Maryland state lawmakers have taken up legislation to allow felons to vote once they were released from prison. Currently, felons must wait for their parole or probation to run out. Jane Henderson, a longtime advocate for criminal justice reform and executive director of Communities United, was surprised to learn that the legislation was getting action. She had assumed it would have been difficult to get the legislature to address the matter, let alone pass legislation. Republican Gov. Larry Hogan vetoed it in May, but she is optimistic that the legislature will override him, and soon. “By state constitution, they have to take it up soon when the next session starts in January,” Henderson told the Washington Examiner. “In the Senate, we’re fine. The House voted 82 for it and we need 85 … We’re very close.” If Maryland does approve the bill, the state would be the latest in an accelerating trend. Since 2009, six states have rolled back laws limiting felon voting rights.
Kansas: Kobach, public await actions by two courts on proof of citizenship law | Lawrence Journal World
Two separate courts are expected to act soon on lawsuits challenging a controversial state law requiring new voters to show proof of U.S. citizenship in order to register to vote. Since the law took effect in 2013, more than 32,000 Kansans have had their registrations placed “in suspense” because they failed to provide the required citizenship proof. And now, under a new regulation by Secretary of State Kris Kobach, state and county election officers are actively purging the suspense voter list of any applications that have been pending for more than 90 days. On Dec. 4, a federal judge in Kansas City, Kan., will hold a hearing in a case seeking to block election officials from doing tha
Gov. Christie on Monday vetoed legislation that would have brought sweeping changes to the state’s voting laws, panning the bill as “thinly veiled political gamesmanship.” Christie, a Republican running for president, previously criticized the legislation as an effort by the Democratic National Committee to increase voter fraud. “Ultimately, New Jersey taxpayers deserve better than to have their hard-earned tax dollars spent on thinly veiled political gamesmanship, and the state must ensure that every eligible citizen’s vote counts and is not stolen by fraud,” Christie wrote in his veto message. “This 71-page bill, styled as ‘the Democracy Act,’ will not further democracy but endanger the state’s long-standing and proven election system,” he wrote.
A federal judge on Monday denied a civil rights group’s request that voters be allowed to use more forms of photo identification at Wisconsin’s polls, marking another chapter in a string of legal decisions surrounding the politically-charged voter ID requirement. The American Civil Liberties Union asked U.S. District Judge Lynn Adelman in March to declare that people can use technical college IDs, out-of-state driver licenses and veteran photo IDs to vote. The ACLU argued that the voter ID law allows four-year college IDs at the polls but it is unclear whether technical college IDs are acceptable. The group also argued that Wisconsin voters with out-of-state driver licenses must surrender the licenses, forfeiting the ability to drive, so they can get Wisconsin IDs, amounting to an unconstitutional poll tax. Finally, the group contended the law arbitrarily excludes the use of Veterans Administration IDs even though U.S. military IDs are acceptable. Adelman rejected all three arguments.
If you enter the voting booth this November and, as a proud voter, you snap a selfie with your ballot and share it on Facebook, you could be committing a felony. Indiana’s “ballot selfie law,” which was created by state lawmakers to prevent voter fraud, made it illegal to take such photos. Whether that law will remain in place in the upcoming municipal elections is now up to a federal judge to decide. The issue of ballot selfies reached the federal court in August when the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana filed a lawsuit that says the new law, which took effect in July, is unconstitutional because it violates free speech rights. The ACLU of Indiana is asking U.S. District Judge Sarah Evans Barker to issue an order that would prevent state officials from enforcing the law next month — and until the lawsuit reaches a resolution.
The American Civil Liberties Union weighed in last month on this term’s big Supreme Court voting rights case, the one that will decide the meaning of “one person, one vote.” It took the position embraced by most liberals: that states should be allowed to count everybody in drawing election districts, including unauthorized immigrants, rather than only people eligible to vote. But the group seemed to take the opposite position in a pair of recent lawsuits it filed in Rhode Island and Florida, in which it objected to counting prisoners when drawing voting districts. Counting prisoners in one district, the lawsuits said, “dilutes the voting strength and political influence” of eligible voters in other districts. There may be good reasons for treating prisoners differently from other people who cannot vote. But it is also true that counting prisoners, often housed in rural areas, tends to amplify the power of Republican voters. Counting unauthorized immigrants, who often live in urban areas, generally helps Democrats.
Voting Blogs: Online voter registration opens up access, but not always for all | electionlineWeekly
As of this week, 25 states and the District of Columbia have mechanisms in place to allow new voters to register to vote and existing voters to update their information all online — no printing, no stamps, no trek to the mailbox. By all accounts online voter registration has been wildly successful in the states where it has been introduced with statewide elections officials touting the large number of people registering and updating their information. While online voter registration has opened up access to the process to thousands — even hundreds of thousands — of people not previously engaged, one segment of the population is being left out of the online wave — voters with disabilities. A review by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Center for Accessible Technology (CAT) found that of the 20 OVR sites they visited in May 2014, only one — California’s — was completely accessible in the eyes of the review.
A year ago the Iowa Supreme Court issued a splintered decision on Iowans’ constitutional voting rights that left an important question for a future case. Such a case appears headed to the court, and it could restore this fundamental right to thousands of Iowans. Iowa is one of just three states — including Kentucky and Florida — that permanently disenfranchise otherwise eligible voters with a record of a felony conviction. Convicted felons in Iowa must apply to the governor for restoration of voting rights after completing their sentences. Few go to the trouble, however, which is understandable given the intimidating bureaucratic process. As a result, these Iowans are forever denied a right that is fundamental in a free society even after they have paid their debt to that society. That is wrong, but a fix will not be easy.
Opponents of Wisconsin’s voter identification law argued in federal court Monday that the legislation is improperly restrictive and should be expanded to allow people to use more forms of ID. The case represents the latest push from the American Civil Liberties Union against a law that has been the focus of a string of legal battles since it was passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature and signed by Gov. Scott Walker four years ago. Supporters of the legislation say its requirements help guard against election fraud, but opponents say its true intent is to make voting tougher for older, poor and minority voters who tend to support Democrats and are less likely to have the mandated forms of identification. Those include a Wisconsin driver’s license or state ID card, a U.S. passport, military ID card, college IDs meeting certain requirements, naturalization certificates or IDs issued by a Wisconsin-based American Indian tribe.
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach issued a rule Thursday that incomplete voter registrations will be canceled after 90 days. The decision came after voting rights groups lodged vigorous objections to the time limit. The rule takes effect Oct. 2. More than 35,000 voter registrations applications are currently “in suspense,” and about 30,000 are incomplete because registrants have yet to provide a passport or birth certificate. Such proof-of-citizenship documents have been required since January 2013, but no limit had been placed on how long county election officials had to keep the incomplete registrations. “It really violates the spirit of what our nation, our Constitution, was built on — the participation of all,” Marge Ahrens, co-president of the League of Women Voters of Kansas, said about Kobach’s decision. “It feels so disrespectful of Kansans,” she said.
Kansas: Kris Kobach’s dual voter registration system is illegal and should be dumped, ACLU says | The Kansas City Star
An odd repercussion has arisen over Kansas’ proof-of-citizenship requirement for residents who register to vote. So odd that the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas has asked a state court to put an end to the two-tiered voter registration system that Secretary of State Kris Kobach has created, a system that critics call the law’s “unintended consequence” or, less kindly, “collateral damage.” Kansas now requires residents to produce citizenship documents, typically a birth certificate or passport, to register to vote. That law, championed by Kobach, took effect in 2013. But citizens have long been allowed to use a federal form to register. That form requires registrants to sign a statement, under penalty of perjury, that they are U.S. citizens. No documents needed. So what to do about Kansas residents who complete the federal form, which courts have said must be accepted by states?
Lawyers for Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s office and the American Civil Liberties Union continue to battle over a lawsuit that threatens to unravel a state law requiring voters to show proof of U.S. citizenship to register to vote. The latest action in the case came late Friday when the ACLU filed a motion for summary judgment, seeking to declare the so-called “dual registration” system illegal. Under that system, people who register using a federal form, which does not require proof of citizenship, may only vote in federal races. Voters may only cast ballots in state and local races if they register using the state form, which requires documentary proof of citizenship.
The American Civil Liberties Union and Secretary of State Kris Kobach jockeyed for legal advantage Friday in a court case challenging Kobach’s implementation of the state’s voter proof-of-citizenship law. Representing Kansas voters who can cast ballots in federal races, but not state and local elections, the ACLU filed a motion for summary judgment that would strike down Kobach’s two-tier voting system without a trial. Nearly simultaneously, Kobach filed a motion that would allow him to immediately appeal a judge’s ruling that he overstepped his authority by dividing voters into two voting camps, those who registered using a state form and those who registered using a federal form. The case is important because it could let people work around a state law – authored by Kobach – that requires prospective registrants to show documents proving their citizenship before they are granted voting privileges. The proof-of-citizenship requirement is separate from the requirement that voters have to show photo ID when they cast a ballot. While a driver’s license is sufficient for Election Day voter ID, the state’s voter-registration form requires a higher level of documentation. That can usually be met only with a birth certificate, passport, or special papers issued to foreign-born and tribal citizens.
Kansas: Kris Kobach’s plan to delete more than 30,000 voter registration applications in Kansas draws dissent, praise | Topeka Capital-Journal
The Shawnee County election commissioner and representatives of advocacy groups clashed Wednesday over merits of the Kansas secretary of state’s plan to purge more than 32,000 voter registration applications for failure to document citizenship. Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who championed the 2011 law mandating new registrants document citizenship, has been saddled with oversight responsibility of applications held “in suspense” specifically because individuals had yet to provide evidence they were a U.S. citizen. A total of 36,000 applications are in limbo, but nine in 10 are tied to the citizenship requirement. Kobach proposed an administrative rule — not a state law — ordering county election officers to shred all registration applications if not completed within 90 days. Currently, Kansas sets no time limit on the process. … Former Topeka Democratic Rep. Ann Mah, as well as representatives of the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas, Topeka branch of the NAACP, Kansas League of Women Voters and Topeka National Organization for Women, expressed opposition to the policy sought by Kobach. Mah said cancellation of registrations pending in the Election Voter Information System after three months was improper because time required to obtain a birth certificate from another state could take much longer. She said applicants who failed to present citizenship documents could meet requirements to participate in federal — not state — elections, and those individuals shouldn’t be cut off.
The American Civil Liberties Union and the League of Women Voters are among the groups expected to turn out Wednesday to speak against proposed new voting regulations that would allow the Kansas Secretary of State to purge voter registration applications for more than 30,000 people who have failed to show proof of citizenship. Secretary of State Kris Kobach is proposing that new rule. A public hearing is scheduled for 8:30 a.m. Wednesday in the auditorium of Memorial Hall, 120 SW 10th Ave., in Topeka. “Rather than strengthening democracy by making voter registration easier, the secretary of state continues to try to create new barriers to registration by eligible Kansans,” said ACLU of Kansas Executive Director Micah Kubic. Also expected to testify is Senate Democratic Leader Anthony Hensley, of Topeka, according to information from Kobach’s office.
A Topeka judge has denied a move by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach to quash a lawsuit challenging the state’s two-tier voter registration system and said Kobach has exceeded his authority with the way he runs elections. Micah Kubic, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Kansas and Missouri, called the ruling a “great day for voting rights and a great day for Kansas.” The ACLU filed the lawsuit on behalf of voters who have been frozen out of state and local elections because they registered to vote using federal registration forms and didn’t provide proof-of-citizenship documents required by Kansas law.
People post selfies with their strawberry daiquiris and their calico kittens, with strangers and friends, with and without clothes. So it was inevitable, perhaps, that some might take photographs inside the voting booth to show off their completed ballots. Excited first-time voters; those proud to show that they voted for or against, say, President Obama; and those so disgusted that they wrote in the name of their dead dog have all been known to post snapshots of their ballots on Twitter or Facebook. Now, a legal fracas has erupted over whether the display of marked ballots is a constitutionally protected form of speech and political expression — as a federal court in New Hampshire declared this month, overturning a ban on such photographs — or a threat to the hallowed secret ballot that could bring a new era of vote-buying and voter intimidation. The New Hampshire case is unlikely to be the last to grapple with what are commonly called ballot selfies, whether they include an image of the phone user or not. Numerous states have laws to protect voter secrecy, drafted in an earlier era, that could be construed to ban ballot photographs, said Gilles Bissonnette, the legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire, which challenged the New Hampshire ban.
Yesterday, about 60,000 former felony offenders in California were officially granted the right to vote. Earlier this week, California Secretary of State Alex Padilla announced that the state would settle litigation over laws that had barred low-level felony offenders under community supervision from voting. In 2011, California lawmakers passed bills to reduce overcrowding in state prisons by diverting low-level felony offenders to county jails and community supervision, in which recently released prisoners are monitored by county agencies. Then-Secretary of State Debra Bowen told election officials in December 2011 to extend the state’s ban on felon enfranchisement to those offenders, noting that being under community supervision was “functionally equivalent” to parole. Civil rights groups filed a lawsuit last year to challenge Bowen’s directive.
Nearly a year ago, a coalition of voter-advocacy groups wrote a letter to Oklahoma’s top elections official to deliver a stark, but not uncommon, message: The state had failed to comply with federal law. Specifically, the groups charged, Oklahoma was not giving citizens receiving public assistance an opportunity to register to vote, which is a requirement of the 1993 National Voter Registration Act. “We hope to work amicably with you to remedy Oklahoma’s non-compliance,” the advocates wrote. “However, we will pursue litigation if necessary.” Such warnings are often a precursor to lawsuits, the kind of knock-down, drag-out legal fights that are filled with accusations of voter suppression and partisan chicanery. In North Carolina and Texas, the courts are weighing challenges to new voter-ID laws, and the Supreme Court recently delivered voter advocates a victory when it ruled that Arizona and Kansas could not require people to show proof of citizenship when they register to vote.
North Carolina: Black votes matter: the North Carolina electors who say new law is unfair | The Guardian
When Sandra Beatty goes somewhere and does something, it’s because she really wants to – five years after losing her vision and both her feet to diabetes, any errand is an ordeal. So when on 31 October, with the help of her 31-year-old daughter, she got out of her first-floor apartment, and climbed into the passenger seat of her friend’s Chevrolet Tahoe, it was because she planned to do one of what she considers her most important tasks: going to vote. It was not until weeks later, when Beatty got a call from the nonprofit Southern Coalition for Social Justice that she learned her ballot had been thrown out. “It hurt. It hurt because I thought I was doing something. I – I thought I was making some kind of progress and doing something. And it didn’t count,” Beatty said. Beatty made that statement in a deposition videotaped in May. It is one of several testimonies included in a lawsuit with national voting rights implications, brought by several voting rights groups and the federal Justice Department against North Carolina’s governor and electoral officials. In the trial, which began on Monday, the plaintiffs argue that the 2013 voting law revisions “unduly burden the right to vote and discriminate against African-American voters”, in violation of the constitution and the landmark civil rights law, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, which is participating in the suit.
Washington: Yakima council drops bid to stay election, but OK’s limited appeal of $1.8M awarded to ACLU | Yakima Herald
The Yakima City Council on Tuesday formally abandoned its effort to stay this year’s elections under a new court-ordered system. However, the council did vote to file a limited appeal of the $1.8 million in legal costs awarded by the same court to the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, which sued to change city elections under the federal Voting Rights Act. The appeal only seeks to preserve Yakima’s right to challenge the award or seek its own costs if the city wins its appeal in the 9th Circuit Court. Both motions were passed unanimously.
Kansas: Supreme Court declines to hear Kobach appeal on proof of citizenship | Lawrence Journal World
People in Kansas can still register to vote in federal elections without showing proof of citizenship, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday. But whether those people will be allowed to vote in state and local elections remains an open question. The court on Monday refused to hear Kansas Secretary of State Kobach’s appeal in a case in which he asked that the U.S. Election Assistance Commission provide a federal voter registration form that comports with state law, which requires voters to show proof of citizenship. Last year, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against Kobach, saying the EAC did not have to provide a revised federal form for use in Kansas. The Supreme Court’s decision Monday not to hear Kobach’s appeal means the 10th Circuit’s ruling will stand.
After successfully suing to change city elections, the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington is now hiring someone to turn out the vote in Yakima this year. The ACLU of Washington is advertising for a full-time voter engagement advocate to lead an education campaign in the city during the 2015 elections. ACLU spokesman Doug Honig said the search may be expanded to include a second hire. The campaign will be primarily directed at Latinos, a growing part of the community that was at the heart of the ACLU’s voting rights lawsuit against the city. “We want to make sure people take advantage of this new system and vote,” said Honig, based in Seattle. “Who they vote for is obviously up to them.”
Yakima’s appeal seeking to stay City Council elections has been turned back by the federal 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. In a decision released Friday, the court said the city’s appeal should be heard by the federal district court judge who first ordered the elections. And in a related development, that district court judge, Thomas Rice, ordered the city of Yakima to pay $1.8 million in legal costs and fees to the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington. In a lawsuit brought against the city by the ACLU, Rice ordered the city to revamp its election process earlier this year after ruling Yakima’s voting system violated the federal Voting Rights Act by routinely suppressing the rights of Latinos.
Two small political parties in South Dakota filed a federal lawsuit Monday challenging part of a law that they say would make it harder to get their candidates on the ballot. The American Civil Liberties Union filed the lawsuit on behalf of the state’s Libertarian and Constitution parties, among other individuals. South Dakota activists are also gathering signatures to refer the law to voters in the 2016 election for a possible repeal. The measure in question, part of a new bundle of election law changes passed during the 2015 legislative session, shifted the deadline back by about a month for new parties to turn in signatures allowing them to participate in a primary election.
Gov. Maggie Hassan says she is likely to veto a bill that would require a person to live in the state for at least 30 days before being able to vote. In a statement on Thursday, Hassan’s press secretary says the governor has “serious concerns” that this bill could violate the constitutional rights of New Hampshire citizens. This comes after activists and numerous lawmakers have put pressure on the governor this week to kill it.
Gov. Maggie Hassan is likely to veto legislation that would require people to live in New Hampshire for 30 days before they can vote in the state. Hassan’s office said Thursday she worries the bill will restrict people’s constitutional right to vote. The comments from her office came after a coalition of Democratic lawmakers, election workers and the American Civil Liberties Union called the bill unconstitutional. The Republican-controlled House and Senate both passed the bill earlier this year and Hassan could take action on it at any time. Besides requiring people to live in New Hampshire for 30 days before they can vote there, it outlines specific criteria election workers should evaluate when determining someone’s domicile for voting purposes, including whether the person is eligible for a resident hunting or fishing license or has a New Hampshire driver’s license.
Yakima has now spent more than $1 million defending a voting rights case brought by the American Civil Liberties Union that upended the city’s elections system. Assistant City Attorney Helen Harvey said Wednesday the city has spent $1,074,062 to date — and costs will continue to rise. Yakima’s attorneys on Tuesday filed a request with the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals seeking a stay of this year’s elections, and the city expects to file a friend-of-the-court brief with the Supreme Court by early August in a Texas case that could effectively reverse the outcome of the ACLU ruling.
The state Senate is considering new legislation to give localities more authority to hold elections by district. Senate Bill 6129, filed Tuesday by Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn, would change state law to allow all counties and cities to hold district elections for their councils or commissions if local officials or voters so choose. State law currently only allows charter cities such as Yakima to change their elections systems, but a number of nonchartered localities with increasing minority populations, such as Pasco, have sought to create districts to improve minority representation. Yakima is one of just 11 charter cities in the state.
A federal judge on Monday sounded dubious that a New Hampshire ban on posting photos of voter ballots online was a necessary safeguard against fraud in the information age. U.S. District Court Judge Paul Barbadoro heard arguments in a lawsuit brought by three people who are under investigation after they posted pictures of their ballots online, including one man who voted for his dead dog because he didn’t like any of the candidates. The American Civil Liberties Union took up their cause, saying the ban was an overreaching restriction on free speech. “I think there is a serious problem with a law that bans the dissemination of truthful, public speech related to a matter of public concern,” said Gilles Bissonnette, the legal director for the ACLU’s New Hampshire chapter. “This is actually a blanket ban on a certain kind of speech.”