The Voting Rights Act, which enjoyed strong bipartisan support for nearly a half-century, divided senators along party lines Wednesday as they debated whether minority voters still face enough threats to warrant updating the landmark law. Democrats, led by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy of Vermont, said attempts to undermine minority voters remain pervasive, even if they’re less blatant than the tactics used when the law first passed in 1965. “Since 2010, 22 states have passed new voting restrictions that make it more difficult to vote,” Leahy said, citing a new report from the Brennan Center for Justice. “Of the 11 states with the highest African-American turnout in 2008, seven of those have new restrictions in place.”
Last night, Mississippi Senator Thad Cochran narrowly defeated Tea Party challenger Chris McDaniel, in part by courting black voters. “Voting rights has been an issue of great importance in Mississippi,” Cochran said yesterday. Black turnout increased significantly in yesterday’s runoff election, which helped Cochran win by 6,000 votes. “In Mississippi’s twenty-four counties with a majority black population, turnout increased an average of 40 percent over the primary,” reported The Washington Post. In 2006, Cochran was one of ninety-eight Senate Republicans who voted unanimously to reauthorize the temporary provisions of the Voting Rights Act for another twenty-five years. But last year, Cochran applauded the Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder invalidating Section 4 of the VRA, which freed states like Mississippi, with the worst history of voting discrimination, from having to approve their voting changes with the federal government under Section 5 of the act. “I think our state can move forward and continue to ensure that our democratic processes are open and fair for all without being subject to excessive scrutiny by the Justice Department,” Cochran said. Cochran was, in effect, celebrating a decision gutting a law that he supported just a few years earlier.
Editorials: Think we don’t need to update the Voting Rights Act? Check out yesterday’s primaries. | Janai S. Nelson/Reuters
The door is open for Congress to repair the nation’s most transformative election law, which was neutered by the U.S. Supreme Court a year ago today. Chief Justice John Roberts, in his majority opinion for Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder, issued Congress a written invitation to renew the Voting Rights Act of 1965 after striking down Section 4 of the act and disabling the strongest safety check against racial discrimination in voting. The Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Wednesday on the Voting Rights Amendment Act shows that his invitation did not fall on deaf ears or timid hearts. Swift and dauntless action is needed in both houses of Congress, however, to ensure that voting remains an equal opportunity exercise for all Americans, and that Congress remains a relevant force in the defense of voting rights in places like Mississippi, Texas, Georgia and beyond. On Tuesday, conservative groups marshaled poll watchers for the senatorial primary run-off in Mississippi. Though a court blocked their presence inside polling places, their position just outside threatened to intimidate voters who had come to cast their ballots — echoing the power that poll watchers exercised throughout the Jim Crow South.
It’s rare to see something new on the Hill these days. Congress is all but paralyzed, everyone is wary of proposing legislation, and members of Congress have never been known for thinking outside the box. And yet the Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014 (VRAA)–Cong. James Sensenbrenner’s bipartisan effort to revive Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which was effectively eviscerated by the Supreme Court last summer–was introduced earlier this year. And it offers a new paradigm for civil rights enforcement. Today, the Senate Judiciary Committee will open a hearing where activists, legislators, and other interested parties will share ideas about just what sort of Voting Rights Act changes are sorely needed. Whether the VRAA succeeds, or even manages to become law, is anyone’s guess. But provisions of the bill are worth watching closely because they could reproduce some of the magic of the old Section 5. Section 5 used to require certain jurisdictions (mostly states in the Deep South) to ask the federal government’s permission before making a change in the way they ran elections. Until a rule was “precleared,” it could not be implemented. This unusual provision solved the central problem of voting-rights enforcement during the Civil Rights era–keeping up with the increasingly creative strategies recalcitrant localities used to disenfranchise voters. Every time a court deemed one discriminatory practice illegal, local officials would switch to another. Section 5 allowed the Department of Justice to get one step ahead of local official
One of the ugliest stains on democracy in this country is the fact that an estimated 2.6 million Americans who have committed a felony are not allowed to vote — even after they have served their sentence. This mass disenfranchisement disproportionately afflicts minority, especially black, communities. Until recently, almost no prominent Republicans cared to address the problem, seeing little political advantage in registering former inmates — especially minorities — whom they regarded as a largely Democratic electorate. In a dozen mostly GOP-tilting states, some or all felons remain barred from voting even after finishing with parole and probation.
Every 10 years after a census, political lines are redrawn nationally to reapportion congressional seats based on population. Growing states, like Florida, may pick up a congressional seat or two at a cost to other states. Such was the case in 2012. In Florida, the Legislature draws the lines for its own districts as well as those for the growing congressional delegation. While we would like to believe these lines would be drawn fairly and without regard to protecting incumbents, rewarding favorites and growing representation by the majority party, there’s reason to question the outcomes of previous efforts under both parties. Attempts to move redistricting responsibility from the hands of legislators to independent or bipartisan committees, as in seven other states, haven’t gained traction. Frustrated by what they viewed as an incestuous arrangement, citizens and voting-rights groups, including the League of Women Voters, led the effort to place a pair of constitutional amendments on the ballot for voters to consider.
It’s hard to believe. In our sixth year with an African-American president, one-half century after passage of the Civil Rights Act and the bloody “Freedom Summer” of 1964, some Americans are still being denied the right to vote or facing government-erected obstacles to their exercise of the right on account of their race. Some states have adopted voter ID laws imposing unneeded requirements that tens of thousands of qualified voters can’t meet. Some have shortened voting hours or eliminated “early voting” days intended to accommodate people who’ll be out of town or can’t get away from their jobs on Election Day. Some persist in using outmoded, prone-to-malfunction voting machines that force would-be voters to stand in line for hours in order to cast their ballots. Those of us who were around 50 years ago this week, when the landmark civil rights law was passed, knew it wouldn’t be easy for the country to overcome its long, shameful history of discrimination. We were sad, but not surprised, when the hundreds of college kids who went south in that summer of ‘64 to work for civil rights were beaten and spat upon — and in three cases murdered. But we also had plenty of reason for hope, including the presence of a strong, bipartisan coalition in Congress in support of civil rights, and voting rights laws in particular. Where today’s Congress is all but paralyzed by partisanship, Capitol Hill in 1964 was a place where Democrats and Republicans often found ways to compromise on behalf of the public interest. There is a chance this week to advance the difficult work of recapturing that spirit, and a new struggle for voting rights provides it.
A civil liberties group asked an Arkansas judge Tuesday to block the state from enforcing its voter ID law, saying more than 1,000 people were disenfranchised during last month’s primary election because of the requirement that they show photo identification before casting a ballot. Pulaski County Circuit Judge Tim Fox ruled last month that the voter ID requirement was unconstitutional but suspended his ruling, allowing the requirement to stay in place during the May 20 primary and June 10 runoff election. The primary was the first statewide test of the law, which took effect in January. The American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas on Tuesday asked Fox to lift his stay, saying 933 absentee ballots and 131 ballots cast in person during the primary were thrown out because of the new law.
A controversial California election reform bill that had been sailing through the state legislature with the inexplicable support of Democrats after being authored by a Republican lawmaker, has now been substantially rewritten — some might say ‘gutted’. And that’s a very good thing, according to Election Integrity experts we’ve spoken with. … The new provision would have been a very big change to current law and, as we reported, would restrict voters from raising funds to help pay for such a count. In the process, it would have drastically reduced the opportunity for citizen oversight of public elections in the state. Democrats in the state Assembly supported AB 2369, as authored by Republican Assemblyman Curt Hagman for unknown reasons. It passed out of the lower chamber late last month by an astounding 66 to 7 vote, before being sent on to the state Senate.
Colorado: Secretary of State adopts emergency rule related to Loveland special election | Loveland Reporter-Herald
The Colorado Secretary of State’s office adopted an emergency rule Tuesday that forces the Larimer County Clerk and Recorder to count Loveland special election ballots that come in a county primary envelope. As a result of the city of Loveland running its own election separate from the Larimer County primary election, affiliated voters in Loveland received two ballots — one encased in a blue envelope that needs to be returned to the city and one in a white envelope returnable to the county. Larimer County Clerk and Recorder Angela Myers said last week that approximately 40 Loveland ballots that were received in Larimer County envelopes have been disqualified.
He may no longer be in Congress, but Trey Radel may still pass one more bill for the voters of Southwest Florida. The special election to replace Radel, who resigned for his cocaine scandal, is costing you the taxpayer more than $1.5 (m). Lee County Supervisor of Elections, Sharron Harrington, says she could have saved the taxpayers money if the state legislature would consider some new ideas. Harrington wants to have the option to do “mail only” for special and municipal elections. Trey Radel’s resignation will cost the voters of Southwest Florida one million dollars, according to Harrington. Collier County had to shell out another $500,000 to cover their expenses.
With the Aug. 5 primary approaching, the voting rights of more than 18,000 Kansans are snagged on the law requiring proof of citizenship to register as of 2013. Yet Secretary of State Kris Kobach acts as if all is well. As for the governor, attorney general and legislative leaders – cue the crickets. Kobach even described the voters in limbo – 18.5 percent of the total attempted registrations since Jan. 1, 2013 – as “actually a pretty small percentage of the people who have registered since Jan. 1 (2013).” Recall that Kobach persuaded the Legislature of the need to pass a law in 2011 requiring photo ID to vote and proof of citizenship to register though there had been just seven convictions for voter fraud between 1997 and 2009. And although he claimed as a candidate in 2010 that “in Kansas the illegal registration of alien voters has become pervasive,” he recently referred to 20 cases of illegal immigrants registering to vote between 2006 and 2009 in Kansas having been presented in federal court.
Afghan presidential candidate Ashraf Ghani on Wednesday defended himself against electoral fraud allegations that have tipped the country into a political crisis, vowing to fight for every ballot cast for him. Ghani’s poll rival Abdullah Abdullah has said he will reject the result of the ongoing vote count due to what he claimed was “blatant fraud” committed by Ghani, the election authorities and outgoing President Hamid Karzai. “I ask Dr Abdullah as a national figure to respect the rule of law,” Ghani told supporters in his first speech since the dispute over alleged fake votes erupted. “We are all tired of the language of threats and unlawfulness… Our votes are clean, and we will defend each vote,” he said. Ghani, who travelled abroad for dental treatment after the June 14 election, returned to Kabul to deliver an uncompromising message to Abdullah, who has boycotted the Independent Election Commission (IEC). “It is the people’s right to elect their leader through votes. Some people have created a situation where they threaten that right,” he said.
A 10-day unofficial pro-democracy referendum opened in Hong Kong on June 20, attracting higher-than-expected turnout and angering China’s central government in Beijing. Organized by pro-democracy group Occupy Central, the referendum offers voters a choice of three reform plans for the election of Hong Kong’s chief executive, all of which include public nomination of candidates, an idea rejected by Beijing. Despite massive cyberattacks blamed on mainland China, more than 700,000 online and in-person voters cast ballots in the first three days of voting. Beijing, as expected, was deeply displeased. Chinese state-run media attacked the referendum as an “illegal farce” that is “tinged with mincing ludicrousness.” Chinese media, officials in Beijing, and pro-Beijing officials in Hong Kong have been unrelenting in their efforts to discredit the referendum process, calling it “invalid” and raising suspicions of an “inflated turnout due to the flawed online voting system.” Chen Zuo’er, former deputy director of China’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office said that the referendum was not a valid indicator of how Hong Kong residents wanted to elect their chief executive. “The media have reported that there are dishonest elements during the process of conducting the public vote, which will result in its failure to truly reflect public opinion,” said Chen, without elaborating on these claims.
Nigerians living overseas may be on the verge of realising their dream of exercising voting rights during future elections in the country. This is because the National Conference delegates yesterday voted in favour of Nigerians in the diaspora to exercise their voting rights and participate adequately in elections. The Committee on Foreign Policy and Diaspora Matters had explained in their report that in line with the provisions of section 13(1) C of the Electoral Act 2096 as amended and sections 77(2) and 117(2) of the Constitution of the country, which provided that only citizens present in Nigeria as at the time of registration of voters can register and vote in any elections. It said the provision had disenfranchised millions of Nigerians living abroad, who are vehemently seeking to exercise their voting rights as part of their fundamental human rights.
Tunisia’s assembly on Wednesday set parliamentary and presidential elections for October and November of this year to complete the transition to democracy after its 2011 revolution. The assembly decided that the vote for the new parliament will be on Oct. 26 and the vote for a new president on Nov. 23. If no candidate for president wins a majority, there will be a runoff on Dec. 28. It means the newly chosen electoral commission has just four months to organize the parliamentary elections and update the electoral rolls to register the 3 million eligible voters that didn’t participate in the October 2011 elections for the interim assembly. Tunisia kicked off the region-wide pro-democracy uprisings known as the Arab Spring by overthrowing its dictator in January 2011.
Several right-wing groups have banded together to form a “voter integrity project’ in response to the news that Republican Senator Thad Cochran is courting black Democratic voters in his runoff with the Tea partier Chris McDaniel. The Senate Conservatives Fund, Freedom Works and the Tea Party Patriots, all political action committees, will “deploy observers in areas where Mr. Cochran is recruiting Democrats,” according to a Times article. Ken Cuccinelli, the president of the Senate Conservative Funds, said these observers would be trained to see “whether the law is being followed.” Does anything think this “project” will actually encourage voter “integrity” as opposed to voter suppression? Misinformation is already circulating as to the details of the law that voters must follow.
After taking office in 2010, Democratic Ohio State Rep. Alicia Reece was determined to push back against Republican-sponsored voting restrictions. So Reece did what a lawmaker is supposed to do: She introduced bills, drew up amendments, pushed for hearings and testified before commissions. But with the GOP in complete control of state government beginning January 2011, she didn’t get far. Reece, 42, grew up immersed in the civil rights movement. She volunteered for Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow PUSH Coalition before she was old enough to vote, and at college in Louisiana she organized her dorm to fight David Duke, a onetime state lawmaker and former Ku Klux Klan leader who was running for governor. So with Democrats shut out in Columbus, and no end in sight to GOP efforts to restrict access to the ballot, Reece decided to go back to her roots. “I tried to work on the inside,” Reece, 42, explained on a recent Saturday over lunch at Pleasant Ridge Chili—the self-proclaimed inventor of gravy cheese fries. “Now, I had to go outside, and get organizing a people’s movement.”
Virginia: State Board of Elections to re-evaluate voter ID rule after lawmaker raises concern | Associated Press
The State Board of Elections plans to re-evaluate its definition of a valid identification under Virginia’s new voter ID law after a state lawmaker raised concerns about the rule. On June 10, the board determined that expired but otherwise valid forms of identification will be accepted at the polls. Board members voted Tuesday to reconsider the regulation and reopen the public comment period for 21 days. The board plans to study whether it has the authority to determine what forms of ID are valid, media outlets reported. “What we are after is to find out if this person representing themselves at the polls is who they say they are,” said Chairman Charles Judd. “Then we have achieved what we need to achieve.”