Among major democracies, only in the United States are self-interested politicians given the exclusive power to design election districts for themselves and their allies. Other countries lodge this power with independent commissions. In the absence of such institutions, the pressure for courts to impose constitutional constraints on partisan gerrymandering becomes powerful, particularly as the manipulation of electoral districts for partisan advantage has become more brazen, more extreme, more effective and more consequential. Decisions on two cases Monday by the Supreme Court — an alleged Republican gerrymander in Wisconsin and a Democratic one in Maryland — shut down one novel approach to attacking partisan gerrymanders on constitutional grounds.
Opinion pieces and editorials on voting issues.
Editorials: If more states start using Ohio’s system, how many voters will be purged? | The Washington Post
On Monday, the Supreme Court upheld Ohio’s controversial voter purge program in the case Husted v. A. Philip Randolph Institute. Ohio removes occasional voters from the rolls if they: fail to vote in a general election; do not respond to a postcard asking them to confirm their address; then fail to vote in two more general elections. In a 5-to-4 decision, the court ruled that the purge does not violate the 1993 National Voter Registration Act. Given the Supreme Court’s ruling, other states may adopt Ohio’s Supplemental Process as an aggressive way of removing inactive voters from the rolls. If Ohio’s Supplemental Process were adopted nationwide, how many other infrequent voters could be removed from the voter registration rolls? We try to answer that question.
Science has always been political. The Enlightenment brought forth a series of revolutions that transformed both our understanding of the universe and our role in it. New scientific discoveries often threaten the justification for power of those in authority, placing scientists at the center of politics. Galileo’s confrontation with the Catholic Church comes immediately to mind, but tensions between scientists and political authorities erupt with relative frequency. One of the early figures of the English Enlightenment, Thomas Hobbes, fled to Paris over concern about how his political works would be taken by Parliament (Hobbes was a royalist, and hostile to the Catholic Church).
This redistricting process is as old as the republic, enshrined in the Constitution. It has been controversial from the start and vulnerable to distortion. Politicians with the power to draw the lines have done so to gain advantage — whether that meant ensuring that incumbents were reelected or that the political party in power produced districts that gave them a disproportionate share of the seats.This term, the Supreme Court is considering the role of partisanship. But is there a fair and equitable way to draw these district lines? Some states, California being the biggest, have decided the only way to produce fairer lines is to try to take politicians out of the process. Every redistricting cycle has produced oddly shaped districts, with lines snaking here and there across counties and neighborhoods. To the naked eye, there is no logic to the lines. To those who have drawn them, they are designed to give somebody, some group or some party an advantage, or to assure that racial minorities receive adequate representation.
The first thing to know about the Supreme Court decision that allows Ohio to purge its voter rolls is that it was a case of statutory construction, not constitutional interpretation. The justices were only trying to figure out what ordinary laws say, not what the Constitution means. … The second thing to know is that the Constitution doesn’t matter here in large part because there is no established constitutional right to vote for Ohio or anyone else to violate. Should there be? Yes. While Scott Lemieux points out the limits of advocating for and even passing a constitutional amendment making a right to vote explicit, there’s an excellent case to be made that such a right is already right there in the Constitution — indeed, that it is fundamental to the entire project the Framers were undertaking, even if, for them, that right was severely restricted, something that the 15th, 19th and 26th amendments corrected. The Constitution certainly does not require direct election for all offices, but it does require that all offices, directly or indirectly, get their authority from popular elections, which to me at least strongly implies that voting is fundamental to their notion of a republic. (I should remind everyone at this point that “republic” and “democracy” are best treated as synonyms, regardless of the vocabulary folks used in the 18th century, when they had a lot less experience with these things.)
On Monday, the Supreme Court ruled 5 to 4 to uphold Ohio’s program of canceling registrations of infrequent voters — a decision that history shows disproportionately strikes minority and low-income voters from the rolls. Under Ohio’s program, which a federal appeals court had struck down as violating the National Voter Registration Act, registered voters who don’t cast a ballot in two years are sent a notice asking them to confirm that they still reside at the same address. If they don’t respond, and then fail to vote in the next two federal elections, they are assumed to have moved to a different county and are excised from the rolls.
Editorials: In Ohio, Supreme Court delivers GOP a victory in the war on voting | The Washington Post
Imagine this scenario. Like many people, you didn’t bother voting in the last election or two, because you were busy, or none of the races really interested you, or maybe you’re in the military and were stationed overseas, or maybe you just haven’t gotten around to it for a while. You vaguely remember getting a notice about your registration from the state board of elections, but you threw it away with the other junk mail. You know you’re registered, so there shouldn’t be a problem. Then, on the next Election Day, you show up to vote only to discover that you’ve been “purged.” Because you didn’t vote for a time and you didn’t return that letter, the state has kicked you off the voting rolls. Today, the Supreme Court said that’s just fine.
The General Assembly turned down a request from the State Election Commission and Gov. Henry McMaster to expedite the replacement of the state’s aging voting machines, providing only $4 million of a $20 million request to get going on a project expected to cost about $50 million over two years. With heightened concerns over election tampering, lawmakers should reconsider their decision as soon as possible. Even if all of the funding was provided next year, the earliest South Carolina voters would have access to the new machines that produce a paper trail of their votes would be the November 2020 general election. The state is unlikely to have the new machines in time for the 2020 presidential primaries or other contests held before that time.
Editorials: North Carolina voter photo ID bill is vague and leaves lots of questions | Gerry Cohen /News & Observer
There are important questions to be resolved before the legislature votes to put voter photo identification in the state Constitution via referendum. The ballot question says, “Every person offering to vote in person shall present photo identification before voting in the manner prescribed by law.” This language appears to not allow exceptions for those without ID or those who have lost them, as the 2013 law did. Will it be a “hard ID” like that struck down in federal court, or a “soft ID” like the 2013 House version that allowed student ID, public assistance ID or employer ID? Will there be a tedious provisional ballot process?
Editorials: Ohio’s voter purges were upheld by the Supreme Court. That doesn’t make them defensible. | Daniel Nichanian/NBC
Only 41 percent of registered voters went to the polls in Ohio’s 2014 general elections; the following year, just 43 percent voted. In the face of these abysmal rates, state officials should be focused on engaging the electorate and improving participation. But Ohio instead treats a failure to vote over such a two-year period as sufficient reason to trigger the process of removing someone from the voter rolls entirely. And on Monday, the Supreme Court ruled that doing so was perfectly legal. Registered voters in the state who have not cast a ballot over two years are — and will continue to be — sent a notice by the local election board to confirm their registration. If they do not respond to the notice, and if they do not engage the electoral process over the following four years, they are purged from the voter registration lists.