National: Proposals would strengthen troops’ legal rights | Army Times

Justice Department officials are proposing to strengthen troops’ voting rights, re-employment rights, and housing and lending protections, under a package of legislative proposals sent to Congress Sept. 20.

Among other things, Justice officials are requesting a doubling of civil penalties for anyone violating troops’ rights under the Servicemembers’ Civil Relief Act. The government would be able to assess a penalty of up to $110,000 for a first violation, and up to $220,000 for any subsequent violation.

Also proposed is an SCRA change clarifying that for voting purposes, a family member does not have to accompany his or her service member who is out of state because of military requirements in order for the family member to retain legal residence or domicile in that state.

Texas: Justice Department seeks more details on Texas’ voter ID law |

Texas’ new voter identification law remains in limbo as the U.S. Department of Justice asked on Friday for more details on how the state will implement the stricter voting requirements.

“The information sent is insufficient to enable us to determine that the proposed changes have neither the purpose nor will have the effect of denying or abridging the right to vote on account of race, color, or membership in a language minority group,” wrote T. Christian Herren Jr. , chief of the Justice Department’s voting section.

Under the federal Voting Rights Act, Texas and some other states with a history of past discrimination are required to get federal government approval, called pre-clearance, before changes to election law can go into effect.

National: Judge Rejects Challenge to Voting Rights Law by County in Alabama |

Ruling that the intentional voter discrimination that led to the passage and multiple extensions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 still exists, a federal judge in Washington on Wednesday dismissed an Alabama county’s claim that portions of the act were unconstitutional.

The challenge to the law was brought last year by Shelby County, a mostly suburban county south of Birmingham, and concerned sections of the act that set apart certain jurisdictions that have shown past patterns of discrimination. These jurisdictions — which include the entirety of most Southern states but also Alaska, Arizona and isolated towns and counties around the country — are required to obtain “preclearance” from the Justice Department or a panel of federal judges before making any changes to voting procedures. In 2006, Congress found enough evidence of continuing discrimination to warrant an extension of the act for 25 years.

In its suit, Shelby County argued that the widespread discrimination of the Jim Crow era had ended, and that “it is no longer constitutionally justifiable for Congress to arbitrarily impose” on the county and other covered jurisdictions the “disfavored treatment” of having to obtain preclearance from Washington.

Alabama: Failure of Alabama challenge to Voting Rights Act looms over Arizona suit | East Valley Tribune

The decision by a federal judge Wednesday to reject challenges by an Alabama county to the Voting Rights Act likely will mean a similar fate for Arizona’s lawsuit, state Attorney General Tom Horne said. Horne acknowledged that the lawsuit he filed last month is based on many of the same arguments that Shelby County made. More to the point, the judge who issued Wednesday’s ruling upholding the federal law is the same one assigned to hear Arizona’s challenge.

But there are other signs that Horne will have a hard time arguing that there’s no reason the Voting Rights Act should extend to Arizona. Horne contends that any discrimination against minorities that may have occurred in the past in Arizona is ancient history. He said there is no evidence of ongoing problems.

But in his 151-page ruling in the Alabama case, Judge John Bates said there are studies as recent as 2004 showing a significant disparity between voter turnout of Hispanics and Anglos. And he cited evidence presented to Congress in 2006 when it renewed the Voting Rights Act, of “men (in Arizona) wearing military or tool belts and black T-shirts reading ‘U.S. Constitutional Enforcement’ approaching Latinos waiting in line to vote, demanding proof of citizenship.”

Texas: DOJ: Texas House, congressional voting maps don’t comply with federal Voting Rights Act | The Washington Post

The U.S. Department of Justice said in a court filing Monday that Texas’ new voting maps for Congress and for the Texas House do not meet federal anti-discrimination requirements, setting up a legal battle that will decide the landscape of future elections in the state. The case, which involves the election districts drawn by the Republican-led Texas Legislature, will likely be decided by a federal court in Washington, D.C.

District boundaries are redrawn every 10 years to reflect changes in census data. Any changes to Texas’ voting practices must be cleared by a federal court or the Justice Department to ensure changes do not discriminate based on race or color.

The Justice Department took issue with the maps for Congress and the Texas House, but it agreed with the state attorney general that maps for the Texas Senate and State Board of Education met requirements under the federal Voting Rights Act. But the Justice Department reiterated that the court would have to make its own determination on the education board and Senate maps.

Texas: Department of Justice Says Proposed Maps Undermine Minority Vote | The Texas Tribune

The new political maps for the Texas House and the state’s congressional delegation don’t protect the electoral power of the state’s minority populations as required by the federal Voting Rights Act, the U.S. Department of Justice said in legal briefs filed in federal court Monday.

The map for the state Senate does comply with Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, DOJ’s lawyers said. The Justice Department didn’t offer an opinion on the legality of the new State Board of Education map, saying instead that “the court will have to make its own determination” about that plan.

“It’s consistent with what we’ve been saying,” said state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, who heads the Mexican American Legislative Caucus. His and other groups have argued that the state didn’t account for the growth in minority populations over the last 10 years — minorities made up 89 percent of the state’s overall growth — and that in some cases, the Legislature actually diluted the representation that was already in place.

South Carolina: In Beaufort County, 10 percent of voters must seek photo ID to vote |

Of Beaufort County’s 92,879 registered voters, 9,674 or just more than 10.4 percent will not be able to vote in the next election unless they obtain a state-approved photo identification card. The United State Department of Justice is reviewing South Carolina’s new voter ID law, which was pushed by Republican state lawmakers and signed into law by Gov. Nikki Haley in May. For the law to go into effect, the federal justice department must issue a decision under the Voting Rights Act, given South Carolina and other southern states’ history of discrimination.

The governor, however, announced that Sept. 28 will be “Identification Card Day,” which will allow any citizen 18 or older who has no valid driver’s license or identification card to request state-sponsored transportation to an office of the Department of Motor Vehicles. Reservations must be made by Sept. 22.

Statewide the new law would bar 178,175 of the state’s 2.5 million registered voters from voting, unless they obtained identification. The affected population with no driver’s license or approved ID makes up 6.96 percent of the state’s registered voters. Under the new law, a military ID or passport would also be OK.

South Carolina: In Beaufort County, 10 percent of voters must seek photo ID to vote |

Of Beaufort County’s 92,879 registered voters, 9,674 or just more than 10.4 percent will not be able to vote in the next election unless they obtain a state-approved photo identification card. The United State Department of Justice is reviewing South Carolina’s new voter ID law, which was pushed by Republican state lawmakers and signed into law by Gov. Nikki Haley in May. For the law to go into effect, the federal justice department must issue a decision under the Voting Rights Act, given South Carolina and other southern states’ history of discrimination.

The governor, however, announced that Sept. 28 will be “Identification Card Day,” which will allow any citizen 18 or older who has no valid driver’s license or identification card to request state-sponsored transportation to an office of the Department of Motor Vehicles. Reservations must be made by Sept. 22.

Statewide the new law would bar 178,175 of the state’s 2.5 million registered voters from voting, unless they obtained identification. The affected population with no driver’s license or approved ID makes up 6.96 percent of the state’s registered voters. Under the new law, a military ID or passport would also be OK.

Texas: Redistricting Battle Coming in Texas | Roll Call

The Justice Department will deliver its opening salvo today in Texas’ controversial redistricting case, laying out its initial argument on whether the state’s new Congressional map adheres to the Voting Rights Act.

The department’s legal brief will also give a hint as to how hard the Obama administration will fight for Hispanic voters in a proxy battle against one of the president’s potential opponents next year, Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R).

“It’s a critical step in figuring where we end up in redistricting, especially Congressional redistricting,” said Michael Li, a Democratic election attorney in Dallas. “It’s the first time Democrats have controlled the Justice Department [during this process] in 40 years, since the Voting Rights Act was enacted. Everyone has been wondering how aggressive the Justice Department is going to be.”

Texas: Young Voters challenge Voter ID law |

The Young Voters Education Fund has joined in an objection to Texas’ Voter ID law, which the Justice Department is reviewing to make sure it does not harm minority voters.

“Texas’s proposed photo ID measure, which does not permit the use of a government-issued student identification card as an acceptable form of identification at the polls, would disfranchise students who only possess student identification,” said Christina Sanders,  State Director for the Texas League of Young Voters Education Fund.

Critics said this applies especially for many African-American students at Prairie View A&M University, a historically black university located in Waller County, who have been the target of multiple efforts to deny their votes over the years. The League of Young Voters Education Fund collected statements from dozens of students at Prairie View confirming that the proposed photo ID law will disfranchise them.

Texas: Voter ID law in federal hands as groups file papers | Star Telegram

The contentious issue of voter ID in Texas is now in the hands of federal officials. On Wednesday, several civil-rights groups filed documents with the Justice Department, asking officials to oppose any early approval or “pre-clearance” of the measure, which fully takes effect in Texas on Jan. 1.

The groups — which include the American Civil Liberties Union, the Asian American Justice Center, the Advancement Project, the Southwest Workers Union, and the New York-based public policy and advocacy group DEMOS — said the law discriminates against black and Hispanic voters.

“This law is a part of the largest legislative effort to turn back the clock on voting rights in our nation in over a century,” said Judith Browne Dianis, co-director of the civil-rights “action tank” the Advancement Project. “If this bill is allowed to stand, it will undermine the basic fabric of our nation’s democracy.”

South Carolina: Voter ID law put on hold | SCNOW

Early last week, the US Department of Justice put a hold on South Carolina’s Voter ID law, instead requesting more information about the enforcement of the law.  The DOJ responded Monday evening with a four-page letter consisting of questions and information that needed to be provided before approval of the law.  South Carolina now has until Sept. 12 to respond.  Then, the DOJ will once again have 60 days to respond.  Given its terrible past dealing with the disenfranchisement of minorities, the Voter Rights Act requires states like South Carolina to have all voting law changes approved by either the US Department of Justice or a federal district court.

South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley signed the South Carolina voter ID law on May 18 of this year.  The law requires that all of South Carolina’s registered voters present some form of a photo ID at the voting polls.  The forms of photo ID that are accepted include a driver’s license or DMV-provided ID, a passport, a military ID, or a special voter ID card.  Student ID’s or any other photo ID will not be accepted.

Editorials: Education on state’s voter ID law a must for Tennesseans | Knoxville News Sentinel

If Tennessee absolutely must have a law requiring voters to produce photo identification, the state Election Commission is absolutely right to conduct an education campaign to make voters aware of the law.

The law was passed by Republican majorities in both houses of the Legislature last spring, despite warnings about its questionable constitutionality. The law becomes effective in January 2012, so it will not pose an obstacle for the 2011 city of Knoxville and state Senate elections, for which early voting has begun.

The law was touted by supporters as a check on voter fraud, an argument that made it to the U.S. Senate on Thursday. However, Sen. Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat and chairman of the Senate’s subcommittee on civil rights, said the incidence of voter fraud is minimal and doesn’t require this remedy, according to a story on

Texas: Elections Office In Limbo Over Voter ID Law | KSAT San Antonio

The upcoming Nov. 8 election could be the last one where no photo identification will be needed to vote if the state’s new voter I.D. law is given the needed pre-clearance by the U.S. Department of Justice. Jacque Callanen, Bexar County elections administrator, said normally the review takes 60 days.

“The Texas Secretary of State’s office says that could be by the end of next week,” Callanen said. According to the Voting Rights Act, any possible changes to the state’s election laws require pre-clearance because of the state’s history of discriminatory voting practices.

South Carolina: State Voter ID Laws Draw National Scrutiny | ABC News

The Department of Justice is reviewing, and has the power to reject acontroversial new law passed in South Carolina that requires a registered voter to present a government -issued photo ID before his or her vote is counted.

Gov. Nikki Haley signed the bill into law in May and she’s not alone. Four other states have passed similar voter ID laws in 2011, including Wisconsin, Texas, Tennessee and Kansas. But thanks to the DOJ, South Carolina’s law could still be rejected by federal officials. And while other states have passed voter photo ID laws in the past, the laws passed in 2011 are by far the strictest with the exception of the law passed in 2005 by the state of Indiana.

Arizona: State’s Case Against the Voting Rights Act | The Atlantic

In the past few years, the right to vote–basic to any real democratic self-government–has become controversial again.  Since the Republican sweep of state legislatures in 2010, seven states have enacted fashionable new “voter ID” laws.  No one even pretends these laws won’t make it harder for older, poorer, less white (and, coincidentally, more Democratic) voters to cast a ballot.  (The Supreme Court regrettably gave the go-ahead to these laws in the 2007 case of Crawford v. Marion County Board of Elections.)

It is almost surreal that in this moment that Arizona, which is becoming to Latinos what Mississippi once was to African Americans, is now seeking a judicial decree that voting rights are no longer a matter for Congressional concern.

Arizona’s new Republican Attorney General, Tom Horne, filed a suit last month asking a federal court to declare that § 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 is unconstitutional.  Arizona–in some ways the Mississippi of the 21st Century–is a weird plaintiff, and its claims are even weirder; but weirder claims have succeeded in the past. The Supreme Court signaled in 2009 that it was a bit weary of all this right-to-vote business.  If “state’s-rights” advocates succeed in weakening the Act, and gutting Congress’s enforcement power under the Fifteenth Amendment, it will be a matter of serious concern.

Wisconsin: State Bar Association asks Attorney General to monitor voter ID law | AP

The Wisconsin state bar civil rights section’s chairwoman wants the U.S. Department of Justice to review the state’s new voter photo identification law and monitor its implementation.

In an Aug. 26 letter to Attorney General Eric Holder released Wednesday, Sally Stix says the law could potentially suppress the vote of thousands of Wisconsin residents without solving any voter fraud problems.

Voting Blogs: Worth the Wait: DOJ Review of South Carolina Photo ID Could Yield First Real Data to Evaluate Claims of Disenfranchisement | PEEA

Yesterday, the U.S. Department of Justice’s Voting Section requested more information from the State of South Carolina regarding a new photo ID law for voters. DOJ is reviewing the new law under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which requires some states and jurisdictions – including SC – to submit their voting changes for approval before they can be enforced.

The request for more information – which gives the state 60 days to respond and will delay DOJ’s decision up to 60 days after the receipt of the new data – came in a letter from Section chief Chris Herren to the office of Attorney General Alan Wilson.

Voting Blogs: What More Can We Learn from South Carolina? | Election Updates

Doug Chapin’s post today on his blog digs down into the Department of Justice’s data request from South Carolina, seeking more detailed data concerning who does, and who doesn’t, have the identification required to vote in that state, as a consequence of their new voter ID law. I agree entirely with Doug’s top-line reaction — At last! Some real data.

At the same time, the request seems to miss an opportunity to find out more about whether voter identification laws will have a disenfranchising effect, and in particular, a disproportional effect on minority voters. The reason is that the disproportional effect may not be so much on whether whites and blacks have drivers licenses, but whether they have drivers licenses with the voter’s current address.

South Carolina: Department of Justice seeks info on voter ID law | The Post and Courier

Read the Department of Justice’s request for more information on SC’s Voter ID law.

South Carolina voters will have wait to find out whether the U.S. Department of Justice will authorize the state’s new voter ID law, following an announcement Monday that federal officials need more information from the state.

Chris Whitmire, spokesman for the State Election Commission, said once state officials supply the information to the Justice Department, a 60-day window will begin for the federal agency to render a decision on the law. The law could be in effect for the November elections, but that will depend on how long the state takes to respond and if the Justice Department takes two full months to decide.

South Carolina: Attorney General says State will fight if voter ID law rejected | The Times and Democrat

South Carolina is prepared to pursue litigation on several fronts “up to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary,” South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson said. Wilson was one of several elected state constitutional officers who spoke at an Orangeburg County Republican Party fundraiser Monday.

One issue involved the state voter ID law submitted to the U.S. Justice Department for review. Wilson said he has “no faith that it will do the right thing.” “I can tell you we won’t lay down on this,” he said.

The state Democratic Caucus lodged a formal objection to the law with the Justice Department last week. The law passed on the strength of the Republican majority in the General Assembly. Justice requested more information Monday before making a decision.

South Carolina: Department of Justice decision due for new voter photo ID law | Houston Chronicle

A decision could come as early as Monday from the U.S. Justice Department on whether voters will have to show state or federal photographic identification for the first time when they vote in South Carolina elections.

Monday marks the end of a 60 day review period for the new law, said Chris Whitmire, spokesman for the state Election Commission. “We expect to hear something by Monday,” Whitmire said. That word could mean approval, rejection or that the Justice Department has more questions and will take more time to review the law. South Carolina’s history of voting rights violations require federal oversight of election law changes, including requiring voters to show photographic identification.

South Carolina: Senate Democrats formally protest voter ID law | Houston Chronicle

South Carolina Senate Democrats said Friday they’ve asked the U.S. Justice Department to reject a new state law requiring voters to show government-issued photo identification before they vote. The protest filed by the Senate Minority Caucus comes just days before a Justice Department could release a decision on whether the agency will allow the law to go into effect.

Democrats call the new law the nation’s most restrictive and say it targets a state where blacks voted in equal percentages to whites for the first time in 2008. The new law stands to disenfranchise black and elderly voters, said State Sen. Gerald Malloy, a Hartsville Democrat. “How does our law — which would be the most restrictive in the nation — not abridge the right to vote on account of race?” Malloy said.

Arizona: State sues over Voting Rights Act | Arizona Republic

Arizona has filed another lawsuit challenging the authority of the federal government. This time, the focus of the federal challenge is the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Arizona is the first state to challenge the constitutionality of sections of the federal law that forbid states from enacting a law or process that denies or limits someone’s right to vote based on their race or color.

The sections at issue require states that failed to meet certain criteria in 1972 to get federal approval for any state legislation or procedural change that could impact voting. Nine states failed to meet that criteria, which included having low voter turnout and not offering election materials in other languages. The nine states are Arizona, Alabama, Alaska, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia.

Arizona: State sues feds over Voting Rights Act |

Opening up a new front in its legal battles with the Obama administration, the state of Arizona on Thursday challenged the federal Voting Rights Act, prompting a swift response from Attorney General Eric Holder.
Other political news of note

“The Voting Rights Act plays a vital role in our society by ensuring that every American has the right to vote and to have that vote counted. The Department of Justice will vigorously defend the constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act in this case, as it has done successfully in the past,” Holder said.

Arizona is challenging the law’s requirement that the state seek Justice Department approval for any changes in how elections are conducted. Many states are subject to the law’s pre-clearance requirement, generally to remedy past restrictions that discouraged minority voting.

New York: Court Shoots Down Port Chester NY Voting Rights Appeal | Port Chester Patch

Cumulative voting is here to stay, and Port Chester taxpayers are on the hook for thousands of dollars in attorney fees from the ill-fated effort to reverse the voting rights case. The decision marks the end of a divisive saga that included political battles, philosophical differences and lots of emotional feedback from people who live in the village.

In February, Port Chester’s Republican trustees voted to fight the legally well-armed Department of Justice and appeal the voting rights case. In addition to hiring two local attorneys, trustees hired high-powered lawyer Michael Carvin at a cost of $225,000. Carvin is the brother of Joseph Carvin, Rye Town’s Republican supervisor.

In April, a federal judge threw a bucket of cold water on the appeal effort with a written decision that the village “may not appeal a consent decree.” Still, Republican trustees and their lawyers pressed on, saying they had faith in Carvin and other attorneys, who said Port Chester had favorable odds in the case.

Texas: State Cites Controversial Bush-Era Approval Of Voter ID Law In Petition To DOJ | TPM

Texas officials are citing the Justice Department’s controversial approval of Georgia’s voter ID law during the Bush administration as a reason for the Obama administration to clear their new law.

… Secretary of State Hope Andrade wrote a letter to the chief of the Civil Rights Division’s voting section defending the measure and seeking preclearance under the Voting Rights Act. Andrade called the Texas law “remarkably similar” to Georgia’s precleared voter ID law. “In fact, DOJ precleared Georgia’s original photo-identification law even before Georgia enacted its free ID provision and its most recent extensive voter education mandate, which Georgia added in a subsequent legislative session.”

But the approval of the Georgia voter ID law was done by political officials in the Bush Justice Department over the objection of career employees in the voting section, who had recommended that the law not be approved.

Florida: Secretary Of State Pens Incomplete Defense Of Controversial Voting Law | TPM

Florida Secretary of State Kurt Browning wrotein an editorial on Thursday that the Justice Department had determined “all 76 provisions” of Florida’s new elections law were not discriminatory, except for the four controversial parts of the law he didn’t want the department to review.

In fact, Browning retracted his submission of four controversial provisions of Florida’s new election law from the pre-clearance process at the Justice Department after the agency started asking questions.

Florida instead took the more expensive route of asking a federal court to decide whether additional provisions — including one that reduces the early voting period from 14 days to eight; another that requires voters who moved from another county to cast provisional ballots; one that requires third-party groups registering voters to turn in all forms within 48 hours — passed the smell test.

South Carolina: Department of Justice says South Carolina Voter ID law can’t be enforced this year |

A recently-passed state law requiring voters to present photo IDs could be delayed. Passed in May, the new law directly affects 178,000 registered voters in South Carolina who are without, or with expired, state-issued photo identification cards.

The problem with the new law is the length of time it could take that high number of residents to receive new IDs.  As a result, it can’t be enforced in elections this year, the U.S. Dept. of Justice said on Tuesday. Robert Cook, deputy attorney general with DOJ, declared “such short time period is beyond the voter’s control.”

South Carolina: State Attorney General says voter ID can be delayed | AP

The estimated 178,000 South Carolina voters who don’t have state-issued photo identification will be able to cast ballots in upcoming local elections despite a new ID law, according to an attorney general’s opinion released Tuesday.

Since the U.S. Justice Department has not approved the law yet, the opinion agreed with state Election Commission Executive Director Marci Andino that there isn’t enough time to educate voters about the new law before the next round of municipal elections around the state set for late August and early September.

“Such short time period is beyond the voter’s control,” deputy attorney general Robert Cook wrote in his opinion. The law, passed in May and signed by Gov. Nikki Haley, requires a driver’s license or one of several other forms of photo ID to vote.