An Alabama congresswoman has formally asked the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the state’s shuttering of driver’s license offices in several heavily black counties, warning that the closures throw up another obstacle to voting. The call for a federal probe comes as opposition to the state’s decision, announced last Wednesday, continues to mount. “These closures will potentially disenfranchise Alabama’s poor, elderly, disabled, and black communities,” wrote Rep. Terri Sewell in a letter sent Monday to Attorney General Loretta Lynch. “To restrict the ability of any citizen to vote is an assault on the rights of all Americans to equally participate in the electoral process.” Sewell, a Democrat whose district includes Selma, the historical birthplace of the push for African-American voting rights, called for “a full and thorough investigation by DoJ.”
The Voting News
Oklahoma will soon join two dozen other states in allowing people to register to vote online. The law making this possible takes effect November 1, but News 9’s Alex Cameron tells us the system won’t be ready then. November 1 is when the state is officially authorized to begin working to put an online registration system in place, and it could take a while. The sponsor of the legislation, Sen. David Holt, says the hope is to have online registration available in time for the 2016 election, but there’s no guarantee.
California: State high court set to hear arguments on Citizens United advisory measure | Los Angeles Times
California legislators decided last year to ask voters whether they supported overturning a landmark ruling that allowed unlimited corporate spending to support or denounce federal candidates. A conservative taxpayers group balked, arguing that state legislators lack the power to put advisory measures on the ballot. The California Supreme Court agreed to remove Proposition 49 and to decide in a later ruling whether it could go forward in a future election. The court will hear arguments on the case Tuesday, generally the last step before issuing a decision. If the Legislature wins, Californians will be able to cast an advisory vote next year on whether Citizens United, a 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision that overturned campaign spending laws, should be repealed by a federal constitutional amendment.
Nationally, some experts say policies governing the voting process in the United States prevent eligible voters from getting to the polls on Election Day. After the Supreme Court overturned a key part of the Voting Rights Act, officials in North Carolina grappled with the passage of a new voter ID law and a reversal of many voting procedures civil rights leaders spent years trying to win. “This is our Selma,” Rev. William Barber, a Protestant minister and political leader in the state, told PBS NewsHour. “We’re talking about taking away rights that people have utilized in elections, some since 2000.”
Even on the nearly lawless frontier of bankrolling 2016 presidential campaigns, everyone agrees one important rule remains. Coordination is not allowed between a candidate’s official campaign organization and the mysterious entities dubbed super-PACs, or political-action committees that now fuel runs for the White House. There’s just one problem: Almost no one agrees exactly what coordination means. For example, leaders of John Kasich’s official campaign team and his super-PAC considered it legal to work together until virtually the minute the Ohio governor officially announced his presidential candidacy in July. But Jeb Bush’s super-PAC execs, fearful of violating the no-coordination rule, divorced themselves a week or two before the former Florida governor’s formal declaration.
The corruption case against New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez has become a battleground over the controversial Supreme Court decision that allowed the flood of campaign money that is reshaping elections. In legal filings and a recent ruling, defense attorneys, prosecutors, and a district court judge have jousted over the limits of the 2010 Citizens United ruling, which opened the door to unlimited donations to independent political groups, such as super PACs and campaign-minded nonprofits. The Menendez case is the first since the decision to use super-PAC donations as the basis for corruption charges against a lawmaker. It has touched a raw nerve in the debate over the influence of independent expenditures, said Kenneth Gross, a lawyer specializing in campaign finance.
The court’s new term, which starts Monday, will jump right back into high-profile constitutional battles like voting rights, affirmative action and the death penalty, as well as a new attack on public-sector labor unions. And the justices may well agree to take up issues of abortion and contraception again, in cases that could further strip away reproductive rights. The decisions last term showed a court willing to take into account the effects of the law on individual lives. This term, the justices have many opportunities to show that same type of awareness. The legal principle of “one person, one vote” got its fullest expression in the 1964 case Reynolds v. Sims, which ruled that state legislative districts must contain roughly equal numbers of people. Before then, district populations varied widely, an intentional practice that gave more power to rural white voters than those in the more diverse cities. While the court has never defined who counts as a person, the vast majority of states count all people who live in a district, even if they are not eligible to vote.
Voting Blogs: Certification Provides Critical Resources for Election Officials | Matt Masterson/EAC Blog
Last week I attended the Midwestern Election Officials Conference (MEOC) in Kansas City. It was a fantastic gathering of engaged election officials from across the Midwest focused on practical boots on the ground info to prepare for the 2016 election season. Prior to the start of the conference I had the pleasure of meeting with the leadership and staff at the Kansas City Board of Elections. Meetings like this are the best part of my job. I get to share what the EAC is doing while seeing local election offices and hearing from those who deal with the day to day work to prepare for the election. At the MEOC conference Brian Newby of Johnson County Kansas moderated a panel with all three EAC Commissioners. During that conversation Brian asked, “What does certification do for us?” After I answered the question and had a chance to reflect on my conversation with the KC staff I realized that many election officials must be wondering the same thing.
The state of Alabama has been accused of bringing back Jim Crow for closing 31 driver’s licenses offices in the state — including all the offices in counties where African Americans make up more than 75 percent of the registered voters — which critics say will further disenfranchise minority voters in a state that requires government-issued photo IDs at the ballot box. The backlash Alabama is now facing reflects the state’s long history of blocking African Americans access to the polls, from 1965’s Selma protests that ushered in the Voting Rights Act in the first place to the 2013 Supreme Court decision in the Shelby County case that gutted a key provision of it. The latest episode involves Alabama’s widely criticized voter ID law colliding with a broke government that can’t fund basic services. State officials are now on the defensive, denying that the closures — many of them in counties in what is known as Alabama’s “Black Belt” — will make it harder for African Americans to vote.
Alabama: How Alabama will save $11 million — but undermine claims that Voter ID is race-neutral | The Washington Post
Officially, the news out of Alabama is this: Alabama’s Republican-controlled legislature and governor’s office are committed to cutting the state’s budget and the size of state government. That means the state will slice into the money available to a number of public agencies. And the Department of Public Safety, which includes the state’s offices that issue driver’s licenses, will simply have to take an $11 million hit. To make that math work, the agency will shutter driver’s license offices in the state’s most sparsely populated counties.
But the net effect is this: Every county in which black voters comprise more than 75 percent of the voter rolls and the bulk of Alabama communities that overwhelmingly voted for President Obama in 2012 will see their driver’s license offices close.
Not surprisingly, civil rights and civil liberties groups across the state and the only black member of Alabama’s congressional delegation have said plainly that the state’s seemingly race-neutral move to save money is anything but.