The League of Women Voters slammed legislation Tuesday requested by small cities to shorten early-voting periods from 21 days to six, including one Saturday. Cities complain that staffing three people as poll workers for days when almost no one shows up to vote is too costly for local taxpayers, according to Tom Gehl, a lobbyist for the Georgia Municipal Association. “The requirement that they stay open can be really expensive, especially with a part-time staff,” he said. That argument doesn’t wash with Elizabeth Poythress, president of the League of Women Voters of Georgia.
A lawsuit that alleges Albany County didn’t do enough in 2011 to create a new election district made up mostly of minority voters can go forward, a judge ruled. In a decision issued Tuesday, Judge Lawrence E. Kahn ruled there are enough black residents in a compact geographic area in the county to create a fifth minority district, allowing the case to proceed to trial. The plaintiffs — who include local NAACP leader Anne Pope and former County Legislator Wanda Willingham — brought the action seeking to invalidate the 2011 redistricting map by arguing the 2010 census showed a growth in the minority population, and therefore, minority representation should have been increased to five legislators out of 39 from the current of four. The suit says the county violated the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) is pushing his Democratic colleagues to strengthen the protections for minorities in their proposed update to the Voting Rights Act. Begich said the bill introduced in the Senate by Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) does not do enough for minority voters, especially native populations in Alaska. Begich expressed concern that Alaska would not have to clear voting procedure changes with the federal government under the bill. A transparency provision that requires notice of voting changes is little consolation, he said. “This is cold comfort considering that the burden is entirely on the voter to find out about such changes,” he said in a letter to Leahy.
South Carolina will be one misstep away from renewed federal supervision of its elections if legislation to restore part of the Voting Rights Act becomes law. The bill introduced Thursday would rewrite the rules that would determine which states need strict oversight based on the chance their election-related changes could harm minority voters. The old rules, which applied to South Carolina and all or part of 14 other states, were thrown out by the U.S. Supreme Court last year because they were based on outdated voting data.
A state judge in Pennsylvania has struck down the state’s new Voter ID law. Commonwealth Court Judge Bernard McGinley ruled that the law, which has already been delayed by the courts and was not implemented in the 2012 election, is unconstitutional. The ruling sets up a key showdown in the state Supreme Court over the controversial law. “Voter ID laws are designed to assure a free and fair election; the Voter ID Law does not further this goal,” McGinley wrote in his decision, adding: “Based on the foregoing, this Court declares the Voter ID Law photo ID provisions and related implementation invalid…”
A federal judge in Alabama on Monday reinstated federal oversight over the voting practices of a city there, in what election law specialists said was the first such move since the Supreme Court struck down part of the Voting Rights Act in June. Judge Callie V.S. Granade, of Federal District Court in Mobile, used a mechanism in the law that the Supreme Court had left untouched, Section 3, which allows jurisdictions that have intentionally discriminated against minority voters to be “bailed in” to the oversight requirements. Relying on Section 3, Judge Granade ordered the city, Evergreen, to submit some changes in voting procedures to the Department of Justice or a federal court for review before they can go into effect. “This is a major win for the people of Evergreen,” said John K. Tanner, a lawyer for the plaintiffs and a former chief of the Justice Department’s voting section. But he added that piecemeal litigation under Section 3 was no substitute for a general requirement that states and localities designated by Congress be subject to federal oversight.
California: Anaheim settles minority voting rights lawsuit; residents will weigh in on electoral changes | Associated Press
Anaheim on Tuesday approved a settlement in a voting rights lawsuit that challenged its citywide elections as unfair to the city’s Hispanic majority. Under the settlement, the plaintiffs’ claims will be dismissed and Anaheim residents will vote in November on whether to change the city charter to a district system, which supporters and judges have said is more fair to minority voters, the city announced in a statement. The city didn’t admit in the deal that its current system violates the California Voting Rights Act, under which the American Civil Liberties Union brought the lawsuit on behalf of three residents. City Attorney Michael R.W. Houston said it will allow changes to the system to be decided by voters, “not through court-ordered mandates and judicial oversight of the City’s electoral system.”
Another day, another group trying to pass legislation on the basis of perception. The Electoral Commission is generous enough to preface its demand for voter identification at polling stations with the admission that there is no evidence of widespread voter fraud. But, in a now traditional refrain, it adds that something must anyway be done because “the public remain concerned that it is taking place”. That is not in itself problematic. Where confidence in the electoral system can be enhanced, one should be open to doing so. Unfortunately, the Commission’s proposal would further disenfranchise young people, women, the poor and minorities. Sometime before the 2019 European and English local elections the Commission will publish details of a proof of identity scheme and enact it. Its report makes frequent reference to Northern Ireland, where such a scheme is already in place. The most thorough data on the effect of voter ID comes from the US, where cynical Republicans have been deploying it to counter demographic changes which are not to their advantage. A particularly brutal example was recently introduced in Texas.
A federal trial in Milwaukee on Wisconsin’s 2011 voter ID law concluded recently, and the verdict, when it comes, will help define the future of the Voting Rights Act, which has been in question since the Supreme Court gutted a core provision, Section 5, in June. This case could also set an important precedent for lawsuits recently filed against similar laws in Texas and North Carolina. The Wisconsin law, which is now on hold, is among the strictest in the country. It requires a voter to show poll workers government-issued photo identification, like a driver’s license or passport. The law’s challengers, which include the A.C.L.U., the League of United Latin American Citizens, the League of Young Voters and several private citizens, sued under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. That section, which survived the Supreme Court’s ruling, prohibits state and local governments from imposing any “voting qualification or prerequisite to voting” that has a racially discriminatory effect. The test is whether a law causes minority voters to have “less opportunity than other members of the electorate to participate in the political process.” The plaintiffs presented substantial evidence that the Wisconsin statute had precisely that effect.
It’s the latest fad among state officials looking to make voting harder: We’re not racist, we’re just partisan. Some background: In June, the Supreme Court struck down a core provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, under which nine states and portions of others had to get federal approval before changing their election laws. One of those states, Texas, is again in court, facing a Justice Department suit seeking to get the state under federal oversight again. To do so, the Justice Department must prove intentional racial discrimination. Texas’ defense? It’s discrimination, all right — but it’s on the basis of party, not race, and therefore it’s O.K. Says Texas: “It is perfectly constitutional for a Republican-controlled legislature to make partisan districting decisions, even if there are incidental effects on minority voters who support Democratic candidates.” Leaving aside that whopper — laws that dilute black and Hispanic voting power have more than an “incidental” impact — the statement, part of a court filing in August, was pretty brazen. Minority voters, in Texas and elsewhere, tend to support Democrats. So Republican officials, especially but not only in the South, want to reduce early voting; impose voter-identification requirements; restrict voter registration; and, critically, draw districts either to crowd as many minority voters into as few districts as possible, or dilute concentrations of minority voters by dispersing them into as many white-controlled districts as possible.