A last-minute order by the U.S. Supreme Court allowed Texas to apply its strict voter-identification law for the Nov. 4 midterm elections, but bigger battles over state ID requirements loom ahead of the 2016 presidential race. Voter ID cases from Texas and Wisconsin reached the high court in recent weeks, and they produced opposite results. The justices on Saturday said Texas can use its law for now, a blow to the Obama administration and civil-rights groups that challenged the requirements. On Oct. 9, the high court put Wisconsin’s law on hold, a move that blocked late changes to the state’s midterm election rules. Neither case has been resolved beyond next month’s elections, and the Supreme Court hasn’t decided the legality of either law. The court was acting on emergency requests made as Election Day nears, rather than ruling on the merits. If the high court takes up either case later on, it could provide the justices with an opportunity to clarify which kinds of voter-ID requirements are acceptable across the nation.
A few states have turned to independent or arms-length commissions to limit political influences when redrawing congressional and legislative districts. The Supreme Court, however, is hearing a case from Arizona that could jeopardize the future of these commissions. Commission supporters point to more competitive contests and new faces replacing incumbents as evidence of reduced gerrymandering, the deliberate drawing of often misshaped districts to benefit one party or the other. In California, a 14-member citizen panel of Republicans, Democrats and people who are not affiliated with either party redrew the state’s 53 congressional and 120 legislative maps in 2012. The realignment of political boundaries produced some of the most competitive congressional races in decades. Fourteen House incumbents either lost their seats or opted not to run under the new lines. Arizona, Hawaii, Idaho, New Jersey and Washington also have set up commissions to redraw district boundaries after the new census every 10 years. A handful of others have formed panels to redraw only state legislature seats.
Alexis de Tocqueville famously observed in 1835, “Scarcely any political question arises in the United States that is not resolved, sooner or later, into a judicial question.” That certainly describes the grand struggle over voting rights now unfolding in courtrooms across the country. And when it comes to who can vote and when, a clear message is hard to discern. In recent days, rulings, appeals and motions have pinballed around the system, with the U.S. Supreme Court answering emergency pleas, allowing some changes to take effect and temporarily blocking others, while key appeals head their way. The latest lurch: In a decision emailed out at 5 a.m. Saturday morning, the justices let Texas implement its controversial voter ID law, the nation’s strictest, just two days before early voting begins in the state. Amid the confusion, an important new element has emerged. The breakthrough? Facts. Two powerful judicial opinions—one from a Texas trial judge, another from an esteemed appeals court jurist—and a landmark government study have shed new light on the costs and consequences of restrictive voting laws. They answer some key questions: Are these laws malevolent? (In Texas, at least, yes.) Do they provide a benefit that outweighs their cost? (No.) Do they suppress the vote? (Alarmingly, it seems, yes.) And can we prevent fraud without disenfranchising Americans? (Yes, absolutely.) In a zone foggy with legal rhetoric, these three documents will—and should—live on beyond the 2014 election cycle. They might even help shape a new legal regime to protect voters while protecting against fraud. They’re worth a close read.
Every once in a while, David Brooks writes a column in The New York Times that makes one just cringe. That was the case with his “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” treatment last week of the impact of Citizens United on our politics. By defining the impact narrowly—does either party gain from the Supreme Court ruling and the new Wild West of campaign financing?—and by cherry-picking the research on campaign finance, Brooks comes up with a benign conclusion: Citizens United will actually reduce the influence of money in elections, and, I quote, “The upshot is that we should all relax about campaign spending.” Without mentioning his good friend’s name, E.J. Dionne destroyed that case in his own Washington Post column. But a broader critique is necessary. First, Citizens United—and its progeny, SpeechNow and McCutcheon—are not really about whether Republicans get a leg up on election outcomes. They are about a new regime of campaign spending that dramatically enhances corruption in politics and government by forcing lawmakers to spend more and more of their precious time making fundraising calls, raising money for their own campaigns and their parties, and getting insurance against a last-minute blitz of “independent” spending that trashes them when they have no time to raise money to defend themselves. It also gives added traction to extreme groups threatening lawmakers with primary devastation unless they toe the ideological line.
A federal appeals court ruling Friday will allow Kentucky to prohibit campaign activity on public property near polling places but not on private property. The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on a permanent injunction issued three days earlier by U.S. District Judge William O. Bertelsman, who said the state law violates First Amendment speech rights. A three-judge appeals panel agreed with Bertelsman as far as allowing electioneering on private property but lifted the part of the injunction that applied to public property or polling locations. The case was brought in June by John Russell, a Campbell County businessman who had campaign signs removed from his business’ yard on Election Day in 2012 and 2014. The signs were removed by sheriff’s deputies because they were within 300 feet of a polling place at a church in Cold Spring.
Montana House Majority Leader Gordy Vance and the Montana Republican Party are asking voters to consider the pros of LR-126, the ballot measure that would move the deadline for voter registration from Election Day to 5 p.m. the Friday before. “The take from the groups that say it’s bad is based on misinformation and that’s unfortunate, but that’s how folks operate in this arena,” the Bozeman Republican said. In 2005, the Legislature passed Democratic state Sen. Jon Ellingson’s Senate Bill 302, which moved the deadline for voter registration from 30 days before the election to Election Day. The bill had broad bipartisan backing and support from the Montana Association of Clerk and Recorders.
Tribal voters on the Fort Belknap and Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservations do not have increased access to early voting options this election season despite the settlement of a federal lawsuit that should have made it possible. Two of the three tribes affected by the settlement didn’t send a letter to the counties indicating what tribal building and room would be offered for the service by the Aug. 1 deadline. Northern Cheyenne tribal member Mark Wandering Medicine, along with 11 other Indian plaintiffs, in February 2013 sued Montana Secretary of State Linda McCulloch and county elections officials in Blaine, Rosebud and Big Horn counties, alleging the defendants violated portions of the federal Voting Rights Act, which “prohibit voting practices or procedures that discriminate on the basis of race, color or membership in one of the language minority groups.” The plaintiffs argued their rights to equal access to voting were violated when McCulloch and county elections officials refused to set up satellite voting offices on remote Indian reservations in advance of the November 2012 presidential election.
Mark French really wants to tell Montana voters which Republican Party officials have endorsed him in next month’s election, but he won’t be getting any help from the U.S Supreme Court. The nation’s highest court on Friday rejected the judicial candidate’s request to block a state rule that says he can’t seek or use Republican endorsements in his nonpartisan race. What he had asked the court — specifically, Justice Anthony Kennedy — to do would disrupt Montana’s 129 judicial elections that already are underway, with early voting having begun Oct. 6, attorneys for the state argued.
In a stinging defeat for the Obama administration and a number of civil rights groups in a major test case on voters’ rights, a divided Supreme Court told the state of Texas early Saturday morning that it may enforce its strict voter ID law for this year’s general election, with early voting starting next Monday. Three Justices dissented from the ruling, which was released a few minutes after 5 a.m. folllowing a seemingly lengthy study. This apparently was the first time since 1982 that the Court has allowed a law restricting voters’ rights to be enforced after a federal court had ruled it to be unconstitutional. A U.S. District Court judge in Corpus Christi struck down the ID law last week after a nine-day trial, but it now awaits review by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, which temporarily blocked the trial judge’s ruling. The Justice Department has indicated that the case is likely to return to the Supreme Court after the appeals court rules. Neither the Fifth Circuit’s action so far nor the Supreme Court’s Saturday order dealt with the issue of the law’s constitutionality. The ultimate validity of the law, described by Saturday’s dissenters as “the strictest regime in the country,” probably depends upon Supreme Court review. The Saturday order, for which a number of news organizations had kept a vigil through the night in anticipation of its release, did not disclose how six of the Justices had voted. But, because it would have taken the votes of at least five to have reached the result, it was clear that the order had majority support. The majority gave no explanation for its action.
“There is no right more basic in our democracy than the right to participate in electing our political leaders,” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote in April. Roberts spoke then for the court’s conservative majority in striking down part of a federal election law so as to allow a wealthy Republican businessman from Alabama to give more money to candidates across the country. The contribution limit restricted the donor’s free speech, Roberts concluded, and the Constitution requires the court to err on the side of safeguarding that cherished 1st Amendment protection. But the right to vote, which is the way most Americans participate in a democracy, has gotten far less protection from the Supreme Court under Roberts. There is no starker example than the high court order early Saturday allowing Texas to enforce a new photo identification law that a federal judge had blocked earlier this month after deciding the law would prevent as many as 5% of the state’s registered voters, or 600,000 people in all, from casting a ballot.
Strange things show up in the footnotes of federal court rulings. Consider this one in a ruling by a federal judge in Corpus Christi, Tex., that the state’s voter photo ID law is unconstitutional: “The Texas Legislature did not vote to ratify the 24th Amendment’s abolition of the poll tax until the 2009 legislative session,” and “the process has not been completed and the measure last went to the Secretary of State.” That came up early in an excoriating 147-page ruling from United States District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos that the state’s voter photo ID law, also known as Senate Bill 14, “creates an unconstitutional burden on the right to vote, has an impermissible discriminatory effect against Hispanics and African-Americans, and was imposed with an unconstitutional discriminatory purpose. The court further holds that SB 14 constitutes an unconstitutional poll tax.” Civil and voting rights history echoes throughout the ruling. The first footnote cites Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. The poll tax prohibition, amended into the Constitution in 1964, shows up a few pages later in a discussion of the state’s history of blocking access to elections.
As a slew of lawyers scurried around trying to organize their maps and evidence, Judge Payne sat calmly in the center of a three-judge panel. In late May of 2014, high-powered lawyers boiled down mountains of statistics, diagrams, and expert opinions into a two-day bench trial. They needed to convince Judge Payne and two Fourth Circuit judges to rule that the General Assembly primarily used race to concoct Virginia’s fantastically shaped 3rd congressional district. Against all odds, they succeeded. Although all the attention and spotlight has been on Alabama, Virginia has been facing its own mudslinging, partisan wrangling, racial packing lawsuit. Three plaintiffs – Dawn Curry Page, Gloria Personhuballah and James Farkas – have challenged the constitutionality of Virginia’s 3rd congressional district as a racial gerrymander in violation of the Equal Protection Clause. They allege that the General Assembly “packed” black voters into the 3rd district, Virginia’s only minority-majority district, to dilute minority influence in the surrounding predominantly white districts. In the enacted plan, the black voting-age population increased from 53.1 percent to 56.3 percent while it decreased in every adjacent district. Furthermore, African-Americans “accounted for over 90% of the added voting age residents.”
Two major parties contesting Botswana’s upcoming general elections held their final rallies Saturday ahead of what is expected to be the most competitive election since independence from Britain in 1966. The ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP), led by President Ian Khama, faces its first test with voters after a split in 2010 led to the formation of the Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD). Khama, a former army commander and the son of the country’s first president, Seretse Khama, has been in power since 2008 and made it clear at a rally in the capital Gaborone that he would run on his record in the October 24 poll.
Attorneys for Mozambique’s main opposition RENAMO party are gathering evidence to launch a legal challenge of the credibility of the recently concluded presidential and parliamentary elections, citing “overwhelming” instances of voter irregularities, says Eduardo Namburete, the opposition party’s external affairs head. The electoral commission has been announcing provisional results of the general election. But RENAMO will challenge the results of the poll after the electoral body announces the final outcome, according to Namburete.
The Commission on Elections, through the promulgation of Resolution No. 9903, approved the piloting of the iRehistro Project (internet registration) for overseas voter registration, the Department of Foreign Affairs – Overseas Voting Secretariat (DFA-OVS) announced on Friday, October 17. DFA said the pilot project will be implemented by the Philippine Embassy in Madrid, Spain (Madrid PE), beginning the first week November 2014 for a period of one month, to cover both sea-based and land-based registrants. Within thirty days of its initial implementation, Madrid PE shall submit its report and recommendation on the viability to continue the implementation of the project. If the pilot IRehistro Project is found to be viable, other Philippine foreign service posts may then request for inclusion in the project.
Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko has denounced elections which are due to be held in the east of Ukraine in November by rebels. Under a new law signed by the president earlier this week, parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions have been given ‘special status’ with three-year self-rule and can hold elections on 7 December. The separatists have ignored this and set their own date a month earlier for 2 November. Poroshenko has just returned from Milan where he met with EU leaders and Russian president Vladimir Putin.