The Voting News Daily: U.S. voting rights under siege, In Ohio and elsewhere, battles over state voting laws head to court

National: U.S. voting rights under siege | CNN.com Viviette Applewhite, a 93-year-old African-American woman from Philadelphia, suddenly cannot vote. Although she once marched with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. for the right to do so, and has dutifully cast a ballot for five decades, in this election year she may be denied this basic…

National: U.S. voting rights under siege | CNN.com

Viviette Applewhite, a 93-year-old African-American woman from Philadelphia, suddenly cannot vote. Although she once marched with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. for the right to do so, and has dutifully cast a ballot for five decades, in this election year she may be denied this basic right. Under Pennsylvania’s new voter ID law, Applewhite is no longer considered eligible. The Pennsylvania law requires that citizens present a state-issued photo ID card before voting, which, in Applewhite’s case, required that she first produce a birth certificate. After much trying, and with the help of a pro bono attorney, she was finally able to obtain her birth certificate — but on it, she is identified by her birth name Brooks, while her other forms of identification have her as Applewhite, the name she took after adoption. Because her 1950s adoption papers are lost in an office in Mississippi, and the state is unable to track them down, Applewhite still can’t get a Pennsylvania photo ID. She is therefore barred from voting in the November elections. Such stringent obstacles, particularly for African-Americans, were not so long ago the accepted rule. Despite the 15th and 19th amendments to the U.S. Constitution, which extended the vote to black men and all women, respectively, election officials used poll taxes, literacy tests and other methods to deny this legal right. Then came the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

National: In Ohio and elsewhere, battles over state voting laws head to court | The Washington Post

There were 13 lawyers filling the courtroom of U.S. District Judge Algenon L. Marbley last week, arguing over a sliver of a slice of the millions of votes that Ohio will count in the 2012 presidential election. Or, more precisely, those that Ohio plans to not count. The state’s lawyer, Aaron Epstein, told Marbley that “by any metric,” the number of potentially discarded ballots at issue was too small to warrant intervention by the federal courts. Marbley was skeptical. “While we might not look for perfection,” he told Epstein, “if your vote is the vote not being counted, it’s a bad election, agreed?” Such is the state of play in this Midwestern swing state with a reputation for close elections, messy ballot procedures and litigious politicos. “Will Ohio count your vote?” blared a recent headline in the Cincinnati Enquirer. Closing the deal with voters is only the beginning for President Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney, and not just in Ohio. In courthouses across the country, lawsuits are challenging state laws that dictate who may vote, when they may vote and whether their ballot will be counted once they have voted.

National: Florida, Texas and Alabama Challenge 1965 Voting Rights Act | WUSF News

A landmark federal law used to block the adoption of state voter identification cards and other election rules now faces unprecedented legal challenges. A record five federal lawsuits filed this year challenge the constitutionality of a key provision in the Voting Rights Act. The 1965 statute prevents many state and local governments from enacting new voter ID requirements, redistricting plans and similar proposals on grounds that the changes would disenfranchise minorities. The plaintiffs, which include Alabama, Florida and Texas, are aiming for the Supreme Court because some justices in a previous ruling openly questioned the continued need for parts of the Voting Rights Act. The high court recently received two of the cases on appeal and could take them up in the fall term. The three states, and two smaller communities in Alabama and North Carolina, want to regain autonomy over their elections, which are under strict federal supervision imposed by the Voting Rights Act to remedy past discrimination. The complaints ask the courts to strike down the central provision in the law, known as “pre-clearance,” which requires governments with a history of discrimination to get federal permission to change election procedures. Pre-clearance is enforced throughout nine states and in portions of seven others. Most of the jurisdictions are in the South.

Editorials: A Détente Before the Election – Voter Fraud and Manipulation of Election Rules | Rick Hasen/NYTimes.com

Does voter fraud sometimes happen in the United States? You bet.  But we are dealing with this relatively small problem in an irrational and partisan way. In a 1996 primary in Dodge County, Ga., rival camps for county commissioner set up tables at opposite ends of the county courthouse and bid for voters’ absentee votes in what a county magistrate later called a “flea market” atmosphere. Recently, officials in Cudahy, Calif., admitted intercepting absentee ballots and throwing out ballots not cast for incumbents. Every year we see convictions for absentee ballot fraud. Not a lot, but enough to know it’s a problem. So you might think that Republicans, newly obsessed with voter fraud, would call for eliminating absentee ballots, or at least requiring that voters who use them show some need, like a medical condition. But Republicans don’t talk much about reining in absentee ballots. Eliminating them would inconvenience some voters and would likely cut back on voting by loyal Republican voters, especially elderly and military voters. If only Republicans would apply that same logic to voter-identification laws. The only kind of fraud such ID laws prevent is impersonation: a person registered under a false name or claiming to be someone else on the voter rolls. I have not found a single election over the last few decades in which impersonation fraud had the slightest chance of changing an election outcome — unlike absentee-ballot fraud, which changes election outcomes regularly. (Let’s face it: impersonation fraud is an exceedingly dumb way to try to steal an election.)

Editorials: Why voter ID laws are like a poll tax | Charles Postel/Politico.com

When is a voter restriction law like a poll tax? This is the question posed by a wave of laws passed in 11 states that require voters to show state-issued photo IDs. Attorney General Eric Holder has argued that such laws are not aimed at preventing voter fraud, as supporters claim, but to make it more difficult for minorities to exercise their right to vote. The new Texas photo ID law is like the poll taxes, Holder charges, used to disfranchise generations of African-American and Mexican-American citizens. Texas Gov. Rick Perry denies this. He claims that using “poll tax” language is “designed to inflame passions and incite racial tension.” Perry is now demanding an apology from President Barack Obama for “Holder’s imprudent remarks.” But no apology needs to be issued. For these laws function very much like a poll tax.

Alabama: Fight brews over voter ID | The Montgomery Advertiser

Rep. Terri Sewell is angry that Alabama wants registered voters such as her wheelchair-bound father to show a photo ID before casting a ballot. The Birmingham Democrat, Alabama’s only black member of Congress, said her 77-year-old father doesn’t have photo ID since he let his driver’s license expire years ago. If the state’s law takes effect as scheduled in 2014, thousands of elderly, disabled and minority Alabama voters will either stay home each election day or will have to make “extraordinary efforts” to get a driver’s license, passport or other form of identification, Sewell said.

Arizona: Judge blocks top-two initiative from Arizona ballot | Arizona Capitol Times

A Maricopa County Superior Court judge issued an injunction against the Open Elections/Open Government Act today, ruling that a provision on the election of political parties’ officers violates a rule requiring ballot initiatives to focus on a single subject. Judge Mark Brain ruled that the section on the rights of political parties should have been a separate amendment from the initiative, which aims to create a “top two” primary election system in Arizona. The provision on the rights of political parties states that the initiative does restrict the rights of individuals to associate with political parties, and that parties may still elect party officers, support candidates or otherwise participate in elections, but that “no such procedures shall be paid for or subsidized using public funds.” The provision would have eliminated taxpayer-funded elections for precinct committeemen. Paul Johnson, chairman of the Open Government Committee, said the group will appeal the ruling to the Arizona Supreme Court. He said the appeal will likely be filed on Tuesday.

Arizona: Judge not buying arguments by foes of open primary ballot measure | East Valley Tribune

A state judge on Friday questioned efforts of foes of an open primary system to keep it from ever going to voters. The opponents contend that the proposed constitutional amendment illegally deals with too many disparate subjects. Attorney Mike Liburdi said that makes putting it on the November ballot improper. But during a hearing Friday, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Mark Brain suggested he was not buying all of Liburdi’s arguments that the measure, if approved, would change too many unrelated things. Brain also was skeptical of Liburdi’s contention that a 100-word description of the measure, included on each petition, did not comply with legal requirements that it be solely a factual description of what would change if approved. The attorney argued that proponents improperly used the description to convince people to sign. But Brain told Liburdi that under his interpretation of the law, there is no way anyone could accurately describe a ballot measure within 100 words. Liburdi started to craft an answer when Brain interjected. “They would say that it sucked,” the judge joshed.

California: Voting by mail jumps, altering campaigns | North County Times

More Californians are bypassing the polling place in favor of voting by mail, changing campaign dynamics but helping to identify the winners and losers early in the night in the first count of ballots. The growth of what is known as “convenience voters” was evident in the June 5 primary, when a whopping 65 percent of Golden State residents made their choices via mail ballot. San Diego County mirrored the statewide trend, also coming in at 65 percent. In adjoining Riverside County, more than 70 percent of voters chose the mail method. Voting by mail greatly increases the number of early voters, requiring campaigns to make sure they reach those people weeks before the official Election Day. “No longer can campaigns count on a last-minute surge through some kind of story or advertising or revelation that could change the election in the last few days,” said Jack Pitney, a widely respected political scientist at Claremont-McKenna College near Los Angeles.

Florida: Florida falls flat when it comes to rules for tracking paper ballots after elections | TCPalm.com

As the white-hot presidential contest heats up in this battleground state, a newly released national voting equipment study gives Florida passing marks — except for one glaring exception. Aside from using paper ballots, the ability to recount those ballots is the single most important means to ensure a fair election, many experts say, and Florida falls flat. At stake are the ballots of 11.4 million Florida voters and 29 electoral votes, more than enough to decide a tight election. After all, the 326-page report written by nonprofit advocacy groups Common Cause and the Verified Voting Foundation, as well as Rutgers Law School’s Constitutional Litigation Clinic, points out that George W. Bush won Florida in 2000 by a mere 537 votes. Florida’s myriad voting systems are ranked “generally good” by the report — the rough equivalent of a “C” — in part because the state mandates the use of paper ballots for everyone except some disabled voters. Martin County’s touch screen equipment and St. Lucie and Indian River county’s optical scan machines all produce paper ballots, officials confirmed. But Florida’s rules for tracking those paper ballots after an election come up short, the report concluded, and that’s key, given the fact that virtually all elections systems have demonstrated some type of technological failure. “We all know computers crash,” said Susannah Goodman, director of Common Cause’s Voter Integrity Campaign. “Voting machines are no different.”

Michigan: Write-in votes in Republican primary could slow counting process | Detroit Free Press

It’s going to be a long night — and day — on Tuesday and Wednesday for candidates and voters in the 11th Congressional District in suburban Wayne and Oakland counties. The emergence of a vigorous write-in campaign by former state Sen. Nancy Cassis, R-Novi, means final results will be delayed until at least Wednesday afternoon. That may also slow vote tallies for issues on ballots in those communities. Local clerks will be able to determine how many votes Kerry Bentivolio, a Milford teacher, reindeer farmer, tea party activist and the only Republican who will appear on the ballot, gets on election night. But the results for Cassis — and the other two certified write-in candidates, Drexel Morton and former state Sen. Loren Bennett, both of Canton — will show up only as write-in votes after polls close. It might be possible to call a winner if Bentivolio has a significant majority of votes. But if write-ins are close to or exceed Bentivolio’s total, it gets complicated.

Ohio: Early Voting Lawsuit | NYTimes.com

For the last four years, Republican lawmakers around the country have diligently tried to eliminate early-voting periods, which give people a chance to vote at their convenience. The reason is simple: early voting was wildly popular in 2008 – comprising a third of the vote – and many of the people who took advantage of it voted for Barack Obama. More than half of Florida’s early voters in 2008 were Democrats, and many black voters went right from their church pews to the ballot box on the Sunday before Election Day. That’s why the state’s Republicans severely restricted the practice last year, and specifically banned voting on that final Sunday. Similar restrictions were also passed in Georgia, Tennessee, West Virginia, and Ohio, part of a movement to restrict voting that includes tough voter ID requirements. Now, the Obama campaign’s attempt to fight the measure in Ohio has led to one of the lower moments of this year’s presidential campaign. The state legislature cut back on the early voting period, and banned it in the three days prior to Election Day. (Even though 93,000 Ohioans voted in those three days in 2008.) An exception, however, was made for military personnel, who tend to lean Republican.

Ohio: Thousands of ballots are disqualified each year in Ohio | Lancaster Eagle Gazette

Each election year, Ohio residents cast thousands of ballots that are not counted. Despite efforts to simplify the state’s voting to avoid the widespread discarding of ballots, significant questions remain about whether every Ohioan’s vote will be counted Nov. 6 — and whether the state, always pivotal in close presidential races, can assure the nation a timely, accurate and lawsuit-free count. “If the Wednesday headlines the day after the election say, ‘All eyes are on Ohio,’ it probably won’t be a good thing,” said Ed Foley, an Ohio State University law professor and a nationally respected expert on election laws.

Ohio: New voting laws cause controversy; critics fear turnout will suffer | cleveland.com

The 2000 presidential election was thrown into turmoil by antiquated paper ballots in Florida that made voters’ intentions difficult to decipher. In 2004, hours-long lines at polling places kept thousands of Ohio voters from casting ballots.
In 2012, new restrictions on voting enacted by state legislatures around the country have the potential to sway the presidential race by making it harder for citizens to vote, election experts say. “Here in Ohio, as in many other parts of the country, we have seen rules adopted in the past decade — and especially in the past year — that make it more difficult for eligible citizens to vote and have their votes counted,” Ohio State University election law expert Daniel P. Tokaji told a Senate Judiciary Subcommittee hearing earlier this year in Cleveland. The restrictions include curbs on organizations that register new voters, requirements that voters present photo IDs to vote and proof of citizenship to register, cutbacks in early voting periods and limits on voting by felons who have been freed from prison.

Voting Blogs: Romney Would Restrict Voting Right For 900,000 Ohio Vets | ThinkProgress

When I read stories this weekend that said the Obama campaign was suing to restrict the voting rights of military in Ohio, my blood got boiling. Of course, Think Progress has already documented that story, inflamed by the Romney campaign, is patently false. In fact, the Obama campaign was suing to block an Ohio law which restricts a very successful early voting program in the state. The President’s campaign was trying to keep expanded voting rights in place for everyone, military included. So, why am I still so disturbed? Because Mitt Romney, by supporting the Ohio law that would do away with three days of early voting for all but those covered under the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voter Act (‘UOCAVA’), is supporting the restriction of voting rights for as many as 913,000 Ohio veterans. This includes military retirees with over 20 years of service and multiple deployments. In short, Mitt Romney supports efforts to make voting more difficult for the very people who have put their lives on the line after swearing an oath to uphold our Constitution and democracy. Once you leave the military, you are no longer covered by UOCAVA. Your voting rights are the same as any civilian. That means the early voting law which Mitt Romney wants to undo, provided hundreds of thousands of Ohio veterans with more of an opportunity to vote. By all accounts, Ohio voters liked and used the early voting law. In 2008, nearly one-third of all ballots was cast under the early voting measures, surely many of them veterans.

Pennsylvania: Size of voter ID budget debated | The Times-Tribune

Conflicting estimates of how many Pennsylvania voters lack the required voter photo identification under a new state law are spurring debate about whether enough money is budgeted to implement it. The law requires voters to provide one of a half-dozen legally specified forms of photo ID when they go to the polls Nov. 6. The state budget for fiscal 2012-13 enacted June 30 provides $1 million to help the state Department of Transportation provide free nondriver photo ID cards to those requesting them. The Department of State has $5 million in federal funds through the Help America Vote Act for media advertising, mailings and phone calls for voter education and outreach, said agency spokesman Ron Ruman. State officials don’t see a need for budgeting more money at this stage while the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania and Democratic lawmakers who uniformly voted against the law think the amounts are inadequate. The $1 million sum reflects analyses of the law’s fiscal impact by the House and Senate Appropriations Committees when it was enacted in March. The analyses cite assumptions that fewer than 1 percent of registered voters didn’t have a PennDOT ID card. The cost of producing a card is estimated at $13.50. “We pretty well knew from the beginning that the fiscal note lowballed what it was going to cost to provide free ID to people,” said Bonita Hoke, League executive director. “There is just not enough funding allocated for this.”

Tennessee: Close Election Results Won’t Automatically Be Recounted | WREG

Memphis School Board Member Kenneth Whalum, Junior has been an outspoken member of the Memphis City School Board, “I cannot be bought, speak my mind and question things that need to be questioned.” When a new Shelby County School Board takes over in 2013, Whalum won’t be on it. In a nail biter, Whalum lost to Kevin Woods, 6,423 votes to 6,531. That’s a loss by a mere 108 votes. “I have never seen such an infusion of hundreds of thousands of dollars from outside Memphis in a local school board race. It was a miracle I was able to get 50 percent of the vote,” says Whalum.
What may be even more shocking to some, is there is no automatic recount in a race this close.

Virginia: Board takes no action on errant voter registration mailings | WSLS 10

After a two hour meeting, the State Board of Elections opted today not to take any action related to a group’s voter registration mailings that have led to several hundred complaints. The board met this morning to discuss mailings from the Washington-based Voter Participation Center, many of which have been sent to already-registered voters and some ineligible to vote, including the deceased, children, non-U.S. citizens and even family pets.

Angola: Cabinda rebels want talks with government after vote | Reuters

A rebel group that has fought for the independence of Angola’s oil-producing northern enclave of Cabinda for nearly four decades wants to hold talks with the Angolan government after national elections on Aug. 31, its leader said. The Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda (FLEC) has fought a low-level insurgency for 38 years. It grabbed world headlines in January 2010 for a deadly attack on a bus carrying the Togo national soccer team during the African Nations Cup held in Angola. “FLEC is observing the start of campaigning for the general election in Angola and will take the necessary measures to explore official and direct contact with the government that wins the ballot on Aug. 31,” FLEC leader Nzita Henriques Tiago, who is in exile in Paris, said in a statement on Sunday. The Aug. 31 election will choose lawmakers and a president. Analysts predict President Jose Eduardo Dos Santos, in power for 32 years, will lead his MPLA party to an easy win.

United Kingdom: Nick Clegg: Lords reform plans to be abandoned | BBC

Plans to reform the House of Lords are being abandoned after Conservatives “broke the coalition contract”, Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg has announced. Agreement on an elected Lords could not be reached with Tory opponents, he said, and the plans would be shelved rather than face a “slow death”. As a result, he said Lib Dem MPs could not now support Conservative-driven changes to Commons boundaries in 2015. Labour said the Lords climbdown was a “humiliation” for the coalition. Changes to the make-up of the Lords would have seen 80% of peers elected and the total number of members halved to 450.