Harris County rejected more voter registration applications than any other Texas county and the county’s tax assessor-collector systematically targeted Hispanics and African-Americans in voting-roll purges from 2009 to 2012, the League of United Latin American Citizens and seven citizens charged in a federal lawsuit filed on Thursday. The suit alleges the county has violated the Voting Rights Act, the National Voter Registration Act and the plaintiffs’ constitutional rights. It also claims that Tax Assessor-Collector Don Sumners has not followed the terms of a 2009 settlement of a previous lawsuit the Democratic Party filed against the county’s voter registration procedures. “Sumners targets the Latino and black communities in his voter-purging by ZIP code,” said San Antonio attorney Luis Roberto Vera Jr., LULAC’S national general counsel.
When voting system activists in the U.S. managed to get many paperless electronic voting machines replaced a few years ago with optical-scan machines that use paper ballots, some believed elections would become more transparent and verifiable. But a spate of problems with optical-scan machines used in elections across the country have shown that the systems are just as much at risk of dropping ballots and votes as touchscreen voting machines, either due to intentional manipulation or unintentional human error. A new election system promises to resolve that issue by giving election officials the ability to independently and swiftly audit the performance of their optical-scan machines.
State officials in Ohio on Tuesday asked the Supreme Court for permission to close the voting booths to early voters on the weekend prior to election day on November 6, for all but overseas military voters. The Sixth Circuit Court, in a ruling sought by President Obama’s campaign and by the Democratic Party, ruled that excluding non-military voters from casting their ballots on the Saturday, Sunday, and Monday just before election day would unconstitutionally deny the opportunity to vote to citizens who have lower incomes and are less educated. The dispute fits into a nationwide pattern in which state officials have moved to narrow voting opportunities, with Republicans arguing that those steps were needed to prevent fraud and to allow election officials to conduct elections in an orderly way, and with Democrats claiming that the efforts are designed to reduce voting by groups that are assumed to favor Democratic candidates. Ohioans have already started early voting, with crowds seeking to do so on the first days of this form of “absentee” balloting. Although conducted under absentee voting laws, the early voting at issue actually occurs in person.
Ohio asked the Supreme Court on Tuesday to overturn a federal appeals court’s ruling that the state must allow all voters to cast ballots on the weekend before the election, not just those in the military. A panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit sided with state Democrats and President Obama’s reelection campaign last week and said the state had not shown why in-person voting during the Saturday-Monday period should be offered to only one group of voters. Ohio Secretary of State Jon A. Husted (R) called that an “unprecedented intrusion” by federal courts. “We are asking the Supreme Court to step in and allow Ohioans to run Ohio elections,” he said in a statement.
Obama campaign general counsel Bob Bauer criticized Husted for choosing to “extend the litigation.” “It is a shame that the secretary would not have committed his office’s energy instead to implementing the outstanding court orders and administering the orderly and effective early voting process that has served Ohio voters so well since 2005,” Bauer said. In past elections, it has been up to individual Ohio counties whether to offer voting on the weekend before the election. The state’s Republican leadership changed that this year, saying that only military members should be allowed to vote then. Ohio officials said that local election boards needed the weekend to prepare for Election Day, but that military voters deserve special treatment because they can be deployed at any time. The appeals court, however, said that local jurisdictions do not have to offer voting on the weekend, but that if they do, it must be open to all.
In the last six months, the disclosure rules covering the sources of money spent on elections have changed dramatically — twice. Despite those changes, one thing has stayed the same: moneyed interests have remained able to spend tens of millions of dollars on elections without having to publicly reveal who is doing the spending. In March, a federal court ruled that Federal Elections Commission disclosure regulations were too weak, in violation of Congress’s instructions to the agency. The court said that any group (or individual) that runs a type of advertisement called “electioneering communications” must publicly disclose the identities of its donors. These are the so-called “issue ads” run shortly before an election that mention a candidate but stop short of telling the audience to vote for or against the candidate. In response to the ruling, organizations switched to a different type of advertisement called “independent expenditures” — ads that expressly call for a viewer to vote for or against the targeted candidate. Prior to this ruling, many groups had avoided independent expenditures for tax reasons, but they were willing to face the tax consequences once it became the only way to hide their donors from the public.
While the 2002 and 2004 elections were certainly watched following the issues in Florida in 2000 and the implementation of the Help America Vote Act of 2002 this year could prove to be under the microscope more than any in the past. Not only will all eyes being the administration of elections this year because of the multitude of new laws and regulations governing how voters cast their ballots, but also because anyone on social media becomes a de facto “reporter.” With a little more than a month to go till Election Day 2012, elections officials and campaigns are hard at working making sure everyone is properly registered and that those who want a ballot will get a ballot. But they aren’t alone. In newsrooms across the country editors and reporters are plotting their November 6 course of action as well. Even for those of us who cover elections 24/7/365 there is planning to be done.
Michigan’s Secretary of State is joining a growing trend among state elections officials: Declare that thousands of non-citizens are registered to vote and then use those allegations to justify efforts that confuse, intimidate, and in some cases purge eligible voters on the eve of the election. But similar claims about ineligible voters in Florida and Colorado were debunked within a matter of weeks after being publicly disclosed. So why is Sec. Ruth Johnson jumping on the bandwagon, saying there are 4,000 non-citizens registered to vote? Is there something different about Michigan? Almost certainly not. To quickly recap: In Florida it was initially asserted that as many as 180,000 potential non-citizens were registered to vote. Claims of registered non-citizens in Colorado were smaller, but still in the thousands — over 11,000. But as time went by, these lists decreased in size. In Florida, 180,000 morphed into 2,600 and later into 198, while in the Centennial state 11,000 shrunk to 3,900 and then to 141. The final numbers represent thousandths of a percent of all registered voters in each state. But Michigan is a different state. Perhaps Johnson has learned from these fiascos and developed a more reliable and efficient system for identifying the extremely small percentage of non-citizens who may be on the rolls? Unfortunately, no.