A bi-partisan bill to streamline voting and voter registration for service members and their families has been announced by U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer. The legislation, to be introduced by Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), would also address delays in ballot distribution for military voters and civilians living aboard. The Safeguarding Elections for our Nation’s Troops through Reforms and Improvements Act — “SENTRI Act” — aims to enhance the senators’ MOVE Act of 2010 that improved access to voting for military personnel.
Voting rights advocates are testing whether a little-used provision of the Voting Rights Act could limit the damage of the Supreme Court ruling that struck down a key part of the landmark civil rights law. Hours after the Supreme Court’s verdict was announced, representatives for the state of Texas celebrated its demise by announcing that they would move ahead with restrictive voting law changes that will disproportionately disenfranchise minorities. Those changes were previously blocked by the Justice Department, through a part of the Voting Rights Act the forces jurisdictions with a history of discrimination in voting to submit their election law changes to Washington in advance, often referred to as “preclearance,” under Section 5. Preclearance prevented discrimination in advance, rather than relying on drawn out litigation that might not be resolved until long after ballots are cast. Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, which the high court struck down as unconstitutional, determined which jurisdictions were covered by that requirement. But Section 3 of the Voting Rights Act allows the federal government to subject jurisdictions with recent records of deliberate discrimination to the preclearance requirement. With Congress polarized and unlikely to come together to fix Section 4′s coverage formula, Section 3 could become the primary tool for the Justice Department and voting rights activists seeking to patch the gaping hole left by the Supreme Court’s verdict. Travis Crum, now a clerk for federal judge David S. Tatel, laid out this approach in an article for the Yale Law Journal in 2010, anticipating that the Supreme Court would someday strike down part of the Voting Rights Act. Crum called Section 3 the Voting Rights’ Act’s “secret weapon.”
Hank Sanders grew up in segregated, rural southern Alabama and in 1971 moved to Selma—the birthplace of the Voting Rights Act. Before the VRA, only 393 of the 15,000 black voting-age residents in Dallas County, where Selma is located, were registered to vote. Less than a year later, after federal registrars arrived in August 1965, more than 10,000 black voters had been added to the rolls. Sanders experienced firsthand how the VRA transformed Selma and the rest of the country. In 1983, he became the first African-American state senator from the Alabama Black Belt since Reconstruction, representing a new majority-black district created by the VRA. Thirty years later, Sanders watched in disbelief this June as the Supreme Court overturned the centerpiece of the VRA in Shelby County v. Holder. “It’s the most destructive Supreme Court decision in my lifetime,” Sanders said. “It reverses the very foundation of all the progress that we have made.” Reactions in Selma, he said, “ranged from shock to resignation.” The Court’s conservative majority struck down Section 4 of the law, which determines how states are covered under Section 5—the vital provision that requires states with the worst history of racial discrimination in voting, dating back to the 1960s and ’70s, to clear electoral changes with the federal government. Without Section 4, there’s no Section 5. The most effective provision of the country’s most important civil rights law is now a ghost unless Congress resurrects it.
Following Shelby County v. Holder, civil rights advocates are searching for new strategies to protect voting rights. As I argued in my 2010 Yale Law Journal Note, section 3 of the Voting Rights Act provides a roadmap for the future. Commonly called the bail-in mechanism or the pocket trigger, section 3 authorizes federal courts to place States and political subdivisions that have violated the Fourteenth or Fifteenth Amendments under preclearance. Designed to trigger coverage in “pockets of discrimination” missed by the coverage formula, section 3 has been used to bail-in over a dozen jurisdictions, including Arkansas, New Mexico, and Los Angeles County. Although the pocket trigger has been historically overshadowed by section 5, it has garnered recent attention as a potential replacement for the coverage formula (see here, here, here, and here). So what does section 3 have to offer? First and foremost, it’s already the law of the land. With no need for lengthy hearings and legislative maneuvering, civil rights groups and the Justice Department can move expeditiously to reconstruct the preclearance regime.
The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Wednesday rejected challenges to Proposition 14, which established the “Top Two” election system used after the 2010 elections, and the measure’s implementing legislation. Senior U.S. District Judge James G. Carr of the Northern District of Ohio, sitting by designation, said there is no constitutional impediment to requiring candidates to list themselves as preferring a qualified political party, or as having “No Party Preference,” or to be listed without any statement about party preference at all. The Elections Code has since been amended to eliminate the blank-space option, so that all candidates are listed either by party or as “No Party Preference.” Proposition 14 replaced the state’s closed partisan primary election with an open primary in which the top two vote-getters, regardless of party, qualify for the general election.
Colorado: Democrats bear brunt of Colorado Secretary of State’s noncitizen voters hunt | The Gazette
Democrats make up more than half of the 155 suspected noncitizen voters that Secretary of State Scott Gessler is referring to prosecutors, according to figures released by his office Friday. The party affiliation breakdown shows that 88 of the voters are Democrats, 49 are unaffiliated, and 13 are Republicans. Five others are from minor parties, according to numbers provided by Gessler’s office to The Associated Press. No charges have been filed yet against the voters, which Gessler said are being referred to prosecutors.
Faster, more reliable voting machines are arriving just in time to help handle an expansion of absentee voting in Minnesota and a high-profile test of Minneapolis’ ranked-choice voting in this fall’s mayoral election. Six of the seven metro-area counties are spending millions to replace hundreds of 13-year-old optical-scan ballot-counting machines, taking advantage of federal grants and the recent certification of new voting technology. Ballots cast by Minneapolis residents will be fed into the machines during the mayoral election in November, which will be the most high-profile test yet of the city’s system that allows voters to pick a first, second and third choice. The new equipment will eliminate the hand counting that took 15 days in 2009.
A three-judge panel on Monday upheld legislative and congressional districts drawn by the Republican-dominated General Assembly in 2011, ruling unanimously that the maps were constitutional. Democrats, the state NAACP and good-government groups had sued to invalidate the maps, saying they were improperly drawn based on racial considerations. The opponents also argued lawmakers too finely split the state, dividing so many local voting precincts that it would create confusion. But the three Superior Court judges found that those challenging the maps had not showed “a violation of any cognizable equal protection rights of any North Carolina citizens, or groups thereof, will result.” The plaintiffs in the case, including a former state lawmaker and the state NAACP, have 30 days to decide whether to appeal the decision to the state Supreme Court.
Oklahoma: Hurry up and wait: Tulsa’s new election process frustrates candidates, voters | Tulsa World
After a frantic eight weeks of campaigning leading up to the June 11 nonpartisan mayoral election, now comes the dead of summer and the long, seemingly endless march to the Nov. 12 general election between former Mayor Kathy Taylor and incumbent Dewey Bartlett. Why, one might wonder, is there five months between the primary and the general election? Or, worse yet, seven months between the April filing period and the November general election. And then there is this possibility: If one mayoral candidate gets more than 50 percent of the vote in the June primary, that candidate becomes mayor but doesn’t take office until the first week of December. How did this happen?
The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in a landmark voting rights case last week released Texas from federal supervision of its election laws and procedures for the first time since 1972. But the clarity of that ruling was fleeting. This week, attorneys for minority groups filed motions with separate three-judge panels in San Antonio and Washington, D.C., asking that Texas be returned to federal oversight under a section of the Voting Rights Act left intact by the Supreme Court. Court watchers — and the San Antonio court itself, which held a hearing Monday — are taking the new challenges very seriously. Lawyers for the state want the whole thing dismissed. “There’s no question this is new territory for everyone,” wrote Dallas attorney Michael Li in his widely followed (among people who follow arcane politics) Texas Redistricting blog at txredistricting.org.
Surely, street cred in conservative circles is not worth becoming the poster child for voter suppression. Again. What’s the rush? The ink was barely dry on the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on the Voting Rights Act, and there was Attorney General Greg Abbott saying Texas’ voter ID law would go into effect immediately. The problem: the ink has been quite dry for a while on another federal court ruling. This one, in August 2012, said discrimination and voter suppression was written all over Texas’ voter ID law. Yet, the state is now gearing up to implement this law, and county election officials around the state are surely scratching their heads. Why would a state, whose voting numbers are nothing to write home about, want to diminish them further? Particularly since this is ostensibly to address voter fraud — a problem that substantially doesn’t exist.
Virginia: Cuccinelli pushes for voter registration by party to help enforce closed primaries | The News Leader
In a state where party registration doesn’t exist, the idea that Virginians should have to pick a side has an important champion — the potential next governor. Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II, the GOP nominee for the commonwealth’s top job, reiterated Tuesday that he thinks that Virginia should change its system to make voters officially choose a party or declare themselves independent, so that parties could ensure that only their own members vote in their primaries. Cuccinelli backed the idea when he was in the Senate, too, but come January he could be in a more important position if he defeats Democratic nominee Terry McAuliffe. “I’ve encouraged that in the past and I’ll encourage it in the future,” Cuccinelli said after speaking at the Greenspring retirement community in Springfield.
Hundreds of thousands of inactive Wisconsin voters have been removed from local voting rolls as government officials undergo regular maintenance. More than 220,000 voters were removed in May by the Government Accountability Board, the nonpartisan agency tasked with overseeing the state’s elections and campaign finance laws. “Local clerks have recorded who all voted in November, and who didn’t. We can see who hasn’t voted in the last four years, and those people get postcards,” said Reid Magney, a GAB spokesman. If voters didn’t respond to the postcard mailed to their address, they are listed as inactive voters and removed from local voting rolls. The GAB conducts this regular maintenance of voting rolls during odd-numbered years after a presidential or gubernatorial election.
Egypt will hold new parliamentary elections once amendments to its suspended constitution are approved in a referendum, the interim head of state decreed on Monday, setting out a timeframe that could see a legislative vote in about six months. A presidential vote would be called once the new legislative chamber convenes, the decree said. It set a four-and-a-half month timeframe for amendments to the state’s controversial, Islamist-tinged constitution that was passed in December.
Mexican electoral officials Monday declared the preliminary results of a race for governor in Baja California invalid after the ruling party and the opposition both claimed victory in the politically pivotal state. The election in Baja California, which borders the United States, was the biggest prize in regional polls held in 14 states on Sunday after one of the most violent campaign seasons in recent years. Analysts say the result in the border state could affect a national political reform pact.
In Sunday´s elections, voters in the Lima district of Cañete used an electronic voting system that proved efficient. According to statements given to Andina, participants took only 30 seconds to complete the entire voting process. It is simple and efficient, allowing the results to be released more quickly. The head of the ONPE (Office of Electoral Processes) told Andina that Pacarán, Cañete is an example of the future of voting in Peru: “We congratulate the population of Pacarán that participated in this day of democracy: using new technologies, such as the electronic vote, allows the voting process to be more secure and flexible, today showed us that we can use technological innovations that the world is currently using.”
Early elections for mayor of Russia’s capital will be held on Sept. 8. This will be the opposition’s zero-hour: The key electorate for opponents of the regime is represented most widely in Moscow. If the opposition does not win on its own turf, the protest movement may be forgotten for a long time to come. Last year’s elections in the Moscow suburb of Khimki were seen by many as a dress rehearsal for the upcoming battle for Moscow. Consequently, the voting there was closely followed by all of Russia’s political observers—as was the opposition’s defeat. Yet protest leaders have been offered the chance to take their revenge far sooner than they expected: The next mayoral elections in Moscow were scheduled to take place only in 2015. The opposition’s plans have been thrown into disarray by Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin’s sudden resignation.