Advocates of tougher voter registration standards have racked up wins in recent years — voter ID laws have taken hold across the nation, for example. But those who believe that government should make voting as easy as possible just gained a significant victory with the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision slapping down an Arizona law that required potential voters to prove their citizenship. In its 7-2 decision, the court ruled that the 1993 National Voter Registration Act, the so-called motor voter law, trumped an Arizona law passed in 2004. The state law demanded that voters produce documentation of their citizenship at the time they registered to vote. The federal law requires those registering in federal elections only to attest to their citizenship. The process is simple enough that people can register by postcard. The high court’s decision on the Arizona law put an extra bounce in the step of officials at civil and voting-rights organizations.
The Supreme Court on Monday struck down an Arizona law that requires people to submit proof of citizenship when they register to vote. The vote was 7-2, with Justice Antonin Scalia writing for the court. Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, two members of the court’s conservative wing, dissented. Only a handful of states have similar laws, which the states say are meant to reduce voter fraud, but civil rights groups worried that more states would have followed if the Supreme Court had upheld the Arizona law. Those groups say the Arizona law was an effort to discourage voting by legal immigrants. Groups opposed to the Arizona law said that the court had blocked an attempt at voter suppression. “Today’s decision sends a strong message that states cannot block their citizens from registering to vote by superimposing burdensome paperwork requirements on top of federal law,” said Nina Perales, vice president of litigation for the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Education Fund.
Editorials: The Supreme Court Gives States New Weapons in the Voting Wars | Rick Hasen/The Daily Beast
Supreme Court watchers have been waiting each day to see if the Supreme Court is going to strike down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act in a case called Shelby County v. Holder. The court did not issue that opinion Monday, but it did issue another important ruling in an Arizona voting case that could lead to new struggles between states and the federal government—and between Democrats and Republicans—over the rules for running our federal elections. While the opinion is a short-term victory for the federal government, it raises more questions than answers and ultimately could shift some power in elections back to the states. In 2004, Arizona voters passed a law requiring people registering to vote in the state to provide documentary proof of citizenship. At issue in today’s case, Arizona v. Inter-Tribal Council, was a very technical question: must Arizona accept a simple federal form, required by the 1993 National Voter Registration Act (commonly known as “motor voter”), for voter registration even though the form does not require registrants to include documentary proof of citizenship?
Editorials: Pyrrhic victory for federal government in Arizona voter registration case? | Marty Lederman/SCOTUSblog
The Court, by a seven-to-two vote, today held that federal law preempts — that is to say, renders invalid — an Arizona law requiring voter registration officials to reject a voter’s application for registration if it is not accompanied by evidence of U.S. citizenship above and beyond the attestation of citizenship the applicant has made on the federal “Motor Voter” form. Lyle is almost certainly correct, however, that what appears at first to be a significant victory for the federal government might in fact be something much less than that — indeed, might establish important restrictions on Congress’s authority to determine eligibility for voting in federal elections, in a way that implicates current and potential future federal legislation.
In a ruling that might easily be misunderstood if not read very closely, the Supreme Court on Monday simultaneously strengthened Congress’s hand in expanding the ranks of eligible voters, and yet assured states that they retain the ultimate power to decide who gets to vote. The apparent bottom line: states cannot now require voters to show proof that they are U.S. citizens, but the Court has given them a plan that could gain them that power. The decision in the case of Arizona v. Inter Tribal Council of Arizona (docket 12-71) had major potential for sorting out the dual roles of Congress and the states in deciding eligibility to vote, and that was even more vital in the midst of a new national controversy over efforts among some states to narrow eligibility. The end result will give both sides in that controversy encouragement, but perhaps rather confusing legal guidance.
Civil rights are on the nation’s docket in a major way. Sometime this month, the U.S. Supreme Court will decide an important voting-rights case, Shelby County v. Holder, in addition to another case involving racial discrimination in higher education and two potentially landmark cases on gay marriage. By the end of June, the nation’s civil-rights profile may look quite different. In Shelby County, the justices are weighing whether the 1965 Voting Rights Act should continue to apply specially to designated regions of the country with ugly histories of racial discrimination. These regions, including the entire state of Alabama as well as eight other states and more than 60 counties, currently must seek “preclearance” from the Department of Justice for any changes to their voting laws and practices (changes can still be challenged after enactment). Officials in Shelby County, Alabama, say “times have changed,” that Shelby County is no longer the cesspool of Jim Crow racism it once was, and so the high court should overturn the preclearance requirement, known in legal parlance as Section 5.
We are still waiting for a decision about the fate of the Voting Rights Act, but today the U.S. Supreme Court issued an opinion in another voting rights case. In today’s case, the Court ruled in favor of those who support voter access. Arizona must accept federal voter registration forms — even those federal forms that do not comply with Arizona’s restrictive proof-of-citizenship requirements. The opinion was written by Justice Scalia, who stated in February that the renewal of the Voting Rights Act was motivated by “racial entitlement.” Before assuming that Justice Scalia is a recent convert to voting rights protections, recognize that language in today’s opinion could eventually undermine voting rights. The details of the opinion could empower state and local partisans who manipulate voting rules. The opinion’s reasoning could also hamper federal efforts to protect military voters and restore former offender voting rights.
We just had five congressional hearings about the Internal Revenue Service, full of sound and fury, but, we now know, signifying nothing. Despite all the hoopla and headlines about IRS personnel targeting conservative tax-exempt organizations, there is no real scandal here. IRS staffers acted not only legally but, given their impossible task, quite rationally. They forgot, however, that they not only work in a political fishbowl, they swim in a sea of politics. Faced with internally contradictory regulations laid out in vague terms, and with little guidance from higher-ups, they botched it. Republicans may now finally get the chance to pour unlimited amounts of secret money into elections. The Internal Revenue Code provides a tax exemption under section 501(c)(4) for nonprofit groups “operated exclusively for the promotion of social welfare” (emphasis added). In classic oxymoronic bureaucratic doublespeak, however, a 1959 regulation decided “exclusively” really meant “primarily.” Though the courts have ruled that a tax-exempt group’s political activity must be “insubstantial,” lawyers have argued this means it can be as much as 49 percent – and the IRS has gone along. Even that has been flagrantly violated by both Democratic and Republican 501(c)(4)s.
Voting Blogs: Supreme Court Decision Strengthens “Elections Clause” of U.S. Constitution | Ballot Access News
On June 17, the U.S. Supreme Court issued an opinion in Arizona v Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, 12-71. The most important consequence of this decision is that the Elections Clause in Article One of the U.S. Constitution has been strengthened. The “Elections Clause” only relates to Congressional elections. It says, “Section 4. The Times, Places, and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations, except as to the Places of chusing Senators.”
Critics of Gov. Chris Christie’s decision to have a special election Oct. 16 to choose a U.S. senator contend that it will create a lot of unnecessary difficulties for voters and county election officials. By opting not to have the event 20 days later, as part of the general election for state and local offices, they say, Christie has created conditions for a perfect storm: voter turnouts even smaller than the embarrassing numbers in the high 40s that are normal in New Jersey, shortages of equipment and trained personnel, and, finally, contested results. And all that on top of the extra $12 million the decision not to combine the two elections will cost the state. The governor and his circle dismiss these complaints. He had full legal authority to schedule the election when he did, they say, and he did it lawfully and for appropriate reasons. That doesn’t diminish the potential for problems, which are substantial. One factor is what the Somerset County Democrats, in a lawsuit to overturn Christie’s decision, called “a confusing patchwork of registration and voting dates, including the highly irregular placement of an election on a Wednesday.” The lawsuit was rejected last week by the Appellate Division.
New Jersey: Panel approves bill moving general election to October, coinciding with U.S. Senate special election | NorthJersey.com
Governor Christie’s decision to fill New Jersey’s U.S. Senate seat through an October special election is “bad for democracy,” the Democrat running against him said today. She and other Democrats on a state Senate committee voted today for two bills aimed at combining special and general elections. One bill would move this year’s general election — currently scheduled for Nov. 5 — to Oct. 16 to coincide with the special election. The other would prohibit the governor from holding a special election to fill any future Senate vacancy. Instead, the governor would have to appoint someone until the seat is filled in a general election. The appointee would have to belong to the same political party as the person who previously held the seat.
The Shura Council has passed an article granting the Supreme Electoral Commission (SEC) the right to set election dates. The law change on Sunday was made in response to a High Constitutional Court decision in May that deemed four articles in the parliamentary election law unconstitutional. The president has the authority to call referendums and can set the date of elections if the House of Representative (lower house of parliament) is dissolved, the article adds.
An official from Guinea’s election commission said Monday that polls set for June 30 were no longer “in the programme” following weeks of deadly protests by opposition activists objecting to the date. President Alpha Conde’s announcement in April of parliamentary elections has been followed by a series of anti-government demonstrations in which dozens have been killed or wounded in the capital Conakry. “The date of June 30 scheduled for the parliamentary elections in Guinea is no longer in the programme of the Independent National Election Commission (CENI),” said the source, on condition of anonymity. “I’m not the best person to give you this information but be aware that we cannot hold the elections on June 30, as indicated by the head of state,” the source told AFP.
Friday’s election in Iran was surprising on multiple fronts. Perceived reformer Hassan Rouhani won a majority of the vote in the first round, clinching the presidency to succeed Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who has held that position since 2005. Iranians took to the streets in celebration during the weekend to recognize not only Rouhani’s unlikely victory with 50.7 percent of the vote, but also the process itself which, unlike 2009, did not appear to be rigged by the country’s ruling elites. Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei likely felt pressure to give way to the majority rule due to the country’s economy, crippled by international sanctions, and the series of uprisings throughout the region. Protests that began in the Arab Spring in late 2010 continue to roil in countries such as neighboring Syria and Turkey.
The Election Commission admits failure of indelible ink during the 13th general election. Its chairperson, Tan Sri Abdul Aziz Mohd Yusof (pic) expressed his disappointment with reports that the ink could be washed off easily. “If people ask me now, what is the saddest thing in my life, I would answer: ‘Indelible ink’,” said Abdul Aziz during an interview with Malay daily, Sinar Harian. The ink was part of the electoral reforms made last year to improve transparency within the system. However, the plan backfired when many voters found that the indelible ink can be washed off. According to Abdul Aziz, the commission tested the indelible ink several times prior to the May 5 general election.
The government’s plan to use electronic voting machines (EVM) in 119 of the 240 constituencies during the upcoming Constituent Assembly (CA) elections has been rendered moot. The Indian Election Commission has said it will not be able to deliver EVMs as per Nepal’s requirement any time soon. Currently, the India-built voting console has only 64 voting switches, while the number of political parties entering the CA election fray is likely to surpass that figure. The Election Commission (EC) has registered 139 political parties so far. Although India is planning to upgrade the EVMs to accommodate 384 candidates for its 2014 general elections, it is unlikely that the plan may materialise any time soon.
The most intriguing aspect of the early mayoral election in Moscow is its complete lack of suspense. Almost two weeks have passed since pro-Kremlin Mayor Sergei Sobyanin unexpectedly resigned. He then called for a new election in three months, effectively eliminating any possible competition in the process. The election will be held according to the standard scenario of Russia’s “managed democracy” — that is, by preventing the strongest rivals to Sobyanin from running in the race, guaranteeing low voter turnout and applying the Kremlin’s massive propaganda and administrative resources to manipulate the vote. Civil Platform party leader and billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov was expected to have been Sobyanin’s main rival. During his bid for the presidency in March 2012, Prokhorov received nearly 8 percent of the vote nationally and more than 20 percent among Muscovites.