As the nation’s largest swing state heading into the 2016 presidential election, Florida’s election system will be tested again in a national spotlight. Florida’s electoral system drew unprecedented scrutiny and legal challenges with its decisive 537-vote edge for President George W. Bush in the 2000 election. In 2012, Florida became a national laughingstock when it was the last state to officially count its votes in the less contested re-election of President Barack Obama. Since then, Florida has made some changes to its voting system, but falls short in several key areas. And that’s a pattern common to many states, according to a report from the National Commission on Voting Rights. The report is the second from the NCVR, which conducted 25 state and regional hearings in 2013 and 2014, collecting testimony from voters, academics and activists, including a hearing in Miami.
A bloc of state Representatives — Scott Conklin, Tina Davis and Brian Sims — have introduced bills that would automate voter registration, form an independent redistricting commission and allow in–person absentee ballot voting. Conklin and Sims have partnered on a bill that would automatically register eligible individuals when that person obtains a Pennsylvania driver’s license; Davis and Sims introduced a bill that acts on the precedent set in Arizona, which ended gerrymandering there. “Any serious discussion about reforming government begins with redistricting and establishing a fairer system for drawing our state’s voting maps,” said Davis, D–Bucks. “The independent commission that our measure would create would put voters — and not political advantage — at the forefront when electoral districts are revised.
The Republican majority on the Montgomery County Board of Elections, led by an appointee of Gov. Larry Hogan (R), voted Monday to shift two heavily used early-voting sites to less populous locations, prompting Democratic charges of voter suppression. The board voted 3 to 2 to move early voting from the Marilyn Praisner Community Center in Burtonsville, which serves high-poverty East County communities along U.S. 29, to the Longwood Community Recreation Center in Brookeville, 13 miles to the northwest.
New Jersey Democrats, anticipating a veto from Gov. Christie, are considering asking voters to amend the constitution to bring sweeping changes to the state’s voting laws. In doing so, they’re betting on a reliable but controversial strategy to advance policy initiatives that would otherwise stall under the Republican governor and presidential candidate. Democrats, who control both chambers in Trenton, have turned to the ballot box to skirt Christie on such measures as raising the minimum wage and dedicating funding for open space. “You would prefer to do it legislatively. It’s just that when left no options, you have to fight for the people,” Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D., Gloucester) said in an interview Thursday. “If the administration is going to ignore the will of the people he represents for political, ideological reasons, well, look, we’re going to go to the people.”
New Jersey: Broad Coalition Calls on Christie to Sign New Jersey Democracy Act Without Delay | PolitickerNJ
With time running out for Governor Christie to take action on the groundbreaking New Jersey Democracy Act, a broad and diverse coalition of advocates are urging Christie to stand with the overwhelming majority of his constituents by signing the bill into law. “New Jerseyans across party lines strongly support modernizing voting laws to make it easier for people to vote and register to vote,” Rob Duffey, Policy and Communications Director for New Jersey Working Families. “Now Governor Christie faces a simple choice. Will he stand with his constituents and modernize voting in New Jersey, or will he cater to Republican primary voters in South Carolina or Arizona that want to roll hard-won voting rights back?” Advocates said that the comprehensive voter modernization bill would reduce barriers to voter registration and voter participation. Its provisions include automatic voter registration, online voter registration, expanded early in-person voting, and census-based language inclusion in voting and ballot materials.
Many find politics frustrating because problems that seemed to be solved in one generation crop up again years or decades later. The good thing about democracy is that there are no permanent defeats. The hard part is that some victories have to be won over and over. And so it is with the Voting Rights Act of 1965, a monument to what can be achieved when grass-roots activism is harnessed to presidential and legislative leadership. Ending discrimination at the ballot box was a way of underwriting the achievements of the Civil Rights Act passed a year earlier by granting African Americans new and real power to which they had always been constitutionally entitled. “The results were almost unimaginable in 1965,” writes Ari Berman in “Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America,” his timely book published this month. … In fact, Obama’s election called forth a far more sophisticated approach to restricting voting. Republicans closely examined how Obama’s political organization had turned out large numbers of young African Americans who had not voted before. Their participation was facilitated by early voting, and particularly Sunday voting.
North Carolina: Court documents: Legal challenge to voter ID could be settled | Winston-Salem Journal
North Carolina’s voter ID law may not go to trial after all, according to court documents filed Monday. The recent federal trial on North Carolina’s Voter Information Verification Act that ended about two weeks ago did not deal with the state’s photo ID requirement that goes into effect in 2016. It only dealt with other provisions of the law, which reduced the early voting period, eliminated same-day voter registration, prohibited county election officials from counting ballots cast in the wrong precinct but correct county, and abolished preregistration for 16- and 17-year-olds. U.S. District Judge Thomas Schroeder decided that the legal challenge to the photo ID requirement would be dealt with later. Schroeder’s decision came after state Republican legislators approved an amendment easing the photo ID requirement. The amendment allows voters without photo ID to sign a declaration saying they had a “reasonable impediment” to getting a photo ID and also enables voters to use a photo ID that has expired as long as it has not been more than four years. State Republican leaders proposed the changes less than a month before the federal trial was to start.
A 120-mile round trip separates voters in Lame Deer from voting early and registering late, and Lame Deer is among the closest places on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation to Forsyth, the seat of Rosebud County. But the asphalt on Montana Highway 39 is just one way to measure the distance. “This journey has geographical and historical distances,” said Tom Rodgers, a tribal issues activist, member of the Blackfeet Nation and Jack Abramoff whistleblower. As South Carolina debates Confederate symbols, Rodgers thinks of symbols in Montana that also tell a story. “Names matter. History matters,” he said. “We have a county seat named after a man who was horribly anti-Native American, a man who killed 300 men, women and children at Wounded Knee. The fact that it hasn’t been remedied is wrong, wrong, wrong.”
North Carolina: Federal trial in Winston-Salem could determine meaning of Voting Rights Act | Winston-Salem Journal
The past and the present merged into one during a three-week federal trial on North Carolina’s election law that ended just a week before the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. On July 13, the first day of the trial, the Rev. William Barber, president of the state NAACP, told a crowd of at least 3,500 people gathered in Corpening Plaza that “this is our Selma,” referring to the 1965 civil rights battles in Selma, Ala. For many civil rights activists like Barber, state Republican legislators were seeking to roll back the gains of that struggle by pushing through House Bill 589, which became law in 2013 and either curtailed or eliminated voting practices that blacks have disproportionately used.
For the first 48 years of its existence,the Voting Rights Act — signed by President Lyndon Johnson 50 years ago this week — was one of the most popular and effective civil rights laws in American history. Centuries of slavery, segregation and officially sanctioned discrimination had kept African-Americans from having any real voice in the nation’s politics. Under the aggressive new law, black voter registration and turnout soared, as did the number of black elected officials. Recognizing its success, Congress repeatedly reaffirmed the act and expanded its protections. The last time, in 2006, overwhelming majorities in both houses extended the law for another 25 years. But only seven years later, in 2013, five Supreme Court justices elbowed in andconcluded, on scant evidence, that there was no longer a need for the law’s most powerful tool; the Voting Rights Act, they claimed, had done its job.