When the votes are tallied in Virginia’s race for governor on Tuesday, over 300,000 citizens will be missing from the voting rolls – including 20% of the state’s black population. The reason is not low turnout or voter ID, but a growing and often invisible barrier to voting that is upending elections around the country. Over 5 million Americans are barred from voting because they have criminal records, according to a report this year from the Sentencing Project. The crackdown on ballot access is so intense, a majority of states actually bar former convicts from voting even after they are released from prison. If voting rights were restored to those former inmates, about 4.3 million more Americans would be able to vote. That is over three times margin of victory in the last House midterm elections.
Republican attempts to use voter identification laws to suppress voting by people more likely to vote for Democrats has created a class of victims it probably was not intended for. Women. Even Republican women. The GOP has tried to thinly veil its efforts by claiming that voter ID laws are necessary to prevent voter fraud, but the figures on voter fraud — which is almost nil everywhere — show that to be a phony excuse. The real reason is to make voting more difficult for blacks, Hispanics, the young, the elderly and the poor, who traditionally tend to vote for Democrats. After the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a key part of the Voting Rights Act in June, several states raced to put new voter ID laws into effect. Attention initially focused on the way such laws affected African-Americans and Hispanics. Now the focus of concern is on women. To quote the governor of Texas, a state that’s making harder for women to vote, “Oops.”
The Colorado Election Law, HB13-1303 Voter Access and Modernized Elections Act of 2013, passed in haste last legislative session on a straight party-line vote (the Senate sponsors of the bill, Angela Giron and John Morse, were subsequently removed from office in Colorado’s first legislative recall elections in state history) has once again been challenged in court. The Libertarian Party of Colorado, joined by several individual plaintiffs, filed suit in Denver District Court (Saturday, 2 November 2013) seeking to ensure that voters in this year’s coordinated (nonpartisan) municipal and special-district (including school board) elections were able to vote – and only able to vote – on those races for which they were eligible under state statute and the provisions of the Colorado Constitution.
In June, the Supreme Court’s Shelby v. Holder decision disarmed Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, freeing nine states – mostly in the South – from having to submit election procedure changes for the Justice Department’s approval. The vast majority of voting laws that the department objected to as discriminatory came from towns and counties, rather than the state level. Since the ruling, such localities have seen both quiet changes to election code and also deep uncertainties among civil rights advocates who long relied on this key provision of the Voting Rights Act. The state of Georgia alone offers many examples. The city of Athens, for instance, is considering a proposal to eliminate nearly half of its 24 polling sites in favor of creating two early voting centers – both located inside police stations. Madelyn Clare Powell, a longtime civil rights activist in Athens, worries that some voters cannot regard police stations as neutral territory. “There is a major intimidation factor here – these police stations are seen by some in the community as hostile territory,” says Powell, citing historical tension between white police forces and minority communities in the region. Local activists also fear that the poll closures disproportionally impact neighborhoods with higher shares of minorities and college students, requiring three-hour bus rides for some public-transit dependent voters.
A group of Republican lawmakers and two interest groups who pushed for voter ID now are going to court to stop a state website that allows voters to register online. In a lawsuit filed in Ramsey County District Court on Monday, the group contends that DFL Secretary of State Mark Ritchie overstepped his authority when he launched the website in September. More than 2,000 Minnesotans have submitted voter registration applications since then. Dan McGrath, president of Minnesota Majority, said Monday that the lawsuit will not immediately affect anyone who used the system to register for Tuesday’s local elections. But, he said, it could be used to challenge the results of those elections, particularly in close races. The suit seeks action by mid-December. If a court found that Ritchie lacked the authority to start the website, the group could ask that votes cast by those who registered online be disqualified. More than 80 city and school board races are being held across the state on Tuesday, including mayoral contests in Minneapolis and St. Paul.
The Native voting-rights lawsuit, Wandering Medicine v. McCulloch, is headed back to Montana district court for a rematch. On October 30, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, sitting in Portland, Oregon, dismissed the Montana tribal members’ appeal in the suit because it applied to reservation polling places they’d been denied for the 2012 election, and that election is over. However, the appeals panel also “vacated” the district court’s denial of the offices. In November 2012, the lower-court judge acknowledged that Montana’s Native people don’t have equal voting opportunities. However, since they have had some success electing representatives of their choice, they don’t need any more access, the judge reasoned. That judge has since retired following an unrelated scandal. Thanks to the Ninth Circuit’s decision, a new judge will hear the case and decide whether the reservation polling places should be provided in future elections.
Jim Wright was once the speaker of the U.S. House, and third in line to the presidency. But Texas’ strict voter ID law nearly prevented him from casting a vote this year. With several major elections and numerous lower-profile races scheduled for Tuesday, Wright’s difficulties are the latest sign that, a year after President Obama pledged to fix America’s broken voting system, it’s more dysfunctional than ever. Wright, 90, has voted every year since 1944. But he realized last week that his driver’s license had expired. Wright has a faculty ID from Texas Christian University, where he teaches political science, but Texas’s voting law doesn’t accept university IDs. So he went Saturday to a government office to get a state ID card. But he was told he’d need to come back Monday with a certified copy of his birth certificate. Wright told msnbc that he was finally able to get his ID on Monday. But he worries about others who may not be able to take as much time. “I think you become a bit discouraged and dismayed and confused, and throw up your hands and say, ‘I’m not going to vote,’” said Wright, a Democrat who served as Speaker in the 1980s and was one of a minority of Texas congressmen who voted for the 1965 Voting Rights Act. In fact, Wright said he thinks dissuading voters is the point of the law. “I do believe that there’s an apprehension on their part, unreasonably so, of too many people voting. I hate to say that.”
Texas: Voter ID Law Ensnares Former Speaker of the House, Candidates for Governor, State Judge | The Nation
Former Speaker of the House Jim Wright has voted in every election since 1944 and represented Texas in Congress for thirty-four years. But when he went to his local Department of Public Safety office to obtain the new voter ID required to vote—which he never needed in any previous election—the 90-year-old Wright was denied. His driver’s license is expired and his Texas Christian University faculty ID is not accepted as a valid form of voter ID. To be able to vote in Texas, including in Tuesday’s election for statewide constitutional amendments, Wright’s assistant will have to get a certified copy of his birth certificate, which costs $22. According to the state of Texas, 600,000 to 800,000 registered voters in Texas don’t have a valid form of government-issued photo ID. Wright is evidently one of them. But unlike Wright, most of these voters will not have an assistant or the political connections of a former Speaker of the House to help them obtain a birth certificate to prove their identify, nor can they necessarily make two trips to the DMV office or afford a birth certificate. The devil is in the details when it comes to voter ID. And the rollout of the new law in Texas is off to a very bad start. “I earnestly hope these unduly stringent requirements on voters won’t dramatically reduce the number of people who vote,” Wright told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “I think they will reduce the number to some extent.”
Editorials: The Voting Fraud Bust that Proves Texas’ Voter ID Law Is Useless | Philip Bump/The Atlantic
A 55-year-old woman in Texas plead guilty to voter fraud on Monday for forging ballots in the 2012 primary election. The case will certainly become fodder in the defense of the state’s new, restrictive voter ID law. But it shows, above all else, how completely unnecessary that law actually is. According to an alert from the FBI (which we saw via Ryan Reilly), Sonia Leticia Solis faces up to five years in prison after her sentencing next February. She admitted that she obtained “multiple mail-in ballots by forging applications on behalf of individuals she represented to be disabled.” How many votes she actually completed isn’t clear, nor is the race which she was hoping to influence. The FBI notes that the race at issue “included candidates running for the U.S. House of Representatives,” and that Solis was a resident of Brownsville. That puts her in Texas’ new congressional district, the 34th, and means that she committed the fraud while voting in either the primary or run-off elections in that district for either party. Solis could have had the most effect if she’d been voting in the Republican primary in the heavily-Democratic district. That race was settled by only 223 votes. So Solis would “only” have had to come up with 223 different people that were eligible to vote that didn’t plan to, forge their applications and votes, and return each to the state.
On Friday October 18, a federal district judge in Virginia’s northern district rejected the Democratic Party’s request for an injunction blocking the removal of 38,000 voters from the Virginia voter rolls. Democrats contended that the lists used to remove voters are inaccurate. The road to this case emerged in the spring of 2013, when the state board of elections, in an attempt to combat voter fraud, decided to examine the Virginia voter rolls to weed out voters also registered in other states. The purge was conducted using a program called Crosscheck, which matches Virginia’s rolls against voters registered in other states. Crosscheck revealed 308,000 Virginia voters with duplicate registrations. Twenty-five states use this program. Democrats contend that it is “deeply flawed.” The decision to remove voters from the rolls resulted from Virginia state code “§ 24.2-404(4) and the newly enacted §§ 24.2-404(10) and 24.2-404.4 effective July 1, 2013. These statutes collectively require the State Board of Elections” (SBE) to coordinate with other states to identify and remove duplicate voter registrations to avoid voter fraud, explained Secretary of State Board of Elections Don Palmer in an interview with State of Elections (SOE). The board then voted “to refer any alleged double voting” to the office of the Attorney General, headed by gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli.
Opponents of a Wisconsin law requiring voters to show photo identifications at the polls will have their day in federal court Monday in a case likely to have an impact on other states that have amended their voting laws in recent years. Civil-rights groups sued over the Wisconsin law, initially passed in 2011, after a 77-year old woman couldn’t provide the documents necessary to receive a Wisconsin driver’s license. The Advancement Project, a voting-rights group based in Washington, contends the voter ID law places an outsized burden on minorities. The case also includes a challenge from the American Civil Liberties Union, which says elderly and low-income voters are disproportionately impacted. The case is the first to come to trial after the Supreme Court struck down a section of the Voting Rights Act used to determine whether states must seek Justice Department approval before making changes to election laws.
Gov. Scott Walker wants to replace, without explanation, the former judge who led the nonpartisan elections board during Walker’s recall in 2012, raising questions about his motives for the unusual move. Walker’s office today provided The Associated Press with a copy of the governor’s Oct. 24 letter withdrawing the nomination for Senate confirmation of Judge David Deininger. Walker spokesman Tom Evenson had no comment on why the governor made the move. A Senate committee was to vote on the nomination Tuesday. “I feel like I’ve been fired and I don’t know why,” said Deininger, a former Republican lawmaker who was first appointed to the Government Accountability Board in 2008 by then-Gov. Jim Doyle, a Democrat. The board was established to be a nonpartisan arbiter of the state’s election and ethics laws, but some of its decisions have so angered Republicans they have called for it to be abolished and reconstituted.
Voter ID advocates and opponents alike will be watching Wisconsin on Monday as a new federal trial on the state’s photo ID law begins. The case is the first federal trial under the Voting Rights Act since the Supreme Court struck down part of the law in June, and it’s one of the first cases to challenge voter ID under what’s known as Section 2 of the VRA. Section 2, which was unaffected by the Supreme Court’s decision, prohibits procedures that discriminate based on race and other protected groups. “I think that everyone’s going to be looking at what happens in Wisconsin,” said Rick Hasen, a University of California, Irvine, law and political science professor and author of Election Law Blog. “Whoever’s on the successful side will say, ‘See, we told you,’ and whoever’s on the losing side will either say the court got it wrong or point to factual differences [in their state], but it will be important because it’s one of the first Section 2 challenges to the voting ID law.” The trial covers two challenges to the law, one brought by the group Advancement Project, which argues that the Wisconsin law is particularly burdensome on voters of color, and another brought by the American Civil Liberties Union, which focuses on minorities as well as elderly, student, low-income, disabled and homeless voters.
Australia: West Australian voters likely to be forced back to the polls after AEC admits ineptitude in Senate ballot | Telegraph
The Australian Electoral Commission has admitted its incompetence will send almost 2.5 million voters back to the polls. Despite yesterday declaring six politcal “winners” amid farcical scenes in the Western Australia Senate race, the AEC hinted it would challenge its own result after losing 1400 votes. The challenge would likely trigger a fresh poll. Australian Electoral Commissioner Ed Killesteyn apologised for the lost ballot papers, conceding it was likely they had been lost forever, and hinted he would petition for a fresh election. “I’m obligated to declare the result, irrespective of the fact that these ballots are missing. Legally, I just have no other choice,” he said. “Nearly 1400 West Australian electors have had their Senate votes disenfranchised and I apologise unreservedly to all of those electors,” Mr Killesteyn told ABC Radio before the result was handed down.
Violence that forced voting stations to close early on Sunday in the Serbian-dominated city of north Mitrovica and led to the destruction of ballots is likely to prompt Kosovo authorities to order a rerun of elections there, officials said on Monday. While violence was a blow to European Union-brokered peace efforts between Serbia and Kosovo, regional and European officials stressed that elections went smoothly in the rest of the country and there was significant turnout of ethnic Serbs in southern Kosovo, where ethnic Albanians dominate. On Tuesday, the EU’s election mission will issue its preliminary verdict on the conduct of Sunday’s elections. Decisions on whether and how to boost security in the north in coming weeks are still being considered, officials said.
Protests and logistical challenges are heightening tensions before a scheduled 19 November national poll in Nepal that is seen as critical to the country’s stability and development, say analysts. Voters are to choose a new constituent assembly (CA), which serves as the country’s parliament. The previous assembly dissolved in May 2012 after failing to produce a much-anticipated postwar constitution. Citizens have looked to a new constitution to help the country emerge from the 1996-2006 civil war that killed more than 15,000 people. But the contentious issues that stalled its drafting, including how to structure the state and share power, remain unresolved. In January 2013, the UN noted that high-level political stagnation was allowing the “slow but persistent deterioration of democratic institutions and effective governance”. The humanitarian costs of the constitutional stalemate are high. Without it, several pieces of legislation, including a disaster management act and the establishment of a truth and reconciliation commission, have been on hold. Meanwhile, logistical challenges and threats of violence loom over the polls.