Calling it “the civil rights cause of the 21st Century,” U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Orlando, has sponsored a bill that would restore voting rights to more than a million Floridians. The bill, dubbed the No One Can Take Away Your Right to Vote Act, would guarantee that ex-convicts have the right to vote after they leave prison, though it excludes anyone convicted of murder, manslaughter or a sex crime. Florida, which is one of only three states in which all felons lose the right to vote forever unless it’s restored by the state, has more than 1.5 million citizens unable to vote. That’s about ten percent of the state’s voting age population.
The Voting News
The 45-mile drive from Union Springs, seat of Bullock County, Alabama, to Montgomery, the state capital, might not seem very arduous. But for some locals, the distance itself is not the main obstacle. Going to Montgomery, as some now must to get a driver’s licence, means the best part of a day off work for two people, the test-sitter and his chauffeur (there is no public transport). That is a stretch for employees in inflexible, minimum-wage jobs—and there are lots of them in Union Springs, a tidy town in which the missing letters on the shuttered department store’s façade betray a quiet decline, surrounded by the sort of spacious but dilapidated poverty characteristic of Alabama’s Black Belt. To some, this trek is not just an inconvenience but a scandal. The state’s voters must now show one of several eligible photo-IDs to cast a ballot, of which driving licences are the most common kind. Last year, supposedly to save money, the issuing office in Union Springs, formerly open for a day each week, was closed, along with others in mostly black, Democratic-leaning counties. After an outcry, the service was reinstated for a day per month; at other times, applicants head to Montgomery. For James Poe, a funeral-home director and head of the NAACP in Bullock County, the combination of a new voter-ID law and reduced hours is “insanity”. Such impediments may not be as flagrant as when, as a young man in Union Springs, he had to interpret the constitution in order to vote, but, he thinks, they are obnoxious all the same.
A federal judge has set an Aug. 18 hearing date in a lawsuit filed by a Bernie Sanders supporter seeking to extend California’s voter registration deadline ahead of the primary election, meaning the plaintiffs likely won’t get a hearing before the state’s June 7 primary. Attorney William Simpich argued in the filing that the process for unaffiliated voters to get a presidential primary ballot – particularly those seeking to cast ballots in the Democratic primary contest between Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton – was too confusing and would leave many voters disenfranchised. He said at least two counties failed to notify some voters of their right to request a ballot to vote in the Democratic, Libertarian or American Independent Party contests.
Republican legislators Wednesday amplified their claims that Secretary of the State Denise Merrill bypassed the General Assembly by entering an agreement with the Department of Motor Vehicles for a “streamlined motor voter system” to automatically register citizens to vote when they go to the DMV to obtain or renew a driver’s license. At a press conference in the Legislative Office Building, Senate GOP Leader Len Fasano of North Haven said that after Merrill failed to get the legislature this year to approve a bill to establish the automatic motor voter registration system, she “went behind the backs” of lawmakers to negotiate a “memorandum of understanding” to implement the new system administratively. Merrill and the DMV defended the agreement later Wednesday. Under the new “automatic motor voter system,” DMV customers would be registered to vote starting in 2018 unless they decline by choosing to opt out. Under the current motor voter program that’s existed for two decades, DMV customers are registered to vote only if they choose that option.
Georgia: Voting glitch was found in February, but no one told Fulton County | Atlanta Journal Constitution
Fulton County officials got caught by surprise when a data glitch caused some voters to cast the wrong ballot in Tuesday’s primary. Turns out, Georgia officials and state Democrats knew of the problem since February but no one told the county until Election Day. According to emails shared with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, officials with the Democratic Party of Georgia emailed the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office on Feb. 17 after noticing voter maps for House District 59 and House District 60 — seats held by two Democrats on the south end of Atlanta that stretch into East Point — were coded incorrectly, putting some voters in the wrong district. That means some voters may have received the wrong ballots and voted in the wrong race. A state staffer at the time replied in an attempt to confirm which county the districts were in. No changes were made, and no one contacted Fulton County. Georgia Democrats again reached out to the state about the problem last week after noticing it had not been corrected. But state officials did not say anything to Fulton officials until Tuesday afternoon, after voting was well underway.
While giving him two more weeks to comply, a federal judge let Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach know that she would brook no further delays in carrying out her order to restore 18,000 Kansas residents to the voter rolls. In a harshly worded order Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson rejected Kobach’s claim that compliance with the court’s May 17 order would cause voter confusion and lead to “irreparable harm.” Kobach did not return a call seeking comment. Robinson’s latest ruling came in a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union and the League of Women Voters of Kansas on behalf of several individual plaintiffs challenging Kansas’ policy of requiring people who register to vote at DMV offices to provide proof of citizenship.
Kentucky: Recanvass of Democratic Primary votes confirms Hillary Clinton wins Kentucky | Louisville Courier-Journal
Hillary Clinton remains the winner of Kentucky’s Democratic presidential primary after Thursday’s recanvass of votes. “The recanvass results that we received today are the same as those certified totals that my office received on Friday. The difference between Hillary Clinton and Sen. (Bernie) Sanders: 1,911 votes,” Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes announced Thursday afternoon at the State Capitol. Unofficial vote totals reported by the state Board of Elections on the night of the May 17 primary gave Clinton a 1,924-vote lead over Sanders, a U.S. senator from Vermont. But those totals changed slightly on Friday – reducing the margin to 1,911 votes – after each county reported its certified results to Grimes’ office later in the week. Grimes said the recanvass resulted in no change from those certified results she had in hand as of Friday: 212,534 votes for Clinton, and 210,623 votes for Sanders. “The recanvass vote totals, which were submitted to my office today will become the official vote totals that the State Board of Elections will certify on May 31,” Grimes said.
Montana: Judge issues stay reinstating campaign contribution limits from political parties | Associated Press
A federal judge on Thursday put back into place limits on what Montana’s political parties can give to campaigns. State attorneys on Tuesday argued that U.S. District Court Judge Charles Lovell should issue a stay over part of his own order from last week that removed contribution limits for the political party committees. In his order May 17, Lovell said the contribution limits were too low and unconstitutional, but left what happened next up to Attorney General Tim Fox. Commissioner of Political Practices Jonathan Motl interpreted Lovell’s order as ending limits set by a 1994 initiative and said he was required to reinstate the limits that were in place before then, adjusted for inflation. That left the limits for contributions from individuals and political action committees significantly higher, especially for PACs.
The state of Ohio filed a federal court appeal on Thursday seeking to restore a Republican-backed limit on early voting and accelerated voter-registration measures that were seen by civil rights groups as boosting minority turnout. U.S. District Judge Michael Watson in Columbus ruled on Tuesday that Ohio violated voters’ rights by reducing the period that ballots could be cast before an election to four weeks from five weeks. Watson’s decision also struck down Ohio’s elimination of a seven-day window during which residents could both register to vote and cast their ballots all in the same week – a period known as “Golden Week.”
Editorials: The United States has a moral obligation to give Puerto Rico the right to vote | Noah Berlatzsky/Quartz
Voting rights has become an increasingly partisan issue. In Wisconsin, new voter ID laws led to brutal lines at the polls in urban areas—a development designed, even according to Republicans themselves, to suppress Democratic turnout. In Virginia at the end of April, governor Terry McAuliffe re-enfranchised all felons who had finished parole. In theory, the move returned the vote to 200,000 people. This was a refutation of a policy originally designed to explicitly deny black people the vote. It was also, potentially, a way to give more votes to more minority and poor voters, and tip a narrowly balanced purple state more Democratic in the US presidential election. The focus on voter IDs and felon disenfranchisement—while important—has inadvertently obscured other voting rights issues. Every year, with little comment, the United States denies millions of people representation in the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, and other territories. Washington, DC, has a population of over 650,000 people. That makes it larger than the states of Vermont or Wyoming, and yet it has no voting representatives in either the Senate or the House of Representatives. Puerto Rico has a population of around 3.5 million people, which makes it more populous than states like Nevada, Iowa, and Arkansas. But not only do Puerto Ricans lack Congressional representation, they also cannot vote in presidential elections (unlike residents of DC, who are entitled to three votes in the Electoral College).