voters at the time, did not have a legitimate answer key. Most of the test’s questions seem purposely ambiguous. No matter what was written down, the registrar official would simply say the person’s interpretation of the question was wrong. These literacy tests were devious and instituted to disenfranchise people who had the wrong skin tone or belonged to the wrong social class.                       

Literacy tests and other mechanisms used to disenfranchise citizens were outlawed by the 1965 Voting Rights Act, but the primary purpose of this project is to bring attention to the fact that the sacred right to vote remains threatened. In 2013, the Supreme Court struck down a key part of the Voting Rights Act, empowering Southern states to change their election laws without federal oversight. Eight states have established strict voter ID laws that disproportionately prevent people of color and the poor from voting. Just last month, the Supreme Court upheld Texas’ voter ID law, which potentially disenfranchised as many as 600,000 people in the 2014 midterm elections alone. ...

Another study by the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice at Harvard Law School has found that the costs related to obtaining an ID to vote can range from $75 to $125, a sum that disproportionately burdens minority and working class voters. This is a cost that, when adjusted for inflation, is significantly higher than the poll tax that was explicitly established to prevent blacks and working class whites from voting. To put it simply, voter fraud is an imaginary problem being used to justify discrimination by another name.

We created this project because we want everyone to understand that the right to vote has never been guaranteed and should never be taken for granted.

1/23/2015

Today is the 51st anniversary of the ratification of the 24th Amendment, which prohibited the practice of poll taxes in federal elections. South Dakota's vote on this date in 1964 gave the amendment the 38 states it needed for ratification. Two years later, the Supreme Court's opinion in Harper v. Virginia Board of Elections used equal protection to extend the ban to non-federal elections. [Five states, including Virginia, ratified the amendment post-1964.]

These days, the notion of being required to pay a tax in order to cast a ballot seems anachronistic, but time has done nothing to dispel the arguments about whether voting barriers still exist - and whether they constitute a "poll tax".

The most obvious example is the continuing battle over voter ID, where opponents claim that the cost to obtain an ID - either directly or in the cost of supporting documents required to obtain a "free" ID - is tantamount to a poll tax. This argument has actually been quite persuasive, to the point where it is now standard practice for states requiring voter ID to provide it free of charge to voters who lack it. Indeed, the drive to ensure that cost is not a barrier is the new front in the war over ID, with plaintiffs arguing that difficulties in obtaining "free" ID should prevent or delay its implementation.

1/16/2015

The movie “Selma” brings back bittersweet memories of my experiences in Selma, Alabama, the year after the protests that triggered passage of the Voting Rights Act. Sadly, the movie served as a reminder that the battle at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in 1965 continues today in North Carolina and in other states that have voter ID laws. …

Two years ago…[w]e worked two precincts contacting households that had voted in the past. In each precinct, we found three or four persons out of about 50 contacted who said they could not vote because they didn’t have the ID needed. They had voted before, but their right to vote had been stripped from them.

With 2,726 voting precincts in North Carolina, the loss of three or four votes per precinct can make the difference between winning and losing in a close election.

Voter ID laws are a barrier to voting for those on the margins of society – people who never had enough money to own a car or open a bank account and so don’t have driver’s licenses or ID cards; who don’t have a birth certificate, never had a need for one, don’t know how to get one and, if they did, wouldn’t have the money to buy one. Many of these people are African-Americans.

Draw your own conclusion whether voter ID laws are racist. But voter ID laws clearly take away a right gained only at the cost of the suffering and death of Americans.

The tactics to keep people from voting have changed in 50 years, but the effect is the same. That’s why a new generation of Americans must continue the battle started at the Edmund Pettus Bridge.

1/14/2015

A Broken Arrow [Oklahoma] state senator wants to change the state’s voter I.D. law after his elderly and veteran constituents were turned away from the polls for not having photo I.D. that was good enough to get a ballot.

State Senator Nathan Dahm, R- Broken Arrow, tells FOX23 that he has filed a bill to be considered by the state legislature this coming session that would allow all Oklahomans to use expired driver’s licenses and passports as a valid form of photo I.D. when they go out to vote. ...

"I think it would open the opportunity for those elderly people who are not renewing their passports or driver's licenses because they aren't driving anymore," Dahm said about his proposed bill.

Dahm said he supports voter I.D., but he feels the way the law is currently written is punishing those who want exercise their right to vote, especially some residents who've fought for that right.

He said he doesn't believe using expired driver's licenses and passports would open the door to fraud because if someone was trying to commit a fraudulent act with a fake license, they would not use an expiration date that has already passed.

1/14/2015

Ms. Unger is the Founder, President and CEO of VoteRiders, a non-partisan, 501(c)(3) non-profit organization with a single mission: making sure all eligible citizens have the documents they need in order to vote.

After the 2010 midterm elections state after state began tightening voting restrictions. Among the most frequent changes were new laws requiring voters to show a government-issued photo ID at the polls. ...

To help voters navigate the bureaucratic maze, VoteRiders works with local organizations. These grassroots groups, called Partner Organizations, reach out to voters in a variety of ways: phone banks, door-to-door canvassing, educational events.

VoteRiders supports these Partner Organizations with a wide range of free resources. They offer online training for volunteers, downloadable posters and flyers to publicize events and detailed guides and questionnaires to explain their state's ID requirements. ...

VoteRiders also recruits pro bono lawyers, called Attorney Voter Advocates, who help voters struggling to get a required ID. Attorney Voter Advocates offer the kind of legal assistance many low-income voters need, but could never afford.

One important service Attorney Voter Advocates can offer: most states that require an applicant to submit a photo ID to get a copy of their vital documents will accept the ID of an attorney representing them instead. ...

“Nobody is disputing the importance of the integrity of elections,” Unger told the Daily Pennsylvanian in 2013,“but basically what these states have done is impose an unfunded mandate on eligible, qualified American citizens without giving these citizens the assistance they need.” ...

Local groups interested in setting up Voter ID clinics, lawyers interested in becoming Attorney Voter Advocates and volunteers willing to train as Voter Advocates are all welcome to contact VoteRiders.

1/12/2015

Nebraska could be the next state to impose a voter ID law.

Two different ID bills have already been introduced already this year, and voting rights advocates have said they’re ready to go to court if either measure passes.

One bill, proposed by state Sen. Tyson Larson, is similar to some of the stricter ID laws passed by other states: It requires in-person voters to show a non-expired photo ID issued by the state or federal government. The address on the ID must match a voter’s current address. ...

Another bill, sponsored by state Sen. Paul Schumacher, allows a similar range of IDs but would let those without identification vote, as long as they agreed to have their picture taken at the polls as a safeguard against fraud, or were recognized by poll-workers.

Though Schumacher’s bill is less restrictive, both of its exemptions are problematic. Civil liberties groups have raised concerns about picture-taking requirements at the polls, which may intimidate some voters. And voting rights groups also have criticized laws that favor voters who are recognized by poll workers, like Alabama’s, since the result can be to discriminate against racial minorities and the poor. ...

No solid information exists on how many Nebraska voters lack the kind of ID that would be needed, and neither bill requires that the state conduct a study of the issue. But Bri McLarty of Nebraskans for Civic Reform (NCR), which opposes ID laws, said the number is certainly above 112,000. That’s the number of registered voters who the state said last year have changed their address and not yet updated their information.

And a study conducted last year by NCR and submitted to the legislature found that one in four of the people served by the Center for People in Need, a non-profit serving low-income Nebraskans, wouldn’t be able to vote under a bill similar to Larson’s.

1/7/2015

Civil rights advocates asked the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday to reverse a decision upholding Wisconsin's voter photo identification law, arguing the case raises questions of national importance about limits on a state's ability to restrict voting.

The American Civil Liberties Union and allied groups argued in their filing that the Wisconsin case offers an "ideal vehicle" to settle the legal debate over voter ID laws.

They said 17 states have adopted voter identification laws since the high court upheld Indiana's law in 2008. They contend that arguments by supporters of such laws that they help prevent voter fraud is a pretext. The measures don't serve any legitimate state interest and curtail the rights of black and Hispanic voters who lack ID, opponents say. What's more, legal challenges moving back and forth between state and federal courts have created confusion, they argued.

"Unless this court acts now, the court likely will continue to be put in the untenable position of refereeing voter ID disputes on an emergency basis on the eve of elections every two years," the ACLU's attorneys argued. "Given the stakes for so many voters across the country, and the uncertainty among lower courts … this court should grant (review)." ...

Republican legislators passed Wisconsin's law in 2011. It requires all voters to show photo identification at the polls. Voters who lack photo IDs can obtain them at a state Division of Motor Vehicles office for free but must supply documents such as birth certificate that verify their identity.

The ACLU and its allies filed a federal lawsuit challenging the law in December 2011. The case ended up before the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled in October the law was valid.

The civil rights groups immediately won a stay from the Supreme Court preventing the law from taking effect ahead of the Nov. 4 election. The justices gave the groups 90 days to file a formal petition asking them to review the case. That window was set to close on Thursday.

The Supreme Court faces no deadlines for deciding whether to take a case and isn't expected to even consider the request before late winter. If the justices take the case, they almost certainly wouldn't hear it until the court's next term begins in October.

12/30/2014

Iowa’s incoming Secretary of State expects a new online voter registration program to be ready by the time Iowans vote on the next president.

That program likely will require state-issued photo identification. ...

The vast majority of Iowans — 94 percent, according to the Secretary of State’s office — have the kind of photo identification that will be required to register online. [Incoming Secretary of State Paul] Pate said he expects to establish the program for those residents, then find ways to create access for others. ...

Iowans still may register to vote in person at county elections offices. The new online program is purely supplemental.

The online program is only for residents to register to vote. Voting itself cannot be done online and does not require photo identification.

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