Time is running out for Congress to fix the Voting Rights Act. The Supreme Court last year struck down major parts of the voting law, and a bipartisan fix has stalled in Congress. The justices ruled that the formula used to designate which parts of the country must face heightened federal voting clearances was outdated and unconstitutional. New legislation, introduced earlier this year, seeks to update the procedures. Advocates believe the bill will pass both chambers of Congress if it is brought up to a vote, but that looks unlikely. In the House, conservative Republicans, especially those from Southern states that are singled out for the extra scrutiny, are skeptical of the measure Rep. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.) hammered out with House and Senate Democrats. If the bill were signed into law soon, it would be in effect for this November’s elections. Some Democrats are unhappy with compromises struck to win GOP support related to voter identification. Others on the left are concerned with the scope of the bill. Previously, nine states with histories of voter discrimination were required to get federal approval before they changed their election procedures. Under the new plan, only four states would be forced to seek such approval. Still, most Democrats would back the bill if it comes up for a vote. A number of senior Democrats, including members of the Congressional Black Caucus, are on board.
The Voting News
How was your last voting experience? Smooth? Perhaps not. The Open Source Election Technology Foundation wants to change that by making voting simpler and more transparent. Its chief effort, called TrustTheVote, is a push to develop airtight, open-source vote casting and tabulation software that can be paired with off-the-shelf hardware. Open-source code and off-the-shelf plastic mean that TrustTheVote will, if it meets its goals, sell better, transparent voting machines to precincts at a fraction of the current cost. Each major election cycle in the United States brings the same whispers: Irregularities in Ohio counties, odd voting machine behavior in Iowa, and constant fringe intrigue about which candidate is getting a secret electronic bump due to a distant relative’s relationship with a voting machine company. It’s not healthy for our democracy.
There has been plenty of talk about the Ta-Nehisi Coates-Jonathan Chait argument over the term “black culture” in the context of the ills of poverty and the question of progress as seen through the lens of the actual history of America. A drastically shortened version of Coates’s analysis is that white supremacy—and the imposition of white power on African-American bodies and property—have been utterly interwoven through the history of American democracy, wealth and power from the beginnings of European settlement in North America. The role of the exploitation of African-American lives in the construction of American society and polity did not end in 1865. Rather, through the levers of law, lawless violence, and violence under the color of law, black American aspirations to wealth, access to capital, access to political power, a share in the advances of the social safety net and more have all been denied with greater or less efficiency. There has been change—as Coates noted in a conversation he and I had a couple of years ago, in 1860 white Americans could sell children away from their parents, and in 1865 they could not—and that is a real shift. But such beginnings did not mean that justice was being done nor equity experienced.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas and the Arkansas Law Center filed a lawsuit Wednesday challenging Arkansas’ law requiring voters to show photo identification at the polls. The suit, filed in Pulaski County Circuit Court on behalf of four Arkansas voters, alleges that Act 595 of 2103 violates the Arkansas Constitution by imposing requirements on voting that go beyond the requirements established in the constitution and impairing the rights of Arkansans to vote. “People who have been qualified to vote their entire adult lives are now being blocked from doing so by this unnecessary and unconstitutional law,” Rita Sklar, executive director of the ACLU of Arkansas, said in a statement. “The Arkansas Constitution specifically outlines the qualifications needed to vote. The state should be ashamed of making it harder for eligible voters from exercising this most fundamental right than our own constitution requires.” State Sen. Bryan King, R-Green Forest, who sponsored Act 595, said the law addresses voter fraud. “Requiring someone to present a photo ID is not shameful,” he said. “You have to do it to get on an airplane. You have to do it at a lot of basic functions that we operate in everyday life. Is it shameful that we have do require this for people that get on an airplane? That’s ridiculous.”
Editorials: Let’s Settle This Once and for All: D.C. Statehood Is Constitutional. Period. | Joan Shipps/Huffington Post
On April 16th, D.C.-based voting rights activists plan to meet with Congressional offices to encourage support for D.C. statehood. Statehood advocates are calling on Congress to cosponsor, hold hearings on, and vote for the New Columbia Admission Act — legislation that would grant full citizenship rights to the disenfranchised residents of Washington, D.C. In anticipation of Wednesday’s lobby day on the Hill, I feel compelled to go on record about the constitutionality of statehood for the citizens of D.C. That D.C. statehood is unconstitutional is the single most common misconception I hear when discussing D.C. governance with Congressional staff and opponents of D.C. voting rights generally. So let me be absolutely clear on this issue: Statehood for the residents of D.C. is Constitutional. Now here’s why. The D.C. statehood bill does two things, both of which have precedent without any constitutional amendments.
Florida: Orange County voting rights suit: Government lawyers fail to kill Latino voting rights suit | Orlando Sentinel
A federal judge ruled against Orange County government lawyers today and allowed a lawsuit to proceed that alleges elected officials diluted Latino voting strength in its latest redistricting effort. ”We’re going to trial,” said Juan Cartagena, president and general counsel of LatinoJustice PRLDEF, the civil rights group behind the lawsuit. ”They can’t stop us now. They tried, and it didn’t work.” A county spokeswoman said Orange officials do not comment on pending litigation. Instead of a jury, Chief Judge Anne C. Conway will preside over the voting rights trial set for May 12.
Iowa elections officials will continue to bar convicted felons from voting despite a landmark state Supreme Court ruling that suggests not all of them lost their voting rights, a spokesman said Wednesday. Three justices ruled Tuesday that only some felonies are “infamous crimes” under the Iowa Constitution that bar individuals from voting or holding office. Writing for that group, Chief Justice Mark Cady said only crimes that suggest the offenders “would tend to undermine the process of democratic governance through elections” qualify. Cady said justices would have to “develop a more precise test” in future rulings to define them. The ruling concluded that state Senate candidate Tony Bisignano can hold office even though he had been convicted of second-offense operating while intoxicated, an aggravated misdemeanor. Cady’s opinion invalidated three of the court’s prior rulings dating to 1916, which had held that any offense for which the potential punishment is imprisonment was an “infamous crime.” Cady suggested the new definition followed the intent of authors of Iowa’s Constitution, who wanted to protect the integrity of elections.
We didn’t have to wait long for the Supreme Court to decide its most important case of the term. Last Tuesday, the justices heard arguments over whether a second OWI offense is an “infamous crime” under the Iowa Constitution. Yesterday–one week after the oral argument–the Iowa Supreme Court ruled, by a 5-1 vote, that it’s not. That might not seem that important. It is. For starters, it means that Tony Bisignano can run for State Senate. Article II, section 5 of the Iowa Constitution says that a person who’s been convicted of an “infamous crime” can’t be an “elector” (which means they can’t run for office), and one of Bisignano’s primary opponents (Ned Chiodo) argued that a second OWI (which Bisignano has been convicted of) is an infamous crime. Five of the six sitting justices disagreed with that. (The seventh, Justice Appel, was recused.) But the case is much bigger than one Senate race. And that’s where it gets interesting. To vote you also have to be an eligible “elector,” meaning that people who’ve been convicted of an infamous crime can’t vote–at least not unless their voting rights have been restored. So the line between an infamous crime and a run-of-the-mill crime can affect everything from school boards to the presidency. (Iowa’s a swing state, after all.)
Republicans in the Missouri General Assembly are mounting a two-pronged effort to make voting more difficult for certain citizens, who are most likely to be elderly, low-income, students or minorities. They’re not even subtle about it. On one front, the annual effort to require voters to produce government-issued photo identification at the polls is moving quickly. If the Senate votes in favor, a resolution seeking a constitutional amendment requiring photo identification will be headed for the November ballot. A separate effort, endorsed Wednesday by the House, is a pre-emptive strike against a citizen-initiated ballot proposal to finally get early voting in Missouri. In a show of pettiness, the House budget even deletes $79,900 in funding for a special unit of the secretary of state’s office that investigates allegations of election improprieties. The elections integrity unit is a more effective and less expensive way to ensure that elections work well than a cumbersome voter ID law. Created by Secretary of State Jason Kander, it follows up on complaints and suspected problems. The intent is not only to look out for the slim prospect that an ineligible citizen may try to cast a ballot, but to make sure that the process of voting works well for citizens who are eligible.
On Tuesday, the State of New York took a baby step—or maybe a giant leap!—toward making the United States of America something more closely resembling a modern democracy: Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a bill joining up the Empire State to the National Popular Vote (N.P.V.) interstate compact. As I’ve explained many times (fifty-one, to be exact), N.P.V. is a way to elect our Presidents the way we elect our governors, our mayors, our senators and representatives, our state legislators, and everybody else: by totting up the voters’ votes—all of them—and awarding the job to whichever candidate gets the largest number. And it does this without changing a word of the Constitution. Impossible, you say? No. Quite possible—even probable—and in time for 2020, if not for 2016.