Lawyers for House of Delegates Speaker William J. Howell are making a surprising argument to defend against an accusation of racial gerrymandering: Raw, partisan politics targeting Democrats fueled the 2011 redistricting process as much as race. A trial began Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Alexandria on the constitutionality of Virginia’s most recent drawing of legislative boundaries in the House of Delegates. The lawsuit alleges the redistricting plan illegally packs African-American voters into 12 legislative districts. As a result, according to the suit, black voters’ influence in the remaining 88 districts is diminished. A panel of three federal judges is overseeing the trial and must decide whether race was the overriding factor in drawing the lines. Such a finding would increase the chances that the boundaries would be found unconstitutional. If, on the other hand, the judges decide that race was just one of many factors that went into the redistricting, it is more likely that the boundaries would pass muster.
When voters in Virginia went to the polls in 2012, a narrow majority backed President Obama’s re-election bid, just as they’d done four years earlier. In a closely watched U.S. Senate race, the commonwealth’s voters also elected Sen. Tim Kaine (D) over former Sen. George Allen (R) by about six points. But just a little further down on the ballot is where things get tricky. If you add up all the votes case in each of Virginia’s U.S. House races, roughly 49% of Virginians voted for Democratic candidates, while about 51% supported Republican candidates. The state has 11 congressional districts, so if there was some kind of parallel between voter preferences and partisan results, we might expect to see five Democrats head to Congress from the state, along with six Republicans.
A federal court ruled Friday that Virginia legislators will have to redraw the state’s congressional lines after misinterpreting Voting Rights Act requirements, but an attorney for the defendants said it’s likely that they’ll appeal to the Supreme Court. The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia ruled for the second time that legislators unnecessarily “packed” African-American voters into certain congressional districts, ostensibly to follow a requirement that minority voters maintain their control of certain districts—but also limiting their ability to affect other districts’ elections. The three-judge panel ruled 2-1 that the Republican-controlled legislature had packed an excessive number of minorities into a single district, represented by Democratic Rep. Bobby Scott, when it drew the congressional map in 2012.
Editorials: The Mystery of Lower Voter Registration for Older Black Voters | Nate Cohn/New York Times
In December, I wrote an article titled “Evidence That the Jim Crow Era Endures for Older Black Voters in the South.” The article, based on voter registration and census data in Georgia, noted that older black voters who reached voting age before the passage of the Voting Rights Act were significantly less likely to be registered to vote compared with whites of similar age and black voters who reached voting age in the years afterward. The implication, I wrote, was that black registration and turnout rates were suppressed by the lingering effects of Jim Crow laws, which disenfranchised African-American voters. The evidence underlying that statement is research suggesting that voting is a habit. Therefore, someone with fewer opportunities to register and vote should be less likely to vote than a similar person who had more opportunities.
For some voters, it costs $58.50 to vote in an election. That’s more than enough to keep voters away from polls, according to a new report. Thirty-three states require all eligible voters to show ID at the polling station and, in doing so, add a hidden cost to voting: While casting a ballot is technically free, getting proper identification is not. Many voter-ID laws came about after Congress passed the Help America Vote Act in 2002, which was intended to address concerns of voter fraud and irregularity in the 2000 presidential election. While concerns about fraud are widespread, research shows that it occurs very rarely. The cost of obtaining an ID affects voter participation, and can disproportionately drive down turnout among African-American voters and 18-to-23-year-olds.
If Ferguson residents want a diverse police force that reflects the community, they need to elect someone who makes inclusion a priority, said Michael McMillan, president and CEO of the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis. In Ferguson – where an unarmed black teenager was fatally shot by a white police officer on Aug. 9 – the police department has three black officers and 50 white officers. The town’s population is 67 percent African-American, yet Ferguson has a white mayor and five of the six-member city council members are also white. As the Post-Dispatch illustrated with a startling graphic on the front page of the Sunday paper, Ferguson is typical among county municipalities for its lack of representation of blacks in police and government. Several local leaders are encouraging protesters fighting for justice in the Michael Brown case to keep marching, but also register to vote. The Urban League, NAACP, ministers and politicians have all organized volunteers to educate residents on the voting process and register especially African-American voters. In 2013, only about six percent of the eligible black voters cast their ballot in Ferguson’s municipal election, compared to 17 percent of white voters. “The need for voter registration education and mobility has always been a cornerstone of the Civil Rights Movement,” McMillan said.
North Carolina: After loss in court, voting rights activists turn attention to mobilizing in the streets | Facing South
Following a federal judge’s decision last week to deny a request by the U.S. Department of Justice and civil rights groups to block North Carolina’s restrictive new voting law from being enforced during this November’s election, voting rights activists are turning their attention from the ongoing legal battle in the courtroom to organizing voters to turn out despite the new rules. “We will not falter in our efforts to mobilize until this extreme law is completely repealed,” said Rev. William Barber of the N.C. NAACP, one of the civil rights groups that sought the injunction. “Our movement against this voter suppression law is built on the legacy of those who have testified before us, with their feet and blood, to fight for equal rights in North Carolina and the nation.” On Friday, U.S. District Court Judge Thomas D. Schroeder declined to issue a preliminary injunction that would have prevented restrictive provisions in the voting law passed last year by the Republican-controlled North Carolina legislature and signed by Gov. Pat McCrory (R) from taking effect during this year’s general election. Those provisions include a shorter early voting period and an end to same-day registration, out-of-precinct voting and straight-party voting.
Edna Griggs keenly remembers the anger and outrage she felt during the 2012 general election when she watched as African-American senior citizens were forced to wait in long lines in the Houston heat as they cued up to vote at the Acres Homes Multi-Service Center. A member of her local NAACP chapter, Griggs says she was told that she couldn’t bring them water to drink or chairs to rest in. “A poll watcher approached me and said, ‘What are you doing?’ He told me I couldn’t do that. They thought we were trying to sway their votes by giving them water,” she said. “It was really sad to me because it was like a reflection of the stories I heard from my grandmother and mother when they had to pay to vote. It was a reflection of everything our people have gone through.”
On a recent weekday night in central North Carolina, about 20 people, mostly African-American senior citizens, gathered in a neighborhood church. After an opening hymn, a congregant walked to the lectern and asked all to bow their heads. “As we listen to each speaker tonight,” she said, “we ask for better understanding of how to fulfill our right to vote.” The evening’s order of business was to educate people about the complexities of the state’s new voting law, enacted in August by the Republican governor and GOP-controlled legislature. Tomorrow’s primary elections, in which voters will choose local officials as well as nominees for congressional races, will be the first time North Carolina voters go to the polls since the law’s passage. Though Tuesday’s voting is unlikely to provide a significant test of the new law — turnout is typically low in midterm elections — voting-rights advocates are keeping an eye on provisions, such as curtailed early voting and the end of same-day registration, that they say will disproportionately affect poor, working-class and African-American voters. (The best-known element of the new law, requiring voters to show government-issued identification at polling places, is not scheduled to go into effect until 2016.)
Wisconsin: The Voting Rights Case African Americans Must Watch | Judith Browne Dianis/Huffington Post
From courtrooms to the streets, civil rights advocates and grassroots organizations nationwide are doubling down to protect voters. Over the past few years, we witnessed an aggressive assault on voting rights, with a wave of policies making it harder to vote either passed or proposed in a majority of states. These measures included laws requiring current state-issued photo ID to vote, cuts to early voting and same-day registration and “show me your papers” proof-of-citizenship practices. The unprecedented attacks on democracy disproportionately affect voters of color. They are widespread, targeted and coordinated. This week, Wisconsin is on trial for limiting the voices of voters. Advancement Project is challenging Wisconsin’s law requiring voters to present limited forms of government-issued photo ID in order to vote. We plan to show that Wisconsin’s law discriminates against voters on the basis of race. This is the nation’s first Voting Rights Act trial challenging a photo ID law since the Supreme Court’s June 2013 Shelby County v. Holder decision, which blocked the federal government from stopping discriminatory laws and practices by several states and counties, mostly in the South, before they are implemented.
Voter ID advocates and opponents alike will be watching Wisconsin on Monday as a new federal trial on the state’s photo ID law begins. The case is the first federal trial under the Voting Rights Act since the Supreme Court struck down part of the law in June, and it’s one of the first cases to challenge voter ID under what’s known as Section 2 of the VRA. Section 2, which was unaffected by the Supreme Court’s decision, prohibits procedures that discriminate based on race and other protected groups. “I think that everyone’s going to be looking at what happens in Wisconsin,” said Rick Hasen, a University of California, Irvine, law and political science professor and author of Election Law Blog. “Whoever’s on the successful side will say, ‘See, we told you,’ and whoever’s on the losing side will either say the court got it wrong or point to factual differences [in their state], but it will be important because it’s one of the first Section 2 challenges to the voting ID law.” The trial covers two challenges to the law, one brought by the group Advancement Project, which argues that the Wisconsin law is particularly burdensome on voters of color, and another brought by the American Civil Liberties Union, which focuses on minorities as well as elderly, student, low-income, disabled and homeless voters.
Editorials: North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper must declare election law unconstitutional | Bob Geary/Indy Week
Richard Hasen is the nation’s leading scholar on elections law as political weapons and constitutional fights. A University of California-Irvine political scientist and law professor, Hasen was in Raleigh last week speaking at N.C. State University. His topic: “Race, Party and Politics: North Carolina’s New Front in the Voting Wars.” Naturally, I thought of our Attorney General Roy Cooper, who wants to be governor. Cooper has a constitutional problem. I’ll get to it shortly. But first, as Hasen did, consider the case of a political party that—under the guise of “reform”—passes election laws designed to cripple the rival party by disenfranchising African-American voters. North Carolina, 2013? Not yet: Hasen started with North Carolina in 1898, when the all-white Democratic Party ousted the fusionist Republicans (blacks and some whites) who’d governed after the Civil War. “Reforms” then prevented most blacks from voting, and the Republican Party ceased to be a force. In 2013, the parties have flipped, but the situation is familiar. The Republican Party, virtually all-white, is in charge. This year’s Republican “reforms”—the infamous House Bill 589, which critics term a voter-suppression law and which, Hasen said, is the most restrictive set of voting requirements passed by any state since the civil rights era—will hurt the Democrats, now the party supported by almost every African-American voter. So, Hasen asked: Was 1898 about race? Or party? And is 2013 about party? Or race?
Now comes the far-flung fallout from a Supreme Court decision in June blowing up a key provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. A federal lawsuit filed Thursday against a Texas voter identification law seems certain to be followed by a similar suit against one in North Carolina. Other states, too, could face federal legal challenges over their actions in the wake of the high court’s decision. Congress, if it’s up to the task, could also get messy trying to partially restore the guts of the landmark 1965 law. The fights to come will span many fronts, including several of the 33 states that have passed voter identification laws. The separate conflicts, moreover, will inevitably cross-pollinate. One key lawmaker, tellingly, believes the federal action in Texas will “make it much more difficult” to get Voting Rights Act revisions through an already divided Congress. And, as in any global conflict, strategic thinking could pay dividends.
This past election day, a 50-year-old African-American voter in Mississippi, whose name has not been released, showed up to her local polling station to cast her vote in the general election. She had voted in the same county since she was 18 but was told her name was not on the rolls and that she would have to vote via a provisional ballot. As the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington approaches, civil rights activists say one of the most powerful barometers of progress for African-Americans—easy access to the ballot box—is under attack. The 2012 election cycle represented “the largest legislative effort to rollback voting rights since the post-reconstruction era,” says Judith Browne Dianis, co-director of the Advancement Project, a civil rights organization that released a report along with Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law Thursday arguing that voting changes in 2012 disproportionately affected African-American voters. The last two years have been a particularly tumultuous time for voting rights. According to the Advancement Project’s report, 180 bills they dubbed “restrictive” were introduced in 41 states between January 2011 and October 2012. Laws requiring voters to show ID at the polls—perhaps the most controversial piece of new voting legislation—were proposed in 38 states. On Thursday, the Justice Department announced that it plans to sue Texas on its new voter ID law.
Editorials: North Carolina redistricting decision a setback for voting rights | Brentin Mock/Facing South
This week, a three-judge panel in North Carolina voted to preserve the 2011 GOP-drawn redistricting plans that civil rights and voter groups say are racially gerrymandered. “It is the ultimate holding of this trial court that the redistricting plans enacted by the General Assembly in 2011 must be upheld and that the Enacted Plans do not impair the constitutional rights of the citizens of North Carolina as those rights are defined by law,” reads the judges’ ruling. What does this mean for voters of color and citizens of North Carolina? Well, challenging the redistricting plans was already a tough deal to begin with. Republicans drew the post-2010 Census lines to their advantage, giving themselves a 9-4 congressional district edge, up from the 7-6 split with Democrats before. They also placed roughly 27 percent of African-American voters in newly split state House precincts, compared to just 16.6 percent of white voters. There was similar disproportional segregation of black voters in the new congressional and state Senate districts. But Attorney General Eric Holder’s Department of Justice precleared the plans, more than once, when counties were still subjected to the Voting Rights Act.
Could a county in Alabama affect your ability to vote? Absolutely. Any day now, the Supreme Court will issue its decision in Shelby County v. Holder, a case challenging Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Section 5 requires states with a history of discrimination to get approval from the federal government before they change their voting laws. Most of these states are in the South. Shelby County, Alabama says this is unfair and wants Section 5 struck down. Section 5 is not just one part of the Voting Rights Act. Section 5 is the heart of the Voting Rights Act. Getting rid of it would be a setback to civil rights. It would negatively impact Hispanic voters. And it would represent a troubling overreach by the Supreme Court into Congressional jurisdiction. The Fifteenth Amendment of the Constitution states that no citizen should be denied his right to vote on account of race or color. But Southern states for years found ways to prevent African Americans from voting. So in 1965 Congress passed Section 5, to ensure an end to poll taxes, literacy tests, and other means of obstructing access to the ballot box.
As the 2012 election approached, Republican governors and legislators in battleground states across the country rushed to enact restrictive Voter ID laws, to eliminate election-day registration and to limit early voting. Those were just some of the initiatives that the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People identified as “an onslaught of restrictive measures across the country designed to stem electoral strength among communities of color.” Why did so much energy go into the effort? John Payton, the president and director-counsel of the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund, explained, “These block the vote efforts are a carefully targeted response to the remarkable growth of the minority electorate, and threaten to disproportionally diminish the voting strength of African-Americans and Latinos.” Civil rights groups pushed back, working with the League of Women Voters, Common Cause and other organizations to mount legal and legislative challenges. But the most dramatic pushback may well have been the determined voter registration and mobilization drives organized on the ground in Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and other battleground states.
Florida’s election troubles last November are prompting state lawmakers to consider changing the state’s election laws this spring, but critics say the current proposals don’t go far enough. On Thursday, a group of African-American leaders accused Republican state leaders of enacting election changes in 2011 that deliberately tried to keep certain voters from casting ballots. They said the reforms caused long lines at polling places and made it harder for people to vote. Now the Legislature is moving to undo some of those changes. The main election reform bills currently under consideration would restore 14 days of early voting, limit ballot summaries from the Legislature and allow counties to open more early voting sites.
A federal court ruled on Wednesday that South Carolina may not implement a photo ID law for voters until 2013, in the latest setback for a mainly Republican effort to establish identification rules in several states before the November 6 elections. South Carolina joined Pennsylvania, Texas and Wisconsin as states with voter ID laws that have been blocked or deferred by state or federal judges. A three-judge panel in U.S. District Court in Washington said unanimously that South Carolina’s law would not discriminate against racial minorities. The U.S. Justice Department had argued the measure ran afoul of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, a landmark of the civil rights movement. But the judges said there was too little time to put the law into effect this year, and added they might have blocked the law entirely if South Carolina had not pledged to give wide leeway to voters who cannot comply.
A federal judge won’t block Florida’s plan to cut the required early voting days from 14 down to eight. Judge Timothy Corrigan ruled that there was not enough proof that the change burdened the ability of African-Americans to vote. Nor did opponents prove that the law was discriminatory in intent or effect, he wrote. In addition to cutting the number of mandatory early voting days, the new Florida law eliminates early voting on the Sunday before Election Day, a day when high percentages of minority voters headed to the polls in 2008. (That surge might be in part due to black church activism, known as “Souls to the Polls.”) The new law mandates two Saturdays and one Sunday for early voting, but not the Sunday before Election Day.
Federal judges grilled attorneys Monday over South Carolina’s controversial voter-ID law, which opponents said would disenfranchise thousands of minorities but supporters said would have ample protection against discrimination at the polls. During closing arguments in a six-day federal trial over the law, the three-judge panel challenged attorneys for the state over election officials’ shifting stances on how they’d implement it, and the judges asked opposing attorneys why they’re rejecting clear efforts by those officials to soften possible harmful impact on African-American voters. The South Carolina law, which Attorney General Eric Holder blocked after its May 2011 enactment, has national implications that pit a state’s legal right to prevent electoral fraud against the federal government’s mandate under the 1965 Voting Rights Act to ensure equal access to the polls for minority Americans.
Florida is asking a federal court to approve eight 12-hour days of early voting in five counties, saying it would not harm African-American voters. Gov. Rick Scott’s administration filed papers with U.S. District Court in Washington, saying that 96 hours of early voting, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. for eight days, including a Sunday, would comply with the Voting Rights Act. Hillsborough, Collier, Hardee and Hendry counties agreed in writing to hold eight 12-hour days of early voting in an effort to win statewide approval of the new schedule from a panel of three federal judges. Those four counties and Monroe, in the Florida Keys, cannot implement changes to voting without federal approval so that minority voters are protected from discrimination. The state acted despite Monroe County’s refusal to join the other four counties in the state’s request. Monroe wants 12 days of early voting for eight hours each day, saying that is better for Keys voters.
Four years ago, more than 60 percent of the voters in Butler and Warren counties backed Republican John McCain. This year both counties, the biggest two in Ohio to go for the GOP presidential candidate, are staying open extra hours on weekdays and Saturdays so their residents can cast early ballots. In 2008, voters in Ohio’s two largest counties, Cuyahoga and Franklin, went for Democrat Barack Obama by 60 percent or more. But elections offices in those two predominantly Democratic counties will be open for early voting only during regular business hours on weekdays and not at all on Saturdays. A similar Republican-Democrat disparity is occurring in several areas across the state as county elections boards decide whether to add hours during Ohio’s early voting period, which begins Oct. 2. “This is patently political,” said Chris Redfern, chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party. “The Republicans know they can’t win this election playing the right way.” “Jim Crow has been resurrected in Ohio,” state Sen. Nina Turner (D., Cleveland) said on MSNBC. She said most of Ohio’s African-American voters live in urban counties that don’t have extended hours.
The 2012 general election campaign is likely to be a fight for every last vote, which means that it will also be a fight over who gets to cast one. Partisan skirmishing over election procedures has been going on in state legislatures across the country for several years. Republicans have called for cutbacks in early voting, an end to same-day registration, higher hurdles for ex-felons, the presentation of proof-of-citizenship documents and regulations discouraging registration drives. The centerpiece of this effort has been a national campaign to require voters to present particular photo ID documents at the polls. Characterized as innocuous reforms to preserve election integrity, beefed-up ID requirements have passed in more than a dozen states since 2005 and are still being considered in more than 20 others. Opponents of the laws, mostly Democrats, claim that they are intended to reduce the participation of the young, of the poor and of minorities, who are most likely to lack government-issued IDs — and also most likely to vote Democratic.
Debates aside over whether identification requirements to vote are ploys to disenfranchise the poor or to make voter fraud easier, there’s little chance that Colorado will institute a photo ID requirement until it cleans up its own system of issuing them, according to one local state lawmaker.
Rep. Keith Swerdfeger, R-Pueblo West, said that the complicated process of getting a state identification card has been a hurdle in passing legislation to require IDs. “I’m a believer in a state ID to vote but how do we streamline the process?” he asked.
He’s talked a few times with Jon Manley, assistant director of the Pueblo Department of Revenue office, about the problems and gotten an earful from constituents, too. The controversy over photo IDs has surfaced in a number of states.
The U.S. Department of Justice recently intervened to block a South Carolina law opponents charged was aimed at discouraging the poor and minorities to vote. In Wisconsin, charges flew from opponents of Gov. Scott Walker and Republican legislators facing a recent recall election that motor vehicle offices were either closed in Democratic areas or employees were told not to inform people that IDs could be obtained for free.
The argument goes that the poor, especially the elderly, will find it harder to obtain IDs if they have no way of getting to state offices or have to do a lot of paperwork.
As new Members take the oath of office in January 2013, something unprecedented may occur: Not a single white Democrat from the Deep South could be a Member of the 113th Congress. Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and South Carolina already have just a single Democratic Representative in Congress. Each of those Democrats is African-American and represents majority-black districts.
It’s a trend that may extend to a fifth state in the Deep South. Georgia’s Republican-written Congressional redistricting map, which became law earlier this year and was approved by the Department of Justice just before Christmas, undermines the current Democratic bent of Rep. John Barrow’s district. He’s the Peach State’s one white Democratic Member. The new map is likely to leave Georgia’s delegation with only four Democrats — representing the state’s four majority-black districts.
The NAACP launches a campaign Monday against new state laws that tighten voter qualifications. The NAACP and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, two separate organizations, will release a report that finds the laws tend to suppress minority voting — a trend the report says emerged after unprecedented minority turnout in the 2008 election and Census figures that show people of color gaining a larger share of the population.
The groups will send the document to congressional leaders, state attorneys general, secretaries of state and the Department of Justice in hopes of prompting legislation to roll back laws requiring government-issued identification at the polls and reducing the number of early-voting days and other measures they say could disenfranchise as many as 5 million voters. The NAACP, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, will lead a march to United Nations headquarter in New York on Saturday to draw attention to the issue.
Mississippi voters just approved a new law requiring voters to show photo identification at the polls. But that law will not go into effect immediately, thanks to the Voting Rights Act. Instead Mississippi will get in line behind Texas and South Carolina as the Department of Justice examines each state’s voter ID laws, in a process known as “preclearance.”
The Justice Department will allow each law to go into effect only if the state can show its law will not have a racially discriminatory purpose or effect. Such proof may be hard to come by: a recent study by The Associated Press found that African-American voters in South Carolina would be much harder hit by that state’s ID law than white voters because they often don’t have the right kind of identification.
Ninety-seven-year-old Emma Lee Green balances an armload of old books and yellowing papers around the stacks of musty files in her San Bernardino attic. She remembers well the days of Jim Crow, poll taxes and literacy tests that barred many African-American citizens from the voting booth.
Americans set their clocks back one hour last Sunday. But a wave of new voting restrictions could turn back the clock to the days poll taxes and literacy tests meant to stop African-Americans from voting. She witnessed first-hand the valiant struggle to ensure that all American citizens could raise their voices on Election Day.