An Arizona law designed to stop illegal immigrants from voting hangs in the balance, as the Supreme Court will take up a landmark case this month on whether the state can demand would-be voters to prove they are citizens before casting ballots in federal elections. The dispute centers on its Proposition 200 referendum passed by voters in 2004 that requires residents to show “satisfactory evidence” of citizenship — such as naturalization papers, a birth certificate, passport or Indian tribal identification — before registering to vote. A standard Arizona driver’s license also is accepted because the state requires proof of citizenship to obtain one. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals — responding to a legal challenge by a group of Arizona residents, Indian tribes and civil-rights groups — ruled the citizenship requirement conflicted with the 1993 federal lawknown as the “Motor Voter Law,” drafted in part to make it easier for people to register to vote, including requiring states to offer registration at driver’s license offices. Arizona appealed and the Supreme Court agreed to take the case, with oral arguments set for Monday.
National: Justice Department’s voting rights section hurt by unprofessional behavior, report says | The Washington Post
A report released Tuesday by the Justice Department’s inspector general found the department’s voting rights section mired in deep ideological polarization and distrust, in some cases harming its ability to function over the past two administrations. The 258-page review by Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz found “numerous and troubling examples of harassment and marginalization of employees and managers.” The unprofessional behavior included racist and other inappropriate e-mails, Internet postings, blogs, and personal attacks by voting rights lawyers and staffers. The report found no evidence that enforcement decisions were made in the George W. Bush administration or the Obama administration based on race or partisan considerations. Among its responsibilities, the voting section reviews redistricting cases that can change the composition of congressional districts and voter ID laws that affect who is eligible to cast a ballot.
Voter ID laws had a disproportionate impact on minority youth voters last November, even in states without the restrictive laws.
“The very existence of identification laws makes young people of color more likely than white youth to be asked to prove their identity,” said Dr. Cathy Cohen, a researcher at the University of Chicago. Her findings showed that young minority voters (under 30-years-old) were more likely to be asked for identification, even in states without ID requirements. Nearly two-thirds of black youth report they were asked for ID in states without voter ID laws, and a little more than half of young Latino voters reported being asked. Meanwhile only 42.8% of white youth said that they were asked for ID. In voter ID states, the application of the law was more even, but white youth voters were asked for identification less often than African American youths (84.3% of the time for whites compared to 94.3% for African- Americans).
National: Bill would require states to allow people to register to vote on the same day as the election | Hometown Source
U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Jon Tester (D-MT) today introduced legislation to help make voting easier for all Americans. The Same Day Registration Act would require states to allow people to register to vote for a federal election on the same day as the election. … Klobuchar recently traveled to Alabama with Congressman John Lewis and visited several key sites of the civil rights movement including the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma. Klobuchar also spoke to Attorney General Eric Holder at a Senate Judiciary hearing last week about protecting the right to vote and encouraging voter participation.
The Justice Department’s inspector general found numerous examples of harassment in the department’s voting rights division, but determined it did not prioritize cases in a partisan manner under either Presidents Obama or George W. Bush. The lengthy inspector general report released Tuesday found that the often ideologically divisive nature of the voting rights section’s work — including reviews of redistricting cases, voter ID laws and voter registration issues — resulted in instances of harassment within the DOJ. “Our investigation revealed several incidents in which deep ideological polarization fueled disputes and mistrust that harmed the functioning of the voting section,” states the IG report. “We found that people on different sides of internal disputes about particular cases in the voting section have been quick to suspect those on the other side of partisan motivations, heightening the sense of polarization in the section.” Inspector General Michael Horowitz initiated the investigation at lawmakers’ request, and out of a concern for political favoritism within the department. Investigators interviewed more than 80 people and reviewed more than 100,000 pages of DOJ documents.
Local election officials are moving polling places out of schools as the shootings in Newtown, Conn., have intensified concern about opening school doors on Election Day. In New York, Rockland County officials will relocate polls this year away from 10 schools at the request of the local school district in Clarkstown and Nyack. “In the wake of what happened in Connecticut, it’s definitely taken on more urgency,” says Kristen Stavisky, a county election commissioner. “Voters in these schools will have to move. They won’t be going to the polling sites that they’ve been going to — for some of them, since they were eligible and registered to vote.” In Baraboo, Wis., three polling sites will be located in the town civic center to avoid using schools, due to security concerns, says Cheryl Giese, Baraboo’s city clerk and finance director. At Newtown’s Sandy Hook Elementary School, 26 students and staff were killed by a gunman on Dec. 14.
National: U.S. Election Assistance Commission and NIST trumpet innovation in voting technology | California Forward
Last week, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the U.S. Election Assistance Commission hosted a Future of Voting Systems Symposium. The three-day meeting outside of Washington, DC was designed to look at the latest developments in the field of voting technology and assess how such developments mesh with the current federal structure for testing and certification. The takeaway from the meeting was sobering and exciting; while it is increasingly clear that existing testing and certification requirements aren’t working, there is a burst of creativity underway by election officials, technologists and other stakeholders in the effort to design a different and better approach.
It’s like 2011 all over again. It was two years ago that, after Republicans claimed big gains in state legislatures across the South and country in the 2010 mid-terms, lawmakers made a national push for changes to voting laws, with one of the most controversial being restrictive bills requiring voters to show photo ID at the polls. Now, with the 2012 elections behind them, state GOP leaders have again pledged to make voter photo ID a priority this year. But has the debate — and public sentiment about voter restrictions — changed this time? States leading the push in 2013 include Arkansas, where Republicans won over the state legislature in 2012 and a House panel advanced a voter ID bill this week, and North Carolina, where a Democratic governor’s veto staved off an ID bill in 2012, but newly elected GOP Gov. Pat McCrory has signaled he’ll support a looming measure.
National: In Supreme Court Debate on Voting Rights Act, a Dubious Use of Statistics | Nate Silver/NYTimes.com
In oral arguments before the Supreme Court last week, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. introduced a statistical claim that he took to imply that an important provision of the Voting Rights Act has become outmoded. Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which is being challenged by Shelby County, Ala., in the case before the court, requires that certain states, counties and townships with a history of racial discrimination get approval (or “pre-clearance”) from the Department of Justice before making changes to their voting laws. But Chief Justice Roberts said that Mississippi, which is covered by Section 5, has the best ratio of African-American to white turnout, while Massachusetts, which is not covered, has the worst, he said. Chief Justice Roberts’s statistics appear to come from data compiled in 2004 by the Census Bureau, which polls Americans about their voting behavior as part of its Current Population Survey. In 2004, according to the Census Bureau’s survey, the turnout rate among white voting-aged citizens was 60.2 percent in Mississippi, while the turnout rate among African-Americans was higher, 66.8 percent. In Massachusetts, conversely, the Census Bureau reported the white turnout rate at 72.0 percent but the black turnout rate at just 46.5 percent.
National: Chris Coons Plotting Legislative Response If Voting Rights Act Is Gutted | Huffington Post
Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) is hoping the Supreme Court doesn’t strike down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act, but he’ll be prepared if they do. Coons told Attorney General Eric Holder during a Senate Judiciary Committee oversight hearing on Wednesday that he’d like to work with the Justice Department “should there be a change in the status of the Voting Rights Act.” The Supreme Court heard oral arguments last week on whether to strike down Section 5 of the 1965 law, which forces certain jurisdictions with a history of racial discrimination to get the federal government’s permission to make changes to their voting laws and procedures.
National: Bipartisan House Bill Plans Overhaul Of Election Process: Will Straight Ticket Voting Be A Thing Of The Past? | Latin Times
In over a third of the states in our nation, “straight ticket” voting literally means just that: The voter presses one button and has instantly cast their vote for multiple different individuals. Formerly a commonplace practice nationwide, only 15 states still allow single-button straight ticket voting. A bipartisan bill in the House of Representatives seeks to get rid of this practice, replacing it with the default voting option: choosing candidates individually.
National: Senate Republicans Open To Gutting Voting Rights Act, Despite Scalia’s Analysis | Huffington Post
Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia argued last week that the court may need to reject the key element of the Voting Rights Act because political pressures would prevent Congress itself from doing so. “I don’t think there is anything to be gained by any senator to vote against continuation of this act,” Scalia said during a Supreme Court hearing. “And I am fairly confident it will be reenacted in perpetuity unless — unless a court can say it does not comport with the Constitution. That’s the concern that those of us who have some questions about this statute have. It’s a concern that this is not the kind of a question you can leave to Congress.” Whatever Scalia’s talents as a jurist, those skills do not include vote-counting in the United States Senate. The Huffington Post asked a sampling of Senate Republicans and found that, contrary to Scalia’s presumption, some of his legislative branch colleagues across the street are just as ready as he is to toss out the heart of the Voting Rights Act, its Section 5, which prevents states with a history of racial discrimination from altering their voting laws without federal approval. It is, to be fair, a horribly difficult question for a Southern senator. Agreeing that Section 5 needs to remain in place, as the overwhelming majority of them did when the law was reauthorized in 2006, is an implicit admission that the state apparatus is still tilted against African Americans. But rejecting Section 5 is an insult to that same community, suggesting, in the face of everyday evidence, that the legacy of slavery and discrimination is ancient history.
National: Secretaries of State announce national task force on emergency preparations for elections | FoxReno
To support state efforts aimed at establishing sound administrative election practices in emergency conditions, Nevada Secretary of State and National Association of Secretaries of State (NASS) President Ross Miller and NASS members today announce the formation of a Task Force on Emergency Preparedness for Elections. The task force is a national initiative, formed in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, which struck the East Coast just days before the presidential election on November 6, 2012. The effort will focus on identifying laws and practices that enhance the ability of state election officials to prepare for, and respond to, emergency situations.
Lyle Denniston looks at a provocative comment from Associate Justice Antonin Scalia about racial entitlements, and what it means in the broader scope of constitutional and congressional history. The statements at issue:
There is “a phenomenon that is called perpetuation of racial entitlement. … Whenever a society adopts racial entitlements, it is very difficult to get out of them through the normal political processes. … I don’t think there is anything to be gained by any senator to vote against continuation of this act.” – Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, comment from the bench on February 27, discussing the history of Congress’ repeated renewal of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
“Entitlement: the feeling or belief that you deserve to be given something (such as special privileges).” – Merriam-Webster Learner’s Dictionary, in the second-listed definition of “entitlement.”
“We are talking about the enforcement power that the Constitution gives to Congress to make these judgments to ensure protection of fundamental rights. This is a situation in which Congress is given a power which is expressly given to it to act upon the states in their sovereign capacity.” – U.S. Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli, Jr., responding to Justice Scalia at that hearing before the court last week.
“All men are … endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.” – The opening line of the Declaration of Independence.
Vice President Joe Biden told a crowd gathered for the annual commemoration of Bloody Sunday in 1965 that Americans “can’t let their guard down” against attempts to restrict access to voting. Speaking before the Martin and Coretta King Unity Brunch on Sunday morning, Biden said states had passed 180 laws restricting voting, “some more pernicious than others.” “Here we are, 48 years after all you did, and we’re still fighting?” Biden asked a capacity crowd at Wallace State Community College in Selma. “In 2011, 12 and 13? We’re able to beat back most of those attempts in election of 2012, but that doesn’t mean it’s over.” Biden, who brought his daughter and sister with him, joined several speakers at the rally who were critical of voter ID attempts and a lawsuit brought by Shelby County, Ala., to overturn Section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, a law whose passage was inspired by the events in Selma. The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in the case last week. The vice president joked that he got the “credit or blame” when he was a senator for convincing Sen. Strom Thurmond, R-S.C., the presidential candidate of the States’ Rights Democrats in 1948, to vote to reauthorize the Voting Rights Act.
Voting districts designed to increase the chances of electing minority candidates, a fixture in the South, could be dismantled if the Supreme Court invalidates a key provision of the Voting Rights Act. The court heard oral arguments on Wednesday in a case that challenges Section 5 of the 1965 landmark law. The section bars all or part of 16 states from making any changes to their election procedures without first proving the changes wouldn’t discriminate against minority voters. A ruling is expected in a few months. If the court rules Section 5 is no longer necessary, states, counties and local governments subject to the provision would not have to submit new election maps to the Justice Department for review. Civil rights advocates say that would open the door for jurisdictions like many in the South – where blacks tend to vote for black candidates and whites tend to vote for white candidates – to redraw districts in a way that makes it harder for minorities to get elected. “There is no doubt in my mind that if there is no Section 5, the eight black (state) Senate districts in Alabama would disappear in the very near future,” said state Sen. Hank Sanders, D-Selma, who holds one of those eight seats.
At the voting rights argument in the Supreme Court on Wednesday, Chief Justice John Roberts tore into Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, grilling him on his knowledge of voting statistics. The point the chief justice was trying to make was that Massachusetts, which is not covered by the preclearance section of the Voting Rights Act, has a far worse record in black voter registration and turnout than Mississippi, which is covered by Section 5 of the act. But a close look at census statistics indicates the chief justice was wrong, or at least that he did not look at the totality of the numbers.
National: The Supreme Court could strike down part of the Voting Rights Act – Here’s what that would mean | Washington Post
In heated oral arguments Wednesday, the Supreme Court justices gave the impression that they’re ready to get rid of a key section of the Voting Rights Act. At issue is section 5, which requires the Department of Justice to issue a “preclearance” of any changes to districting or other voting laws in a number of set jurisdictions, covering most of the South but also Manhattan, Brooklyn, some counties in California and South Dakota, and towns in Michigan and New Hampshire. Justice Antonin Scalia argued that the laws had the effect of requiring racially motivated gerrymandering, amounting to the “perpetuation of a racial entitlement” on the part of black legislators and constituents benefiting from the districting. Chief Justice John Roberts agreed, asking Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, “Is it the government’s submission that the citizens of the South are more racist than the citizens of the North?”
National: Court decision on Voting Rights Act could spur election changes, but not turn back the clock | NBC
If Wednesday’s argument before the Supreme Court is any indication, a majority of the justices seemed inclined to strike down or curtail key sections of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Even if the court does move in that direction, election officials in some states will have more leeway to change some procedures, but voters in 2014 won’t suddenly wake up in 1964. Hearing a challenge brought by Shelby County, Ala., several justices voiced skepticism about the formula the law uses to decide which states and other jurisdictions are required to get permission, or “preclearance,” from the Justice Department or a federal court in Washington for any change in voting procedures that they seek to make. In 2006 Congress reauthorized Section 5 of the law for another 25 years. The current formula uses election data from 1972 and earlier to determine which places section 5 applies to. Critics of the law say the formula is archaic and ought to be scrapped.
If the Supreme Court strikes down or otherwise guts a centerpiece of the Voting Rights Act, there will be far less scrutiny of thousands of decisions each year about redrawing district lines, moving or closing polling places, changing voting hours or imposing voter identification requirements in areas that have a history of disenfranchising minority voters, voting law experts say. A close look at the law demonstrates how a series of seemingly technical details amount to what is essentially a safeguard against violations in those states and regions covered by the law — most of which are in the South. It also shows how that very bulwark comes at the cost of sharply tilting the playing field against those areas in ways that several conservative-leaning Supreme Court justices expressed alarm about during arguments on Wednesday. The legal issue turns on two main parts of the act: Section Five, which covers jurisdictions with a history of discrimination, and Section Two, which covers the entire country. Both sections outlaw rules that intentionally discriminate against or otherwise disproportionately harm minority voters. Section Two would remain in effect even if the court strikes down Section Five. But reliance only on Section Two would mean a crucial difference in how hard it may be to block a change in voting rules in an area that is currently covered by Section Five. Those jurisdictions, because of their history of discrimination, must prove that any proposed change would not make minority voters worse off.
Justice Antonin Scalia, during oral arguments at the Supreme Court on Wednesday, said that the Court had to rescue Congress from the trap of being afraid to vote against a “racial entitlement”—the “entitlement” in question being the Voting Rights Act. (“Even the name of it is wonderful: the Voting Rights Act. Who is going to vote against that in the future?”) Scalia said that not alone but, it appears, with four other votes for overturning a key part of the act: Section Five, which relies on a combination of history and recent bad behavior to designate certain states and jurisdictions as having to get “pre-clearance” from the Department of Justice or from a federal court before they, say, abruptly change voting hours or redraw districts or change their voter-I.D. requirements. Most of them are in the South, but not all of them are. The Court’s conservatives seem to think this is terribly unfair. “Is it the government’s submission that the citizens in the South are more racist than citizens in the North?” Chief Justice John Roberts asked. “But if — if Alabama wants to have monuments to the heroes of the Civil Rights Movement,” Justice Anthony Kennedy, the swing vote, asked, would it be “better off doing that if it’s an own independent sovereign or if it’s under the trusteeship of the United States Government?” Is the idea that statues are only going up now because people are looking, or that the Voting Rights Act is nothing but a monument?
Barely a minute into a U.S. Supreme Court hearing, liberal justices began a strategic barrage of questions that came down to this: Why should a time-honored plank of the 1965 Voting Rights Act be invalidated in a case from Alabama with its history of racial discrimination? What followed constituted a classic example of how justices can try to use oral arguments to dramatic effect and influence a swing vote justice. Key players were Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor, appointees of President Barack Obama and the newest members of the bench. The likely target of their remarks: Anthony Kennedy, a conservative who is often the decisive fifth vote on racial dilemmas. “Think about this state that you’re representing,” Elena Kagan told the lawyer arguing against the law on Wednesday. “It’s about a quarter black, but Alabama has no black statewide elected officials.” Focusing on Shelby County, Alabama, the southern locale that brought the case, Sotomayor asked, “Why would we vote in favor of a county whose record is the epitome of what caused the passage of this law to start with?”
For backers of the Voting Rights Act, Wednesday was a gloomy day at the Supreme Court. The court’s five Republican-appointed justices seemed to be leaning strongly toward a ruling striking down a provision in the 1965 law that has been a key tool for the federal government to block redistricting plans and changes to voting procedures that could interfere with or dilute minority voting. The pre-clearance process that was the subject of oral arguments before the justices applies in most or all of nine states and portions of seven others. The fact that provision applies to some parts of the country and not others was the focus of much of the jousting in court. The best many supporters of the law could muster to retain hope about the court’s ruling was that just four years ago the law defied expectations and survived intact when the justices used a kind of end-run to avoid upending the landmark civil rights statute.
A central provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 may be in peril, judging from tough questioning on Wednesday from the Supreme Court’s more conservative members. Justice Antonin Scalia called the provision, which requires nine states, mostly in the South, to get federal permission before changing voting procedures, a “perpetuation of racial entitlement.” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. asked a skeptical question about whether people in the South are more racist than those in the North. Justice Anthony M. Kennedy asked how much longer Alabama must live “under the trusteeship of the United States government.” The court’s more liberal members, citing data and history, said Congress remained entitled to make the judgment that the provision was still needed in the covered jurisdictions. “It’s an old disease,” Justice Stephen G. Breyer said of efforts to thwart minority voting. “It’s gotten a lot better. A lot better. But it’s still there.” Four of the nine-member court’s five more conservative members asked largely skeptical questions about the law. The fifth, Justice Clarence Thomas, did not ask a question, as is typical.
Will the Supreme Court strike down what President Lyndon Johnson called “one of the most monumental laws in the entire history of American freedom”? That is the question before the justices on Wednesday, when they will hear a challenge to the constitutionality of a key provision of the Voting Rights Act. Enacted in 1965, it was designed to end, once and for all, the long, ugly history of racial discrimination in voting in America. The law, widely recognized as a remarkable success, was reauthorized in 2006 in a near-unanimous vote in Congress. As Americans have come to recognize, however, the only votes that really matter are those of the justices of the Supreme Court. And there’s every reason to suspect that five justices will vote to strike down one of the law’s most important provisions. That provision is known as “Section 5,” and it requires jurisdictions with a history of racial discrimination in voting to obtain the approval of the Department of Justice or a special court in Washington, D.C., before adopting any change in their voting rules. If one of these covered jurisdictions wants to move away from single-member districts to an at-large election, as several tried to do to reduce the voting strength of racial minorities, or change the voting hours, that change has to be “precleared” before going into effect.
Central parts of an election law dating back to the civil rights struggles of the 1960s, the Voting Rights Act, appeared to be in jeopardy Wednesday after the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a challenge to them. NBC’s Pete Williams reported after the oral argument, “I think it’s a safe prediction to say that the Voting Rights Act, as it now stands, is not going to survive. The question is: how far will the Supreme Court go in striking parts of it down?” Williams said what seemed to concern a majority of the justices was “the fact that the law is too backward looking.” The justices were weighing an appeal from Shelby County, Ala., asking the court to find that Congress exceeded its power when it renewed the two key sections of the law in 2006. Under Section 5 of the law, nine states, mostly in the South, but also including Alaska and Arizona, as well as dozens of counties, townships, cities, and elected boards in other states, must get permission, or “preclearance,” from the Justice Department or a federal court in Washington for any change in voting procedures, no matter how small, that they seek to make.
As the Supreme Court prepares to hear arguments in a case challenging the Voting Rights Act of 1968, civil rights advocates are rising to support the anti-discriminatory law. But why? This hardly the first time that the 45-year-old law has been challenged. It’s been just four years since the country’s highest court stopped just short of striking down the Voting Rights Act altogether, choosing instead to make a decision on narrow grounds. On Wednesday, the justices will get a second chance in the case of Shelby County v. Holder — Shelby County is in Alabama — which seeks to determine if Congress overstepped its authority when it passed the 25-year-long renewal of the Voting Rights Act passed by Congress is 2006. In other words, the case should decide whether or not the Voting Rights Act is constitutional. This is a big deal for a lot of people.
The Supreme Court on Wednesday will consider whether to strike down a key provision of a federal law designed to protect minority voters. During the one-hour oral argument, the nine justices will hear the claim made by officials from Shelby County, Alabama, that Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act is no longer needed. The key issue is whether Congress has the authority under the 15th Amendment, which gave African Americans the right to vote, to require some states, mainly in the South, to show that any proposed election-law change would not discriminate against minority voters. Conservative activists and local officials in some jurisdictions covered by the provision have long complained about it, saying that it is an unacceptable infringement on state sovereignty.
National: Voting Rights Act: Is major portion outdated? Supreme Court to hear arguments | CSMonitor.com
It is recognized as the most powerful and effective civil rights law in American history. So why is the US Supreme Court being asked to declare a major portion of the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965 unconstitutional? On Wednesday, the high court is set to take up a legal challenge filed on behalf of Alabama’s Shelby County, alleging that Congress overstepped its authority when it voted overwhelmingly in 2006 to reauthorize Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) for 25 years. At issue in the case, Shelby County v. Eric Holder (12-96), is a section of the law that gives the federal government extraordinary power to prevent state and local governments from discriminating against minority voters by undercutting their political clout in elections. In 1965, when the VRA was first enacted, many states, particularly in the Deep South, were actively working to prevent black and other minority voters from effectively exercising their right to vote. They had done it for decades through threats of violence, poll taxes, and literacy tests. Congress outlawed those blatant tactics, but the discrimination continued in more creative and subtle ways.
Conservative justices who hold a slim majority on the Supreme Court expressed grave doubts Wednesday that the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965 — the crowning achievement of the civil rights movement — remains constitutional nearly a half century later. The justices who could be the swing votes in an eventual ruling suggested that an outdated formula built into the law now discriminates against the South, much as Southern states discriminated against black voters by erecting barriers such as poll taxes and literacy tests. “Is it the government’s submission that the citizens in the South are more racist than the citizens in the North?” Chief Justice John Roberts asked Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, who argued that the law should remain intact. Roberts noted that Massachusetts has the worst black turnout in elections when compared with whites — and Mississippi the best. Although the more liberal justices defended Section 5 of the law, which requires all or parts of 16 states to clear any voting changes with the federal government, at times the die appeared cast inside the marble courtroom. That could mean a decision by June rendering that provision unconstitutional or sending it back to Congress.