A divided U.S. Supreme Court handed down a victory Wednesday for black legislative leaders in Alabama, and the decision may signal a coming win for Virginia Democrats fighting Republican-drawn election maps here. The court’s 5-4 decision sends Alabama Legislative Black Caucus v. Alabama back to the federal district court there with an admonition that the case be re-argued. Plaintiffs there argued that Alabama legislators unfairly packed minority voters into districts to dilute black voting strength elsewhere. A federal judicial panel in the state disagreed, but the U.S. Supreme Court vacated that decision Wednesday. A three-judge panel in Virginia decided just the opposite in a case challenging the state’s 3rd Congressional District, which is held by U.S. Rep. Robert C. “Bobby” Scott, D-Newport News. Federal judges here decided last year that race was the predominant factor in drawing district lines and ordered the map redrawn.
New York: Federal judge cites Albany County redistricting failure; legal fees could top $1M | Times Union
Albany County diluted minority voting power in its 2011 redistricting plan, a federal judge ruled Tuesday in a decision that temporarily freezes this year’s legislative elections until a new plan is drafted. Senior U.S. Judge Lawrence Kahn’s 81-page decision orders the county to submit an amended map of its 39 legislative districts within three weeks -— a timetable aimed at minimizing disruption to an election calendar that begins in June. The defeat marks the third straight time the county will be forced to alter its political lines amid a challenge under the federal 1965 Voting Rights Act — a landmark piece of legislation aimed at protecting the franchise of minority voters. “With rare exceptions, there is not yet an equal, fair opportunity for minority-preferred candidates to be elected on a county level absent special circumstances,” Kahn wrote, calling the county’s entire redistricting process “questionable.”
Voting Blogs: Texas Post-Election Report Indicates Systemic Election Issues | Texas Election Law Blog
After the November 2014 general election, Battleground Texas used the data from its Election Day voter hotline to summarize and describe the problems that voters faced in the election. That public report is available as a .pdf file through Battleground Texas. You can read the report here. Among other things, the report finds that (1) the statewide voter registration list is riddled with errors (and the fact that the statewide database went down on Election Day was frustrating), (2) compared to the experience in other states, provisional ballots in Texas are used disproportionately in response to registration problems, (3) The Texas Department of Public Safety has a deserved reputation for particularly poor handling of “motor voter” registrations, a responsibility of the state agency that administers drivers’ license issuance and renewal as mandated by the National Voter Registration Act, and (4) voting systems in Texas are showing their age – equipment is breaking down, touchscreens are getting misaligned, and the availability of back-up machines is declining.
National: New evidence shows election officials are biased against Latino voters | The Washington Post
Voter identification laws are cropping up around the country: 31 states had a voter identification requirement in the 2014 midterms, up from 14 states in 2000. These laws vary widely in the types of identification they accept, even in whether identification is required or merely requested. And many people don’t know whether they need identification to vote, or what type of identification to bring. Opponents argue that these laws disproportionately impact minority voters, who are less likely to have required identification. Our new research in this month’s American Political Science Review shows that minorities face another hurdle: bias in the bureaucracy that implements these laws. Roughly 8,000 local officials – county or municipal clerks and election boards – manage the nation’s election system. These officials train local poll workers, provide information, and interact with constituents with little immediate oversight from state officials.
Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner fell short in his 2014 efforts to convince GOP leadership to take up his Voting Rights Amendment Act, but the Wisconsin Republican is ready to take another stab at passing a rewrite of the historic law. But there’s little indication this year will be any different. For Sensenbrenner and his fellow co-sponsors of the legislation introduced Wednesday, many of the same obstacles remain — along with a few new ones. On the surface, it would seem the time has never been better — nor the political pressures greater — for the Republican-controlled House to take action. The VRA’s 50th anniversary this summer has the landmark civil rights legislation back in the spotlight almost two years after the Supreme Court, challenging lawmakers to update the law for the 21st century, struck down the enforcement section of the act. Sensenbrenner chose to drop his bill on the same day the House considered legislation to award Congressional Gold Medals to the “foot soldiers” of 1965’s bloody civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Ala.
National: White House seeks $50 million to restore civil rights sites as voting rights anniversary nears | Associated Press
The White House is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act by earmarking $50 million to restore key civil rights areas around the nation. The president’s budget includes money for the national historical trail from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, which commemorates in part the “Bloody Sunday” attack by police on civil rights demonstrators. Their march was portrayed in the Oscar-nominated film “Selma.” The attack helped boost the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which banned the use of literacy tests, added federal oversight for minority voters and allowed federal prosecutors to investigate the use of poll taxes in state and local elections.
County Executive Dan McCoy told a federal judge Wednesday that he kept his hands off the county’s controversial 2011 redistricting process after he created the commission charged with carrying it out. ”When I put the commission together, I gave them no guidance after that,” said McCoy, who was at the time chairman of the Albany County Legislature and the county Democratic Party. His testimony, which last 35 minutes, came on day nine of the trial in a lawsuit challenging the political map. McCoy asserted he did not recall many of the details of the contentious political maneuvering that embroiled the legislature’s sharply divided Democratic majority during passage of the electoral map nearly four years ago. Democrats including McCoy split 16-14 in favor of the law creating the map, which ultimately passed 22-14 with Republican support.
For most people, Ferguson, Mo., will be remembered for one awful August afternoon, when a white police officer there shot and killed an unarmed black teenager, Michael Brown. But that incident was only a snapshot in the town’s long and complicated racial history — a history characterized by entrenched segregation and economic inequality, as well as by familiar and systemic obstacles that have kept black residents from holding positions of political power. Ferguson’s population is two-thirds African-American, and yet its mayor, city manager and five of its six City Council members are white. So are its police chief and all but three officers on its 53-member police force. The school board for the Ferguson-Florissant School District is much the same: More than three-quarters of the district’s 12,000 students are black, but the seven-member board includes only one African-American.
County lawmakers on Monday forcefully rejected a proposed settlement to a three-year-old voting rights lawsuit, sending the case back to federal court with an emphatic rebuke of County Executive Dan McCoy. The settlement would have ended the complex and increasingly costly case alleging racial imbalances in the county’s political map by, among other things, establishing a fifth legislative district in which minority voters are a majority. And while several of the majority Democratic lawmakers said that they support that goal, they blasted McCoy for freezing the legislature out of the settlement process and accused him of overstepping his authority in trying to dictate how the new lines would be drawn. High on the list of grievances is that the settlement would have prescribed the makeup of the county’s redistricting commission, a task legislative leaders said is clearly lawmakers’ prerogative. The vote was 34-3, with even some of the Democratic executive’s Republican allies opposing it.
National: Voters encounter faulty machines, website crashes and other sporadic Election Day problems | Associated Press
Voters around the country encountered malfunctioning machines, website crashes and delayed polling place openings, but the problems for the most part appeared sporadic rather than systemic and there was no immediate indication that they factored in the outcome of an election. Beyond routine mechanical problems, the midterm elections Tuesday also represented for some states the first major tests of new voter identification laws that opponents say disenfranchise minorities and the poor. In Texas, where the U.S. Supreme Court last month let stand a strict photo ID law, there were reports of “voter confusion about how and whether their votes would be counted,” according to Election Protection, a voter advocacy coalition. The law, which Democrats had said would prevent roughly 650,000 people from casting a ballot, meant voters had to show one of seven approved kinds of photo identification. The law has not previously been used in congressional elections or a high-profile race for governor such as the one Tuesday, won by Republican Greg Abbott.