Yesterday U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder formally announced his plans to sue the the state of North Carolina for passing what many civil rights advocates have called the worst voter suppression law in the nation. Holder is filing suit under Section Two of the Voting Rights Act, which prohibits denying or abridging voting rights for people of color. Holder is also requesting a federal court to enter the state of North Carolina into preclearance oversight under Section Three of the law. If the Justice Department’s suit is successful, the state’s new preclearance status will mean it will have to submit any election changes to the federal government for review to ensure no racial discrimination will result before they can be applied.
On Tuesday the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, potentially the most significant federal campaign finance case since Citizens United in 2010. But while the court in Citizens United struck down — correctly, in my opinion — limits on independent campaign spending by individuals or organizations, the McCutcheon case is an attack on limits that should not be struck down: those on contributions made directly or indirectly to political candidates. The McCutcheon case was brought by the Republican National Committee and a contributor, Shaun McCutcheon. If they succeed, individuals will be able, in effect, to direct unlimited amounts of cash to the election campaigns of federal candidates — inviting corruption or the appearance of corruption, which the Supreme Court has consistently held justifies contribution limits. (I have filed an amicus brief in this case on behalf of Americans for Campaign Reform.)
Just about everyone who goes through a musical-theater phase at some point falls in love with Sky Masterson of Guys and Dolls. In the movie version, Marlon Brando plays the gambler who will wager “sky high” stakes and finds himself singing “Luck Be a Lady” while rolling the dice to see if he gets the girl. Going all in may be what you’d expect in a fictional singing crapshooter, but it’s a bit more surprising in a U.S. attorney general. Eric Holder’s announcement Monday that the Justice Department was going to bring a lawsuit against North Carolina’s new and wide-sweeping election law, which includes a laundry list of voter restrictions and changes making it harder to vote, showcases just how high he’s willing to make the stakes when it comes to voting rights. His department is now going to be litigating two high-profile cases—one against a voter-ID law in Texas, and the other against the omnibus bill in North Carolina. The DOJ is also involved in a case to show that Texas’s redistricting maps intentionally discriminated. Some legal advocates say he’s taking the only logical course of action. Others say he’s going double or nothing.
The Census Bureau has steadfastly resisted calls to end the practice of counting inmates as “residents” of their prisons instead of the cities and towns where they lived and to which they typically return. The bureau’s new director, John Thompson, seems at least open to ending this wrongful practice. Counting inmates at their correctional institutions encourages prison-based gerrymandering, by which state lawmakers draw legislative districts that consist partly or even mainly of prison populations, even though inmates are denied the right to vote in all but two states. This enhances the political power of the mainly rural districts where prisons are built and undercuts the influence of the urban districts where many inmates came from.
Arizona: Group opposing voter referendum on new election law wants some signatures tossed | Associated Press
A group supporting a sweeping new Republican-backed election law wants the Secretary of State’s office to invalidate some petitions demanding a voter referendum. Wednesday’s letter from lawyers for a group calling itself Stop Voter Fraud demanded that Secretary of State Ken Bennett throw out signatures on petitions collected by four circulators because they’re allegedly felons. Bennett spokesman Matt Roberts said the Secretary of State by law can’t toss the petitions. “They’re asking us to do things that we’re not statutorily able to do,” Roberts said. “Usually these things move through the courts and I expect this to be no different.” The bill was backed by Republicans and passed in the last hours of the legislative session in June over the opposition of Democrats. They called it a thinly veiled effort to keep Republicans in power by creating new hurdles for low-income voters and some candidates.
A judge’s halting of Palmdale’s November election could have implications for other cities facing lawsuits under the California Voting Rights Act. Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Mark V. Mooney on Monday canceled the election after earlier finding that Palmdale’s at-large method of choosing council members deprived minority voters of the opportunity to elect a representative of their choice. Officials plan to appeal, with City Atty. Matthew Ditzhazy calling the ruling “wildly unprecedented and radical.” Some voters already have been sent mail-in ballots, he said. Activists seeking minority representation on city councils, school boards and other governmental bodies have been pushing for by-district elections throughout California. Ethnically diverse jurisdictions that hold at-large elections and have few, if any, minority officeholders are especially vulnerable under state law, experts said.
Booted from the Nov. 5 ballot last week over a technicality, Save Westport Now (SWN) will now have ballot access on Election Day, a Stamford Superior Court judge ruled today. Judge Kenneth B. Povodator ordered Westport Town Clerk Patricia Strauss to give SWN endorsed and nominated candidates for the Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z)—Democrats Andra Vebell, David Lessing and Alan Hodge—a SWN place on the ballot in addition to their names on Democratic line. The move drew praise from Connecticut Secretary of the State Denise Merrill. “Judge Povodator’s decision is good for the voters of Westport,” Merrill said in a statement. “It is always in the best interest of voters to have choices on the ballot, and I am relieved the judge resolved this issue.” Founded in the 1980s to save Gorham Island from development, a bid that failed, SWN is a third party, environmental and preservation advocacy group. It has typically endorsed and nominated Democratic candidates for the Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z), although last election it endorsed Republicans.
Over the next week, Secretary of State Ken Detzner will visit five Florida cities to discuss a second attempt to purge non-citizens from voter rolls without repeating the mistakes from the first try. “I accept responsibility for that effort,” Detzner said. “It could have been better. It should have been better. We learned from the mistakes that we made. We won’t make the same mistakes.” Starting with a round table Thursday in Panama City, Detzner will try to convince Florida’s supervisors of elections that this time, the Division of Elections will get it right. An attempt made last year before the elections was marred by errors and led to lawsuits by civil rights groups that said the purge disproportionately targeted Hispanics, Haitians and other minority groups. “It was sloppy, it was slapdash, and it was inaccurate,” said Polk County Supervisor of Elections Lori Edwards.
Iowa: Right to Life Asks the Supreme Court to Overturn Ban on Corporate Contributions | Iowa’s Appellate Blog
After scoring a relatively successful victory before the Eighth Circuit, conservative election law attorney Jim Bopp is taking his case to overturn parts of Iowa’s campaign finance law to the United States Supreme Court. In a recently filed cert petition, Mr. Bopp — the lead counsel for Iowa Right to Life in the Iowa
Right to Live v. Tooker litigation (a case which we have previously covered on this blog here, here, and here)— has asked the Supreme Court to review two specific questions regarding the constitutionality of Iowa’s campaign finance laws. First, Iowa Right to Life wants to know whether Iowa’s ban on direct corporation-to-candidate contributions is unconstitutional under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Iowa Right to Life argues that prohibiting corporations from donating directly to candidates whom they support while allowing other entities, such as labor unions, the ability to make direct contributions constitutes unequal treatment between similarly situated would-be contributors. This argument was rejected by the Eighth Circuit.
A Wayne County Circuit judge denied a request today to stop the Detroit City Clerk’s office from sending out absentee ballots. Judge Patricia Fresard heard arguments today in response to a challenge filed by city clerk candidate D. Etta Wilcoxon, the group Citizens United Against Corrupt Government and activist Robert Davis. They argued that the Detroit Election Commission should have held an open meeting to approve the absentee ballots for the November election after they were printed and before Winfrey’s office put them in the mail. The group on Tuesday filed a request for a temporary restraining order halting the process, which Fresard denied. Fresard noted that there was no claim that anything was actually incorrect on the ballots. Detroit City Clerk Janice Winfrey explained that she started mailing out the bulk of the 30,000 absentee ballots on Friday. She said the commission approved the names on the ballots prior to the primary in August, and she began printing them around Sept. 17 to ensure those in the military received them in time to vote.
The ability to vote is one of the basic rights every American citizen can claim as his or her own. It is a right, which through years of protest and activism, has become not only a hallmark of democracy but of equality. The right to vote, and the ability to do so, represents the most basic element of a government in which the people have the ability to govern themselves. Yet today across the country, and especially here in Montana, American Indians are being denied their rights to basic voting practices that are common among other populations. Currently, there is a suit that has been appealed to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The lawsuit is fighting for the installation of satellite voting centers on every reservation in Montana. Representatives of the Northern Cheyenne, Crow and Gros Ventre and Assiniboine tribes filed the suit in 2012 when the state denied a request to install satellite voting offices on several reservations.
Virginia’s Democratic Party sued the state alleging that a plan to purge about 57,000 voters from registration lists threatens the constitutional right to vote just weeks before the Nov. 5 election. The lawsuit, which names Republican Governor Robert McDonnell and Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli as defendants, seeks a court order barring the state’s election board and county and city registrars from purging voters before the November election. Cuccinelli, a Republican, is running to replace McDonnell, who by law can’t stand for re-election. Members of the Democratic Party of Virginia “and thousands of other citizens will be at risk of having their voting rights unlawfully stripped away through standard-less, ad hoc determinations by county and city registrars,” according to the complaint filed Oct. 1 in federal court in Alexandria.View the formal complaint here.
Australia: Tony Abbott bluntly rejects calls for residency rights for New Zealand migrants after meeting with PM John Key | ABC
Prime Minister Tony Abbott has bluntly rejected calls to give around 200,000 New Zealanders living in Australia greater access to citizenship, taxpayer benefits and other government support. Since 2001, New Zealanders moving to Australia have not been automatically considered permanent residents and must instead apply for a temporary visa, such as the Special Category Visa (SCV). Holders of temporary visas, such as the SCV, do not have access to welfare, voting rights and student loans, while permanent residents do.
Hundreds of supporters of the front-runner in the Maldives’ presidential election demonstrated Friday against a court decision to postpone this weekend’s runoff, amid international concern over the country’s young democracy. The Supreme Court earlier this week postponed the runoff until it hears a petition challenging the first-round election result. Mohamed Nasheed, the country’s first democratically elected leader, and his Maldivian Democratic Party supporters demanded Friday that the election be held as scheduled Saturday.
The Supreme Committee for Elections and Referendum (SCER) will postpone the voter registration process until the country’s National Dialogue Conference (NDC) is over and all political parties have reached a consensus on issues pertaining to elections. National elections are slated for February 2014. SCER was scheduled to begin registering voters in a new electoral system nationwide starting in September. The registration system was crafted as a four-phrase process, each phase lasting 27 days. It was slated to draw to a conclusion at the end of December.