On Monday morning, the Supreme Court agreed to hear Gill v. Whitford, a blockbuster case that could curb partisan gerrymandering throughout the United States. Shortly thereafter, the justices handed down two excellent decisions bolstering the First Amendment’s free speech protections for sex offenders and derogatory trademarks. While the link between these two rulings and Whitford isn’t obvious at first glance, it seems possible that both decisions could strengthen the gerrymandering plaintiffs’ central argument—and help to end extreme partisan redistricting for good.
On Nov. 8, 2016, we saw what will probably become one of the most consequential elections in American history, yet one in 10 voting age Floridians was unable to cast a ballot. That’s because Florida is one of only three states in the country — along with Iowa and Kentucky — where any felony conviction results in a lifetime ban on voting. The result? More than 1.6 million Floridians — equal to the populations of Orlando, Jacksonville, and Miami combined — are prevented from voting for the rest of their lives. This ban affects Democrats and Republicans alike, but disproportionately affects African-Americans; one third of the people facing a lifetime voting ban are African-American, who make up just 16 percent of the statewide population. There’s only one way that people can restore their right to vote — a process called clemency that is costly and takes years.
A rival foreign power launched an aggressive cyberattack on the United States, interfering with the 2016 presidential election and leaving every indication that it’s coming back for more — but President Trump doesn’t seem to care. The unprecedented nature of Russia’s attack is getting lost in the swirling chaos of recent weeks, but it shouldn’t be. American intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia took direct aim at the integrity of American democracy, and yet after almost five months in office, the commander in chief appears unconcerned with that threat to our national security. The only aspect of the Russia story that attracts his attention is the threat it poses to the perceived legitimacy of his electoral win. If not for the continuing investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians — and whether Mr. Trump himself has obstructed that investigation — the president’s indifference would be front-page news. So let’s take a moment to recall the sheer scope and audacity of the Russian efforts.
Editorials: It’s now clear US voting is hackable. Here are 6 things we must do to prevent chaos. | Suzanne Mello-Stark/Vox
There’s never a good time, politically speaking, to raise questions about our voting system’s vulnerability to hackers. But we can no longer avoid the issue. Bloomberg News reported this week that the US government determined that Russian hackers penetrated the voting systems in 39 states in the weeks leading up to the November 2016 election. The hacks did not involve changing votes — typically they were forays into voter registration databases — but in at least one case, in Illinois, the hackers tried to delete voter data, Bloomberg reported. US officials complained to the Russians, who denied involvement, but President Obama decided not to alert the public, because he didn’t want people to lose faith in the system. To this day, President Trump’s aides suggest that Democrats who call for an investigation into Russian hacking are sore losers. But the evidence that Russia attempted to influence our 2016 election has become unignorable. In January 2017, the CIA, FBI, and NSA jointly released an assessment that Russia used cyber tools to influence American public opinion (specifically, to “denigrate Secretary Clinton”).
Editorials: The Invisibles: The cruel Catch-22 of being poor with no ID | Patrick Marion Bradley/The Washington Post
Patricia Brown couldn’t prove her identity. On a Saturday morning in May last year, she rushed into the basement of Washington’s Foundry United Methodist Church, frantic that she would miss its I.D. Ministry hours. She took deep breaths as she reached the bright-yellow room crowded with narrow tables, where people sat poring over papers. Without valid identification, she couldn’t get housing or work, her food stamps or medication. She sat in a metal chair beside me, wiping away sweat from her forehead. The volunteer across from us looked concerned as Brown reviewed an intake checklist: Social Security card? No. Birth certificate? No. ID? Expired. “So, we don’t have anything?” the volunteer asked. No. Nothing. I’d seen situations like Brown’s many times. I volunteered at the I.D. Ministry from January 2015 to March 2016. Two Saturday mornings a month, I would help the ministry’s poor or homeless clients navigate the bureaucracy of acquiring government identification. For most people, replacing a lost driver’s license or other ID is an inconvenience but not an ordeal. For Foundry’s clients, however, the path to an ID is more like a high-stakes test of endurance and resourcefulness.
Let’s put aside for a moment the question of whether anyone connected to President Donald Trump colluded with Russia in its attempts to hack the 2016 election. Let’s not not get into an argument about whether the effort changed any votes, not to speak of the outcome. Let’s not even worry about whether Vladimir Putin himself was involved. The fact is, the hacking was massive, sophisticated and far more widespread than previously thought. According to a new report from Bloomberg, hackers broke into the election systems in 39 states. They may not have succeeded this time in breaching the voting machines themselves or even in substantially disrupting the voter registration rolls. But next time, they could. It doesn’t take much imagination to see how that would sow chaos and undermine trust in our democracy. That’s because our disorganized, underfunded and inconsistent voting systems — not to speak of actual, organized efforts by Republican officials to purge voter rolls and keep minorities, young people and the elderly from the polls — have done more than enough in that regard already.
Editorials: From voter ID to gerrymandering, the political hacking of North Carolina | Jen Jones/News & Observer
Like Russian efforts to hack U.S. elections, the North Carolina legislature’s attacks on our state’s democracy have been broad and brazen. The Rev. William J. Barber II, taking his moral movement beyond N.C., reminded us last week on “The Daily Show with Trevor Noah” that our state’s racist election tampering was more of a threat than Russian operatives. The observation was sobering. And his warning unheeded, at least by too many members of the General Assembly. Just a few days later, the N.C. legislature pushed back against the executive and judicial branches to prop up its racially gerrymandered districts. Despite three pronouncements in as many weeks from the U.S. Supreme Court that North Carolina’s legislative and congressional districts were designed to pack and crack the political power of black voters, GOP lawmakers boldly batted efforts by Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s call for a special session to redraw these discriminatory districts.
Whether you like or not, the reality in Kosovo is that large parts of the country’s population are frustrated, nationalist and hold radical political views. The results of Sunday’s snap election clearly show the current state of society, where the country’s problems lie and the issues that must urgently be addressed. Almost 60 percent of the electorate did not even cast a ballot. These frustrated citizens no longer believe in the transformative power of democracy and they trust political elites less and less. Anyone who does make the effort to go out and vote always chooses the nationalist, radical option.
Editorials: I was an FBI agent. Trump’s lack of concern about Russian hacking shocks me. | Asha Rangappa/The Washington Post
Reactions to former FBI director James B. Comey’s testimony Thursday mostly seemed to follow predictable, partisan lines. To many Democrats, Comey appeared to be describing a clear case of obstruction of justice by President Trump. To Republicans who support the White House, Comey’s recounting of “leaking” his memos about conversations with Trump showed that he deserved to be fired. But as a former FBI counterintelligence agent, what I saw as the most explosive aspect of the testimony didn’t involve any legal violation of the U.S. code or questions about whether Comey had broken established Department of Justice protocols. Instead, it was the prima facie evidence that Comey presented that Trump appears unwilling to uphold his oath “to preserve, protect, and defend” the country — which puts the security of our nation and its democracy at stake. In the nine times Trump met with or called Comey, it was always to discuss how the investigation into Russia’s election interference was affecting him personally, rather than the security of the country. He apparently cared little about understanding either the magnitude of the Russian intelligence threat, or how the FBI might be able to prevent another attack in future elections.
Overcoming bitter opposition from Republican lawmakers, Gov. Terry McAuliffe of Virginia has largely rectified an enormous, archaic injustice: the disenfranchisement of tens of thousands of former felons — about half of them African Americans — whose debt to society has been paid, in many cases decades ago. After prevailing in state courts, Mr. McAuliffe, a Democrat, was able to assert his power under the state constitution and has so far restored the vote to more than 156,000 ex-convicts. By the time his four-year term in office ends in January, he is on pace to have restored rights (including the right to serve on juries) to at least another 5,000 former felons. It’s hard to overstate the magnitude of the governor’s action, which he himself called his “proudest achievement” in office. His recent predecessors, all recognizing the injustice of indefinite suspension of civil rights for people who had completed their sentences, had each taken steps to expand rights restoration — particularly the man who immediately preceded him, former governor Robert F. McDonnell, a Republican former prosecutor.
Editorials: Russia’s attempt to hack voting systems shows that our elections need better security | Bruce Schneier/The Washington Post
This week brought new public evidence about Russian interference in the 2016 election. On Monday, the Intercept published a top-secret National Security Agency document describing Russian hacking attempts against the U.S. election system. While the attacks seem more exploratory than operational — and there’s no evidence that they had any actual effect — they further illustrate the real threats and vulnerabilities facing our elections, and they point to solutions. The document describes how the Russian GRU attacked a company called VR Systems that, according to its website, provides software to manage voter rolls in eight states. The August 2016 attack was successful, and the attackers used the information they stole from the company’s network to launch targeted attacks against 122 local election officials on Oct. 27, 12 days before the election. … This hack will certainly come up at the Senate hearing where former FBI director James B. Comey is scheduled to testify Thursday. Last year, there were several stories about voter databases being targeted by Russia. Last August, the FBI confirmed that the Russians successfully hacked voter databases in Illinois and Arizona. And a month later, an unnamed Department of Homeland Security official said that the Russians targeted voter databases in 20 states. Again, we don’t know of anything that came of these hacks, but expect Comey to be asked about them. Unfortunately, any details he does know are almost certainly classified, and won’t be revealed in open testimony.
Editorials: Our election systems are at grave risk of cyberattacks. When will Congress take action? | Lawrence Norden/Slate
On Monday night, the Intercept published a leaked National Security Agency report that recounts a Russian military intelligence cyberattack against a voter registration software company. According to the report, Russian government hackers appear to have used “data obtained from that operation to … launch a voter registration–themed spear-phishing campaign targeting U.S. local government organizations.” On one level, this story was not particularly surprising. Even before the Intercept article, we knew—based upon previous news reports, as well as a January report from American intelligence agencies—that hackers working on behalf of the Russian government were targeting state and local voter registration databases. And there is nothing in the NSA report or the Intercept piece that supports the idea that Russian hacks against election offices and registration system prevented anyone from voting or changed vote totals in any way. (It always bears repeating that the voter registration system and vote tallying systems are different. An attack against the registration system will not change vote totals on a voting machine.)
Editorials: New hurdles for Ohio citizen-initiated constitutional amendments must be resisted | Matt Lynch/Cleveland Plain Dealer
The people’s right to amend the Ohio Constitution through the ballot initiative is under attack. The right of citizens to propose and pass amendments to the Ohio Constitution through the ballot initiative process was wisely added to our constitution by the people over a century ago, but some politicians now think they know better. The Ohio Constitutional Modernization Commission was created by the General Assembly in 2012 to recommend constitutional amendments for the legislature to place on the ballot, but, problematically, the commission is filled with politicians and lobbyists. Thus, commission recommendations must be scrutinized for fidelity to the public good versus the special interests of political insiders.
The Senate Intelligence Committee is scheduled to hear public testimony Thursday from former FBI Director James Comey, among others. Many people may be wondering why this is necessary or important, since the Justice Department has appointed a special counsel to investigate Russian interference in last November’s elections and the possible involvement of members of the Trump campaign. The short answer is that the Senate hearing will help Congress fulfill its constitutional responsibilities by exploring issues separate and apart from the special counsel’s investigation. The special counsel, former FBI Director Robert Mueller, and his staff are primarily interested in determining whether any laws were broken during the presidential campaign or in the early months of the Trump administration — including the recent firing of Comey. Mueller will be looking at potential conflicts of interest, such as former national security adviser Michael Flynn’s reported payments by foreign sources, and whether the firing of Comey during an ongoing FBI investigation constitutes obstruction of justice.
Both sides in a new Supreme Court test case on partisan gerrymandering – drawing new election districts to favor one party – on Tuesday answered the Justices’ questions about whether the case should stay alive, disagreeing sharply on that. But they also may have raised a broad new question about what voters challenging such partisan-driven maps must do to make a case. If the Justices feel they have to rule on that issue, it could make a major difference to the future of such disputes. Besides that added issue, the two sides’ new briefs may have stirred up a new controversy over who speaks for North Carolina in election cases. That is a complication that led the Justices to refuse last month to decide a major voting rights case from the same state.
Editorials: Constitutional Connections: Race, partisan gerrymandering and the Constitution | John Greabe/Concord Monitor
For the most part, the Constitution speaks in generalities. The 14th Amendment, for example, instructs the states to provide all persons the “equal protection of the laws.” But obviously, this cannot mean that states are always forbidden from treating a person differently than any other person. Children can, of course, be constitutionally barred from driving, notwithstanding the Equal Protection Clause. Thus, there is a need within our constitutional system to refine the Constitution’s abstract provisions. Otherwise, public officials and the people would not know what is permitted and what is forbidden. The process of refinement has devolved principally (although not exclusively) to the courts. It is the courts that have told us that the Equal Protection Clause permits the states to discriminate on the basis of age in issuing driver’s licenses, but ordinarily does not permit the states to treat persons differently on the basis of their race.
The U.S. Supreme Court decisions in the past 30 days rejected efforts by North Carolina lawmakers to make it harder for African Americans to vote while also packing them into as few districts as possible to diminish their electoral influence. In the latest ruling, announced May 21, the Supreme Court upheld a lower court’s opinion that North Carolina’s efforts to draw new lines for congressional districts unfairly packed two districts with African American voters and thus limited their ability to influence other political contests. The court agreed that majority-black districts might help the candidates favored by black voters win elections. But it said that North Carolina lawmakers had gone too far by drawing the lines in an effort to dilute the number of African Americans voters in other districts.
Editorials: On voting rights, we’re becoming two separate and unequal countries | Paul Waldman/The Washington Post
America, as we all know, is a deeply divided nation, split along lines of class and race and culture and politics. And in this most polarized time, the two parties are pulling the places where they dominate further apart, creating a red and blue America that can be profoundly different depending on what side of a state line you stand on. In few areas is this more evident than in the way the parties treat the ballot. Consider the following. Yesterday, the Illinois House passed a bill creating automatic voter registration (AVR) in the state, so that when you get a driver’s license or interact with state agencies in other ways, you’re automatically registered to vote. The Republican governor, Bruce Rauner, vetoed a previous version of the bill, but he may end up having no choice in this blue state but to support it, in which case Illinois would join eight other states (plus the District of Columbia) that have created AVR in recent years.
Editorials: Wisconsin nonpartisan redistricting makes fair maps, saves tax dollars | Andrea Kaminski and Lindsay Dorff/The Cap Times
In a victory for voters last fall, a federal court ruled Wisconsin’s legislative districts unconstitutional and ordered the Wisconsin Legislature to redraw voting districts. With the deadline for the new maps now just five months off, Attorney General Schimel has asked the U.S. Supreme Court for a stay of the requirement to draw new voting maps, saying that Wisconsin should not have to “invest the considerable time, effort and taxpayer resources” to comply with the order. Actually, Wisconsin taxpayers have already “invested” more than $2.1 million to have the unconstitutional districts drawn in secret by a private law firm and then litigated through two lawsuits. The costs continue to spiral now that the case is in the U.S. Supreme Court. We learned recently that taxpayers are on the hook for an additional $175,000 to have private law firms write amicus briefs defending the maps in the Supreme Court.
Editorials: Can states adopt “use-it-or-lose-it” limits on voting rights? | Lyle Denniston/Constitution Daily
The Supreme Court, taking on another significant controversy over voting rights, agreed on Tuesday to clarify the power of states to take voters off the registration rolls if they skip going to the polls in several elections. The new case from Ohio will come up for review in the court’s term starting next fall. At issue is an appeal by state officials seeking to defend their view that federal voter registration laws allow the states to adopt limited versions of a “use-it-or-lose-it” condition on keeping a current voter registration. The appeal has the support of 15 other states, but has drawn opposition from civil rights groups who claim that “voter purge” laws are suppressing the right to vote of many thousands of citizens.
President Donald Trump is upset he lost the popular vote by such a historic margin, and this month he announced he is going to do something about it. What started as a presidential lie about voter fraud has turned into the President’s “Commission on Election Integrity,” a group that poses an actual threat to American democracy. With so much bad news coming out of the White House, a scandal can feel like a welcome distraction from Trump’s policy proposals, which have the potential to harm many Americans. And that’s exactly what’s happening now. As the investigation into the Trump campaign’s alleged ties to Russia gets underway, the President has formed a sham of a commission to suppress voting rights.
Editorials: Kobach ‘Voter Fraud’ Commission Gets Fast Thumbs Down | Miles Rapoport/The American Prospect
The Kobach Commission (sometimes referred to as the Pence Commission) on voter fraud was created in the way so many things have been in the Trump administration. It started with an angry and completely unsubstantiated tweet, echoing a campaign trope, followed by public statements doubling down on the message, followed by a half-baked executive order. The Commission was created to investigate the allegations of Trump’s alternative universe, where massive voter fraud cost the president millions of votes. The true voter fraud—creating obstacles to the right to vote—is not part of its mandate. Kris Kobach is of course the perfect choice. As Kansas secretary of state, he has made his reputation seeking to make it as difficult as possible for people in Kansas to vote, and by fanning the fantasy of massive voter fraud.
Last week, more than 100 years late, Alabama took an important step toward excising a toxic slice of white supremacy from its Constitution and restoring voting rights to perhaps thousands of people, disproportionately black, with criminal records. At the state’s constitutional convention in 1901, lawmakers amended the Constitution to bar from voting anyone convicted of a crime involving “moral turpitude.” They didn’t define the phrase, but they were crystal clear about its intent: to preserve “white supremacy in this state” and fight the “menace of Negro domination” at the ballot box, as the convention’s president said.
Editorials: Supreme Court strikes a crucial blow against racial gerrymandering — but bigger battles lie ahead | Paul Rosenberg/Salon
In the 2012 House elections, Democratic candidates got 1.4 million more votes than Republicans (roughly 59.6 million to 58.2 million), but won 33 fewer congressional seats, the result of a highly coordinated GOP effort to raise political gerrymandering to a level never seen before. On May 22, the Supreme Court handed down a significant decision, in a case called Cooper v. Harris, that could help chip away at that anti-democratic success. Two even more significant cases could come to fruition in the coming months. Former Attorney General Eric Holder called the Cooper decision “a watershed moment in the fight to end racial gerrymandering.” Holder, who now chairs the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, went on to say, “North Carolina’s maps were among the worst racial gerrymanders in the nation. Today’s ruling sends a stark message to legislatures and governors around the country: Racial gerrymandering is illegal and will be struck down in a court of law.”
Editorials: Internet voting and paperless machines have got to go | Barbara Simons/Minneapolis Star Tribune
“They’ll be back in 2020, they may be back in 2018, and one of the lessons they may draw from this is that they were successful because they introduced chaos and division and discord and sowed doubt about the nature of this amazing country of ours and our democratic process.” — Former FBI Director James Comey, testifying about the Russian government before a House Intelligence Committee hearing, March 20, 2017
We are facing a major national security threat. As former Director Comey stated, we know that Russia attacked our 2016 election, and there is every reason to expect further attacks on our elections from nations, criminals and others until we repair our badly broken voting systems. Despite a decade of warnings from computer security experts, 33 states allow internet voting for some or all voters, and a quarter of our country still votes on computerized, paperless voting machines that cannot be recounted and for which there have been demonstrated hacks. If we know how to hack these voting systems, so do the Russians and Chinese and North Koreans and Iranians and ….
Editorials: The Supreme Court may just have given voting rights activists a powerful new tool | Richard Hasen/The Washington Post
Sometimes the most important stuff in Supreme Court opinions is hidden in the footnotes. In Monday’s Supreme Court ruling striking down two North Carolina congressional districts as unconstitutionally influenced by race, the majority buried a doozy, a potentially powerful new tool to attack voting rights violations in the South and elsewhere. At issue in the case was whether two congressional districts drawn by the North Carolina General Assembly were unconstitutional “racial gerrymanders.” A racial gerrymander exists when race — not other criteria, such as adherence to city and county boundaries, or efforts to protect a particular political party — is the “predominant factor” in how a legislature draws lines and the legislature presents no compelling reason for paying so much attention to race.
While it’s been obvious for years that election law — the rules by which votes are counted, district lines are drawn and campaigns are paid for — represents a front in the culture wars, we don’t usually think of it that way. That’s because the term culture war signifies the politicization of competing belief systems — over abortion, for example, or religion or the appropriate social roles for men and women. (I use the word “belief” advisedly, recognizing that an anti-abortion position is purely opportunistic for a fair number of the Republican politicians who embrace it, including but not limited to President Trump.) The election-law wars, by contrast, aren’t about belief. They are about power: who has it, who gets to keep it. And as underscored by this week’s Supreme Court decision invalidating two North Carolina congressional districts as unconstitutional racial gerrymanders, the justices are as fully engaged in combat as anyone else.
News must be new but it needn’t be surprising. The decidedly unsurprising news out of Iran last week: There was an election (of sorts) and the winner was Hassan Rouhani, the incumbent president. An apparently mild-mannered cleric with a beatific smile, he has presided over Iran for four years — a period of egregious human rights violations, the Iranian-backed slaughter in Syria, the taking of American and other hostages, and increasing support for terrorists abroad. Nevertheless, you’ll see him described in much of the media as a “moderate.” At most he is a pragmatist, one with a keen sense of how credulous Western diplomats and journalists can be. He knows they won’t judge him based on such quotes as this: “Saying ‘Death to America!’ is easy. We need to express ‘Death to America!’ with action.”
Editorials: Maine SoS Dunlap badly mistaken in agreeing to serve on Trump voter fraud panel | Richard Hasen/Portland Press Herald
Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap is making a serious mistake by agreeing to participate in a sham “voter integrity” commission established by President Trump to validate his ludicrous claims about voter fraud. But it is not too late for Dunlap to withdraw, and it’s the right thing to do. Arguments about the extent of voter fraud and voter suppression are not new, with Republicans tending to claim that voter fraud is a major problem that requires laws making it harder to register and vote, such as strict voter identification laws. Democrats see these laws as aimed at suppressing the votes of those likely to vote for Democratic candidates.
Editorials: Is Anthony Kennedy ready to put an end to partisan gerrymandering? | Mark Joseph Stern/Slate
Say what you will about Justice Samuel Alito, but the man always thinks ahead. On Monday, Alito dissented in Cooper v. Harris, the landmark 5–3 ruling that united Justice Clarence Thomas and the Supreme Court’s liberals to strike down North Carolina’s racial gerrymander. Frustrated by the progressive result, Alito penned a 34-page broadside lambasting his colleagues for accusing the state of race-based redistricting. North Carolina, Alito insisted, had gerrymandered along partisan lines, not racial ones, in an effort to disadvantage Democrats, not blacks. And partisan gerrymandering, Alito reminded us, does not violate the Constitution.