The unusual nature of the Supreme Court’s decision to invalidate Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act has created a kind of limbo for conservatives in southern states who want to flood their legislatures with voter ID laws and other disenfranchising policies, and thrown into Congress’ lap an unexpected issue that will have enormous ramifications for the 2014 elections and beyond. Where this all ends, nobody knows, but we’re beginning to see how it starts. Congressional Democrats are already setting wheels in motion to fix the damage the Court did to the Voting Rights Act, but they’re prepared for a long and complex haul. Because Democrats only control one chamber of Congress, they’re effectively confined to beginning the process in the Senate, which is why early statements from Senate Dems refer to action they plan to take, while House Dems are stuck pressing Republicans to take the issue seriously. But that’s enough to sketch out a roadmap by which they might successfully re-establish pre-clearance standards under Voting Rights Act.
The House will hold hearings on the Voting Rights Act in July, following the Supreme Court’s decision last week striking down a central part of the landmark law, House Judiciary Committee chairman Bob Goodlatte told CNN Sunday. The Virginia Republican said he doesn’t know whether Congress will work to change the law so that it’s considered constitutional by the justices. “We will look at what the Supreme Court was talking about in terms of old data,” Goodlatte said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “We’ll look at what new data is available and we will make sure that people’s freedom to vote in elections in this country is protected.”
For months, Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. has insisted in speeches that the U.S. Department of Justice will remain aggressive in protecting the right to vote no matter how the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the latest challenge of the Voting Rights Act. Holder’s words will be put to a test after the high court on June 25 struck down a key anti-discrimination provision in federal voting rights law. Last week, Holder said the “decision represents a serious setback for voting rights — and has the potential to negatively affect millions of Americans across the country.” Holder only hinted at just how seriously the justices’ ruling in Shelby County v. Holder would wound voting rights enforcement — an effort the attorney general has repeatedly highlighted as among his proudest achievements as the nation’s top law enforcement official. Former government lawyers say the ruling will force the Civil Rights Division into less efficient enforcement paths, potentially causing a resources crisis that could greatly reduce the government’s effectiveness.
There have always been two ways that areas could be put under the obligation to pre-clear their voting changes. The major way was through the formula set by statute, Section 4, that the Court has now struck down. The second route was through Section 3 (known as “the pocket trigger” or the “bail-in” provision). In response to a court finding of a specific constitutional violation of voting rights, Section 3 gives courts the power to order a jurisdiction to start pre-clearing its voting changes for a period of time. I have mentioned this before, along with others, but I want to elaborate on the details. The structure of Section 3 has certain innately attractive features. First, Section 3 contains a lot of flexibility that can be tailored to the specific issues in specific places. Courts can — and have — ordered jurisdictions to pre-clear their changes for a defined, limited period of time, rather than indefinitely. For example, after New Mexico’s 1980 redistricting was found to be unconstitutional, the federal courts ordered New Mexico to pre-clear its redistricting plan for the next decade. After a decade, the courts then decided that New Mexico no longer needed to remain in the pre-clearance regime.
If you’re a registered voter, are you aware that what you write on your registration form is publicly available? “Commercial” interests are barred from that data. But all sorts of other people have legal access to it. A lot of people think only government agencies can access voter registration information – the courts, for instance, to summon you for jury duty. But it can be purchased for purposes such as scholarly and journalistic research, and for use in “elections” and “politics”. Buyers are only a phone call away from you. “So I received a phone call and was invited to be paid to share my political opinions,” says Jennifer Armour, a voter registered in the city of San Diego. “And I was told the reason I was being called was because of information that was tied to my voter registration.”
The Napa County grand jury issued a new report this week calling for the county’s registrar of voters to be appointed — not elected — and for a new independent board that would have oversight of the elections process. The grand jury also wants interim ballot counts to be released between Election Night and the final certified results, as the three-week wait to know the results of the 2012 elections led some residents and candidates to express frustration with Registrar of Voters John Tuteur. The grand jury monitored the Elections Division’s performance last fall. Its report criticizes aspects of how the division handled citizen complaints, how precincts with polling places were switched to vote-by-mail without public input, and how some residents were delayed in receiving ballot pamphlet. It found no problems with the accuracy of the polling machines, the handling and counting of ballots, or security measures for maintaining and storing ballots, according to the report.
The Colorado Supreme Court agreed Friday morning to hear the Center election contest case, but ordered that the board currently serving shall remain in place. Plaintiffs Maurice C. Jones and Citizen Center, a Colorado non-profit corporation, were directed to answer in writing on or before July 8, in order to explain why the relief requested in the petition to the court should not be granted. Christian Samora, Herman Sisneros, Geraldine Martinez and Edward Garcia were given 15 days to reply to the court. Jennie Sanchez and Mary McClure were granted permission to file an amicus curae brief in the case. The court also invited the Secretary of State’s Office to file an amicus brief.
New voting machines will be in place for fall elections. The Pottawattamie County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved the purchase of a new stand alone central scanner, for counting absentee ballots, and 45 precinct vote scanners. The equipment will be purchased from Election Systems and Software at a cost of $322,750. The company demonstrated their latest equipment for the board June 18. Representatives of the company told the board the new equipment takes a lot of the stress away from poll workers, because it is so easy to use. The new central scanner, a DS850, is supposed to make counting absentee ballots easier. The current M650 scanner can scan equally as fast, if there were no voting variables, but the problem with the machine is that it stops every time there is an anomaly, such as an over vote – voting for more than one candidate in a given position – or write-in vote.
Both chambers of New York’s Legislature have approved a bill that would modernize the way Election Night vote tallies are reported in New York City, allowing for the use of portable memory drives to tally unofficial results instead of a more laborious and lengthy process using paper print outs. The bill now goes to Gov. Andrew Cuomo for his review after the state Senate and Assembly approved it earlier this month. The New York City Board of Elections has come under criticism for years over the slow speed of the process it has used to tabulate votes.
Texas: New Voter ID, Unavailable in Seventy Counties in State, Opens With Wealth of Issues Remaining | Houston Press
Between Sen. Wendy Davis’s filibuster and the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act, this week has been a strangely successful one for progressives in Texas. However, there was a ruling before either of these realities that girded conservatives and tea partiers in the state. On Tuesday, the SCOTUS ruled in a 5-4 decision that Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act should be excised, and that Congress “may draft another formula based on current conditions.” This section, which contained a formula forcing nine states and assorted counties to pre-clear electoral changes with the federal government, was one of the main pillars of the VRA, providing federal oversight to areas that had used traditionally discriminatory practices to prevent minorities from voting.
Wisconsin: Fewer elections for top court would restore civility, public trust, special task force says | Wisconsin State Journal
Limiting Wisconsin Supreme Court justices to a single 16-year term would help restore public confidence in a court whose image has been battered by increasingly savage political campaigns fueled by a rising tide of money, a special task force of attorneys says. The state Bar of Wisconsin panel wants to see a constitutional amendment introduced this fall to change the system that allows justices to run for unlimited 10-year terms, said Joe Troy, a former circuit judge who led an 18-month study that resulted in the proposal. “The campaigns have become so brutal,” Troy said. “The sitting justice is attacked and demeaned, and the challenger is attacked and demeaned. The public sees that and thinks we must not have very good justices.” The proposed term limits aren’t a cure-all, but they would help restore public trust in the system, Troy said. “No justice, once elected, would ever be elected again,” Troy said. “The perception that they are there serving the people (with money) who put them there, or they are worried about the next election, that’s just not going to happen.”
The president of Mali’s election commission has raised doubts over its ability to stage presidential polls seen as essential to restoring democracy to the conflict-scarred country on the planned date of July 28. A caretaker government announced the vote just one month ago, raising a number of urgent questions over the possibility of free and fair elections in a nation recovering from a coup that paved the way for Islamist rebels to seize control of the north. “It will be extremely difficult to organise the first round of the presidential election on July 28,” Mamadou Diamountani said late on Thursday. Diamountani told AFP there were still “many challenges to overcome” before a nationwide vote could take place throughout the west African state. “Firstly, we have to recognise that the production of polling cards is way behind behind schedule. But this is the only document that allows the voter to vote. It isn’t just an identity card, but also a voter registration card,” he said.
Comelec chief Sixto Brillantes will never allow a manual recount of even only the automated senatorial voting. He will do all to block it, from stunning his critics with the cost (“Pay up P200 million first”) to having presidential spokesmen speak for him (“We preferred to sweep the entire slate but we didn’t”). A manual recount is forbidden. For, it not only will confirm the statistically dubious 60-30-10 percent outcomes of winners and losers in all regions. It could also expose that there were more votes than voters. The discrepancy of votes and voters is the reason why both the precinct counting and the official canvassing were never completed. No politician is questioning for fear perhaps of the powerful Comelec, critics say. To recall, Brillantes on Election Day, May 13, declared a low 65-percent voter turnout, 33.8 million of the 52 million registered voters. It was only a midterm balloting, he said. The next day the seven Comelec commissioners convened as the national board of canvassers. Sluggishly they started with the advanced overseas votes, since undisclosed kinks were delaying the transmissions of local results to the central server. Then suddenly on Thursday, May 16th, they proclaimed six senators, and on Friday the 17th three more.