Mississippi’s controversial new law requiring voters to show photo identification at the polls will not be in effect for the November general election while federal officials review whether the measure is discriminatory, the state said on Tuesday. It was the second setback for voter ID laws in a single day, coming on the heels of a judge in Pennsylvania ordering officials there to delay implementing a photo ID requirement until after the Nov. 6 election. Voters in Mississippi approved a voter ID ballot initiative by a wide margin last November. But as part of the implementation, the state provided insufficient evidence for the U.S. Department of Justice to determine whether the new law would violate the Voting Rights Act, the agency’s voting section chief T. Christian Herren Jr. said in a letter on Monday.
Atty. Gen. Jim Hood says the Department of Justice has asked for more information on Mississippi’s voter identification law. Hood said in a statement Tuesday that the bottom line is that the law will not be pre-cleared by the Justice Department in time for it to be enforced for the Nov. 6 election. Mississippi’s law provides for a wide range of photo identifications that could be used at the polling places. Supporters of voter ID say it’s needed to help ensure the integrity of elections by preventing people from voting under others’ names. Opponents say there’s been little proof of people masquerading as others to cast ballots. They also contend the ID requirement could suppress voter turnout among poor, elderly and minority voters. “All the DOJ is saying in this response is that they need more details of the state’s plan in order to make a determination,” Hood said. “What this means is that the voter ID requirement will not be in place before the November election. You will not be required to show ID at the poll until DOJ interposes no objections or pre-clears Mississippi’s voter ID bill.”
South Carolina: Voter ID debate shifts to South Carolina as campaigners challenge restrictions | guardian.co.uk
The battle over voting rights in the November presidential election now swings to South Carolina, following the decision by the Pennsylvania courts on Tuesday to delay implementation of a voter ID requirement in that state. All eyes are now on the legal tussle between the department of justice and South Carolina, where probably the last voter ID law will be decided before election day on 6 November. Last year South Carolina became one of at least 34 states to introduce strict laws that require voters to present photo identification at polling stations – one of a swathe of measures attacking voting rights that swept across the US this election cycle. South Carolina’s law was blocked, however, by the Obama administration last June.
With Pennsylvania’s latest upheaval over what voters must take to the polls next month, the state joins a series of battles across the country where opponents of photo ID laws have seen success for the current election cycle. Challengers have garnered temporary victories against photo ID laws here, as well as in Texas and Wisconsin. Federal officials also halted laws in Mississippi, and likely South Carolina, from going into effect this year. While a weak lawsuit against Tennessee’s tough ID law was tossed aside and a stringent ID card referendum still awaits Minnesota voters, opponents note that the ballot measure in Minnesota only drew support from 52 percent of respondents in a recent poll. “In most cases, the challengers aren’t losing; they’ve generally been successful,” said Keesha Gaskins, senior counsel for the Brennan Center for Justice, which has been critical of voter ID laws.
Editorials: Protecting the right to vote – history demonstrates that any effort to deny citizens the ability to vote can’t be ignored | latimes.com
Since their historic victories in the 2010 midterm elections,Republicans across the country have passed an array of voting laws — to require photo identification, to make it more difficult to register, to reduce periods of early voting or to purge voter rolls — and they are considering others. The Justice Department, the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, theAmerican Civil Liberties Union and other groups have challenged many of these laws in court. A federal court recently rejected Texas’ voter ID law, and similar cases from Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Wisconsin await final judicial action. Sound-bite analogies between these new laws and the fully mature Jim Crow system have been properly condemned as simplistic and misleading. But more careful study of the experience of a century ago may offer a cautionary lesson about today’s changes in election laws. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Southern Democrats used statutory and state constitutional restrictions — as well as violence, intimidation and ballot-box stuffing — to discourage and, ultimately, to disfranchise many poor whites and the vast majority of African Americans. Several popular misunderstandings about that “first disfranchisement” cloud the public’s view of recent legislation.
The next big showdown over the constitutional powers of the federal government is nearly upon us. When the Supreme Court reconvenes in October, the Court is widely expected to grant review in Shelby County v Holder, a constitutional challenge to Congress’ 2006 renewal of the preclearance requirement of the Voting Rights Act, one of the Act’s most important and successful provisions in preventing and deterring racial discrimination in voting. Since it was first enacted in 1965, the Voting Right Act has required jurisdictions with a history of racial discrimination in voting to get permission – “preclearance” – from the U.S. Department of Justice or a three-judge federal court in Washington D.C. before changing their voting laws and regulations. Recent court opinions written by judges across the ideological spectrum illustrate just how vital preclearance remains as a tool for preventing racial discrimination in voting.
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.
South Carolina’s voter ID law doesn’t discriminate against blacks and allows minorities to cast ballots even if they don’t have proper identification, attorneys for the state told a panel of federal judges Monday.
Attorneys for the Justice Department and the League of Women Voters of South Carolina countered that the law is designed to disenfranchise tens of thousands of black state residents by making it harder for them to vote. Monday’s closing arguments followed a week-long trial that will decide if the ID law, which requires a valid government-issued ID to vote, will take effect.
National: Study says voter roll purges, citizenship proof demands, photo ID may affect 10 million Hispanics | The Washington Post
The combined effects of voter roll purges, demands for proof of citizenship and photo identification requirements in several states may hinder at least 10 million Hispanic citizens who seek to vote this fall, civil rights advocates warn in a new report. Hispanic voters are considered pivotal to the presidential election this November, and are being heavily courted by both Democratic incumbent Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney. If they turn out in large numbers, Hispanics could sway the outcome in several swing states. In an analysis based on government data, civil rights group The Advancement Project identified legal barriers that could deter voter registration and participation among eligible Hispanics. In some of those states, the group’s researchers said, the number of voter-eligible Latino citizens potentially blocked by those barriers exceeds the margin of victory in the 2008 election.
A lawyer for South Carolia said on Monday there are plenty of reasons voters would be able to sidestep the state’s voter ID law if a panel of federal judges allows it to take effect this year, but laziness is not among them. While defending the state’s voting law during closing arguments in federal court here, attorney H. Christopher Bartolomucci said voters could offer any number of reasons for showing up to the polls without a government-issued photo ID. However, he added, those who simply say they “didn’t feel like” it will be turned away. South Carolina is among the states that must have changes to their voting laws cleared by either the Justice Department or a panel of judges in D.C. under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. The state wants its voter ID law to go into effect for the November election.
Longtime Republican politician Stanley R. Lawson Sr. says he knows a rat when he smells one. And what’s going on politically around recently passed voter ID laws in his home state of Pennsylvania reeks of partisan politics. Lawson, 70, a registered Republican, is currently the head of the Harrisburg chapter of the NAACP, but has served as chair to the Dauphin County Republican Party and as a member of the Harrisburg City Council. “The whole thing stinks,” Lawson told The Huffington Post on Friday afternoon. “They say the reason they did this is because of all the fraud going on. But I happen to be a former Republican chairman of the county, I’ve been on the city council, I’ve been a township commissioner, and I’ve never seen it or heard anyone complain about voter fraud.”
Mississippi: Secretary of State Hosemann says DOJ unlikely to approve Mississippi voter ID law | The Clarion-Ledger | clarionledger.com
Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann told lawmakers today he expects Mississippi’s voter ID law will not receive Department of Justice approval and will go to court, but he expects it to fare better in court than other states who have had their plans shot down. “We are better than Texas,” Hosemann said. He said Texas’ plan, rejected by a three judge federal panel, would cost people money to receive an ID to show at polls and require some to drive as far as 250 miles to get one. Hosemann said Mississippi’s plan is to allow people to go to any county courthouse and get a free ID, and to accept student IDs unlike Texas.
A voting rights coalition is taking Michigan’s Secretary of State to court over a controversial citizenship checkboxthat appeared on primary ballots across the state this past August. The group filed a lawsuit against Secretary of State Ruth Johnson Monday in federal court. The coalition includes the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, UAW International, Service Employees International Union (SEIU), Latin Americans for Social and Economic Development (LA SED), Ingham County Clerk Michael Bryanton, and registered voters from East Lansing, Shelby Township, and Buena Vista Township. “The Secretary of State may be the chief election officer in the state, but she is not above the law,” Kary L. Moss, executive director of the ACLU of Michigan, said in a release. “By ignoring the administrative rule-making and legislative processes, she has thumbed her nose at the electorate and flouted the very laws she was elected to uphold. We can all agree that it should be easier to vote and harder to cheat, but cynical voter suppression tactics should not be tolerated.”
A Texas judge temporarily barred the state from ordering county election officials to purge presumably dead voters from registration rolls, saying the initiative may violate the election code. The ruling came in a lawsuit filed today by four Texas voters who were told they would be purged from voter- registration lists as deceased. They asked state court Judge Tim Sulak in Austin to stop the state from striking about 77,000 names from the rolls, arguing the plan violates the Texas election code and the U.S. Voting Rights Act.
Florida Governor Rick Scott lost a federal court bid to throw out a challenge to his initiative to purge non-citizens from voter registration rolls ahead of the Nov. 6 presidential election. U.S. District Judge James Whittemore in Tampa today ruled Mi Familia Vota Education Fund and two state residents may proceed with a complaint alleging the program requires pre- clearance under the Voting Rights Act. Florida is one of 16 jurisdictions with a history of voting rights violations that, under the act, must obtain pre-approval of some laws by either the Justice Department or a panel of federal judges.
In 2008 the majority-black town of Kinston, North Carolina, voted almost 2-to-1 to make its local elections nonpartisan. Nine months later, as the measure was set to kick in, the U.S. Justice Department blocked it.
The department’s reason: The plan would reduce the power of black voters. The dispute in the town of 22,000 spawned a lawsuit that is now before the U.S. Supreme Court as a potential test case for the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The landmark law was enacted to combat the discrimination that had kept blacks away from Southern polling booths for generations and has been used in this year’s elections to challenge Republican-backed voter- identification laws. The suit takes aim at one of the 1965 law’s core provisions: the power it gives the federal government to block changes in local election rules, like the one in Kinston, in 16 states.
Florida has received a green light to implement its new early voting schedule for the November presidential election, including a Republican-backed plan that eliminates early voting on the Sunday before Election Day. The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division agreed to end its challenge to the new early voting scheme in Florida, considered a critical battleground in the upcoming election. The department notified state officials late Wednesday that it would approve the state’s plan for early voting, provided election supervisors in five designated counties agree to offer 96 hours of early voting over an 8-day period. “The Attorney General does not interpose any objections to the specified changes,” the letter says in part.
Mississippi: U.S. Justice Department approves Mississippi’s legislative redistricting plan | The Commercial Appeal
The U.S. Justice Department has approved legislative redistricting plans that give DeSoto County two new House seats and a third state Senate district, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves said Friday. Legislators last spring approved changes to House and Senate boundaries that are required after each 10-year Census is taken to reflect population shifts. But Justice Department approval, called pre-clearance, is required before the state may implement changes affecting voting in Mississippi, given the state’s history of discrimination.
The Department of Justice has approved Florida’s early voting schedule for the five counties in the state protected by a civil rights-era law, all but clearing the last significant conflict in the path of November balloting. In a motion filed on Wednesday before the United States District Court in Washington, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said the Justice Department did not oppose Florida’s new plan for those five counties, under one condition: The counties must offer 96 hours of voting between the hours of 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. over eight days, the maximum under the law. The Justice Department sued the state over its new early voting schedule, which would have reduced the number of days for early voting. With both sides agreeing to the terms, the court is expected to dismiss the suit. But a separate lawsuit filed by Representative Corrinne Brown, a Florida Democrat, over the state’s early voting law is pending, which could still affect the new schedule.
Eight weeks before the presidential election, new laws passed by Republican legislatures that concern who can vote and when remain in the hands of federal and state judges. Among the cases: The Pennsylvania Supreme Court this week will hear an appeal to overturn that state’s new voter ID law. An appeal is expected in a case involving early voting in Ohio. And a federal court is still considering whether South Carolina can go ahead with its new voter ID law. On Aug. 28, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley drew huge applause during her Republican National Convention speech when she promoted the state’s new law, which — if upheld — would require a state-approved photo identification at the polls. “We said in South Carolina that if you have to show a picture ID to buy Sudafed, if you have to show a picture ID to set foot on an airplane, then you should have to show picture ID to protect one of the most valuable, most central, sacred rights we are blessed with in America — the right to vote,” said Haley.
As widely reported, last week a federal court rejected a Texas law that would require voters to present photo identification to election officials before being allowed to vote. This decision comes on the heels of another federal court decision that found the Republican-controlled Texas legislature had intentionally discriminated against Hispanics in drawing new legislative districts. The Texas voter ID law was signed into law last year. However, the law has never gone into effect because Texas is a covered jurisdiction under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and must receive either administrative preclearance from the Department of Justice or judicial preclearance from a federal court that a proposed change in its election laws (such as a requirement to present a photo ID) will not have the effect of diminishing minority voters’ rights, and was not enacted with a specific intent to discriminate against such voters. The Justice Department earlier objected to the new Texas law concluding it would have a disparate negative impact on minority voters. The court last week reached a similar conclusion that the legislation would impose unlawful burdens on poor minority voters.
Nearly a half-century ago, Congress decided that the government could not end racial discrimination in voting simply by suing one state, county, or city at a time, because officials who were determined to keep minorities away from the polls were quickly shifting to new tactics. The only way to keep ahead of those tactics, Congress decided, was to bar the worst offenders among state and local governments from adopting any new election laws until they had first proved they would not discriminate. That was a massive shift in policy, and it worked: the law that Congress passed in 1965, the Voting Rights Act, is now widely credited as the most effective civil rights law in American history; even the Supreme Court has said so. But the Supreme Court has grown to be one of the skeptics about the constitutionality of the law, partly because of the very fact that the law has been so successful. ”Things have changed in the South,” the Court commented three years ago. And, at that time, it pondered striking down the key part of the 1965 law — Section 5 — on the theory that “the evil that Section 5 is meant to address may no longer be concentrated” in the states, counties, and cities that must obey that section. There are nine of those states, plus local governments in seven other states, that must get permission in Washington before they may change any law dealing with voting — no matter how trivial the change. The Court chose in 2009 to leave the law as is, but hinted that Congress should update it.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder agreed Wednesday to accept Florida’s revised early-voting plan for five counties covered by the federal Voting Rights Act. Holder filed his response with a three-judge panel in Washington, D.C. Last month, the panel ruled that a new Florida election law that reduced early voting to 8 days from as many as 14 violated the federal law in the designated counties because they could discourage minority voting. The judges, though, indicated they’d approve a plan that still provided 96 hours of early voting – the same as under Florida’s previous law. The state plan submitted by Republican Gov. Rick Scott’s administration meets that criteria with eight 12-hour days including 12 on a Sunday that weren’t previously offered.
US Virgin Islands: Department of Justice and Virgin Islands sign consent decree to fix absentee ballot procedures | Virgin Islands Daily News
The U.S. Department of Justice and the V.I. government have signed a consent decree aimed at ensuring the territory allows its absent military members and voters living overseas to fully participate in the upcoming primary and general elections. The consent decree, filed in federal court on St. Thomas on Friday, settles a lawsuit that the U.S. Department of Justice filed the same day, alleging that the territory has violated the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act, as amended by the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act, by failing to transmit absentee ballots to overseas and military voters in a timely manner. The territory already has signed the consent decree, thereby agreeing to its mandates. However, a judge must sign off on the agreement for it to be valid. A hearing on the matter is scheduled in U.S. District Court before Judge Curtis Gomez this morning.
The Justice Department approved New Hampshire’s new voter ID, a version that is stricter than existing rules in the Granite State, but not as restrictive as other voters ID laws that the DOJ has rejected.’ Under New Hampshire’s previous rules, no ID was required as a condition of voting. Ballot clerks checked the names that voters announced at the polls, read back the addresses for verification, and handed over a ballot. Under the state’s new law, voters must present a photo ID — a driver’s license, a voter ID card, a military ID card, a US passport, a student ID card, a photo ID issued by any level of government, and any other photo ID deemed legitimate by supervisors at the polls.
Texas: Data Issues in Texas Voter ID Case Highlight Coming Battle Over Voting Rights Act | Election Academy
Last Thursday, a three-judge federal court in Washington, DC refused to clear Texas’ new voter ID law under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA). The decision sets up an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court – though likely not before the 2012 election – during which the constitutionality of Section 5 of the VRA is certain to come under challenge. The constitutional argument about the VRA has many facets, but the Texas case’s treatment of data about voter ID is as good an example as any of why the Act – and in particular, Section 5 – is generating so much heat lately. We’ve covered the data issues involved in voter ID many times on this blog – and both sides in the Texas case did the same. For its part, Texas produced an expert who submitted testimony suggesting that 1) a comparison with voting rates in Indiana and Georgia showed that Texas voters (especially minority voters) would not be prevented from voting because of ID and 2) minority voters possess ID at the same rates as all voters. The Justice Department countered with an expert who used matching data to determine that minority voters were more likely to lack the required ID to vote.
The future of Wisconsin’s photo ID law for voting could hinge on a case from Texas that’s headed to the U.S. Supreme Court. Thursday, a three-judge federal court panel in Washington threw out the Texas voter ID law that Republicans passed a year ago. The judges said the law imposes, “strict, unforgiving burdens on the poor.” And the court said minorities would be hurt the most, because they’re more likely to live in poverty. Appellate judge David Tatel said the Texas law imposes a heavier burden on voters than similar laws in Indiana and Georgia, because many voters would have to pay for documents they need to get the proper ID’s.
After years of unsuccessfully trying to get the Mississippi Legislature to pass a voter ID law, last November, state conservatives put the issue of voter ID to the state’s voters. In the same election where voters said “no” to a controversial initiative to make a fetus a person, voters said “yes” to forcing voters to present a government-issued identification card to cast a ballot. The initiative passed with 62 percent of the vote. Of course, that wasn’t the end of the issue for Mississippi. First, the state Legislature had to pass a law, which it did. Before implementing any laws that change voting procedures, Mississippi has to get a ruling on the law from the U.S. Department of Justice. That isn’t a frivolous request; the state has a history of black voter suppression going back to Reconstruction and the Jim Crow era. Essentially, because it wouldn’t give a fair and level playing field to African Americans then, the federal government is watching us to make sure we do now. By June 20, however, the Justice Department had not received all the pertinent information it needed to make its ruling. Among the items missing were Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann’s specific procedures to implement voter ID across the state.
National: GOP Attorneys General Target Voting Rights Act, Ask Supreme Court To Strike Down Key Section | Huffington Post
Several Republican state attorneys general called a key provision of the Voting Rights Act unconstitutional and asked the Supreme Court to strike it down. The officials from Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, South Carolina, South Dakota and Texas submitted a brief in a closely watched Supreme Court case arguing that the law oversteps federal authority and places an unfair burden on certain states. The case at issue involves a plan to reshape a district in Shelby County, Ala., a largely white suburb of Birmingham. The new district maps led to the sole black council member in one of the county’s towns losing his seat. But the Justice Department blocked the certification of the voting results, and the town eventually redrew its districts. The black council member later re-won his seat.
A fight over early voting in Florida deepened on Wednesday as an election official who will oversee voting in the Florida Keys in November’s presidential election refused to reduce the number of early-voting days despite a warning from the state’s governor. Harry Sawyer, the supervisor of elections in Monroe County, which includes the Keys, told Reuters he plans to allow 12 days of voting ahead of the election even though a 2011 Florida law cut the number to eight. Florida is among a handful of states that could determine the outcome of the race between Democratic President Barack Obama and Republican candidate Mitt Romney. The issue of early-voting restrictions has also played out in Ohio, another prized swing state, where the Obama campaign filed a lawsuit to legally challenge moves by state officials to reduce the number of early-voting days. Democrats claim early voting restrictions are designed to limit Democratic voter turnout, particularly among working-class voters, who are more likely to work jobs with less flexibility to take time off to vote. Republicans argue the measures are intended to reduce voter fraud.