News

10/21/2014

Because of [Arizona] state law, every ballot cast because of the new bifurcated voting system, cost taxpayers $14,867. State law says a voter can't vote in state elections until or unless they can prove they are a United States citizen.

The federal registration form does not require proof of citizenship. It asks only that the person swear upon penalty of perjury that they are indeed a US citizen.

For the feds, that's enough. For the state, it's not. However, the federal courts have ruled that the voters who use the federal form will be allowed to vote for federal offices even if they are barred from voting for state and local officials.

So, during the primary election, Pima County election's officials had to print separate ballots for those who used the federal form to register. That turned out to be for five different parties even if there were no candidates for a federal office.

And it had to print enough to deliver to 288 precincts. The final cost for all of those ballots was $104,068. Seven voters used the ballots, four Republicans and three Democrats.

That breaks down to $14,867 per vote.

10/20/2014

[V]oter ID laws don’t address what appears to be a more common source of voter fraud: mail-in absentee ballots.

A FRONTLINE analysis of voting laws nationwide found that only six of the 31 states that require ID at the polls apply those standards to absentee voters, who are generally whiter and older than in-person voters. And two states with strict photo ID policies for in-person voters — Rhode Island and Georgia — have recently passed bills that allow anyone to mail in a ballot.

Voter fraud generally rarely happens. When it does, election law experts say it happens more often through mail-in ballots than people impersonating eligible voters at the polls. An analysis by News21, a journalism project at Arizona State University, found 28 cases of voter fraud convictions since 2000. Of those, 14 percent involved absentee ballot fraud. Voter impersonation, the form of fraud that voter ID laws are designed to prevent, made up only 3.6 percent of those cases. (Other types included double voting, the most common form, at 25 percent, and felons voting when they were prohibited from doing so. But neither of those would be prevented by voter ID laws, either.) ...

[M]ost states — nine — of the 16 that have passed stricter voter ID laws since 2010 only allow voters to mail in ballots if they have an excuse, such as an illness, disability or old age.

Who Is Impacted by Voter ID Laws?

Laws that require photo ID at the polls vary, but the strictest laws limit the forms of acceptable documentation to only a handful of cards. For example, in Texas, voters must show one of seven forms of state or federal-issue photo ID, with a valid expiration date: a driver’s license, a personal ID card issued by the state, a concealed handgun license, a military ID, citizenship certificate or a passport. The name on the ID must exactly match the one on the voter rolls.

African-Americans and Latinos are more likely to lack one of these qualifying IDs, according to several estimates. Even when the state offers a free photo ID, these voters, who are disproportionately low-income, may not be able to procure the underlying documents, such as a birth certificate, to obtain one. ...

And new research from the Government Accountability Office, an independent agency that prepares reports for members of Congress, suggests that voter ID laws are having an impact at the polls. Turnout dropped among both young people and African-Americans in Kansas and Tennessee after new voter ID requirements took effect in 2012, the study found.

10/20/2014

Alexis de Tocqueville famously observed in 1835, “Scarcely any political question arises in the United States that is not resolved, sooner or later, into a judicial question.” That certainly describes the grand struggle over voting rights now unfolding in courtrooms across the country. And when it comes to who can vote and when, a clear message is hard to discern. In recent days, rulings, appeals and motions have pinballed around the system, with the U.S. Supreme Court answering emergency pleas, allowing some changes to take effect and temporarily blocking others, while key appeals head their way. The latest lurch: In a decision emailed out at 5 a.m. Saturday morning, the justices let Texas implement its controversial voter ID law, the nation’s strictest, just two days before early voting begins in the state.

Amid the confusion, an important new element has emerged. The breakthrough? Facts. Two powerful judicial opinions—one from a Texas trial judge, another from an esteemed appeals court jurist—and a landmark government study have shed new light on the costs and consequences of restrictive voting laws. They answer some key questions: Are these laws malevolent? (In Texas, at least, yes.) Do they provide a benefit that outweighs their cost? (No.) Do they suppress the vote? (Alarmingly, it seems, yes.) And can we prevent fraud without disenfranchising Americans? (Yes, absolutely.)

In a zone foggy with legal rhetoric, these three documents will—and should—live on beyond the 2014 election cycle. They might even help shape a new legal regime to protect voters while protecting against fraud. They’re worth a close read.

10/19/2014

[E]very so often court watchers are reminded that these justices are working very hard behind the scenes by reading briefs, exchanging memos, and debating outcomes. Case in point: The justices issued an order and a dissent in a Texas voting rights case at 5 a.m. Saturday morning. Supreme Court reporters stood by all night for the ruling. The holdup apparently was Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s six-page dissent, joined by Justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor.

The Supreme Court allowed Texas to use its voter ID law in the upcoming election, even though a federal court decided a few weeks ago that Texas’ law violated both the Constitution and the Voting Rights Act, and that Texas engaged in intentional racial discrimination in voting. ...

The Supreme Court’s order was consistent with some of its other recent orders indicating that lower courts should not change the rules of running an election shortly before voting begins. I have dubbed this rule the “Purcell Principle,” for a 2006 Supreme Court case so concluding.

The court had to decide the emergency request very quickly—early voting begins in Texas on Monday morning—but Justice Ginsburg did not need to write her extensive dissent. ...

Justice Ginsburg pushed back against the Purcell Principle. Sure, it is important to make sure that courts do not change election rules at the last minute, but there were other issues at stake in deciding on the Texas stay. For example, the trial court—after a full trial on the merits—found that Texas was intentionally discriminating against minority voters. It appears to be unprecedented to let a law that was deemed racially discriminatory go into effect simply to avoid the risk of voter confusion and election administration inefficiency. ...

While the Supreme Court’s vote on the stay order in the Texas case does not tell us for sure how things will go when the court gets to the constitutional merits of the challenge, the five conservative justices on the Supreme Court are likely to let Texas put its ID law in place because of their general view of the scope of the Constitution and the Voting Rights Act. No doubt Justice Ginsburg knows this.

But she’s not going down without a fight, and if this dissent stands for anything, it’s for the proposition that even if the court opts to erode the right to vote by way of unsigned orders at dawn, Ruth Bader Ginsburg will not let it be invisible to the rest of us.

10/19/2014

Strange things show up in the footnotes of federal court rulings.

Consider this one in a ruling by a federal judge in Corpus Christi, Tex., that the state’s voter photo ID law is unconstitutional: “The Texas Legislature did not vote to ratify the 24th Amendment’s abolition of the poll tax until the 2009 legislative session,” and “the process has not been completed and the measure last went to the Secretary of State.”

That came up early in an excoriating 147-page ruling from United States District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos that the state’s voter photo ID law, also known as Senate Bill 14, “creates an unconstitutional burden on the right to vote, has an impermissible discriminatory effect against Hispanics and African-Americans, and was imposed with an unconstitutional discriminatory purpose. The court further holds that SB 14 constitutes an unconstitutional poll tax.”

Civil and voting rights history echoes throughout the ruling. The first footnote cites Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. The poll tax prohibition, amended into the Constitution in 1964, shows up a few pages later in a discussion of the state’s history of blocking access to elections.

The court did not mention that the state’s ratification of the 24th Amendment was ceremonial. The amendment was initially ratified by 38 states, not including Texas. In the years since, Virginia, North Carolina, Alabama and Texas have added their names to the roster.

Mississippi rejected the amendment, and seven other states — most in the South — have never ratified it.

The Texas resolution, passed by both houses in 2009 without any objections, said in part: “The Legislature of the State of Texas, as a symbolic gesture, hereby post-ratifies Amendment XXIV to the Constitution of the United States.”

But the judge’s footnote, taken with the rest of her opinion, illustrates the problem Texas faces with at least some federal courts when it comes to voters and elections: It lacks credibility.

10/18/2014

The Supreme Court on Saturday allowed Texas to use its strict voter identification law in the November election. The court’s order, issued just after 5 a.m., was unsigned and contained no reasoning.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg issued a six-page dissent saying the court’s action “risks denying the right to vote to hundreds of thousands of eligible voters.”

Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan joined the dissent.

The law, enacted in 2011, requires voters seeking to cast their ballots at the polls to present photo identification like a Texas driver’s or gun license, a military ID or a passport. ...

Texans who lack a required form of identification cannot easily obtain it, Justice Ginsburg wrote. “More than 400,000 eligible voters face round-trip travel times of three hours or more to the nearest” government office issuing IDs, she wrote, and they must generally present a certified birth certificate to get one. ...

The Supreme’s Court’s order represented the fourth time the court has interceded in the upcoming election in the last three weeks.  ...

The theme that did seem to run through the orders was a reluctance to disturb the status quo immediately before an election.

Justice Ginsburg said the Supreme Court’s order Saturday morning was different from the ones issued concerning elections in Ohio and North Carolina. “Neither application involved, as this case does,” she wrote, “a permanent injunction following a full trial and resting on an extensive record from which the district-court found ballot-access discrimination by the state.”

10/17/2014

The poll tax is looking pretty tempting in the rear-view mirror. It was $1.50 in 1964, when the 24th Amendment outlawed it as a requirement for voting in federal elections. Adjusted for inflation, the tax would be less than $12 today. That makes it a lot cheaper — and infinitely easier — than getting hold of exactly the right documentation to cast a ballot under some state laws.

The recent wave of rulings and opinions on voter ID laws makes for depressing, at times infuriating, reading. There is the parade of “practical obstacles” summarized by U.S. District Judge Lynn Adelman, writing on the Wisconsin law. Trying to learn what you need, collecting the documents, getting to and standing on line at one or more state offices that are open only during business hours, and perhaps having to deal with multiple other state and federal agencies to address discrepancies — just skimming the list will make your stomach clench and your head ache. It’s a major undertaking for a high-income, highly educated person with flexible work hours and access to public officials. It’s prohibitive in multiple ways for others. ...

There is the barrier of cost, addressed in an opinion on the Wisconsin law by Judge Richard Posner, a conservative named by Ronald Reagan to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. He cited a Harvard Law School report that found the cost of documentation, travel and waiting time to get an ID to be $75 to $175. That’s 50 to 100 times more than that $1.50 poll tax, and all you’d have to do is pay at the polling station before voting.

10/16/2014

Texans can obtain certificates at driver’s license offices during regular business hours throughout the year, as well as at mobile station locations, which can be found online at votetexas.gov/election-identification-certificate-mobile-stations. Certificates can also be obtained at alternate approved locations in select counties, which can be found at www.dps.texas.gov/DriverLicense/documents/EICCountyrun.pdf. ...

To qualify for a certificate, which is free and valid for six years, an applicant must bring documentation to verify U.S. citizenship and identity, be eligible to vote in Texas, be a Texas resident and be 17 years and 10 months or older.

The certificate receipt people receive will include their photo and can be used for voting until the permanent card is delivered by mail.

For more information on the requirements, exemptions and process for obtaining a certificate, visit www.txdps.state.tx.us/DriverLicense/electionID.htm.

The 2014 general election in Texas is Nov. 4, with early voting beginning Monday and continuing through Oct. 31.

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