The state Democratic Party, mindful of past “shenanigans” at the polls, launched a program Wednesday that they said would protect Marylanders’ right to vote in the Nov. 4 election. Two of the party’s senior leaders, U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin and U.S. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, held a news conference in Baltimore to call attention to the Democrats’ “voter empowerment operation.” Cummings said voters in Maryland face fewer barriers than those in many other states that have adopted voter ID requirements that Democrats believe are designed to suppress the minority vote. But he said Maryland Democrats have to be on guard. ”We cannot remain silent when people are trying to lessen the rights of people to vote,” said Cummings, a veteran Baltimore congressman. With eight days of early voting starting Thursday, the Democrats have set up a hotline — 1-888-678-VOTE — where people can receive information on when and where to vote and report any problems at the polls.
The Voting News
Editorials: Justice Ginsburg’s dissent on Texas’ voter ID law a wake-up call for voting rights | Richard L. Hasen/Dallas Morning News
Every so often, Supreme Court watchers are reminded that these justices are working 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. 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 trial court had barred Texas from using its law this election, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit reversed that decision last week, and the law’s challengers went to the Supreme Court, where, as expected, the court sided with Texas. 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.
Both the Republicans and the Democrats are preparing for some tough races that could go all the way to recounts, by hiring armies of election lawyers. According to Bloomberg Politics, the Republican National Lawyers Association is training upwards of 1,000 lawyers in a series of 50 sessions leading up to election day, to deal with any legal issues that should come up on November 4. This is in addition to the legal teams held by national party committees and the thousands of volunteer lawyers, from advocacy groups and lobbying firms, that are ready to step in if the need arises. The Democrats meanwhile, have a full time staff of trained lawyers focusing on poll access across 23 states. The DNC is requiring that their poll workers use mobile app “incident trackers” to quickly communicate with state party directors about anything that takes place on election day that could effect the way people vote – from broken ballot counters to bad weather, as well as more nefarious instances of potential vote tampering. These apps will then allow party leaders to send out mass emails to registered voters about possible changes in voting places or extended voting hours.
Alameda County elections officials are sending out cards to alert 27,000 voters in Berkeley that they’ve received mail-in ballots imprinted with the incorrect date for next month’s election. The address window in Alameda County mail-in ballots displaying incorrect date for this year’s election. The ballots arrived in voters’ mailboxes last month. In addition to the legend “Official Election Balloting Material,” the ballots’ address window says, “Election Day November 5, 2014.”
Republicans are poised to gain next month from new election laws in almost half the 50 U.S. states, where the additional requirements defy a half-century trend of easing access to the polls. In North Carolina, where Democratic U.S. Senator Kay Hagan’s re-election fight may determine the nation’s balance of power, the state ended same-day registration used more heavily by blacks. A Texas law will affect more than 500,000 voters who lack identification and are disproportionately black and Hispanic, according to a federal judge. In Ohio, lawmakers discontinued a week during which residents could register and vote on the same day, which another judge said burdens lower income and homeless voters. While Republicans say the laws were meant to stop fraud or ease administrative burdens, Democrats and civil-rights groups maintain they’re aimed at damping turnout by blacks, Hispanics and the young, who are their mainstays in an increasingly diverse America. Texas found two instances of in-person voter fraud among more than 62 million votes cast in elections during the preceding 14 years, according to testimony in the federal case. “You’re seeing the use of the election process as a means of clinging to power,” said Justin Levitt, who follows election regulation at the Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. “You have more states passing laws that create hurdles and inconveniences to voting than we have seen go into effect in the last 50 years.”
Early voting began on Monday in Texas and Wisconsin. As a result of recent rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court, Texas residents will need a particular form of identification to vote; Wisconsinites can vote without one. On Saturday, the Supreme Court issued an order, in response to an emergency request from the Justice Department and various civil-rights groups, that permits Texas to enforce a voter-I.D. law that had been struck down twice by lower courts. The Texas law had previously been found to violate Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which prohibits racist discrimination, because it requires that voters in the state obtain one of seven types of identification that are not held by many African-Americans and Hispanics. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote a dissent for the Court, which Justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor signed. Ginsburg called the conditions under which elections in Texas will now take place “the strictest regime in the country.” She argued that the rigidity of Texas’s law distinguished it from Wisconsin’s law. “For example, Wisconsin’s law permits a photo ID from an in-state four-year college and one from a federally recognized Indian tribe,” Ginsburg wrote. “Texas, under Senate Bill 14, accepts neither.” The court’s tone was a contrast from earlier this month, when it stopped Wisconsin from implementing its voter-I.D. law because of the proximity of the upcoming election. The rationale had little, if anything, to do with the plaintiffs’ argument that certain communities of voters—the poor, the elderly, the African-Americans, the Latinos—were being disproportionately burdened in trying to obtain the proper form of identification. There are at least two lines of logic that the Court is using to address the set of voting-rights cases that it has reviewed leading up to November’s election. One, as exhibited in Wisconsin, asserts that, just weeks out, it is too late to implement changes to voting permissions. The other is less straightforward, not least because the Court did not affirmatively defend its decision in the Texas case, and calls into question the way that the right to vote has been interpreted, as well as the role of the Supreme Court in offering clarity.
Editorials: How racism underlies voter ID laws: the academics weigh in | Michael Hiltzik/Los Angeles Times
The voting laws requiring photo IDs inherently racially discriminatory, as Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg maintained in her blistering dissent Saturday morning? A team of politician scientists from Appalachian State, Texas Tech and the University of Florida took on that question for an article just published in Political Research Quarterly (h/t: Justin Levitt). Their conclusion is that the claims of proponents that they’re just upholding the principle of ballot integrity can be discounted; the photo ID laws aim to disenfranchise Democratic voters; they cite findings that the raised cost of voting imposed by photo ID requires “falls overwhelmingly on minorities.” In other words, the answer is yes. The researchers are William D. Hicks of Appalachian, Seth C. McKee of Texas Tech, and Mitchell D. Sellers and Daniel A. Smith of Florida. They observe that voter ID laws in general and photo ID laws specifically surged in 2006 and later, when the electorate became highly polarized. In 2000, four states–Arkansas, Georgia, Michigan and North Dakota–had enacted ID laws, none of them photo-based; they aimed to clarify voting rules, part of a trend that led to the Help America Vote Act, which was passed by a bipartisan vote in Congress in 2002. At the time, the idea of straightening out confusing differences in voting rules was noncontroversial: “why would any member of Congress oppose helping Americans vote?” the authors ask. The atmosphere soon changed. In 2001, only 14 states required identification to vote, of which only four specified photo IDs; by 2014, 34 states had ID laws, including 17 photo ID laws. In 2011 alone, six states added a photo ID requirement.
The recent primary election chalked up a first: An unheard of cost. 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 elections 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.
A local state representative says he wants answers to how candidates’ party affiliations were left off of Washington County digital ballots Monday, the first day of early voting for the November general elections. Rep. Justin Harris (R – West Fork) is afraid some voters’ voices may not be properly heard because of the electronic ballot glitch. Harris said he may file an official complaint if election officials do not remedy the issue. County election commissioners met Tuesday morning to address concerns over the ballot problem, after voters and officials noticed Monday morning electronic voting machines did not include party affiliations. The problem was noticed within the first few voters, and officials temporarily fixed the situation by placing paper ballots, which included parties, next to electronic voting machines for reference, said Jennifer Price, Washington County election coordinator. She said the problem was fixed in time for the second day of early voting Tuesday.
Supervisors took a significant step Tuesday to overhaul Los Angeles County’s antiquated ink-based balloting system by approving a $15-million contract with Palo Alto consultant Ideo for the design of a more modern way to record votes. Elections officials — who must serve about 4.8 million registered voters scattered across 5,000 precincts — began planning for a new system five years ago. The process was guided by an advisory committee that included local city clerks, voting rights and open government advocates, and officials from the local Democratic and Republican parties. The current system is known as InkaVote and requires voters to mark a paper ballot with their selections. Under the new system, projected to roll out in 2020, voters would make their selections using a touch screen, and the voting machine would then print a paper ballot to be tallied.