National: ‘An embarrassment’: Trump’s justice department goes quiet on voting rights | Sam Levine/The Guardian

The Department of Justice (DoJ), the agency with unmatched power to prevent discrimination at the ballot box, has been glaringly quiet when it comes to enforcing voting rights ahead of the 2020 election, former department attorneys say. Amid concern that the attorney general, William Barr, is using the department to advance Trump’s political interests, observers say the department is failing to protect the voting rights of minority groups. Remarkably, while the department has been involved in a handful of cases since Donald Trump’s inauguration, it has largely defended voting restrictions rather than opposing them. The department’s limited public activity has been striking, particularly as several states have seen voters wait hours in line to vote and jurisdictions are rapidly limiting in-person voting options because of the Covid-19 pandemic. “It just seems like there’s nobody home, which is tragic,” said William Yeomans, who worked in the department’s civil rights division, which includes the voting section, for over two decades. “This is especially sad considering the plethora of voting issues crying out for action, from Georgia to Wisconsin.” Until late May, the justice department had not filed a new case under the Voting Rights Act, the powerful 1965 law that prohibits voting discrimination, during Trump’s presidency. (In 2019, it settled a Voting Rights Act case in Michigan that was filed in the final days of the Obama administration.)

National: Justice Department Warns It Might Not Be Able to Prosecute Voting Machine Hackers | Motherboard

After more than a decade of headlines about the vulnerability of US voting machines to hacking, it turns out the federal government says it may not be able to prosecute election hacking under the federal law that currently governs computer intrusions. Per a Justice Department report issued in July from the Attorney General’s Cyber Digital Task Force, electronic voting machines may not qualify as “protected computers” under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, the 1986 law that prohibits unauthorized access to protected computers and networks or access that exceeds authorization (such as an insider breach). The report says the law generally only prohibits against hacking computers “that are connected to the Internet (or that meet other narrow criteria for protection)” and notes that voting machines generally do not meet this criteria “as they are typically kept off the Internet.” Consequently, “should hacking of a voting machine occur, the government would not, in many conceivable circumstances, be able to use the CFAA to prosecute the hackers.”

National: Voting Rights Advocates Used to Have an Ally in the Government. That’s Changing. | The New York Times

A new voter ID law could shut out many Native Americans from the polls in North Dakota. A strict rule on the collection of absentee ballots in Arizona is being challenged as a form of voter suppression. And officials in Georgia are scrubbing voters from registration rolls if their details do not exactly match other records, a practice that voting rights groups say unfairly targets minority voters. During the Obama administration, the Justice Department would often go to court to stop states from taking steps like those. But 18 months into President Trump’s term, there are signs of change: The department has launched no new efforts to roll back state restrictions on the ability to vote, and instead often sides with them. Under Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the department has filed legal briefs in support of states that are resisting court orders to rein in voter ID requirements, stop aggressive purges of voter rolls and redraw political boundaries that have unfairly diluted minority voting power — all practices that were opposed under President Obama’s attorneys general.

National: Justice Department unveils strategy to fight election meddling, cybercrime | Politico

The Justice Department on Thursday issued a wide-ranging report describing the cyber threats facing the United States and the department’s tactics for investigating, disrupting and deterring those risks. Most significantly, the report contains the first public description of how the DOJ will assess and respond to foreign influence operations like Russia’s 2016 election meddling. “That policy reflects an effort to articulate neutral principles so that when the issue that the government confronted in 2016 arises again — as it surely will — there will be a framework to address it,” Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said in unveiling the report at the Aspen Security Forum.

Kentucky: Department of Justice Announces Settlement with Kentucky Ensuring Compliance with Voter Registration List Maintenance Requirements | Imperial Valley News

The Department of Justice Thursday announced that it recently entered into a settlement with the Commonwealth of Kentucky, the Kentucky State Board of Elections, and the Kentucky Secretary of State, resolving the Department’s claims that Kentucky was not complying with the voter registration list maintenance procedures set forth in Section 8 of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA). Under the terms of the settlement, Kentucky will develop and implement a general program of statewide voter list maintenance that makes a reasonable effort to remove the names of registrants who have become ineligible due to a change in residence in accordance with Section 8 of the NVRA and state law.

Editorials: Jeff Sessions’ DOJ just gave states the green light to purge voter rolls | Mark Joseph Stern/Slate

Under Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the Department of Justice has switched sides in several key court battles, reversing positions the agency took during the Obama era. Already, the DOJ has withdrawn its opposition to Texas’ draconian voter ID law and to mandatory arbitration agreements designed to thwart class actions. Now the agency has made another about-face: On Monday, it dropped its objections to Ohio’s voter purge procedures, which kick voters off the rolls for skipping elections. The DOJ is now arguing that such maneuvers are perfectly legal. Ohio’s voter purges are at issue in a Supreme Court case, Husted v. A. Philip Randolph Institute, which the justices will hear next term. The state purges voters from the rolls relentlessly, removing around 2 million people between 2011 and 2016—with voters in Democratic-leaning neighborhoods twice as likely to be purged as those in Republican-leaning neighborhoods. While most states regularly clean up their voter rolls, Ohio is unusually aggressive in targeting individuals because they have not recently cast a ballot. Up to 1.2 million of those 2 million purged voters may have been removed for infrequent voting.

Texas: Trump DOJ: Trust Texas to Fix Racist Voter ID Law Without Court Oversight | Texas Observer

Under the Obama administration, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) waged legal war against the voter ID rules Texas lawmakers passed in 2011, saying the new restrictions would disproportionately impact minority voters. That finding was later validated by multiple federal court rulings, two of which concluded the state’s GOP majority passed a deliberately racist bill. This week brought another sign of the 180-degree change on voting rights cases under the Trump administration’s DOJ, which on Monday filed a legal brief that argues Texas should be allowed to fix its voter ID rules without federal intervention or oversight. The filing also argues that the courts should simply trust Texas to educate voters on the tweaked voter ID law the Legislature passed earlier this year, despite the state’s faceplant trial run when it tried to implement those rules during last year’s presidential election. Experts say it’s a remarkable argument, given the history of the state’s years-long legal struggle to implement some version of a voter ID law that U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg once called “the strictest regime in the country.”

Texas: Trump administration: Trust Texas on voter education spending | The Texas Tribune

Federal courts should trust Texas to properly educate voters on new ID rules ahead of the 2018 elections instead of insisting that money be spent on a marketing campaign, President Trump’s justice department argued in a filing Monday. The filing, part of the Trump administration’s recent support for Texas in its years-long battle over the state’s 2011 voter ID law, comes despite widespread criticism of Texas’ voter education efforts ahead of the 2016 election. U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos is considering what, if any, consequences Texas should face following her April ruling that lawmakers intentionally discriminated against minority voters by passing the nation’s strictest voter ID law six years ago.

National: While Kobach Commission Bumbles, DOJ Sends Its Own Voter Suppression Signals | TPM

The voting rights community isn’t holding its breath for a “report” expected out of President Trump’s sham election commission that advocates predict will be used as a cudgel for restrictive voting laws. They already have a good idea of how the Trump administration, led by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, will seek to scale back access to the ballot with an approach that has its antecedent in the scandal-plagued Justice Department of George W. Bush. It was signaled clearly in a under-the-radar letter sent by the DOJ to most states late last month. The letter did not get as much as attention as the wide-reaching data request from the Trump election commission—which is being led by Vice President Mike Pence and hard-right Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach (R)—but voting rights advocates told TPM they find it just as concerning, if not more so.

National: Justice Department Request For State Voter Information Follows Similar Kobach Query | KCUR

Officials with the U.S. Department of Justice are asking states including Kansas for information related to the National Voter Registration Act — a move made the same day that the president’s commission on voter fraud sent a request for “publicly available voter roll data.” In a letter sent June 28, Justice Department officials requested data on how states purge registrations of people who have died or moved. The letter seeks information to confirm that states are complying with federal law and keeping voting lists updated. Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach on the same day sent requests for voter registration information to all states in his role as vice chairman of President Donald Trump’s commission on voter fraud. Numerous states have said they will not provide some or all of the information that Kobach requested.

National: This DOJ Letter May Be More Alarming Than Trump Commission’s Request For Voter Data | HuffPost

Former Department of Justice officials and voting advocates are seriously alarmed over a DOJ letter sent to states last week that they say could signal a forthcoming effort to kick people off voter rolls. This comes as national attention focuses on several states blocking a request for voter information from President Donald Trump’s commission to investigate voting fraud, which does occur, but is not a widespread problem. The DOJ sent the letter to 44 states last Wednesday, the same day the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity sent a letter controversially requesting personal voter information. The DOJ letter requests that election officials respond by detailing their compliance with a section of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA), which covers 44 states and was enacted to help people register to vote, but also specifies when voters may be kicked off the rolls.  Several experts said it’s difficult not to see the DOJ letter in connection with the commission’s letter as part of a multipronged effort to restrict voting rights. 

National: Jeff Sessions views on voting rights debated by panel during confirmation hearing |

The Supreme Court’s 2013 decision to remove a vital piece of the 1965 Voting Rights Act returned to the fore Wednesday during an initial panel discussion at Jeff Sessions’ confirmation hearing as the next attorney general. But the morning hearing, during which issues of Sessions’ political and prosecutorial record were debated by his opponents and supporters, was overshadowed by the star power of the afternoon panel and the abrupt ending of their appearance. The afternoon hearing was adjourned after each panel member made introductory remarks. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, ended the hearings and instructed everyone that written statements can be submitted into the record until Tuesday of next week. Beth Levin, a spokeswoman with Grassley, said a committee vote has not been set. She said that the committee cannot act until the nomination has been officially sent to Congress, “which can’t happen until after” President-elect Donald Trump is sworn into office on Jan. 20.

Editorials: Jeff Sessions Has Spent His Whole Career Opposing Voting Rights | Ari Berman/The Nation

On June 27, 2013, two days after the Supreme Court ruled that states with a long history of voting discrimination no longer needed to approve their voting changes under the Voting Rights Act, the mayor of Pasadena, Texas, proposed changing the structure of City Council elections so that whites could remain in control. With Latinos close to gaining a majority of seats in the racially divided city of 150,000 outside of Houston, Mayor Johnny Isbell proposed switching from eight City Council districts to six districts and two seats elected citywide—which would give white residents, who turn out in higher numbers, a better shot at electing their preferred candidates. The net effect was that one majority-Latino district was eliminated, and Latinos had three fewer seats on the council. Isbell proposed the change “because the Justice Department can no longer tell us what to do.” Voters narrowly approved the referendum in 2013, even though 99.6 percent of Latinos opposed it.

Alabama: The Voter Fraud Case Jeff Sessions Lost and Can’t Escape | The New York Times

When Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, Donald J. Trump’s choice for attorney general, answers questions from the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, he can expect to revisit a long-ago case that has followed him. In 1985, when Sessions was the United States attorney in West Alabama, he prosecuted three African-American civil rights activists, accusing them of voter fraud. The case, more than any other, helped derail Sessions the last time he sought Senate confirmation, when he hoped to become a federal judge in 1986. Yet then and now, Sessions has defended the prosecution as necessary and just. If he had it to do over, Sessions would bring the case again, a Trump transition official told me in December. To some black leaders who lived through the prosecution, however, it remains a reason, all these years later, for grave concern about a Sessions-led Justice Department. “If he is attorney general, I would not expect the rights of all people, including the least among us, to be protected,” said Hank Sanders, a longtime Alabama state senator. “To understand why, you have to start with that case.” Albert Turner, Sessions’s chief target, began fighting for the right to vote in West Alabama in the early 1960s, trying to organize other African-Americans after he wasn’t allowed to register because he couldn’t pass a test used to thwart black applicants, even though he had a college education. Beginning in 1965, he served as state director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and an adviser to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., helping to organize a major voting rights demonstration that year. Speaking out and organizing was dangerous at the time. “There’s no explanation in the world as to how I’m still living,” Turner reflected a decade and a half later, in an article in the journal Southern Changes.

Alabama: N.A.A.C.P. President Arrested During Sit-In at Office of Jeff Sessions | The New York Times

Protesters from the N.A.A.C.P., including its national president, were arrested on Tuesday after an hourslong sit-in at the Mobile, Ala., office of Senator Jeff Sessions, where they demanded that he withdraw his name from consideration as President-elect Donald J. Trump’s attorney general. Almost two dozen civil rights activists occupied the office around 11 a.m. to denounce what they called the senator’s “hostile” attitude toward civil rights and the Voting Rights Act, which was weakened by a Supreme Court decision in 2013. The sit-in ended shortly after 6:30 p.m. when the protesters refused an order from the building’s management to leave the premises. It was not immediately clear how many people had been arrested, but a live-stream broadcast on Facebook by Lee Hedgepeth, a local journalist, showed at least six people agreeing to be arrested and kneeling before the police in prayer.

Wisconsin: Democrats Request DOJ Poll Monitors After Voter ID Chaos, ‘Rigged Election’ Talk | TPM

Democratic U.S. lawmakers from Wisconsin sent a letter to the Department of Justice Wednesday requesting that it deploy federal poll monitors to the state after reports that local officials were providing potential voters with inaccurate information about the state’s voter ID law. The letter also raised concerns about “potential voter intimidation at polling places, particularly in light of recent, high-profile rhetoric that alleges ‘election rigging.’National figures have suggested that there is widespread voter fraud in our country and have encouraged private citizens to monitor voting behaviors of certain communities for potential misconduct,” said the Democrats’ letter, which was signed by Sen. Tammy Baldwin, and Reps. Gwen Moore, Ron Kind, and Mark Pocan. The letter cited reports that voters who do not have the IDs required by the state’s voter ID law were having trouble obtaining the free IDs the state was supposed to provide for them to vote. It specifically cited the misinformation being given to them by local officials that was at odds with a court ruling over the summer.

National: In a year of Trump and new voting laws, U.S. government will ‘severely’ limit election observers | The Washington Post

The Justice Department is significantly reducing the number of federal observers stationed inside polling places in next month’s election at the same time that voters will face strict new election laws in more than a dozen states. These laws, including requirements to present certain kinds of photo identification, are expected to lead to disputes at the polls. Adding to the potential for confusion, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has called for his supporters to police the polls themselves for fraud. For the past five decades, the Justice Department has sent hundreds of observers and poll monitors across the country to ensure that voters are not intimidated or discriminated against when they cast their ballots. But U.S. officials say that a 2013 Supreme Court decision now limits the federal government’s role inside polling places on Election Day. “In the past, we have . . . relied heavily on election observers, specially trained individuals who are authorized to enter polling locations and monitor the process to ensure that it lives up to its legal obligations,” Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch told a Latino civil rights group over the summer. “Our ability to deploy them has been severely curtailed.”

Alabama: DOJ asked to investigate for possible voting rights violations | Alabama Today

The Washington, D.C.-based Voting Rights Institute (VRI) has called on the Department of Justice (DOJ) to investigate Daphne, Alabama’s City Council’s March 21 decision to reduce the number of polling places in the city from five to two. VRI, a project of the American Constitution Society, Campaign Legal Center and Georgetown University Law Center, sent a letter Wednesday to the DOJ after receiving a complaint from African American leader and voter in Daphne, Willie Williams.

Arizona: U.S. Seeks Answers to Delays at Phoenix-Area Polls on Primary Day | The New York Times

The Justice Department has opened an investigation over the decisions that led to the chaotic presidential primaries in Arizona’s most populous county, where thousands of voters waited up to five hours to cast ballots and thousands more were barred from participating because of mistakes and confusion over party registration. In a letter dated Friday, Chris Herron, chief of the voting section of the department’s Civil Rights Division, cited “allegations of disproportionate burden in waiting times to vote on election days in some areas with substantial racial or language minority populations” as he outlined a list of requests to the Maricopa County recorder, Helen Purcell. They include the reasons for reducing the number of polling places by 70 percent in Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix, and the procedures used to log party registration in the rolls. Ms. Purcell has said the cuts were primarily a cost-cutting measure.

National: Review: ‘Give Us the Ballot’ a sobering look at the modern struggle for voting rights in America | Los Angeles Times

Fifty years after passage of the Voting Rights Act, “Give Us the Ballot” makes a powerful case that voting rights are under assault in 21st century America. Current events underscore the book’s timeliness. In September, Alabama announced it was closing 31 driver’s license offices, a disproportionate number of them in majority-black counties, making it even harder for African Americans to comply with Alabama’s 2011 law requiring voters to show government-issued IDs to cast ballots. As author Ari Berman points out, Alabama is one of nine Republican-controlled states to pass voter ID laws since 2010, and those are only the most blatant of restrictions that also include limits on early voting and rules that make voter registration more difficult. Efforts to roll back the act’s protections for minority voters are nothing new, Berman demonstrates; the first legal challenge to the law was filed five days after President Lyndon B. Johnson signed it in 1965. When the Supreme Court upheld the Voting Rights Act a year later, Southern legislators turned from preventing African Americans from voting to diluting their votes. Black-majority counties were consolidated with larger white ones; at-large elections and multi-member districts made it nearly impossible for African American candidates to gain office. Section 5 of the act, which required seven Southern states with histories of voting discrimination to submit any changes in their voting laws for federal review, became the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division’s instrument for preventing such manipulations.

Texas: Voter ID Battle: Texas Seeks Rehearing, DOJ Seeks Injunction | Texas Lawyer

Texas has asked the full bench of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit to rehear civil rights plaintiffs’ case against the state’s voter ID law after a three-judge panel from the same court ruled that the law discriminates. Because the state’s request for a rehearing is pending, and since Texas may also seek a hearing at the U.S. Supreme Court, the Fifth Circuit in a Sept. 2 order rejected civil rights plaintiffs’ proposals to have the litigation remanded to the trial court, where a judge could have ordered Texas to immediately start changing how it identifies voters. “We will get those decisions pretty quickly,” Rolando Rios, of San Antonio’s Law Office of Rolando L. Rios, said about the rulings on the en banc Fifth Circuit and Supreme Court hearings. Rios represents the Texas Association of Hispanic County Judges and County Commissioners, which is an intervening plaintiff in the litigation.

National: US Justice Department eyes voting rights changes for American Indians, Alaska Natives | Associated Press

The U.S. Department of Justice is seeking legislation that would require state and local election officials to work with American Indian tribes to locate at least one polling place on or near each tribe’s land. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said the changes are needed because “significant and unnecessary barriers” exist for American Indians and Alaska Natives who want to cast ballots. American Indians sometimes have to travel great distances to vote, face language barriers and, in places like Alaska, do not have the same amount of time to vote as others. The Justice Department outlined its proposal in letters Thursday to House Speaker John Boehner and Vice President Joe Biden, after a year of consultation with tribes on voting access.

Arizona: Court cuts political map-drawers some slack | The Arizona Republic

The big U.S. Supreme Court decision affecting redistricting in Arizona, regarding whether drawing the lines for congressional districts has to be returned to the state Legislature from the independent redistricting commission, is still to come. But a decision handed down a couple of weeks ago (Alabama Legislative Black Caucus v. Alabama) changed the game regardless of who next draws the lines.

Illinois: Special election for Schock seat could be in August | Quad City Times

A special election to replace Aaron Schock in Congress will be later in the summer than expected after the federal government stepped in to ensure military voters have a chance to cast ballots. In action Tuesday, Gov. Bruce Rauner set the dates for the 18th Congressional District primary for June 8, but he acknowledged that it could be late June or early July once negotiations with the U.S. Department of Justice conclude. The Republican governor set the general election for the post for July 24 but said it could be late August before balloting actually occurs.

National: Lynch Pressed on Voting Laws at Confirmation Hearing | National Law Journal

During the Wednesday afternoon session of Loretta Lynch’s confirmation hearing, Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., pressed the attorney general nominee over her position on voting laws—and at one point tried to show she’d contradicted herself. Tillis, elected to the Senate in November, asked Lynch about the sweeping voting bill North Carolina’s governor signed into law in August 2013 while Tillis was speaker of the House in the state’s Republican-controlled Legislature. “It’s not something that I’m intimately familiar with,” Lynch, born in Greensboro, N.C., responded. “I look forward to learning more about it should I be confirmed, and I believe the matter will proceed to court and we will await the results there.” Tillis then focused attention to remarks Lynch delivered on a Martin Luther King Day celebration in January 2014. At the time, Lynch, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York, had more pointed comments about her native state’s new voter laws. “Fifty years after the march on Washington, 50 years after the civil rights movement, we stand in this country at a time when we see people trying to take back so much of what Dr. King fought for,” Lynch said in comments available on video. “People try and take over the Statehouse and reverse the goals that have been made in voting in this country.”

National: GOP uses Loretta Lynch hearing to debate voting rights | MSNBC

Republicans used the confirmation hearings this week for Loretta Lynch, President Obama’s attorney general nominee, to stress their commitment to voting restrictions—and to try to tie Lynch’s hands on voting issues should she assume the post. One GOP senator pressed Lynch on her stance on restrictive voting laws. And Republicans asked for testimony from a witness who has led the effort to stoke fear over voter fraud, suggested her group was targeted by the Obama administration because of her group’s support for voter ID laws. Under Attorney General Eric Holder, the Justice Department has acted aggressively to protect voting rights, challenging strict GOP-backed voting laws in Texas and North Carolina. Holder also has seemed to compare these laws to past efforts to keep minorities from voting. So Republicans sought to put pressure on Lynch to take a more conciliatory approach.

Texas: Lawsuit claims Dallas County’s commissioner districts discriminate against white people | Dallas Morning News

A conservative group that lists a Texas lawmaker on its governing board has filed a lawsuit claiming that Dallas County violates the Voting Rights Act by discriminating against white people. The suit filed in federal court Thursday by the Dallas-based Equal Voting Rights Institute argues that whites are a racial minority in the county and have been unable to elect their chosen Republican candidates to the Commissioners Court. It asks a judge to throw out the county’s district map and order a new one before the 2016 elections. “Like something out of the bad old days, a southern electoral body [is playing] naked racial politics, intentionally using its power to minimize a dissenting race’s political sway,” the suit says. Newly elected state Rep. Matt Rinaldi is one of four people on the institute’s oversight board, according to the group’s website.

South Dakota: Native Voting Plaintiffs Got It Right, Says DOJ | Indian Country

The U.S. Department of Justice has submitted a Statement of Interest in the federal voting-rights lawsuit, Poor Bear v. Jackson County (South Dakota). The agency supports the Oglala plaintiffs’ allegation that restricting voter registration and in-person absentee voting (often called “early voting”) to an off-reservation county seat makes it difficult for them to vote and is discriminatory. The statement also cites the need to ensure that the Voting Rights Act “is properly interpreted and…vigorously and uniformly enforced.” “Many of us lack the vehicles and gas money to get to the county seat in Kadoka,” explained lead plaintiff, Oglala Sioux Vice President Tom Poor Bear. He and other plaintiffs live in the town of Wanblee, in the portion of Pine Ridge Indian Reservation that overlaps Jackson County. They want a Wanblee satellite voting office offering the same election services that the primarily white population of the county receives in Kadoka. They also want the county to come under special Justice Department scrutiny via the VRA’s Section 3.

Wisconsin: Groups ask Supreme Court to hear Wisconsin voter ID case | Associated Press

Civil rights advocates asked the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday to reverse a decision upholding Wisconsin’s voter photo identification law, arguing the case raises questions of national importance about limits on a state’s ability to restrict voting. The American Civil Liberties Union and allied groups argued in their filing that the Wisconsin case offers an “ideal vehicle” to settle the legal debate over voter ID laws. They said 17 states have adopted voter identification laws since the high court upheld Indiana’s law in 2008. They contend that arguments by supporters of such laws that they help prevent voter fraud is a pretext. The measures don’t serve any legitimate state interest and curtail the rights of black and Hispanic voters who lack ID, opponents say. What’s more, legal challenges moving back and forth between state and federal courts have created confusion, they argued.