Civil rights leaders and groups are hailing legislation introduced by U.S. Reps. Mark Pocan (D-Wisc.) and Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) on Jan. 22 that would unequivocally guarantee every American’s right to vote under the U.S. Constitution, in the wake of growing attacks on that right. “This amendment would affirm the principle of equal participation in our democracy for every citizen,” Pocan said in a statement. “As the world’s leading democracy, we must guarantee the right to vote for all.” Added Ellison: “Our nation is stronger when we make it easy for Americans to participate in democracy…A guaranteed right to vote in the Constitution would go a long way towards increasing access to the ballot box for all Americans.” Contrary to popular belief, the lawmakers said, the right to vote is not enshrined in the U.S. Constitution, and the “Pocan-Ellison Right to Vote Amendment” would amend the Constitution to expressly guarantee that fundamental right.
Republicans used the confirmation hearings this week for Loretta Lynch, President Obama’s attorney general nominee, to stress their commitment to voting restrictions—and to try to tie Lynch’s hands on voting issues should she assume the post. One GOP senator pressed Lynch on her stance on restrictive voting laws. And Republicans asked for testimony from a witness who has led the effort to stoke fear over voter fraud, suggested her group was targeted by the Obama administration because of her group’s support for voter ID laws. Under Attorney General Eric Holder, the Justice Department has acted aggressively to protect voting rights, challenging strict GOP-backed voting laws in Texas and North Carolina. Holder also has seemed to compare these laws to past efforts to keep minorities from voting. So Republicans sought to put pressure on Lynch to take a more conciliatory approach.
National: These States Are Actually Considering Ways To Make Voting More Convenient | Huffington Post
November’s midterm election meant grappling with new voter identification requirements, cutbacks to early voting and the elimination of same-day registration and out-of-precinct voting in several states, but advocates are cautiously optimistic that 2015 could be an improvement for voting rights. Last cycle’s voter turnout, about 36 percent, was estimated to be the lowest since 1940, but changes that could make voting more convenient — like online registration — might help mitigate some of the barriers from laws that restrict access. Twenty states of varying political inclinations offered online registration as of December, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. “This is a time where we should be reaching across the aisle looking for commonsense solutions,” said Myrna Pérez, the deputy director of the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program, which tracks voting legislation. “A lot of those involving technology and leveraging technology are very appealing — and it’s exciting because [electronic and online registration] both have the habit of making it simpler and easier to run elections correctly. They make the rolls cleaner and are cheaper, and we saw some bipartisan support for this last year.”
Mississippians could soon see some changes in the way they vote. A report released by Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann’s office outlines a number of recommendations to change Mississippi’s election laws. The report is the end product of a series of meetings held last summer by a 52 member panel organized to review how Mississippian’s vote, and ways to improve the process. Hosemann says “for a couple of years we have been discussing amendments to the election code [that] really is a mismatch over a period of years has been added onto and subtracted and they are contradicting provisions in there,” says Hosemann. “There are just a lot of things that I have wanted to address.”
Voting Blogs: A “Nice Sunny Day With No Snow” and the Growing Influence of Alaska Natives | State of Elections
Late September featured more than a mere drop in temperatures for Alaska residents, as U.S. District Court Judge Sharon Gleason issued an interim order that would shake the state’s electoral landscape. The order came in response to Toyukak v. Treadwell, a case in which the Native American Rights Fund (NARF) accused Republican Lieutenant Governor Mead Treadwell and others of violating the Voting Rights Act’s (VRA) Section 203 language assistance provision. The order required, largely, that language assistance be provided to Yup’ik- and Gwich’in-speaking natives, who hoped for a chance to participate in the political process. Notably, in Alaska, nearly one in every five individuals is native.
The U.S. Department of Justice has submitted a Statement of Interest in the federal voting-rights lawsuit, Poor Bear v. Jackson County (South Dakota). The agency supports the Oglala plaintiffs’ allegation that restricting voter registration and in-person absentee voting (often called “early voting”) to an off-reservation county seat makes it difficult for them to vote and is discriminatory. The statement also cites the need to ensure that the Voting Rights Act “is properly interpreted and…vigorously and uniformly enforced.” “Many of us lack the vehicles and gas money to get to the county seat in Kadoka,” explained lead plaintiff, Oglala Sioux Vice President Tom Poor Bear. He and other plaintiffs live in the town of Wanblee, in the portion of Pine Ridge Indian Reservation that overlaps Jackson County. They want a Wanblee satellite voting office offering the same election services that the primarily white population of the county receives in Kadoka. They also want the county to come under special Justice Department scrutiny via the VRA’s Section 3.
South Dakota: Obama Administration Intervenes In Native American Voting Rights Lawsuit | ThinkProgress
The U.S. Department of Justice has intervened in a lawsuit accusing a South Dakota county of disenfranchising Native Americans living on the Pine Ridge Reservation, arguing the case should move forward because the issues in question fall under the still-enforced sections of the Voting Rights Act. In the months leading up the November election, Native Voting rights advocates filed a lawsuit against Jackson County, South Dakota accusing it of requiring Native Americans to travel often prohibitively long distances to vote instead of opening a satellite office on the reservation. In response to the litigation, Jackson County opened a satellite center for voter registration and early voting in the town of Wanblee on the reservation, but the legal action continued in order to ensure the voting rights would be maintained for future elections. County officials filed a motion to dismiss the litigation after the November midterm, arguing that Native Americans still have three ways to vote absentee including traveling to the county auditor’s office which is more than 27 miles away from Wanblee. But when the DOJintervened, it said the issues presented in the lawsuit should be considered as violations of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which designates Native Americans as a protected class.
Elections in the Queen City have been plagued by several glitches of late, but city officials are hoping for smoother sailing this Town Meeting Day. In October, the clerk/treasurer’s office, which is charged with overseeing the city’s elections, temporarily stopped early voting after accidentally leaving five of 15 Republican candidates for justice of the peace off the ballot. It had to reprint ballots — a $10,000 mistake. Then, roughly two weeks before the election, the office discovered that 87 voters in a New North End housing development had been listed in the wrong district. In 2012, the office misprinted a tax rate on ballots. There have been other snafus, too. The upcoming election on March 3 is a big one — due to redistricting, all the city councilors and school commissioners, in addition to the mayor, are up for reelection. After the ballot misprints, Mayor Miro Weinberger declared, “These avoidable and costly errors must end,” and he asked his chief administrative officer, Bob Rusten, to draft a plan to make that happen. Rusten presented it to the city council on Tuesday.
The U.S. Department of Justice is asking a federal judge in South Dakota to not dismiss a lawsuit that tribal members filed against Jackson County in which they claim the county doesn’t give equal voting access to Native American voters. After the November election, the county’s attorneys filed a motion asking U.S. District Judge Karen Schreier in Sioux Falls to toss the case arguing that the lawsuit does not contain proof that the county disenfranchised Native Americans — a protected class under the Voting Rights Act. But the federal agency believes the complaint shows otherwise.
Pennsylvania state government behind the times? Let’s count the ways. We can list failure to privatize liquor sales and a system so far behind that visitors are amazed at the hoops we jump through to buy beer, wine and spirits. Go up the scale in intensity and we encounter an outdated property tax system for funding schools, and a public pension system racking up a $50 billion liability shortfall. Our lawmakers choose denial over solutions. Twice a year, we encounter another area in which the Commonwealth falls woefully short — ease of voting. Unlike other states, Pennsylvania has failed to adopt practices made possible in the internet age that make it easy for people to register and to vote. Instead of making the process more customer-friendly, Republicans two years ago used their majority in the House to push through even stricter requirements for voter ID. The new law which required a state-issued photo ID for all voters was challenged and struck down in Commonwealth Court. Now, some legislators are hoping to enact some meaningful reform and get Pennsylvania voter services out of the past. PAIndependent reported last week that a number of proposals are in the works to make voting more user-friendly.