If the Supreme Court strikes down or otherwise guts a centerpiece of the Voting Rights Act, there will be far less scrutiny of thousands of decisions each year about redrawing district lines, moving or closing polling places, changing voting hours or imposing voter identification requirements in areas that have a history of disenfranchising minority voters, voting law experts say. A close look at the law demonstrates how a series of seemingly technical details amount to what is essentially a safeguard against violations in those states and regions covered by the law — most of which are in the South. It also shows how that very bulwark comes at the cost of sharply tilting the playing field against those areas in ways that several conservative-leaning Supreme Court justices expressed alarm about during arguments on Wednesday. The legal issue turns on two main parts of the act: Section Five, which covers jurisdictions with a history of discrimination, and Section Two, which covers the entire country. Both sections outlaw rules that intentionally discriminate against or otherwise disproportionately harm minority voters. Section Two would remain in effect even if the court strikes down Section Five. But reliance only on Section Two would mean a crucial difference in how hard it may be to block a change in voting rules in an area that is currently covered by Section Five. Those jurisdictions, because of their history of discrimination, must prove that any proposed change would not make minority voters worse off.
Justice Antonin Scalia, during oral arguments at the Supreme Court on Wednesday, said that the Court had to rescue Congress from the trap of being afraid to vote against a “racial entitlement”—the “entitlement” in question being the Voting Rights Act. (“Even the name of it is wonderful: the Voting Rights Act. Who is going to vote against that in the future?”) Scalia said that not alone but, it appears, with four other votes for overturning a key part of the act: Section Five, which relies on a combination of history and recent bad behavior to designate certain states and jurisdictions as having to get “pre-clearance” from the Department of Justice or from a federal court before they, say, abruptly change voting hours or redraw districts or change their voter-I.D. requirements. Most of them are in the South, but not all of them are. The Court’s conservatives seem to think this is terribly unfair. “Is it the government’s submission that the citizens in the South are more racist than citizens in the North?” Chief Justice John Roberts asked. “But if — if Alabama wants to have monuments to the heroes of the Civil Rights Movement,” Justice Anthony Kennedy, the swing vote, asked, would it be “better off doing that if it’s an own independent sovereign or if it’s under the trusteeship of the United States Government?” Is the idea that statues are only going up now because people are looking, or that the Voting Rights Act is nothing but a monument?
Barely a minute into a U.S. Supreme Court hearing, liberal justices began a strategic barrage of questions that came down to this: Why should a time-honored plank of the 1965 Voting Rights Act be invalidated in a case from Alabama with its history of racial discrimination? What followed constituted a classic example of how justices can try to use oral arguments to dramatic effect and influence a swing vote justice. Key players were Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor, appointees of President Barack Obama and the newest members of the bench. The likely target of their remarks: Anthony Kennedy, a conservative who is often the decisive fifth vote on racial dilemmas. “Think about this state that you’re representing,” Elena Kagan told the lawyer arguing against the law on Wednesday. “It’s about a quarter black, but Alabama has no black statewide elected officials.” Focusing on Shelby County, Alabama, the southern locale that brought the case, Sotomayor asked, “Why would we vote in favor of a county whose record is the epitome of what caused the passage of this law to start with?”
For backers of the Voting Rights Act, Wednesday was a gloomy day at the Supreme Court. The court’s five Republican-appointed justices seemed to be leaning strongly toward a ruling striking down a provision in the 1965 law that has been a key tool for the federal government to block redistricting plans and changes to voting procedures that could interfere with or dilute minority voting. The pre-clearance process that was the subject of oral arguments before the justices applies in most or all of nine states and portions of seven others. The fact that provision applies to some parts of the country and not others was the focus of much of the jousting in court. The best many supporters of the law could muster to retain hope about the court’s ruling was that just four years ago the law defied expectations and survived intact when the justices used a kind of end-run to avoid upending the landmark civil rights statute.
I attended the oral argument in the Voting Rights Act case before the U.S. Supreme Court, and I came away even more convinced that the Court should uphold the contested parts of the law. Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act requires that covered states “preclear” their proposed election law changes with federal officials. Nine states plus parts of seven others are “covered,” and many of these areas are in the South. Conservatives often complain about “activist judges legislating from the bench.” But some of the more conservative Justices’ comments reveal that the fate of the Voting Rights Act should be a decision for Congress, not for the Court. Justice Scalia said he thinks Congress’s decision in 2006 to renew Section 5 was motivated by a “perpetuation of racial entitlement.” It was the kind of political screed you might hear from Rush Limbaugh. Scalia’s baseless platitude could just as easily be made in the opposite direction–someone could claim Scalia wants to strike down voting protections to “perpetuate racial entitlement” whites have enjoyed for centuries. Neither assertion is appropriate in a court of law.
Editorials: The court’s conservatives seem to believe that the Voting Rights Act has outlived its purpose | Slate Magazine
If you’re trying to cure an illness, and you get better, but not entirely—say you had a high fever, but now you have the sniffles and a sore throat—does it make sense to keep taking the same medicine? What if your doctor insists? Justice Stephen Breyer offered the disease analogy Wednesday morning for racist efforts to block the power of black and Hispanic voters in the South during a sharply polarized argument—5 to 4, conservatives v. liberals—over whether Shelby County, Ala., has taken enough medicine from Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Congress first enacted the Voting Rights Act in 1965 to deal with massive and violent suppression of black voters in the South. The problem was so entrenched that when federal courts would strike down a discriminatory measure like a poll tax, Southern states and counties would quickly dance around the ruling, enacting new barriers such as a literacy test. So Congress armed the Voting Rights Act in two ways. The first, Section 2, bans any voting practice that discriminates on the basis of race or ethnicity. It applies uniformly, throughout the country, and it has no expiration date. To enforce it, the government, or a group or person affected by the law, has to sue—and has the burden of proof. The second part of the Voting Rights Act, Section 5, relied on data showing a pattern of discrimination at the time to create a category of “covered jurisdictions.” Congress said that for 25 years the Department of Justice had to “pre-clear” any changes to voting rules in those places, or else the state or county had to go to court for approval before the changes could go into effect. The list of covered jurisdictions included most of the South, along with a smattering of counties and cities in other states.
The voter ID laws and other tactics that sprang up in several states last year to prevent minorities from casting their ballots offer incontestable proof of the need for strict voting rights laws. Yet at the argument on Wednesday in Shelby County v. Holder, the Supreme Court’s conservative justices left the ominous impression that they were willing to deny this reality and repudiate Congress’s power to enforce the right to vote by striking down a central provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act requires nine states (seven of them in the South) and parts of seven others with records of extreme discrimination against minority voters to get approval from the Justice Department or a special court in Washington before they can make any changes in how they hold elections. Without this provision, there would be no way to prevent new and devious efforts by local officials to block blacks and Hispanics from voting or to reduce their electoral power. In 2006, Congress overwhelmingly reauthorized the statute. It found that these places should remain “covered” by this “preclearance” requirement because voting discrimination remained both tangible and more concentrated and persistent in them than in other parts of the country. House members from those places strongly supported the renewal: of 110 members from covered jurisdictions, 90 voted for reauthorization.
Voting Blogs: Should I Stay or Should I Go? States Weigh Future of Federal Voting System Certification | Election Academy
Day 2 of the EAC/NIST Future of Voting Systems Symposium was a deep, deep dive into the policies, procedures and process behind standard-setting at the federal level. The morning was devoted to a discussion about how federal standards are developed and how market players (especially vendors and consumers) conform to them. It was truly fascinating to hear how different standards work in practice, especially since the speakers were so enthusiastic and detailed about the subject. [My highlight of the morning was the discovery that low-flush toilets are tested using Japanese bean paste.] But it was in the afternoon, when the talk turned to voting system standards in particular, that things got interesting.
True the Vote, an organization dedicated to eradicating voter fraud through controversial methods, issued a report on February 27 concluding that voter ID laws and other election changes allegedly meant to reduce voter fraud not only did not have an adverse impact on turnout in the 2012 elections, but may have helped to increased turnout. Its findings have been trumpeted by many news outlets who do not believe such laws suppress voter turnout. But it turns out the report’s authors made a huge methodological mistake. They compared turnout of eligible voters in 2008 to turnout of registered voters in 2012. Correcting this error reverses their findings. All but one of the states with these new laws experienced a decline in voter turnout, and most experienced a decline greater than the national turnout decline from 2008 to 2012.
Photo identification when you go to vote sailed through the Arkansas senate, but it was a much different story on Wednesday as a House of Representatives panel slammed the brakes on the idea. The issue that’s holding it up: money. Legislators want to know how much photo voter i-d will cost the state, and until they get that amount, they won’t vote on the idea. Bill sponsor Bryan King has repeatedly told fellow legislators it would cost around $300,000 to place photo ID machines in 87 county clerks’ offices around the state, but, others believe it will cost much more.
The Kentucky General Assembly appears poised to lift the state’s Election Day booze-buying ban, which would leave South Carolina as the only remaining state that enforces the Prohibition-era rule. A state House committee approved a bill Wednesday that would lift the ban on the sales of alcoholic beverages in wet areas on election days in Kentucky. Senate Bill 13, sponsored by Sen. John Schickel, R-Union, now goes to the full House for consideration. After no member of the House Licensing and Occupations Committee voted against the proposal, Schickel said he is optimistic about its chances in the House. “I’ve talked to leadership in the House, and I think they are committed to getting it passed,” he said.
A new ranked-voting method used by Minneapolis costs five times more per voter than traditional voting. The city is $385,000 shy. With still-fresh memories of long voting lines in November and slow vote tallies from the last Minneapolis elections in 2009, the city took steps Wednesday aimed at improving voting this fall. But it may have aimed short on the money to get the job done. City Clerk Casey Carl told the City Council’s Elections Committee on Wednesday that he’s short $385,000 of the nearly $1.7 million that’s needed to properly run the more expensive ranked-choice voting method the city uses for municipal elections. Election costs will run even higher this year than last year, when the city had a massive 82 percent presidential election turnout, he said. That’s despite an expected smaller turnout for the 22 races and a probable charter referendum.
St. Charles County voters will cast ballots in new voting machines when they go to the polls in April 2014. The County Council voted 6-1 Monday night to spend $1 million for 130 optical scan and 130 disability-capable voting machines from Unisyn Voting Solutions Inc. County Elections Director Rich Chrismer said he expects the new machines to be delivered by June and that they should last eight to 10 years. “I’m happy for the voters because I didn’t trust the machines we had,” Chrismer said Wednesday. Chrismer has been trying to convince the council for the past year that the machines used during the last seven years are at the end of their life cycle and need to be replaced to avoid trouble at the polls. The council voted 4-1 in February 2012 to buy new machines for $1.2 million, but County Executive Steve Ehlmann vetoed that bill because only one bid had been received, and the council later withdrew the bill.
The Electoral Commission (EC) says no voter was allowed to cast his/her ballot without undergoing biometric verification. It said upon being served with the further and better particulars by the petitioners on 11,916 polling stations where alleged irregularities took place, it examined and analysed its records, adding, “the analysis confirmed that, no voters were allowed to vote without verification at any polling station.” In an amended response filed at the registry of the Supreme Court on its behalf by its solicitors, Lynes, Quashie-Idun and Co., the EC denied claims that voters were allowed to vote without undergoing verification, adding that voting continued on December 8, 2012 at about 400 polling stations where slowness or malfunction of machines was recorded on voting day on December 7, 2012.
Voting Blogs: The Italian General Election of February 2013: Deadlock after Technocracy | The Monkey Cage
The main results of the Italian General Election held on 24-25 February 2013 were unexpected. The most blatant outcome is the success of the brand new Five Star Movement led by the comedian Beppe Grillo. This political movement received the most votes in the Chamber, gaining more than 25 per cent of valid votes. The centre-left coalition led by the Democratic Party’s leader Pierluigi Bersani gained a plurality of votes in the Chamber (29.5% of valid votes). The seat bonus provided by the electoral system ensured the centre-left coalition a majority of seats (340 seats out of 630). In the Senate, where the seat bonus is allocated on a regional basis, the centre-left coalition gained 121 seats, far short of the majority threshold required to govern (158).
Italy is no longer striking a “bella figura.” The country’s post- election chaos has shaken the very foundations of the European Union as the idea of a politically united Europe appears to suffer a blow. Rome’s Colosseum appears somewhat run-down, with its enormous pillars stained gray by pollution and its basement vaults fallen down. Yet it continues to be a first-class European cultural good. Now, with the Italian capital’s coffers empty, a luxury fashion company is financing the site’s renovation, to the tune of 25 million euros ($33 million). These days, the monument to Rome’s former greatness appears to be a reflection of Italy. Because of its financial problems and current political stand-off, Italy – among the “most European” of countries – has become the problem child of the Continent. Like the Colosseum, the highly indebted eurozone country could be dependent on external help – namely that of the European Union. The EU is hoping that the Mediterranean country will be able to get itself out of its crisis, as the EU isn’t eager to take on the role of sponsor. But if the third-largest economy of the eurozone keeps tumbling, it could take the whole bloc with it. Developments in Italy, though a consolation to EU skeptics in Greece, Spain and Portugal, have placed basic assumptions into question: for example, whether Europe can be reformed, how fundamental sustainable solidarity is, and whether the political union even makes sense. Is European Union drifting apart?
Many Kenyans will go to the polls on 4 March 2013 with a sense of trepidation. Three of the country’s four elections since 1992 have been accompanied by significant violence, with 2002 the exception. On each occasion politicians used local grievances over land and inequality to label supporters of rival candidates as ethnic “outsiders”. Militias were then used to force those same voters from their homes. Thousands of people were killed in violence around the 1992, 1997 and 2007 elections and tens of thousands more fled. Some of these supposed “outsiders” never returned to places where their families had lived for decades. No wonder, then, that many Kenyans see elections as something to endure rather than to celebrate. In light of this history, anyone of a nervous disposition might have hoped that this would be a straightforward election with a clear result. That looks unlikely, as on the eve of the vote the final result is too close to call. President Mwai Kibaki is retiring after two terms in office, and prime minister Raila Odinga is the frontrunner. But Odinga’s lead in the opinion polls is narrow, and he will almost certainly be denied an outright majority; in that case a run-off will be held in a few weeks’ time.
According to the Commission, the 2012 parliamentary elections in Montenegro need to be investigated due to allegations about election irregularities. On 28 February, the European Commissioner for Enlargement and Neigbourhood policy Štefan Füle met with leader of the Montenegrin opposition party Movement for Changes Nebojsa Medojevic in Brussels. According to the Commission, the main focus of their meeting were the recent publications of audio recordings indicating irregularities in the run-up to the parliamentary elections in 2012 as well as alleged intentions to influence unduly the voters’ list. Mr. Füle commented, “we expect the authorities to fully investigate any allegations in this context and we will continue to monitor this matter closely, notably in the context of the upcoming presidential elections.”
Zambian President Michael Sata has commended the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) for valuing lives more than elections by postponing the Livingstone parliamentary by-election which was scheduled to take place Thursday. ECZ chairperson Justice Irene Mabilima on Wednesday announced that the commission had decided to postpone the Livingstone parliamentary by-election, scheduled for 28 February, following violence that had trailed the campaigns that resulted in the death of Harrison Chanda, on Monday, according to an official of the ruling Patriotic Front (PF). Police picked up more than 10 members from the opposition United Party for National Development (UPND), including its leader Hakainde Hichelema and two UPND members of parliament in connection with the killing of Chanda who died after a clash between UPND and PF. The UPND leader has been charged with proposing violence.