Nobody would mistake Nebraska for a politically moderate state. It was the first state in the country to enact a 20-week abortion ban. They passed legislation restricting scientists’ ability to study climate change. Approximately 60 percent of voters cast a ballot for Mitt Romney in 2012, the ninth highest percentage of any state. So it was perhaps surprising when Gov. Dave Heineman (R) signed LB565 last week, a bill that enacts a form of same-day voter registration, one of the most progressive voting reforms in the country. The bill was passed by the nominally-nonpartisan-but-functionally-Republican unicameral legislature 37-3, with nine lawmakers abstaining. The new law allows citizens to register to vote at the polls during the early voting period and cast their ballot on the same day. Same-day registration will be available until the second Friday before Election Day.
Missouri Republicans are working to ensure that if the state adopts early voting, it’s as limited—and inconvenient—as possible. On Wednesday, the state’s GOP-controlled House approved a measure that would ask voters to consider amending the state’s constitution to establish early voting. But under the amendment, the early voting period would last just nine days, ending a full week before Election Day, and would not include Sunday voting. In other states, Sunday voting is especially popular with African-American voters who often vote en masse after church. … But some Democrats say it’s designed to head off a Democratic-backed campaign that would put a different constitutional amendment on the ballot, allowing for six weeks of early voting, including three Saturdays and three Sundays. As such, they say, it aims to do almost as little as possible to make voting easier for working Missourians.
If the cuts to early voting in North Carolina’s restrictive voting law had been in effect in 2012, Election Day wait times would have risen dramatically, a significant number of would-be voters would have given up in frustration—and African-American voters would have been hit hardest. That’s according to two top voting scholars, whose testimony in the lawsuit seeking to overturn the measure was released Thursday by the ACLU, one of the groups leading the effort. The law’s challengers, including the U.S. Justice Department, allege that it violates the Voting Rights Act, which bars racial discrimination in voting. The expert testimony of Ted Allen of Ohio State and Paul Gronke of Reed College is a key part of establishing both that the measure would make it harder to vote and that its impact would be felt disproportionately by non-whites. Among other provisions, North Carolina’s law, passed last year by Republicans, cut seven days from the state’s early voting period. In 2012, 900,000 North Carolinians used those days to vote.
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.
The Republican-controlled Missouri House endorsed a pair of measures Wednesday that would expand early voting, though Democratic critics called it a “sham” that could circumvent a separate voting initiative that would go further. Missourians currently can cast absentee ballots under limited circumstances, including if they will be out of town on Election Day. The proposal that won first-round approval Wednesday would send a constitutional amendment to the ballot allowing early voting for nine days and ending the week before the election. Companion legislation would call for polls to be open weekdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on Saturday for four hours.
President Barack Obama recently joined former presidents George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Jimmy Carter at the President Lyndon Baines Johnson Library in Austin, Texas, to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. It is no exaggeration to say that the Civil Rights Act, and the Voting Rights Act of the following year, were the most transformational political developments of the past century in the United States. It was a difficult, often violent struggle, but in the end what was implicit in the nation’s founding documents finally became explicit in federal law. The Civil Rights Act made it illegal to discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin in public accommodations. The Voting Rights Act addressed discrimination in elections, ultimately dismantling a system that had shut African Americans out of voting booths for nearly a hundred years. A few days after his Austin speech the president was in New York City to speak to Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network, and he took that opportunity to remind his audience that the struggle for equal rights never ends and to call attention to a disturbing political development. “The right to vote is threatened today in a way that it has not been since the Voting Rights Act became law,” Obama said. “Across the country, Republicans have led efforts to pass laws making it harder, not easier, for people to vote.” With uncharacteristic severity, Obama has called the effort to restrict voting “un-American.”
An early voting initiative petition is prompting a Missouri lawmaker to propose another version that could lead to voters deciding between competing plans. A House committee last week endorsed a constitutional amendment and companion legislation that would establish an early voting period. That comes as the Missouri Early Voting Fund is using professional petition circulators and volunteers to gather thousands of required signatures from registered voters in hopes of getting its proposal on this year’s ballot. The campaign treasurer for the initiative campaign is a former chief of staff for Attorney General Chris Koster. The initiative petition would allow early voting for six weeks and require that officials accommodate early voting on Saturday and Sunday for the final 21 days before federal or state elections. The proposal in the legislature calls for nine days of early voting and depends upon lawmakers to approve funding.
Although the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is the main muse of the Civil Rights Summit taking place at the LBJ Presidential Library this week, legislation passed the following year, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, has brought forth many words from the Obama administration this week, many of which can be linked neatly to the 2014 midterms and where the Democratic Party sees itself in the future. His discussion of voting rights is framed by the civil rights movement and the once overwhelming and bipartisan support for expanding voter franchise. He mentions that Strom Thurmond voted to reauthorize the Voting Rights Act in the ’80s, and that the Senate vote to reauthorize the law in 2006 was 98-0. Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) said before that vote, ”As we reflect on the true wrongs that existed in the 1950s and 1960s and where those wrongs may have taken place, we owe it to history . . . to pay tribute to those who took the law and made it a reality.” Last year, the Supreme Court struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, which means states with a history of discrimination that once needed preclearance for redistricting no longer require special attention from the Justice Department, unless Congress passes an amended Section 4, an unlikely prospect given the current congressional class. Many state legislatures reacted by passing legislation that often makes it harder to vote. There are new voter-ID laws, and early voting and same-day registration have been sanded away in many states. The conservative argument for these laws is that they help prevent voter fraud. Democrats respond that it also prevents their base from voting.
National: Obama, Citing New Laws, Says the G.O.P. Is Moving to Restrict Voting Rights | New York Times
President Obama deplored on Friday what he called a Republican campaign to deny voting rights to millions of Americans as he stepped up efforts to rally his political base heading into a competitive midterm campaign season. Appearing at the annual convention of the Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network in Manhattan, Mr. Obama accused Republicans of trying to rig the elections by making it harder for older people, women, minorities and the impoverished to cast ballots in swing states that could determine control of the Senate. “The right to vote is threatened today in a way that it has not been since the Voting Rights Act became law nearly five decades ago,” Mr. Obama said in a hotel ballroom filled with cheering supporters, most of them African-American. “Across the country, Republicans have led efforts to pass laws making it harder, not easier, for people to vote.”
Add Illinois to the list of states where voting rights could be on the ballot this fall. Land of Lincoln lawmakers are advancing a bill that would put a proposed constitutional amendment on voting rights before the state’s voters in November. The Democratic-controlled House overwhelmingly passed the measure Tuesday afternoon with strong Republican support, and it’s expected to pass the Senate, which also is run by Democrats. If approved by voters this November, the proposal would add to the state’s constitution an affirmative right to register and vote. Illinois joins Ohio, Missouri, Montana, Nevada and California, all of which may ask voters to weigh in on the issue of access to the ballot in November. But while Illinoisans and Ohioans may be considering efforts to protect the franchise, voters in those other four states could be mulling whether to impose new restrictions.