Editorials: In Texas voter ID ruling, justices side with more obstacles at the polls | Dallas Morning News

Could it be that the Supreme Court justices overlooked the elegant simplicity of Texas’ traditional election system? We’re talking about the tried-and-true method in place for years, before the Legislature invented a crisis of voter fraud and imposed a photo ID law that places more obstacles before the voting booth. If the justices understood the state’s time-tested system, they wouldn’t have bought the argument that it was too close to Election Day to reinstate it, in favor of the relatively new photo ID requirement. Let’s recall the Texas voting system that was in place before the Republican-controlled Legislature swept it aside in 2011. A registered voter could enter the voting booth by presenting pretty much any ID or document that proved identity, with or without a photo. It might have been a voter registration card or driver’s license. It might have been a library card. It might have been an electric bill, a phone bill or a water bill. The point was to show election workers who you were and where you lived, so long as it coincided with the name on the voter rolls. The beauty of that system was this: If someone stole Grandma’s purse and ID cards, or if — God forbid! — she let her driver’s license expire the year before, she’d still have papers at home she could take to the polls to get a ballot. Grandma would not lose the right to vote on Election Day on a technicality.

Editorials: Brazil’s Election Illusion | Foreign Policy

Brazil’s ongoing presidential election has been described as electrifying and unpredictable, suitable for a telenovela. To be sure, there has been no shortage of high drama: the tragic, accidental death of a major candidate, the spectacular rise and fall of his vice presidential pick who took his place, and the late surge of a candidate who most pundits not long ago had written off. Given the volatility, few dare predict with confidence what will happen in the Oct. 26 runoff between incumbent President Dilma Rousseff of the Workers Party (PT) and former Minas Gerais governor Aécio Neves of the Social Democratic Party (PSDB). To add to the excitement, the second round has been cast by the two remaining candidates and their respective supporters as an ideological battle that pits left (Rousseff) versus right (Neves). According to the Neves camp, Rousseff would continue the state-interventionist, protectionist policies she pursued during her first term, which have led to inflation and an economic slowdown, while Neves would embrace more market-friendly approaches and would open Brazil to the world, including the United States. Rousseff, in turn, accuses Neves of proposing an economic program that serves the bankers and industrialists, while planning to cut back popular welfare programs that have made Brazil more equal and middle-class.

Editorials: How the Supreme Court Made a Mess of Our Voting System | Michael Waldman/Politico

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.

Editorials: Courting Corruption: The Auctioning of the Judicial System | Norm Ornstein/The Atlantic

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.

Editorials: In Judge’s Footnote, a Heavy Slap at Texas’ Past | Ross Ramsey/New York Times

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.

Editorials: Midterms: The Voter ID Mess | Steven H. Wright/The New York Review of Books

One could be forgiven for being confused about where things stand with voter ID laws in this fall’s midterm elections. A slew of federal-court orders, some of them still unresolved, have altered voting practices and procedures in a number of states, just weeks before voters go to the polls. Already, election officials and candidates have vowed to make a special effort to educate voters about what exactly awaits them on November 4. But there is a larger concern that has received much less attention: whether state election authorities can prevent confusion among poll workers themselves—the people who have the de-facto last word in determining whether you are eligible to vote. Consider the conflicting rulings that have been issued in the last few days alone. On Monday, a federal appeals court reversed a decision by a district court and put Wisconsin’s stringent voter-ID requirement back into effect—a ruling that would require voters to show state-approved identification when they vote in November. But on Thursday, the Supreme Court put the Wisconsin law on hold again. Meanwhile, in Texas, it remains unclear whether a law requiring photo identification will apply, following a decision by a federal judge, also on Thursday, that is now being appealed by the Texas state attorney general. Nor are these isolated cases. In the past two weeks, the Supreme Court has overturned lower court decisions effecting voting practices in Ohio and North Carolina. In late September, a federal court in Alaska required state election officials to provide bilingual voting materials to Native-American voters. The Kansas Supreme Court, also in late September, ordered the Kansas Secretary of State to remove the Democratic nominee for Senate from the ballot. Litigants in Arkansas await decisions on the state’s contested voter-ID laws.

Editorials: Voter ID: Confusion on Top of Chaos | Jesse Wegman/New York Times

There are so many things wrong with voter-ID laws — 143 pages’ worth, you might say — that it can be hard to decide where to begin. Still it’s worth trying once again, now that the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has, predictably, reversed a federal judge’s takedown of Texas’s strict voter-ID law and allowed it to be enforced for the upcoming election. The law, SB 14, requires prospective voters to show up to the polls with a government-issued photo ID, like a driver’s license or passport. On Oct. 9, U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos issued a no-holds-barred ruling that SB 14 violates the Equal Protection Clause, the Voting Rights Act, and the 24th Amendment, which prohibits poll taxes. Judge Ramos found that more than 600,000 Texans, or about 4.5 percent of all registered voters, did not have the required ID; that a disproportionate number of those were poorer and minority voters, who lean Democratic; and that the law itself — passed by a Republican-dominated legislature, as all voter ID laws have been — was intended to make it harder if not impossible for these people to participate in elections.

Editorials: Keep hands off the Government Accountability Board | Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel

It’s election season, and we should not be surprised that politicians and political groups moan about the state’s election watchdog. But few are as explicit as Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, who says the Government Accountability Board should be overhauled and its director ousted. Voters should know where the candidates for governor stand on this issue. There are plenty of ways to improve Wisconsin’s election system, but undermining an independent, nonpartisan overseer is not one of them. GAB staff has been called irresponsible — and unaccountable. But the GAB is working as intended by the Legislature that created it with near-unanimous support in 2007. Many of the same legislators are now beating up on their own creation because it has become inconvenient. While the GAB is insulated from partisan politics and has more power than the State Elections Board it replaced, it is not completely removed from political control. The Legislature controls its budget. The board itself is appointed by the governor, with five of the six members selected by Gov. Scott Walker. If the board thought that the GAB director was incompetent or biased, a simple majority vote could dismiss him. In contrast, removing the director simply because a prominent politician voices displeasure removes any semblance of independence from the position. A quick refresher about the GAB might help clarify things. Although anger is directed at the director, it is the board that makes decisions. Board members are former judges unaffiliated with a political party. A panel of appeals court judges creates a pool of candidates. The governor then nominates individuals from this pool, who then must get two-thirds support from the state Senate. The process guarantees that board members are approved on a bipartisan basis. It’s also helpful to consider some of the complaints launched against the GAB. They reveal a misunderstanding of how the agency is supposed to function.

Editorials: A Double-Edged Sword: Social Media and the Afghan Election | Foreign Policy

For about five short minutes in June, everyone sitting around my lunch table in Kabul thought the Afghan government had shut down Facebook. Attempts to load news feeds were met with an abrupt, uninformative “network error” message, so, naturally, two of us jumped on Twitter to break the news. The others, also expatriates, but less swept up in the politics of the moment, continued eating, though no doubt they were somewhat dismayed at the prospect of their window to life back home being shuttered. It was less than a week after millions of Afghans had commuted to polls around the country to vote in a runoff election, the second round in 2014’s historic, if protracted, presidential race. Heralded as the country’s first democratic transition of power, the election process had taken an ugly turn. And social media followed suit. When former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah accused election officials and then-President Hamid Karzai of coordinating ballot stuffing in favor of his opponent, former economic minister Ashraf Ghani, Facebook and Twitter feeds were filled with progressively violent and inciteful rhetoric from both sides. Unsurprisingly, the factions largely split along ethnic lines — Pashtuns versus Tajiks — the same antagonists of Afghanistan’s four-year civil war in the 1990s.

Editorials: End Exemptions To Connecticut’s Post-Election Audits | Luther Weeks/CT News Junkie

When auditing town expense accounts, would it make sense to exempt some departments? When inspecting trucks, would it make sense to exempt school buses? When inspecting restaurants, would it make sense to exempt diners? Any exemption is an opening for errors to go undetected and an opportunity for fraud. Equally it doesn’t make sense that the Connecticut’s post-election audit law exempts all votes on questions, election day registration, originally hand-counted ballots and absentee ballots from our post-election audit.  Election integrity and public confidence demand that all ballots be subject to random selection for audit. Exempt ballots already determine many elections, while the number and percentage of exempt ballots is growing. Currently about 9 percent of ballots are absentee ballots, many elections and primaries are decided by much lower margins than 9 percent. If the State enacts early voting, following other states those numbers will almost certainly rise to over 30 percent within a few years. Compare that to the race for governor in 2010, which was officially decided by about 0.6 percent—more than triple the 2000 vote margin necessary for a recanvass. Since Connecticut recently initiated Election Day registration, we can anticipate those votes to reach 10 percent of votes in a few years, which will further add to the totals exempt from the audit.

Editorials: Voter ID Math Finally Adds Up for Judge Posner | Noah Feldman/Bloomberg

Liberal observers are astonished and thrilled that Judge Richard Posner, the most influential judge sitting on the federal bench, has written a scathing condemnation of Wisconsin voter ID laws. Posner was appointed by Ronald Reagan, and his law-and-economics approach with its libertarian overtones can in a certain sense be described as conservative. Notably, Posner wrote a 2007 opinion upholding Indiana’s strict voter ID law — an opinion subsequently upheld by the Supreme Court. Now, it would seem from the headlines, Posner has reversed himself. Newsworthy, right? Well, sort of. A close reading of Posner’s opinion indicates that the judge hasn’t so much reversed his earlier view as he has taken seriously data that were unavailable in 2007. The numbers, as Posner now interprets them, do strongly suggest that the purpose of voter ID laws is to make it more difficult for poor people, especially blacks and Latinos, to cast votes. According to Posner, he wasn’t wrong in 2007. It’s just that then, there was no basis to assume that Indiana was trying to exclude minority voters. Now, there’s evidence in favor of that view. A careful look at Posner’s opinion is an object lesson in how a rational person should reconsider initial presumptions in light of new evidence — an approach pioneered by the British statistician Thomas Bayes in the 18th century and now dubbed Bayesianism. When Posner had to analyze the Indiana statute, he made much of the fact that, as he now puts it, “there was no evidence that the Indiana law was likely to disenfranchise more than a handful of voters.”

Editorials: When Duty Doesn’t Call: Voter ID laws bring out the worst in their uncivic-minded opponents | The American Spectator

Americans will cease arguing over the federal Voting Rights Act and its intricacies — oh, I imagine around the time Texas starts exporting ground water to Minnesota, or the Lord returns to judge the quick and the dead. Mandatory voter ID laws passed by Republican legislatures in Texas, Arkansas, and Wisconsin have been under legal assault by Democrats. A lower federal court order expanding statewide early voting and same-day registration in Ohio got overturned by the Supreme Court — which had before it, at the same time, an appeal from North Carolina asking affirmation of its right to eliminate same-day registration and voting, along with out-of-precinct voting. Democrats see in these various state laws an evil Republican attempt to suppress voting by minority group members likely to — duh — vote Democratic. Requirements to present photographic identification draw particular scorn. Republicans say all they want to do is make sure voting procedures are honest and reflective of actual popular will. The point commonly buried in these slanging matches over intent and results is a point little attended to in our current ideological wars. I would call that point the need for rekindled earnestness regarding the duties that come, or ought to, with exercise of the franchise.

Editorials: California politicians would never suppress voting, but they might not count all the ballots | The Sacramento Bee

It’s tempting to be smug in the face of other states’ fights over voter suppression. California, thankfully, isn’t Texas, where voter-ID requirements were compared to a poll tax by a federal judge last week. Signed into law by Gov. Rick Perry in 2011, the ID requirement was just one of many ways in which the Lone Star State historically blocked participation among minority voters, said U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos, who ruled that the requirement had an “impermissible discriminatory effect against Hispanics and African Americans, and was imposed with an unconstitutional discriminatory purpose.” And Texas, of course, isn’t the only part of the nation where voter protections aren’t, well, Californian. A year after the U.S. Supreme Court issued a decision narrowing the Voting Rights Act, 15 states controlled by Republicans have imposed tighter restrictions on voting for the Nov. 4 election, the Los Angeles Times reported last week.

Editorials: The disconnect between voter ID laws and voter fraud – The Washington Post

Almost no one shows up at the polls pretending to be someone else in an effort to throw an election. Almost no one acts as a poll worker on Election Day to try to cast illegal votes for a candidate. And almost no general election race in recent history has been close enough to have been thrown by the largest example of in-person voter fraud on record. That said, there have been examples of fraud, including fraud perpetrated through the use of absentee ballots severe enough to force new elections at the state level. But the slew of new laws passed over the past few years meant to address voter fraud have overwhelmingly focused on the virtually non-existent/unproven type of voter fraud, and not the still-not-common-but-not-non-existent abuse of absentee voting. In August, Justin Levitt, a professor at Loyola University Law School, detailed for Wonkblog 31 instances of documented, in-person voter fraud that would have been prevented by stricter rules around identification at the polling place. The most severe instance Levitt outlined involved as many as 24 voters in Brooklyn who tried to vote under assumed names.

Editorials: Your vote may be safe, but is it being counted? | Futurity

Voting systems designed to be tamper-resistant may be missing lots of votes. New research shows that only 58 percent of ballots using new end-to-end technology were successfully cast. The systems are designed to give voters the option to both verify the system is working properly and to check that their votes have been recorded after leaving the polling place. Voting concerns such as accuracy, privacy, and bribery/coercion have prompted research and development of ways to make voting tamper-resistant and verifiable by voters. While the three systems evaluated solved many of the security problems surrounding voting with traditional methods—such as voters being able to independently confirm that a vote was counted correctly—the systems’ added complexity appeared to negatively impact their usability. “Overall, the tested systems were exceptionally difficult to use,” says Claudia Acemyan, a postdoctoral fellow at Rice University and lead author of the study that is published online in the Journal of Election Technology and Systems.

Editorials: The Primary Puzzle: what role do primaries play in shaping election results? | NCSL

Where primary elections are concerned, there’s more than one way to skin a cat. And for years, political thinkers have debated what effect the design of a state’s primary has on electoral results. In this age of sharp partisan polarization—when primaries often determine who occupies the seat more than the general election does—the question of how primaries can shape results has become increasingly urgent. High-profile congressional upsets in recent primaries—House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in Virginia and Senator Thad Cochran of Mississippi (although he later squeaked out a win  in the runoff)—have also drawn attention to the debate over which type of primary best reflects the will of the voters. Some political reformers see opening up primaries as a way to curb the influence of the parties’ ideological extremes, which tend to dominate in closed primaries that are open only to registered party members. But does wresting primaries from the control of only registered party members actually result in the election of candidates with more moderate views? Research suggests it’s, at best, an open question. Those who have studied the phenomenon say the hard evidence is under-whelming.

Editorials: The Big Lie Behind Voter ID Laws | New York Times

Election Day is three weeks off, and Republican officials and legislators around the country are battling down to the wire to preserve strict and discriminatory new voting laws that could disenfranchise hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Americans. On Thursday, the Supreme Court — no friend to expansive voting rights — stepped in and blocked one of the worst laws, a Wisconsin statute requiring voters to show a photo ID to cast a ballot. A federal judge had struck it down in April, saying it would disproportionately prevent voting by poorer and minority citizens. Last month, however, the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit allowed it to go into effect, even though thousands of absentee ballots had been sent out under the old rules. There was sure to be chaos if the justices had not stayed that appeals court ruling, and their decision appears to be based on the risk of changing voting rules so close to an election. But they could still vote to uphold the law should they decide to review its constitutionality.

Editorials: The Courts Weighed In on Restrictive Voting Laws Just in Time | Russell Berman/The Atlantic

A flurry of last-minute court decisions is upending voting rules in key states less than a month before the midterm congressional elections. The Supreme Court on Thursday night blocked a restrictive voter ID law in Wisconsin after opponents said it would cause “chaos” at the polls and noted that ballot forms had already been sent out to voters that did not make clear they needed to provide identification. The brief order by Justice Elena Kagan overturned a September decision by an appellate court, over the opposition of conservative Justices Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia, and Clarence Thomas. Also on Thursday night, a lower federal trial court struck down a 2011 voter ID law in Texas with a scathing opinion determining that the statute, which was designed to combat voter fraud, “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.”

Editorials: In America, voters don’t pick their politicians. Politicians pick their voters | Wayne Dawkins | The Guardian

One out of every five Virginians in the birthplace of English America are black – disproportionally more than the one out eight people nationwide who are African American. It is therefore ludicrous that, since 2010, even more black people per capita were packed into US Representative Robert C “Bobby” Scott’s already predominantly black district. That district, three federal judges declared on Tuesday, was gerrymandered, and they ordered the Virginia General Assembly to redraw the boundaries in 2015. But elected officials have forfeited their chances to do that job competently. It does not matter whether Republicans or Democrats hold the power; both sides have been guilty over decades of abusing voters by gerrymandering districts. In the 21st century, voters don’t pick their elected officials; politicians pick their voters. This time, a nonpartisan commission should draw the congressional boundaries.

Editorials: In Spain, Politics via Reddit | Jonathan Blitzer/The New Yorker

Last summer, Erik Martin, the general manager of the link-sharing site Reddit, whose job requires him to oversee online conversations about everything from My Little Pony to Islamic State propaganda, noticed something strange. A Spanish political party that he’d never heard of was using the Web site to organize. “We’ve never seen anyone use Reddit as an organizing tool, not like this,” he said. The party, called Podemos (We Can), was only a few months old at the time, but it had created a subreddit—in effect, a party home page hosted by Reddit—with more than two thousand subscribers and significant traffic. About two hundred people were visiting the page at any given time, and there were a million page views in the month of July alone. “This was all in a market”—in southern Europe—”where Reddit is not even that popular,” Martin said. On the party’s page, an array of filters directs users to caches of videos, proposals, debate topics, and news. There are “digital assemblies” (a sort of virtual plebiscite), “Ask Podemos” (question-and-answer sessions with party leaders), and “Podemos Plaza” (a freewheeling discussion via message board). The other day, one user linked to a grim news item meant to spawn a local protest initiative: the municipal government of Madrid had dedicated a plaza to Margaret Thatcher. When Martin and I spoke over the summer, he admitted that he didn’t know much about Podemos: Was it a serious party with serious prospects or was it a group of idealistic interlopers? That question has been on the lips of Spaniards for months.

Editorials: What an Election Year Looks Like in Brazil | Jake Flanagin/New York Times

“President Dilma Rousseff emerged on Sunday as the front-runner in one of the most tightly contested presidential elections since democracy was re-established in Brazil in the 1980s,” reports Simon Romero for The New York Times. However, “she failed to win a majority of the vote, opening the way for a runoff with Aécio Neves, the pro-business scion of a powerful political family.” What’s so special about this election? Well, whoever wins will be running what was, until recently, “Latin America’s colossus,” according to David Biller of Bloomberg View. “Brazil’s economic growth has slowed to its weakest three-year pace in a decade, advancing just 2.1 percent on average from 2011 through 2013,” he explains. “In the first half of 2014, it entered technical recession. The currency has fallen 33 percent since President Dilma Rousseff rose to power in 2011. Business confidence in July reached the lowest level in more than a decade. Sovereign debt was downgraded on March 24 for the first time in that period.”

Editorials: Sore Losers Spite Indonesia’s Democracy | Elizabeth Pisani/New York Times

As Indonesia’s departing president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, spoke last month in the United States about the importance of public participation in politics, the party he leads was working to deprive Indonesians of their right to vote directly for their district leaders or mayors. The move was an attempt by Jakarta’s old guard, whose candidate lost the last national elections in July, to reassert itself in the face of a new breed of politician: competent local administrators who can appeal directly to voters rather than bend to the whims and corrupt interests of their political parties. That generational clash — between candidates whose politics were shaped during the 32 years Suharto held power and those who have come of age professionally since his authoritarian rule ended in 1998 — was the central narrative of the presidential election. In the old guard’s corner was Prabowo Subianto, a former general and son-in-law of Suharto who promised strong-arm government and glory for Indonesia. In the reformist corner was Joko Widodo, a poor-boy-made-good figure and former mayor of Jakarta, who spoke quietly of serving the people. Mr. Joko’s “political outsider” narrative won narrowly, and Mr. Prabowo did not give up easily; he unsuccessfully challenged the result in court, and has never admitted defeat or congratulated his opponent, who takes office Oct. 20.

Editorials: Supreme Court could weaken voting rights — again | Zachary Roth/MSNBC

With four major voting rights cases currently before the courts, access to the ballot for the upcoming midterms hangs in the balance. But the stakes could be much higher still. If one of the cases winds up before the Supreme Court, as looks likely, it could give Chief Justice John Roberts and his conservative colleagues a chance to decisively weaken safeguards against race bias in voting. And with the Republican-controlled Congress unlikely to pass new voting protections, that could usher in a bleak new era for voting in America — half a century after the issue looked to have been put to rest. “I’m very worried that the Supreme Court will take a case on the merits, and write an opinion that drastically constricts the right to vote,” said Daniel Tokaji, an election law scholar at Ohio State University. “I think that is a very real danger, given the conservative composition of this court, which has shown itself to be no friend to voting rights.” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg this week named the Shelby County v. Holder ruling, which neutered the Voting Rights Act’s strongest provision, as one of the current court’s three worst. But Shelby  left open a key question: What kinds of voting restrictions is the post- version of the VRA strong enough to stop? Any of the four pending cases could give the court a chance to provide an answer.

Editorials: Voting Rights Victory in North Carolina | Ari Berman/The Nation

Last year, North Carolina passed the most sweeping voting restrictions since the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965. Civil rights groups like the North Carolina NAACP and ACLU asked the courts for an injunction against three major parts of the law before the midterms—a reduction in early voting by a week, the elimination of same-day registration during the early voting period and a prohibition on counting ballots accidentally cast in the wrong precinct. In early August, District Court Judge Thomas Schroeder denied the injunction, saying the plaintiffs had not proven “irreparable harm.” Two of three judges on the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals overruled parts of Schroeder’s ruling today, reinstating same-day registration and the counting of out-of-precinct ballots for 2014. In not-so-good news for voting rights, the appeals court also upheld: “(i) the reduction of early-voting days; (ii) the expansion of allowable voter challengers; (iii) the elimination of the discretion of county boards of elections to keep the polls open an additional hour on Election Day in ‘extraordinary circumstances’; (iv) the elimination of pre-registration of sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds who will not be eighteen years old by the next general election; and (v) the soft roll-out of voter identification requirements to go into effect in 2016.”

Editorials: Rigging the Game for Wisconsin’s Voter ID Supporters | Jon Sherman/Huffington Post

The full U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit has split 5-5 on whether to restore the injunction blocking Wisconsin’s voter ID law for this election. Since the full court deadlocked, the three-judge panel’s decision to stay the injunction — or let the ID law go into effect — will stand, absent intervention by the U.S. Supreme Court (which so far has not been sought). There is an 11th seat for an active judge on the court, but that tie-breaking seat has remained vacant since January 2010.  Following the 5-5 vote, the panel issued an opinion explaining its reasons for denying the request for rehearing and voting against the full court’s review, and the five judges who voted for continuing to block the ID law for this election filed a dissent. Both sides argued about the meaning of a 2006 Supreme Court opinion, Purcell v. Gonzalez. In Purcell, a district court had allowed Arizona to implement its new voter ID law, but with weeks left before the election, the Ninth Circuit issued an emergency stay, blocking the law pending its final decision. The Supreme Court unanimously reversed the Ninth Circuit, finding that court orders changing the status quo so close to an election risk voter confusion and suppress participation. With the election mere weeks away and thousands of absentee ballots already mailed without ID instructions, hundreds of which have been returned without ID, the dissenting Seventh Circuit judges reasonably think Purcell requires blocking the law for this election (whatever the ultimate decision on the ID law’s legality).

Editorials: Why early voting is about so much more than convenience | The Washington Post

This was supposed to be “Golden Week” in Ohio, a prime window one month from the midterm election when the state’s residents could both register to vote and cast their ballots at the same time. In theory, political participation doesn’t get much easier than that. Monday, however, the Supreme Court halted the start of the state’s early voting in another 5-4 order along ideological lines that civil rights advocates fear will harm minority and poor voters in particular. The decision is a win for Republican officials in Ohio who had moved to curtail the state’s early voting with a law passed in February. Civil-rights groups including the ACLU and the NAACP had sued the state to block the law, and the Supreme Court’s order on Monday sets aside a lower-court ruling in their favor. Now, as a result, voting in Ohio that was supposed to start today won’t begin until Oct. 7. And Ohio’s Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted, reacting swiftly to the Supreme Court order, has also rolled back evening hours and a day of Sunday voting that had been required by the earlier court decision.

Editorials: How the Supreme Court will continue helping GOP game elections | Paul Waldman/The Washington Post

The Supreme Court has granted Ohio’s request to throw out a ruling by lower courts stopping the state from implementing a law on early voting passed by the Republican state legislature. Meanwhile, cases on Republican-passed voting laws in Wisconsin, North Carolina, and Texas are also working their way through the courts, and may all wind up in front of the Supreme Court in one way or another. So here’s a prediction: Republicans are going to win every single one of these cases. No matter how compelling the arguments of the opponents are, the simple fact is that there are five conservative justices who think that almost anything a state does to restrict people’s ability to vote is just fine with them. If you’re looking for the “tell” in laws like Ohio’s, you can find it on a Sunday — namely, the Sunday before the election (or sometimes every Sunday in the early voting period), which these laws almost always eliminate as a day when early voting can take place. What’s the significance of that Sunday? It’s the day when black churches conduct “Souls to the Polls” drives, organizing parishioners to head over to vote after services are over.

Editorials: Voting restrictions may reach the Supreme Court: From Ohio, Wisconsin, North Carolina, and Texas. | Rick Hasen/Slate

he fights in our states over how hard or easy it is to vote have been filling the courts and are headed toward the Supreme Court. The cases range from voter ID laws to early voting rules and beyond. Already there is a case from Ohio, with ones from Wisconsin, North Carolina, and Texas potentially on the way in a matter of days or weeks. The stakes are high, not only for the lazy 2014 midterm elections but also for the 2016 presidential election and for the protection of voting rights in the next decade. The fact that the cases are making it to the Supreme Court at about the same time is no surprise. Over the past decade, in the period I have called “the voting wars,” we have seen both an increase in restrictive voting rights legislation passed by Republican legislatures, such as voter ID laws, and litigation from both Democrats and Republicans to manipulate the election system to their advantage. In 2008, the Supreme Court rejected a constitutional challenge to Indiana’s voter identification law, and in 2013, the Supreme Court in the Shelby County case struck down a key portion of the Voting Rights Act providing that states with a history of racial discrimination in voting get approval before making changes to their voting rules and procedures.

Editorials: The Partisan Court Blocks Extended Voting in Ohio | Jesse Wegman/New York Times

On Monday afternoon the Supreme Court justices decided 5-4, on party (of-the-president-who nominated-them) lines, to block extended voting hours and days in Ohio, 16 hours before voting was to begin there. The decision affects everyone in the state but will disproportionately harm poorer and minority voters, who rely on weekend and evening hours to avoid forbiddingly long lines on Election Day. The court’s order is technically temporary, but in practice it means that the longer voting hours won’t be in effect in 2014. There are reasonable arguments to be made about why these particular restrictions are not the most burdensome in the country, since Ohio already has four weeks of early voting. Still, the plaintiffs made the argument — accepted by a federal trial court and a three-judge appeals panel — that the cuts violated both the Equal Protection Clause and the battered-but-still-standing Voting Rights Act.

Editorials: Court urged to let Ohioans vote early | SCOTUSblog

Arguing that early voting is necessary to continue to deal with the “unprecedented disaster” at the polls in Ohio in 2004, several civil rights advocacy groups urged the Supreme Court on Saturday to permit Ohioans to start casting their ballots next Tuesday for this year’s general election.  Allowing that would merely keep in place what the state has been doing for the past four elections, and would not affect any other state, the fifty-four-page brief contended. Justice Elena Kagan is currently considering, and could share with her colleagues, pleas by state officials and the Ohio legislature to allow the state to cut back early in-person voting from thirty-five to twenty-eight days, to bar voting on most Sundays in the coming weeks, and to eliminate voting in the early evening on any day.   Those are the very opportunities, the advocacy groups said in their response, that tens of thousands of black and low-income voters have been able to use to cast their ballots. A federal district court judge in Columbus and a unanimous three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in Cincinnati recently struck down the changes that the legislature and state election officials have sought to put into effect this year.  The state seeks to have those rulings delayed until the Supreme Court can settle the constitutional and voting rights law issues at stake.