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.
The Supreme Court sure looks like it’s fine-tuning the rules for the 2014 election. Over the past three weeks, the justices gave Ohio the green light to cut early voting by a week, let North Carolina end same-day voter registration and blocked Wisconsin from implementing a new voter ID law. And the justices could soon face another request, one that asks them to step in to block a Texas voter ID law from being enforced in next month’s elections. Despite the flurry of high court rulings, many legal analysts and some judges say the Supreme Court’s actions are less about broad voting rights principles than telling federal judges to butt out, particularly so close to Election Day. In each of the cases where the justices acted, lower federal courts had issued orders that would have changed the rules for elections just weeks away, potentially causing confusion among voters and election officials.
Another day, another ruling about who can vote in elections that are just around the corner. Thirty-four states have some form of requirement that voters show identification to be able to cast their vote at the polls, but several of the laws are facing legal challenges by voters who say the rules are unconstitutional. In October alone, five courts issued rulings over laws in three different states. Their findings may seem incongruous but taken together, they maintain each state’s status quo, at least for now. The most recent ruling involves Arkansas. The state legislature overrode a veto by Governor Mike Beebe in 2013 to pass a law requiring voters to provide photo ID at the polls. Four residents, represented by two nonprofit organizations, challenged the rules. This week the Arkansas Supreme Court unanimously upheld a circuit court ruling that the ID requirement violates the state constitution, a ruling that immediately prevented the new requirements from taking effect. Because the challenge was to a state law, this is the final word on the matter unless the U.S. Supreme Court takes the case. Early voting in Arkansas—without mandatory ID—will start on Monday.
Toronto voters flocked to advance polls Tuesday to record the highest-ever first day turnout, the city says. “I think we can say this is a municipal election campaign that has caught the attention of Torontonians and they want their voice to be heard,” said Ryerson University politics professor Myer Siemiatycki. The city said the tally far surpasses the 16,000 votes cast during the six weekdays of advance voting in the 2010 election. That year, some 77,000 votes in total were cast in advance. So just the first day of 2014 advance voting represents about 37 per cent of the 2010 total, with five days left to vote early, through Oct. 19. (Election day is Oct. 27.) On day one of voting in 2010 the total was just 2,690 — although direct comparisons may be somewhat misleading because the advance poll was held at only six locations that year, compared with 45 this year: one in each ward and one at city hall.
Editorials: When Duty Doesn’t Call: Voter ID laws bring out the worst in their uncivic-minded opponents | The American Spectator
Americans will cease arguing over the federal Voting Rights Act and its intricacies — oh, I imagine around the time Texas starts exporting ground water to Minnesota, or the Lord returns to judge the quick and the dead. Mandatory voter ID laws passed by Republican legislatures in Texas, Arkansas, and Wisconsin have been under legal assault by Democrats. A lower federal court order expanding statewide early voting and same-day registration in Ohio got overturned by the Supreme Court — which had before it, at the same time, an appeal from North Carolina asking affirmation of its right to eliminate same-day registration and voting, along with out-of-precinct voting. Democrats see in these various state laws an evil Republican attempt to suppress voting by minority group members likely to — duh — vote Democratic. Requirements to present photographic identification draw particular scorn. Republicans say all they want to do is make sure voting procedures are honest and reflective of actual popular will. The point commonly buried in these slanging matches over intent and results is a point little attended to in our current ideological wars. I would call that point the need for rekindled earnestness regarding the duties that come, or ought to, with exercise of the franchise.
A Wake County Superior Court judge has sided with a group of Appalachian State University students who were miffed that there wasn’t an early voting site on campus this year. Judge Donald Stephens on Monday kicked Watauga County’s plan back to the State Board of Elections for revision, ordered it to include “at least one” ASU early voting site, and agreed with the plaintiffs that the plan violated a constitutional provision against the discrimination of young voters. “I think it’s a great victory for voting rights,” said Bill Gilkeson, attorney for the seven plaintiffs, five of whom are students. Elections records show Watauga County has the highest percentage of student voters of any county in the state, while the plaintiffs’ petition for judicial review noted students make up 34 percent of the county’s population. “All credible evidence indicates that the sole purpose of that plan was to eliminate an early voting site on campus so as to discourage student voting and, as such, it is unconstitutional,” wrote Stephens in his order.
A federal appeals court on Tuesday evening reinstated Texas’ controversial voter identification law, striking down a lower court’s ruling that blocked it on grounds it would have “an impermissible discriminatory effect” on Hispanics and African-Americans and is unconstitutional. The three-judge panel of the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals stayed a ruling just five days earlier by U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos of Corpus Christi on grounds that it “substantially disturbs the election process of the state of Texas just nine days before early voting begins.”
Voters could have an extra six days to cast ballots during the 2016 presidential election if a proposal to change the Missouri Constitution gets enough support on Election Day. Touted by Republicans as making voting more accessible and faulted by Democrats as not making it accessible enough, proposed Amendment 6 would allow registered voters to cast a ballot for six days ending the Wednesday before a general election, not including weekends. Unlike the six-week period of absentee voting in Missouri, residents wouldn’t need an excuse to vote — in-person or with mail-in ballots — early. The catch: Local election offices could hold early voting only if the state agrees to pay for the costs, estimated at close to $2 million the first year and at least $100,000 per election in following years. That has some local clerks worried that they might not get enough state funding and be saddled with expenses. To that end, a state appeals court panel ordered a description of the initiative for the Nov. 4 ballot be changed to add the state-dependent funding.