The week was dominated by the announcement of several Supreme Court decisions, one of which invalidated Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, effectively eliminating the ‘pre-clearance’ provisions of Section 5. Response to the decisions was swift, with several States announcing decisions to implement voter ID requirements within hours of the ruling. While lawmakers began considering steps to be take to revive Section 5 protections, the prospect for Congressional action is bleak. In addition to voter ID, the release from pre-clearance made the use of lever machines in New York City municipal elections this Fall almost certain and set the stage for a new redistricting battle in Texas. President Obama nominated two new commissioners for the Federal Election Commission and his commission on election reform held its first public hearing in Miami. Testimony presented at the hearing is available here. Protests against the Malaysian Election Commission continued as it was revealed that food coloring had been used instead of indelible ink in the May elections.
On its last day of the term, the Supreme Court delivered two more blows to the Voting Rights Act. Two days ago, the court ruled that the law’s key provision, which requires several states to pre-clear voting changes with the government, was invalid. Then on Thursday, it vacated two voter discrimination cases in Texas that could have long-term repercussions in the battle for voting rights. Here’s what happened: Texas had appealed two rulings by the D.C. federal court — one blocking a set of 2011 redistricting maps, and another blocking its voter ID law — that found both policies were discriminatory under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. On Thursday, the Supreme Court sent both cases back to the federal court for “further consideration” in light of its decision to strike down the VRA’s pre-clearance formula. That means the federal court will most likely have to reverse both decisions, given that pre-clearance no longer exists.
Editorials: Conservative Supreme Court Justices Hypocritical on Voting Rights | US News and World Report
Most reaction to this week’s Supreme Court ruling on the Voting Rights Act will center on whether the court was right that the law (or at least its Section 5) is outdated. But under the approach long advocated by the court’s majority that very argument is itself outdated. The conservative vision of an unchanging Constitution – that means for all time what the Framers meant when they wrote it – has triumphed on the court, in which case, it doesn’t matter whether times have changed and the VRA is “outdated.” If it was constitutional when adopted, it should still be constitutional today. In short, the VRA’s invalidation by those who trumpet conservative values is really about just one thing: hypocrisy. For years, conservatives have argued for a theory of constitutional interpretation called “originalism.” Originalism asserts that a constitution must mean what its framers originally intended it to mean – at least until that constitution is formally changed through the required mechanism of amendment. Liberals, in contrast, tend to argue that a constitution must be a “living document” that changes and grows with the times.
In a vacuum, perhaps, the majority of the U.S. Supreme Court would be correct. Maybe, just maybe, five decades of the Voting Rights Act could undo two centuries of brutal disenfranchisement against blacks and other minorities in a large swath of the country. It’s much easier today for African Americans to cast ballots in nine “covered” states – including Virginia – than it was when the law took effect in 1965. Of course, we don’t live in a vacuum in America. Race still affects many facets of society, from housing to schools to political representation. That’s why the high court’s sharply divided ruling Tuesday, which gutted one of the nation’s most important pieces of civil rights legislation, was so obtuse – and so disappointing.
A divided Supreme Court on Tuesday invalidated a crucial component of the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965, ruling that Congress has not taken into account the nation’s racial progress when singling out certain states for federal oversight. The vote was 5-4, with Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and the other conservative members of the court in the majority. The court did not strike down the law itself or the provision that calls for special scrutiny of states with a history of discrimination. But it said Congress must come up with a new formula based on current data to determine which states should be subject to the requirements. Proponents of the law, which protects minority voting rights, called the ruling a death knell. It will be almost impossible for a Congress bitterly divided along partisan lines to come up with such an agreement, they said. There could be immediate consequences from the court’s ruling. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott said his state would move forward with a voter-ID law that had been stopped by a panel of federal judges and would carry out redistricting changes that had been mired in court battles.
Voting Blogs: The SCOTUS Majority Is Missing Exactly What the VRA Sought to Remedy | The Monkey Cage
On Wednesday the Supreme Court struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act that determined which jurisdictions received increased federal oversight of their election procedures. Prior to the ruling in Shelby County v. Holder (summary here), states and counties with low voter turnout or registration during the 1960s, and a history of discriminatory election practices, needed to receive “preclearance” prior to changing any laws or regulations dealing with the electoral process. As the court warned in Northwest Austin Municipal Util. Dist. No. One v. Holder (2009), use of a coverage formula based on election results from 40 years ago “raise[s] serious constitutional questions,” culminating in the present ruling’s call for Congress to “fashion a coverage formula grounded in current conditions” rather than “40-year-old facts having no logical relation to the present day.”
Top Alabama officials say voters apparently will have to present photo identification at the polls in the next election. Gov. Robert Bentley, Secretary of State Beth Chapman and Attorney General Luther Strange said the Supreme Court’s ruling Tuesday throwing out part of the federal Voting Rights Act means the state does not have to submit for preclearance a new law requiring voters to show photo identification. Strange said the voter identification law will be implemented immediately. Democratic state Rep. Alvin Holmes of Montgomery said fears the photo ID law will be used to intimidate blacks and keep some elderly people from being able to vote. He said it’s the kind of thing that should be reviewed by the Justice Department. “This is a perfect example of why we need pre-clearance,” Holmes said. “The civil rights community had a bad day yesterday.” The governor, however, said he believes pre-clearance is no longer needed.
A lawsuit challenging Kansas’ law requiring voters to present a picture identification when casting ballots Wednesday was submitted to Shawnee County District Court on behalf of two Osage County men who were blocked last year from having their votes counted. Wichita attorney Jim Lawing filed the case for retirees Arthur Spry and Charles Hamner, both of Overbrook, to contest constitutionality of the voting mandate included in the Secure and Fair Elections Act of 2011, which was written by Secretary of State Kris Kobach. The suit names Kobach as the lone defendant. Hamner and Spry, who didn’t have a government-issued identity card with a photograph proving they were Kansans in good standing, voted with provisional ballots in November 2012. Their ballots weren’t counted because neither subsequently provided sufficient proof of their identity.
In recent years, support has surfaced for run-off elections in Maine. Under such a system, the winning candidate would be required to receive a majority of the votes rather than a plurality. For instance, in three out of the past five gubernatorial elections, the winner was elected with less than 40 percent of the vote due to the increased presence of third-party and independent candidates. In 2010, candidates Libby Mitchell and Eliot Cutler split the moderate and liberal vote down the middle, resulting in a win, with 38 percent of the vote, by the ultra-conservative Paul LePage. This session a number of bills were submitted that would have implemented a form of run-off elections. Rep. Jeff Evangelos (I-Friendship) submitted a bill that would have required another election to be held if no candidate received over 50 percent of the vote. Under that two-round system, the two candidates with the most votes would be on the ballot for a second election. The Maine Secretary of State’s office testified neither for nor against the bill, but stated that holding a second election would pose a significant difficulty for the state and municipalities as the schedule for tabulation and recording the official vote tally would leave insufficient time.
New Hampshire: Legislature okays changes to voter ID law despite opposition from conservatives | Concord Monitor
Compromise legislation to reform New Hampshire’s year-old voter ID law passed the Republican-led Senate and the Democratic-led House yesterday, as a last-ditch effort by conservative Republicans to block the bill fell short. The bill now goes to Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan, who indicated she will sign it into law. “The governor continues to believe that the voter identification law enacted by the previous Legislature was misguided and should be fully repealed, but she appreciates that the compromise reached by the Legislature will save local communities the burden of costs for cameras, prevent long lines at the polls and alleviate confusion about permissible forms of identification,” said spokesman Marc Goldberg in a statement.
Compromise legislation to reform New Hampshire’s year-old voter ID law passed the Republican-led Senate and the Democratic-led House yesterday, as a last-ditch effort by conservative Republicans to block the bill fell short. The bill now goes to Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan, who indicated she will sign it into law. “The governor continues to believe that the voter identification law enacted by the previous Legislature was misguided and should be fully repealed, but she appreciates that the compromise reached by the Legislature will save local communities the burden of costs for cameras, prevent long lines at the polls and alleviate confusion about permissible forms of identification,” said spokesman Marc Goldberg in a statement. The voter ID law enacted in 2012 included several changes that were to effect this September, including a shorter list of acceptable forms of ID and a requirement that voters without an ID, who already must fill out an affidavit, be photographed by election workers as well. But under a compromise worked out last week by negotiators from the House and Senate, student IDs will remain valid forms of identification at the polls, voters 65 and over will be able to use expired driver’s licenses to vote and the photo-taking requirement will be delayed until 2015.
New Mexico is no stranger to the federal government requirement to seek approval from Washington before making changes to state legislative districts. The practice, which the U.S. Supreme Court effectively ended Tuesday, was required in New Mexico by the U.S. Department of Justice during redistricting conducted in 1991. The requirement came after New Mexico redistricting efforts in the early ’80s sparked legal action claiming the process was discriminatory. “A three-judge panel concluded that a history of discrimination did exist in New Mexico,” said longtime New Mexico redistricting consultant Brian Sanderoff. “New Mexico was a pre-clearance state because of the alleged sins of the early ’80s.”
North Carolina: State expected to move forward on voter ID bill following Supreme Court ruling | Fay Observer
Voter identification legislation in North Carolina will pick up steam again now that the U.S. Supreme Court has struck down part of the Voting Rights Act, a General Assembly leader said Tuesday. A bill requiring voters to present one of several forms of state-issued photo ID starting in 2016 cleared the House two months ago, but it has been sitting since in the Senate Rules Committee to wait for a ruling by the justices in an Alabama case, according to Sen. Tom Apodaca, R-Henderson, the committee chairman. He said a bill will be rolled out in the Senate next week. The ruling essentially means that voter ID or other election legislation approved in this year’s session probably will not have to receive advance approval by U.S. Justice Department lawyers or a federal court before such measures can be carried out.
Revising the state’s voter identification law will have to wait another year, after House Speaker Gordon D. Fox called off a scheduled House vote on proposed legislation Wednesday. The bill that had been before the House proposed eliminating a new requirement set to take effect for the 2014 election: showing a valid picture identification before voting. Currently, Rhode Islanders must show an ID at the polls, but, starting next year, that ID must have a picture on it.
A Democratic congressman joined seven others Wednesday in filing a federal lawsuit to keep Texas from enforcing its voter ID law. U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey of Fort Worth filed the papers in Corpus Christi federal court, calling the requirement to show a state-issued photo ID card at the ballot box unconstitutional. The law “would have the effect of denying thousands of Texas voters the ability to vote in person, a large number of whom would be disenfranchised entirely since absentee voting in Texas is available to only certain specified categories of voters,” according to the lawsuit.
The special session that ended Tuesday wasn’t a total loss. On Wednesday, Gov. Rick Perry signed all three redistricting bills that lawmakers sent to him. With his signature, Perry set the district boundaries for the U.S. House of Representatives, the state Senate and the Texas House, his office confirmed. Capitol gossipers had been whispering that the governor might try to find a way to shove state Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, into a Republican district as punishment for her filibuster that led to the death of a strict abortion measure in the Senate early Wednesday. But by signing off on the redistricting maps, Perry silenced the rumors that he might veto the new state Senate map and seek to put into place the more Republican-friendly maps passed by the Legislature in 2011.
Egypt’s Supreme Presidential Elections Commission (SPEC) has made a unanimous decision to recuse itself from overseeing an appeal by Ahmed Shafiq against last year’s presidential election result. The commission said it felt “unease” at overseeing the appeal but failed to give further details for the decision. A new commission will be formed on 1 July after the retirement of Judge Maher El-Beheiry, the head of the SPEC and the High Constitutional Court (HCC), and a number of other commission members, at the end of the judicial year on 30 June. The appeal will be heard after a new commission is formed.
The European Union, the United States and the African Union proposed on Wednesday imposing sanctions such as travel bans on Madagascar’s president and two other presidential candidates unless they withdrew from a planned election. The former French colony has been in crisis since 2009 when President Andry Rajoelina seized power with military support, ousting former President Marc Ravalomanana and triggering turmoil that scared off investors and tourists. Rajoelina and Ravalomanana had reached a deal with regional states not to run in this year’s poll. But when Ravalomanana’s wife, Lalao Ravalomanana, chose to run, Rajoelina said the pact had broken down and put his name forward. As a result, foreign donors suspended election financing and the government had to postpone the vote by a month to 23 August.
Malaysia: Election Commission says it will use indelible ink again in Kuala Besut by-election | The Malaysia Insider
Even as Nurul Izzah Anwar of the opposition yesterday threatened to take legal action against the Election Commission (EC) for the indelible ink fiasco, the EC says it will use that ink again for the coming by-election in Terengganu. “Yes, the indelible ink will be used,” said vice-chairman of the Election Commission Datuk Wan Ahmad Wan Omar (pic) when contacted by The Malaysian Insider yesterday. “We’ll discuss next week if we’re using the same ink as the one used during the 13th general elections,” said Wan Ahmad, referring to the EC meeting next week on the by-election. The state seat for Kuala Besut is vacant, following the death of Barisan Nasional’s (BN) elected representative, Dr. A. Rahman Mokhtar, 55, yesterday morning from lung cancer. Meanwhile, the opposition Pakatan Rakyat (PR) has threatened legal action to get the entire EC sacked.
Mongolian President Elbegdorj Tsakhia has won a second term, in an election dominated by a debate over the country’s vast mining wealth. Preliminary results Thursday show President Elbegdorj took 50.2 percent of the previous day’s vote, narrowly clearing the 50 percent needed to avoid a run-off. His main challenger, opposition lawmaker and former pro-wrestler Baterdene Badmaanyambuu, received nearly 42 percent. The country’s first female presidential candidate, Health Minister Natsag Udval, came in a distant third place. Elbegdorj is a Harvard-educated former journalist who campaigned on promises of fighting corruption and continuing his policy of using foreign cash to power Mongolia’s rapidly growing economy.
sharply divided Supreme Court has struck down a key part of the historic Voting Rights Act of 1965, freeing the Southern states from federal oversight of their election laws and setting off a fierce reaction from civil rights advocates and Democratic leaders. The court’s conservative majority moved boldly Tuesday to rein in a law revered by civil rights groups that is credited with transforming the South by ensuring blacks could register and vote. In doing so, the court eliminated a tool that the Justice Department used hundreds of times to prevent cities, counties and states from adopting allegedly discriminatory voting rules. The court left open the possibility that Congress could fix the law, but the partisan gridlock that has dominated the legislative branch in recent years appears to make that unlikely.
In calling for a rewrite of one of the nation’s most significant civil rights laws , the Supreme Court has demanded that the other two branches of government design a guarantee of racial equality that reflects the realities of the 21st century. But the real question is whether the political system, broken and polarized as it is, still has the capacity to take on such a challenge. The ruling, which said Congress must update the Voting Rights Act of 1965, noted that much has changed for the better since the original formulas were written requiring federal approval of even minor changes in election procedure for some states and jurisdictions. But the court also acknowledged that discrimination still exists and that rectifying it demands vigilance from Washington. Traditionally, voting rights is an area where presidents and lawmakers, mindful of history’s judgment, have proven capable of working together across party lines. The most recent reauthorizations of the Voting Rights Act were signed by Republican presidents, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. In 2006, not a single senator voted against the current version, while fewer than three dozen members of the House did.
Across the South, Republicans are working to take advantage of a new political landscape after a divided U.S. Supreme Court freed all or part of 15 states, many of them in the old Confederacy, from having to ask Washington’s permission before changing election procedures in jurisdictions with histories of discrimination. After the high court announced its momentous ruling Tuesday, officials in Texas and Mississippi pledged to immediately implement laws requiring voters to show photo identification before getting a ballot. North Carolina Republicans promised they would quickly try to adopt a similar law. Florida now appears free to set its early voting hours however Gov. Rick Scott and the GOP Legislature please. And Georgia’s most populous county likely will use county commission districts that Republican state legislators drew over the objections of local Democrats.
Leaders of progressive groups say they, too, faced long delays in getting the Internal Revenue Service to approve their applications for tax-exempt status but were not subjected to the same level of scrutiny that tea party groups complained about. Several progressive groups said it took more than a year for the IRS to approve their status while others are still waiting as IRS agents press for details about their activities. The delays have made it difficult for the groups to raise money — just as it has for tea party groups that were singled out for extra scrutiny. But even with the delays, leaders of some progressive groups said they didn’t feel like they were being targeted. “This is kind of what you expect. You expect it to take a year or more to get your status because that’s just what the IRS goes through to do it,” said Maryann Martindale, executive director of Alliance for a Better Utah, a small non-profit that advocates for progressive causes. “So I don’t know that we feel particularly targeted.”
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) is introducing legislation that would block states from rearranging their congressional districts until after a 10-year Census takes place, a reaction to the Supreme Court ruling striking down a key portion of the Voting Rights Act. “We cannot afford to sit back and watch our country move backwards — as legislators we must act,” Jackson Lee said Wednesday. “[B]ased on the Shelby case and its rationale, it is clear that Voting Rights Act is needed more than ever.” The high court on Tuesday struck down language in the act that establishes the criteria for determining which state and local governments must clear voting rules changes with the federal government, based on their history of having an under-representation of minority voters.
A House Republican who led the last push to reauthorize the Voting Rights Act exhorted lawmakers Wednesday to join him in bringing the law back to life. The day after the Supreme Court quashed the anti-discrimination statute, Rep. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.) urged lawmakers to cast aside their differences and restore the rejected provisions for the sake of voter protection. “The Voting Rights Act is vital to America’s commitment to never again permit racial prejudices in the electoral process,” Sensenbrenner, the second-ranking Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, said Wednesday in a statement. “This is going to take time, and will require members from both sides of the aisle to put partisan politics aside and ensure Americans’ most sacred right is protected.” Republican Reps. Steve Chabot (Ohio) and Sean Duffy (Wis.) also expressed support Wednesday for congressional action in response to the high court’s ruling.
The Supreme Court decision Tuesday striking down a key plank of the Voting Rights Act dramatically eases the way for states to push through stricter voting laws — and the flurry of action could reverberate into 2014 and beyond. Some states such as Texas moved within hours of the landmark ruling to implement so-called voter ID laws — requiring voters to show valid identification before they can cast ballots — that had been on hold. Others, such as swing state North Carolina, are expected to pass legislation this year that could complicate Democrats’ chances in 2014 midterm elections. Democrats hope to use the issue to galvanize minority voters by accusing the conservative-leaning Supreme Court and Republican statehouses of turning back the clock on hard-won voting rights. But the effect of the actual statutes, in terms of preventing people from voting who show up to the polls without proper ID, could be “devastating and immediate,” said Penda Hair, co-director of the voting rights group Advancement Project.
A divided Congress has no clear path to heed the call of Chief Justice John Roberts and President Obama to legislate in response to Tuesday’s 5-4 Supreme Court decision that invalidated a portion of the landmark 1965 Voting Rights Act. Reaction on Capitol Hill largely mirrored the court’s ideological divide: Democrats called for legislation to establish new formulas to determine whether states must get federal permission before instituting changes in voting practices, while Republicans were more reticent on the necessity to pass a new law. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said he would convene hearings next month to see what legislative recourse Congress can take. Leahy made clear his displeasure with the Supreme Court’s action to invalidate a law most recently reauthorized in 2006 with broad bipartisan support.
Mississippi’s top election official outlined plans on Tuesday to implement the state’s voter ID law, just hours after the Supreme Court struck down a Voting Rights Act provision that might have blocked the law. Until Tuesday’s court ruling, officials in Mississippi and other states with a history of discrimination were required under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act to get “pre-clearance” from the Justice Department or a federal court before making any change to their voting procedures. But that ended when the court ruled that Section 4 of the 1965 law, which consisted of the formula used to determine which states and other jurisdictions should be subject to Section 5, is outdated and therefore unconstitutional. The 5-4 decision clears the way for more than a dozen states and jurisdictions to move ahead with tougher voter ID laws and other changes that before Tuesday would have been subject to the pre-clearance requirement.
National: Obama to nominate Democratic, Republican members to Federal Election Commission | The Washington Post
President Barack Obama intends to nominate two lawyers with government experience to become commissioners on the Federal Election Commission, the agency that oversees and enforces campaign finance laws. One of the nominees would fill a Democratic vacancy on the commission and the other would replace the Republican vice chairman, the White House said. Obama’s nominee to replace Republican Donald F. McGahn is Lee Goodman, who served as a top aide to former Republican Gov. Jim Gilmore of Virginia. Obama’s Democratic nominee is Ann Ravel, the chair of the California Fair Political Practices Commission. She would fill the seat vacated earlier this year by Cynthia Bauerly. If confirmed by the Senate, the FEC would have all of its six commissioners — three Democrats and three Republicans. The even partisan split on the FEC has at times contributed to gridlock on the commission with votes breaking along party lines.