With less than two weeks until Illinois’ high-stakes elections, an attorney general opinion has some officials rethinking vote-counting procedures in ways that they say could cause big delays in announcing results. Elections officials across the state Thursday were weighing a recent ruling from Attorney General Lisa Madigan, who wrote that state law prohibits vote-counting before the 7 p.m. close of polls Nov. 4, including simple tabulating to facilitate prompt reporting of results later. Depending on how strictly the ruling is interpreted, it could be the wee hours of Nov. 5 before results are reported, including in the up-for-grabs race between Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn and Republican challenger Bruce Rauner. Separately Thursday, in Rock Island County, Republicans filed a lawsuit against the Democratic county clerk alleging that mail-in votes are being opened early and that poll-watchers are prohibited from observing early voting.
In the run-up to the 2012 election, there was widespread concern about a slew of restrictive voting laws passed by Republicans. But those fears mostly weren’t borne out. Courts blocked several of the worst moves before election day. And record African-American turnout suggested the assault on voting might even have backfired by firing up minority voters. But Republicans didn’t ease off on the push to make voting harder. If anything, they doubled down. And this time around, they’ve had a lot more success as several voting restrictions are now in effect for the first time in a major election. That’s likely to help the GOP this fall. But voting rights advocates say the bigger lesson is that current laws protecting access to the ballot just aren’t strong enough. “This is a clear example of the need for additional federal protections,” said Myrna Perez, a top lawyer at the Brennan Center for Justice, and one of the attorneys who argued against the Texas voter ID law, which was approved for the election by the U.S. Supreme Court early Saturday morning. That decision—which came just two days before early voting kicks off in the Lone Star State—means most of the statewide voting restrictions that in recent weeks were the subject of court fights will be in place when voters go to the polls. In addition to the Texas law—green-lighted despite a federal judge’s ruling that it intentionally discriminated against minorities—North Carolina’s sweeping voting law and Ohio’s cuts to early voting will also be in effect.
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 North Carolina Supreme Court said Wednesday afternoon the courts should take up the issue of early voting on the campus of Appalachian State, literally moments after the State Board of Elections had voted to restore the on-campus early voting site. However, the early voting site will remain open as the state elections board voted, unless the board meets again to cancel the site. The Supreme Court order came down just before 5 p.m., about twenty minutes after the state board voted unanimously to OK the site in a hastily called emergency meeting. Early voting is scheduled to begin in Watauga County at 8 a.m. Thursday. The latest developments follow a ruling last week in a lawsuit filed by a group of Watauga County voters that argued the closure of the on-campus site was a transparent attempt to reduce Democratic turnout. Wake Superior Judge Donald Stephens agreed with the plaintiffs, ordering the state elections board to adopt a new early voting plan for Watauga County that would include a site on campus.
North Carolina: Early voting starts today, eligibility for 10,000 not verified | Winston-Salem Journal
The State Board of Elections will not be able to verify before the early-voting period begins today whether all of the nearly 10,000 names that it has flagged as belonging to possible ineligible voters are in fact ineligible, according to interviews with elections and transportation officials. Elections officials estimate that most are likely eligible to vote, but the uncertainty has led some state lawmakers to question why the verification process is happening now. The Winston-Salem Journal reported Wednesday that, according to the SBOE, a specific search of those 10,000 names on the state’s voter rolls turned up 145 that belong to immigrants in the U.S. under the federal program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, which provides qualified applicants with a two-year reprieve from deportation. The number has been pared down to 119 after more research, said Josh Lawson, a spokesman for the SBOE. ”Zero” DACA license holders have cast a ballot, he said. Mike Charbonneau, the deputy secretary of communications at the N.C. Department of Transportation, provided information on where some of the DACA license holders registered to vote.
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.
North Carolina: Elections polling site at ASU likely as appeals court lifts stay | Winston-Salem Journal
The campus of Appalachian State University may host a polling place for the early voting period. The N.C. Court of Appeals on Tuesday sided with a grassroots group of Watauga County Democrats that has fought for a long time to have a polling site on campus. The appellate court lifted its temporary block on a lower court’s decision that would have allowed the polling site earlier. There is still a possibility that the N.C. Supreme Court could upend the ruling, as the State Board of Elections, which is made up of three Republicans and two Democrats, had already filed an appeal last week with the high court. But what is certain is that the early-voting period begins Thursday.
You’d think the world’s oldest democracy would be constantly working to make sure that as many people as possible vote in elections such as the one two weeks from today, which will decide who runs everything from city governments to Congress. Instead, what’s clear in the countdown to Nov. 4 are the ways a nation built on the proposition that the vote is the great equalizer limits the number of people who actually go to the polls. Too much of this is deliberate. Republican legislatures have enacted all sorts of thinly disguised ways to suppress the vote of people who don’t typically vote GOP, including minorities, the poor, the elderly and college students. Ohio and North Carolina have cut back early voting, for example, making it tougher for working people to vote. The most offensive restrictions, though, are tough photo ID requirements, which have spread to at least 16 Republican-dominated states — a number that fluctuates as courts strike down or uphold the laws. On Saturday, the Supreme Court upheld the Texas ID law, widely regarded as the nation’s most punitive.
Alexis de Tocqueville famously observed in 1835, “Scarcely any political question arises in the United States that is not resolved, sooner or later, into a judicial question.” That certainly describes the grand struggle over voting rights now unfolding in courtrooms across the country. And when it comes to who can vote and when, a clear message is hard to discern. In recent days, rulings, appeals and motions have pinballed around the system, with the U.S. Supreme Court answering emergency pleas, allowing some changes to take effect and temporarily blocking others, while key appeals head their way. The latest lurch: In a decision emailed out at 5 a.m. Saturday morning, the justices let Texas implement its controversial voter ID law, the nation’s strictest, just two days before early voting begins in the state. Amid the confusion, an important new element has emerged. The breakthrough? Facts. Two powerful judicial opinions—one from a Texas trial judge, another from an esteemed appeals court jurist—and a landmark government study have shed new light on the costs and consequences of restrictive voting laws. They answer some key questions: Are these laws malevolent? (In Texas, at least, yes.) Do they provide a benefit that outweighs their cost? (No.) Do they suppress the vote? (Alarmingly, it seems, yes.) And can we prevent fraud without disenfranchising Americans? (Yes, absolutely.) In a zone foggy with legal rhetoric, these three documents will—and should—live on beyond the 2014 election cycle. They might even help shape a new legal regime to protect voters while protecting against fraud. They’re worth a close read.
Tribal voters on the Fort Belknap and Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservations do not have increased access to early voting options this election season despite the settlement of a federal lawsuit that should have made it possible. Two of the three tribes affected by the settlement didn’t send a letter to the counties indicating what tribal building and room would be offered for the service by the Aug. 1 deadline. Northern Cheyenne tribal member Mark Wandering Medicine, along with 11 other Indian plaintiffs, in February 2013 sued Montana Secretary of State Linda McCulloch and county elections officials in Blaine, Rosebud and Big Horn counties, alleging the defendants violated portions of the federal Voting Rights Act, which “prohibit voting practices or procedures that discriminate on the basis of race, color or membership in one of the language minority groups.” The plaintiffs argued their rights to equal access to voting were violated when McCulloch and county elections officials refused to set up satellite voting offices on remote Indian reservations in advance of the November 2012 presidential election.