Just over a month after the Supreme Court overturned a key provision of the Voting Rights Act, seven states — five of which were covered under the law — are moving ahead with voting changes that could affect the 2014 Congressional election. The Justice Department has sued Texas to prevent new voting changes and threatened to step in elsewhere. But the battle for the ballot box isn’t going to be waged on the national level, or even the state level, voting-rights advocates say. It’s going to be fought in cities and small towns, at the level of county seats, school boards and city councils. That’s where 85 percent of the DOJ’s Section 5 objections have been under the Voting Rights Act since it was passed. And that’s where legal challenges, the only remaining remedy to fight voter discrimination, are likely to take place, said Dale Ho, head of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project. “That’s what we’re really worried about,” Ho said, adding: “I need more lawyers.”
The Federal Election Commission’s lead member has called for an inspector general’s review to help determine whether the FEC coordinated with the Internal Revenue Service in targeting groups based on their political beliefs. FEC chairman Ellen L. Weintraub said her decision came in response to a request last week from Rep. Candice Miller (R-Mich.), the head of the House Administration Committee, who asked the agency to hand over all of its communications with the IRS since 2008. Reps. Dave Camp (R-Mich.) and Charles Boustany (D-La.) made a similar request to acting IRS chief Daniel Werfel after publishing e-mails showing that Lois Lerner, the embattled former head of the agency’s exempt-organizations division, acknowledged possibly telling an FEC lawyer that a group did not appear on a publicly available list of tax-exempt groups. Federal law prohibits the IRS from releasing information about organizations that have been denied, but it can publish information about approved groups.
A federal court Thursday is scheduled to begin hearing arguments over the state’s new legislative district lines, and whether they strictly followed the terms of the Voting Rights Act or were an attempt to dilute black lawmakers’ influence on legislation. The lawsuit, bought by the Alabama Legislature’s Black Legislative Caucus, alleges that that a reapportionment plan approved by the Republican-majority Legislature in 2012 — and ultimately approved by the U.S. Justice Department — pushes black voters, who tend to vote Democratic, into a limited number of districts, and limits their ability to form coalitions with white voters. The Caucus alleges that violates Section 2 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which prohibits voting practices that discriminate on the basis of race.
Republican Governor Rick Scott is restarting his high-profile purge of suspected noncitizens from Florida’s voting rolls in a move to appeal to core supporters that risks losing the backing of key swaths of the electorate. Scott, seizing on the U.S. Supreme Court’s rejection of a main element of the Voting Rights Act, has revived one of his administration’s most contentious missions: rooting out noncitizens from Florida’s list of 11.8 million voters. While the move to fight fraud may burnish Scott’s appeal to Republicans, strategists say, it risks reviving memories of polling-place snafus in 2012 and alienating the state’s growing Hispanic population. The purge, which began before the 2012 election, stalled when several U.S. citizens were targeted and a Latino-advocacy group sued, claiming discrimination.
In June, the Supreme Court struck down a central piece of the Voting Rights Act, a move that Democrats warned would lead to a resurgence of restrictive, state-level voting laws. And indeed, since that ruling, a handful of Republican-led states have already renewed such efforts. As a quick refresher, the court nixed Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, which established a formula to determine which jurisdictions with a history of voting discrimination had to get “preclearance” from the Department of Justice before revising their voting laws. The DOJ still has that preclearance power, but without Section 4, that power is largely toothless. In response, Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) this week asked state officials to resume scrubbing “noncitizens” from the state’s voting rolls. Scott launched that effort before the 2012 election, but his plan was held up by legal challenges from critics who claimed it was a blatantly partisan attempt to purge poor and minority voters, who overwhelmingly vote Democratic. “Governor Scott seemingly is bent on suppressing the vote in Florida, with his latest move coming as an unfortunate result of the recent Supreme Court decision that gutted the Voting Rights Act,” Florida Sen. Bill Nelson (D) said.
A small Florida Panhandle town best known for its annual Worm Grunting Festival is at the center of an investigation into charges the white city clerk suppressed the black vote in an election where the black mayor lost by a single vote and a black city commissioner was also ousted. Both losing candidates and three black voters have filed complaints, now being investigated by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, that City Clerk Jackie Lawhon made it more difficult for blacks to cast ballots by questioning their residency. The candidates also allege Lawhon abandoned her duty to remain neutral and actively campaigned for the three whites on the ballot. “If the allegations that we have are 100 percent accurate, then this election was literally stolen from us and I really feel like there should be another election,” said Anginita Rosier, who lost her seat on the commission by 26 votes.
After a couple of “hiccups” getting started, a state investigation into voter fraud is “moving in the right direction” and Iowans will begin seeing results soon, Secretary of State Matt Schultz said. “We had a couple of setbacks, but we’re doing the best we can,” the first-term Republican said Wednesday while in Coralville. Shortly after the investigation began, a Division of Criminal Investigation agent assigned to look into voter fraud allegations was called to active duty in the National Guard, and a second agent had to be assigned to the cases. “It’s been like trying to use a shovel to move a mountain,” Schultz said. “Quite frankly, we could use more resources, but I anticipate having answers soon.” The investigation has not been without detractors. Chief among them is Democrat Brad Anderson, who wants Schultz’s job. Anderson, who worked for former Gov. Chet Culver and was state director of President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign, has called the investigation a waste. “Look,” Anderson said Thursday, “any secretary of state should be diligent about going after voter fraud. But he should go about it without disenfranchising voters.”
Hinds County special election preparations will go on. That’s the bottom line after Hinds County District 1 Supervisor and board president Robert Graham and county Election Commission chair Connie Cochran met this morning. They reached an agreement for Cochran to do what the commission must do to get ready for Sept. 24 primaries, including preparing absentee and other ballots in time to meet state-mandated deadlines. The anticipated $67,000 cost wll be paid out of the Election Commission budget, and not from the county’s general fund, they agreed. Their action came after three days of wrangling by the board. Three members didn’t want to pay for the primary to fill District 2 and District 4 supervisor vacancies despite an attorney general’s opinion that makes it clear counties must fund special elections despite their ability to pay for it.
North Carolina: The racist history of voter challenge provisions in ‘monster’ election bill | Facing South
There is a lot to be concerned about in North Carolina’s omnibus elections bill, which voting rights advocates have dubbed a “Monster Law.” Indeed, HB 589 — which has been passed by the Republican-controlled legislature and awaits Gov. Pat McCrory’s signature — is a sort of Frankenstein’s monster stitched together from all the worst election laws found across the country. There’s a voter ID provision that invalidates college IDs, as seen in Texas; shrinking early voting periods, which Florida recently apologized for; and dubious “free ID” provisions that haven’t worked in Pennsylvania. Election law experts have found legal problems with many provisions, and the state’s attorney general also warned of its shaky legal standing. Among the most troubling parts of the law are provisions that expand the powers of poll observers and election challengers. We have seen in Florida, Texas and Pennsylvania what happens when states don’t rein in the activities of “voter vigilantes” who comb through voter files looking to have people purged, and who provide false election information to voters under the guise of “observing.” The Texas-based group True the Vote has created a cottage industry out of such vigilantism, and they’ve inspired the North Carolina group Voter Integrity Project (VIP-NC) to do the same. Elections expert Daniel Smith of the University of Florida has called such efforts the “privatization of voter suppression.”
Repeating its argument that its controversial new photo ID requirement for Texas voters is now in operation, the state on Thursday asked a federal court in Washington to put an end to a case testing that law’s validity. The state filed a two-page motion to dismiss the case. That, however, could encounter resistance from the Obama administration, which believes the law impairs minorities’ voting rights and wants to block Texas from enforcing any such law. “Senate Bill 14 [the photo ID law] is now in full effect and being implemented in Texas,” according to Texas’s motion, filed in U.S. District Court in the case of Texas v. Holder (District Court docket 12-128). That court ruled a year ago that the law would violate the voting rights of African Americans and Hispanics in Texas under the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The Supreme Court in late June sent that case back to the district court, to reconsider in the wake of the decision in the Voting Rights Act case of Shelby County v. Holder. Texas’s motion to dismiss the case altogether appeared likely to set up a new courthouse confrontation with the Obama administration, because Justice Department lawyers are pressing federal courts to put all Texas laws governing voting under a new form of federal court supervision, barring enforcement until any such law gets cleared in Washington. Texas is vigorously opposing that effort.
Texas escalated a confrontation with the Obama administration this week over the Voting Rights Act, staking out an aggressive new challenge to the landmark 1965 law that could send it back to the Supreme Court for yet another review. “Just a few weeks ago, the Supreme Court invalidated the legislatively imposed preclearance requirement, calling it an ‘extraordinary’ ‘departure from the fundamental principle of equal sovereignty’ of the states,” Attorney General Greg Abbott wrote in a 54-page brief filed this week, in a case about whether the state’s latest redistricting map should be subject to court review before taking effect. “A judicially imposed preclearance requirement is no less extraordinary and no less constitutionally suspect.” Rick Hasen, an election law expert and professor at UC-Irvine, told TPM that the brief is “a signal to DOJ that Texas is not afraid to escalate if necessary, and they may have a receptive audience among the conservative Justices on the Supreme Court.”
More than 1.3 million Australians still aren’t enrolled to vote in the federal election. And with Monday night the deadline, the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) faces an uphill battle to persuade around five per cent of the nation to register. About 100,000 people have enrolled since June, thanks in part to a high profile advertising campaign, links posted on Facebook and Twitter and a new online enrolment system. The AEC expects a late flurry this weekend but a spokesman conceded there will be some who miss the 8pm (AEST) Monday deadline and won’t be eligible to vote.
The credibility of the election nomination process in Swaziland has been damaged as it emerged that many people who wanted to nominate candidates were prevented from doing so. And, separately it has been reported that some people were nominated against the election rules. Also, cabinet ministers in the outgoing government who were nominated may not be eligible to stand, according to the Swazi Constitution. Nominations took place across Swaziland at the weekend (3-4 August 2013) to choose candidates for the ‘primary’ elections that will take place in chiefdoms on 24 August. But, the Times of Swaziland, the only independent daily newspaper in the kingdom, reported that people who wanted to nominate candidates could not so because they failed to get the attention of the electoral officer.
Some 300,000 voters were turned away and 206,000 received assistance from election officials during last week’s disputed vote, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) said Thursday. The commission said nearly 3.5 million people cast their ballots in last weeks elections which extended President Robert Mugabe’s 33-year rule after he won 61% of the presidential vote against rival Morgan Tsvangia’s 34% . ZEC’s statistics show that nearly 305,000 people were turned away from voting with the largest number – about 64,000 – turned away in the Harare alone. The voters were reportedly turned away because their names were missing from the voters’ roll, they were registered in another ward or they did not have adequate identification.
Gov. Rick Scott of Florida, newly empowered by the United States Supreme Court’s ruling in June that struck down the heart of the Voting Rights Act, has ordered state officials to resume a fiercely contested effort to remove noncitizens from voting rolls. The program, which was put in place before the 2012 election, became mired in lawsuits and relentless criticism from opponents who viewed it as harassment and worse — a partisan attack by a Republican governor on Hispanic and Democratic voters. In a federal lawsuit filed last year in Tampa, an immigrants’ voting-rights group charged that the attempt to scrub the voter rolls disproportionately affected minority voters and that the state had failed to get Justice Department clearance as required under the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
A year after county auditors in Iowa were told an investigation had been launched into allegations of voter fraud, the top election official in Scott County said she has waited long enough to find out who might be suspected here. Scott County Auditor Roxanna Moritz said that the anniversary of the disclosure is quickly approaching — as are city and school board elections — and that it’s time authorities release the names of people suspected. “This has been a year. They could have given this information to the auditors. We could have found those people,” Moritz said. The auditor said she repeatedly has been told it wouldn’t be long before the names of people at issue would be sent to the local level. Moritz said she realizes the investigation is in the hands of the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation, but she said it is the secretary of state who “started us down this road. It’s all quieted down because we’re not in the middle of a huge election,” she said.
When Republican Gov. Pat McCrory signs North Carolina’s sweeping new elections bill as expected this month, critics will be ready to act, too – in court. The bill not only contains one of the nation’s strictest photo ID laws but compresses the time for early voting and ends straight-ticket balloting. It would no longer count provisional ballots cast in the wrong precinct. The bill that emerged in the final days of this year’s legislative session goes beyond voting changes. It limits disclosure of outside campaign spending, ends public financing for judicial races and no longer makes candidates take responsibility for their ads. “I have never seen a single law that is more anti-voter,” says Penda Hair, a lawyer with the Advancement Project, a civil rights group in Washington. “North Carolina now joins a very short list of (states) that seem … motivated to stop people from voting.”