House Democrats are amping up their pressure on GOP leaders to move on legislation to restore voting rights protections shot down by the Supreme Court last year. In a March 27 letter, Democratic leaders noted that the high court’s ruling “acknowledged the persistence of voter discrimination,” and they urged the Republicans to take up a bipartisan proposal, designed to counteract such prejudices, before November’s elections. “Some of us believe the bill should be enacted in its current form, and some of us would prefer to see it amended,” the Democrats wrote to Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.). “But all of us stand united in our desire for the House to consider the issue in time for the entire Congress to work its will before the August district work period.” Spearheaded by Rep. James Clyburn (S.C.), the third-ranking House Democrat, the letter was endorsed by 160 Democrats, including Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.), caucus Chairman Xavier Becerra (Calif.), caucus Vice Chairman Joseph Crowley (N.Y.), Rep. John Conyers Jr. (Mich.), the ranking member of the Judiciary panel, and Rep. John Dingell (Mich.), the House dean. GOP leaders have not said if they’ll try to move legislation on the issue this year.
On Election Night 2012, referring to the long lines in states like Florida and Ohio, Barack Obama declared, “We have to fix that.” The waits in Florida and Ohio were no accident, but rather the direct consequence of GOP efforts to curtail the number of days and hours that people had to vote. On January 22, 2014, the president’s bipartisan election commission released a comprehensive report detailing how voting could be smoother, faster and more convenient. It urged states to reduce long lines by adopting “measures to improve access to the polls through expansion of the period for voting before the traditional Election Day.” That would seem like an uncontroversial and common sense suggestion, but too many GOP-controlled states continue to move in the opposite direction, reducing access to the ballot instead of expanding it. The most prominent recent examples are the swing states of Wisconsin and Ohio. Yesterday Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker signed legislation eliminating early voting hours on weekends and nights, when it’s most convenient for many voters to go to the polls. When they took over state government in 2011, Wisconsin Republicans reduced the early voting period from three weeks to two weeks and only one weekend. Now they’ve eliminated weekend voting altogether.
In 2006, the Voting Rights Act (VRA) was reauthorized for 25 years by a massive majority of both the House and the Senate. In fact, the Senate reauthorized the bill unanimously by a vote of 98 to 0. In June 2013, the Supreme Court decision Shelby County v. Holder found that Congressional reauthorization by mass majority was not enough to uphold the 48-year-old formula in Section 4(b) of the VRA. Section 4(b) of the VRA is the formula by which states that townships or counties are placed under the jurisdiction and require the consent of the Department of Justice regarding any changes to electoral law. This is called “preclearance,” a power defined in the VRA’s subsequent Section 5. While progressives and liberals across the United States are now up-in-arms over this decision, the truth is that the Supreme Court acted with due deference towards the issue of institutional racism and voting discrimination. Chief Justice Roberts was very clear regarding this issue. His opinion states, “At the same time, voting discrimination still exists; no one doubts that.” As Roberts states in the majority opinion, the major problem is that, “the Act imposes current burdens and must be justified by current needs.” The Supreme Court also agrees that Section 2 of the 15th Amendment provides Congress with the authority to legislate against such discrimination. That is the crux of the problem: Congress.
Island geography, a politically balanced commission and dominance in all politics by Democrats means redistricting and reapportionment issues are different in Hawaii than in other U.S. states. The islands haven’t seen significant impacts from gerrymandering in a state that voted 70 percent for President Barack Obama in 2012 and has had only three Republicans among 21 federal lawmakers since statehood. Hawaii has two U.S. House districts to go along with its two senators. The reapportionment and redistricting process is done every 10 years, governed by a commission created by the state constitution.
Bills in the Missouri Legislature could change the dates of two primary elections and the logistics of running those primaries. The Missouri House of Representatives passed legislation, HB 1902, on March 13 that would set the state’s 2016 presidential primary for March 15. That bill, which passed on a 97-48 vote, has been sent to the Senate. Missouri previously held its party primary in February but faced losing some delegates to the 2016 Republican convention because of new party rules. The Republicans only want four states — Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina — to hold contests in February. States that hold primaries before March 15 must also award delegates proportionally, not on a winner-take-all basis.
A voting rights lawsuit from members of three American Indian tribes in Montana will go forward after a federal judge rejected attempts by state and county officials to dismiss the case. Members of the Crow, Northern Cheyenne and Fort Belknap tribes want county officials to set up satellite voting offices to make up for the long distances they must travel to reach courthouses for early voting or late registration. Judge Donald Molloy said in a Wednesday order that the plaintiffs’ claims of discrimination are plausible enough that the case should proceed. The 1965 Voting Rights Act prohibited state-sanctioned discrimination against minorities. Montana Secretary of State Linda McCulloch and officials from Blaine, Rosebud and Big Horn counties were named as defendants in the lawsuit, which has been pending since before the 2012 election.
Unlike some other states where Republicans used their gains in statewide elections to seize control of the redistricting process after the 2010 census, the re-drawing of Nevada’s voting districts was done by a court-appointed panel and overseen by a judge. Politics was still at play as Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval twice vetoed maps approved by Democratic lawmakers and tossed the task of redistricting to the courts. Democrats held majorities in both the Nevada Senate and Assembly in 2011, a year after the census set up the once-a-decade political jockeying to revamp voting boundaries to account for population and demographic changes. Before the 2010 election, the GOP had majorities in 36 state legislative bodies. Afterward, the party controlled 56. In half the states, Republicans won control of the entire redistricting process, giving them immense power to draw favorable districts for Congress and state legislatures. In other states, Republicans gained control of at least one legislative chamber, limiting the ability of Democrats to draw districts that favored their candidates.
Attorneys in a trio of lawsuits challenging North Carolina’s voter identification law say that as of the middle of last week, the State Board of Elections had not turned over a single electronic document, despite a plan agreed to by both sides earlier this month to produce that material. The U.S. Department of Justice, along with a group of plaintiffs that includes the North Carolina NAACP and the League of Women Voters, filed suit last year that claims that the Voter Information Verification Act will disproportionately hurt black voters. Supporters say it will help prevent voter fraud. A judge on Friday signed an order setting deadlines for the release of relevant, non-protected electronic documents by the state elections board. According to that order, the agency indicated it was prepared to release a set of documents Friday. Plaintiffs in the suit also scored a victory Thursday when a federal judge ruled that state lawmakers could not disregard subpoenas to turn over material.
There’s still a push for Utah to play a bigger role in the 2016 presidential primary race, even though a bill to make the state’s election the first in the nation stalled in the Legislature. “By going first, I believe that Utah could finally show what all of us already know, that the emperors — Iowa and New Hampshire — have no clothes,” said Rep. Jon Cox, R-Ephraim, the sponsor of HB410. The bill, which passed the House but failed to get a vote in the Senate before the session ended, would have put an online Utah election ahead of Iowa’s caucuses and New Hampshire’s primary, traditionally the initial contests for White House contenders. Cox said no state should always be first in line, but until the national parties put an end to the practice, it will take a state like Utah going rogue to “finally allow us to discuss meaningful reform in the presidential nominating process.” Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, who oversees state elections, said he backed the proposal.
Andrea Kaminski, executive director of the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin, is unsure how her organization will respond to Gov. Scott Walker’s recent signing of a bill to restrict early voting throughout the state. Walker issued a partial veto that killed a provision that would have barred municipalities from offering more than 45 hours of weekday in-person absentee voting. Nevertheless, the bill as signed still bars municipalities from offering early voting on weekends in the weeks preceding an election and restricts early voting to the hours of 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekdays. Walker’s veto amounted to a minimal improvement, says Kaminski. “It was a very, very small concession,” she says.