Gov. Rick Scott issued a statement Tuesday that some read as a veiled threat to the Monroe County supervisor of elections, escalating a conflict over early-voting days in the run-up to the November elections. Harry Sawyer, the Republican supervisor in Monroe, said Monday he didn’t support an effort by Secretary of State Ken Detzner to get federal approval for Monroe and four other counties to reduce the number of early-voting days from as many as 14 to eight. Because of a history of racial or language discrimination, those counties must get “preclearance” from the U.S. Department of Justice or a federal court for any changes to voting policies. The Legislature in 2011 passed a law that included reducing the number of early-voting days statewide, but a three-judge federal court last week rejected that change in the preclearance counties. The panel, however, said it could likely approve a reduction in the number of voting days if all five counties agreed to keep offices open for 12 hours on each of the eight days, which would maintain the same number of hours for voting.
Voting Blogs: Pennsylvania Refuses to Comply with U.S. Dept. of Justice Photo ID Document Request | Brad Blog
Pennsylvania has refused to turn over documents that the U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ) had sought in order to determine whether the state’s new polling place Photo ID restriction law is in violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) and other federal laws. As previously reported by The BRAD BLOG, on July 23, Assistant Attorney General Thomas E. Perez submitted afour-page letter [PDF] to Carol Aichele, the Acting Secretary of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (coincidentally, the wife of Gov. Tom Corbett’s Chief of Staff), requesting information in electronic format for 16 broad categories of documents that the DoJ felt were needed to evaluate whether the Keystone State’s Photo ID law complied with federal laws barring discriminatory election laws. In an Aug. 17 letter [PDF], the Commonwealth’s General Counsel, James D. Schultz, responded to Perez, by telling him that PA would not comply with what Schultz described as an “unprecedented attempt to compel [PA], a state not within the purview Section 5 of the VRA, to present information concerning compliance with Section 2 of the VRA.”
Alaska sued the U.S. claiming the Voting Rights Act is unconstitutional because it creates “significant, ongoing administrative burdens” and isn’t warranted based on the state’s voting rights history. Alaska said the law’s preclearance requirement creates uncertainty and delay and “places Alaska’s elections at the mercy of Department of Justice attorneys,” according to a complaint filed today in federal court in Washington. The law intrudes on the state’s sovereignty without evidence Alaska discriminates against minority voters, the complaint alleges. “Section 5’s preclearance requirement denies Alaska the flexibility and autonomy necessary to run its elections in a manner that best accounts for local conditions and circumstances,” the state said in the lawsuit.
As was reported widely in the press, if not entirely accurately, last Thursday night a Washington, DC, panel of federal judges handed down a unanimous ruling that restrictions placed on early voting in Florida should continue not to be implemented in the five counties covered by Section 5 of the 1975 amendments to the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Florida, said the judges, “has failed to satisfy its burden of proving that those changes will not have a retrogressive effect on minority voters.” With respect to early voting, House Bill 1355–which was passed on party line votes by the Florida legislature and signed into law by Republican Governor Rick Scott in May 2011–is likely to have a differential impact it is likely to have on racial and ethnic minority voters in the 2012 general election. In addition to my testimony before the US Senate on the topic, I’ve co-authored with Professor Michael Herron of Dartmouth College a soon-to-be published article in Election Law Journal that reveals the heavy reliance of early voting by minorities in the 2008 general election. We found that in the 10 Florida counties that offered voting on the final Sunday of early voting in 2008, there was a surge in turnout among minority voters, especially African Americans. That final Sunday of voting was eliminated under HB1355. Since then, Florida voters have participated in two statewide primary elections in 2012 under a dual system of elections, which very well may violate state law.
Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania answers federal request for information on voter ID law | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The Corbett administration has responded to a federal review of the new voter ID requirement in a letter suggesting the U.S. Department of Justice has overstepped its authority because of political opposition to the law. The Department of Justice last month notified the state that it is examining whether the voter ID law discriminates against minorities. It requested extensive documentation, including databases of voters and driver licenses, to aid in that inquiry. In a letter Friday to the Justice Department’s top civil rights lawyer, General Counsel James Schultz said the state would be willing to provide the federal agency with the same information it shared with the groups who challenged the law in state court, provided the department signs a confidentiality agreement.
The Justice Department has signed off on Virginia’s new voter ID law, Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) said Monday night, in a decision that clears the way for the bitterly contested measure to take effect in time for Election Day. “The legislation I signed into law is a practical and reasonable step to make our elections more secure while also ensuring access to the ballot box for all qualified voters,” McDonnell said. “It is welcome news that DOJ has recognized the compliance of this legislation with the Voting Rights Act.” The Justice Department review was needed because Virginia has a history of voter discrimination. It is is one of 16 states that must receive federal approval before changing voting laws. The states must prove to the federal government that any new statutes would not discriminate against minorities.
Twelve years after Florida decided the 2000 presidential election, one of the nation’s biggest swing states is confronting a legal and political quandary over its voting standards. A federal court in Washington D.C., ruled late Thursday that new restrictions on early voting passed by the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature cannot take effect in five counties covered by federal voting laws. The ruling — which said the changes could hurt participation by blacks — raises the prospect of having longer early-voting periods in places such Tampa than in urban areas such as Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Orlando. Some voting groups — and Democratic politicians — called on Republican Gov. Rick Scott to immediately force all counties to impose the same time period for early voting. The law passed last year kept the maximum total hours of early voting hours the same, but it reduced the days in which early voting was available. The Scott administration on Friday was still reviewing the 119-page ruling.
The ruling by a Pennsylvania judge Wednesday to allow a controversial voter identification law to go into effect puts a sharp focus on hyperpartisan voting rights battles heating up in key battleground states ahead of what could be a tight November election. Pennsylvania Republicans passed a law earlier this year on a straight party-line vote that requires voters to produce a state-issued identification. Civil-liberties groups sued the state, claiming the law would disenfranchise minorities who would have difficulty producing documents like birth certificates to secure a state ID. But a Monitor/TIPP poll shows public opinion generally supports such laws, and Pennsylvania Republicans have refused to back down, contending that voter fraud constitutes the bigger threat to the integrity of the election system. Judge Robert Simpson of the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania did not rule on the merits of the case, and he refused to issue an injunction. The American Civil Liberties Union and other litigants vow to ask the state Supreme Court to overturn the decision before November.
A federal court says a Florida law that restricts the number of early-voting days could result in a dramatic reduction in participation by blacks. The Republican-controlled Florida legislature last year cut the number of early-voting days to 8 from 12. But the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled late Thursday that because of the law’s potential impact on minority voters, it would not allow Florida to put the changes in place in five Florida counties covered by federal voting laws.
The state’s top election official said Tuesday that he expects Florida’s efforts to purge non-citizens from voter registration rolls to soon resume and be completed before the Nov. 6 general election. Florida is on the verge of getting access to an immigration database from the federal Department of Homeland Security, Secretary of State Ken Detzner said shortly after polls opened for the state’s primary election. Republican Gov. Rick Scott began the push to rid Florida’s voting rolls of illegally registered non-citizens, but Homeland Security initially declined to help. Federal officials, however, said they’d make the database available after a federal judge refused to halt the purge, but both sides are still working on the details of a final agreement. “We are making some progress, just recently, the last few days in actually getting access to the database,” Detzner said.
Voter ID laws create an unnecessary barrier to voting that disproportionately affects poor and nonwhite voters. If you’re going to have them, you should at least tell people that they’re going into effect. But given the impetus of these laws—to disenfranchise Democratic-leaning voters—it’s no surprise that few of the states that have passed them have made any effort to educate voters. Since 2010, 12 states have passed laws requiring voters to show government-issued identification in order to vote. One such law is Pennsylvania’s, where studies estimate anywhere from 780,000 to 1.2 million could be turned away at the polls on Election Day because of new ID requirements. A state court is expected to rule this week on whether the law can go forward, but in the meantime, many have blasted Pennsylvania’s anemic efforts to inform voters. Because the state originally estimated that far fewer voters would be affected, the plan was simply to remind those who turned out for the April primaries that they would need an ID next time around. The state also conducted a much-criticized PR campaign by a Republican-owned firm—during the court proceedings, a political scientist testified that one-third of Pennsylvania voters were unaware of the law.
As the U.S. Department of Justice investigates the new Pennsylvania voter ID requirement for discrimination against minorities, election law experts say a legal challenge could require the courts to navigate undeveloped areas of federal voting rights law. The commonwealth was preparing to defend the Voter ID Law in state court last month when the Justice Department’s top civil rights lawyer wrote to announce a review for compliance with the Voting Rights Act, the 1965 legislation that prohibited literacy tests at the polls and strengthened the federal government’s ability to enforce the voting guarantee of the 15th Amendment. While the department has blocked the enforcement of voter identification laws in Texas and South Carolina, those states fall under a part of the Voting Rights Act requiring Justice Department or court approval for election law changes in places with a history of discrimination.
A lawyer for Gov. Rick Scott’s administration on Friday said Florida won’t stop using two conflicting election laws, depending on the county, even if opponents of the dual system win an administrative law challenge. Two nonpartisan groups and a Democratic state senator contend the state violated rule-making requirements by directing local election officials in 62 counties to follow a new law even though the other five, all covered by the federal Voting Rights Act, have to adhere to an old one. They also argue the dual system violates another state law requiring a uniform election system but acknowledged it’ll probably take further litigation to require that all 67 counties stick with the old law until a federal court in Washington, D.C., decides if the new statute complies with the Voting Rights Act. “This would be the first step,” said Howard Simon, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, after an administrative law hearing. “If we win here, in order to secure uniform elections in Florida we might have to go to another court.”
A three-judge panel assigned to hear South Carolina’s request to implement its new voter ID law revealed an unusual split Friday, dividing 2-1 on a preliminary ruling in the case. The two judges in the majority, U.S. District Court Judges Colleen Kollar-Kotelly and John Bates, took a harder line against South Carolina’s efforts to invoke attorney-client privilege to shield material prepared by staff attorneys in the state Senate as the voter ID measure was being drafted. The dissenter, D.C. Circuit Judge Brett Kavanaugh, would have allowed South Carolina to keep more of the information secret from the Justice Department and civil rights groups who have intervened in the case. Lawyers following the case could not immediately point to another time in this election cycle that the the two-district-judge-and-one-appeals-court-judge panels that hear such disputes divided in a ruling.
Florida: DOJ subpoenas Miami-Dade, 8 other Florida counties in noncitizen voter purge | Miami Herald
The U.S. Department of Justice sent subpoenas to nine of Florida’s county election supervisors, demanding extensive information as to how the counties may have sought to remove non-citizens from the voter rolls. The information must be provided by Wednesday, Aug. 15 — the day after next week’s statewide primary election. The biggest county, Miami-Dade, had the most potential noncitizens identified. But, the county says, it only removed about 13 people who affirmed in writing or on the phone that they were noncitizens.
Partisan legal showdowns in battleground states over a spate of new voting laws could turn the 2012 elections into a repeat of the 2000 presidential vote recount saga, political experts say. “Whenever you change the rules by enacting new laws, it triggers a round of litigation. I don’t think we’ll see an end to this anytime soon,” said Dan Tokaji, an Ohio State University law professor. “It could come down to the states counting of absentee ballots. … We could see a replay of the 2000 election, where we don’t have a winner for weeks.” This year’s fight has gotten ugly, especially in the hotly contested states of Florida and Pennsylvania, where there are high-profile fights over new voter identification laws, and Ohio, where President Barack Obama’s and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s campaigns are locked in a showdown over early voting. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, a legal think tank at the New York University School of Law that has criticized the increase in what it sees as prohibitive voting laws, 16 states have passed measures “that have the potential to impact the 2012 election.” The endgame, political experts say, is all about parties crafting laws to help ensure that their side wins.
Members of the local Democratic Party are upset that an unknown number of ballots in the March primary election may not have been counted because the voters’ mailing addresses did not match their addresses on file at their precincts. One of the party members, Milton Morrow, who has run for political office in the past, has filed a formal complaint with Secretary of State Beth Chapman’s office asking for a cease and desist order against Mobile County Probate Judge Don Davis. Davis had flagged 4,000 such voters who moved from one part of Mobile County to another and ordered that their ballots be cast as “provisional ballots,” which, by law, count only if the Board of Registrars can demonstrate that the voter is eligible. Napoleon Bracy, a state representative from Prichard who heads the Mobile County Democratic Executive Committee, said he’s concerned about the practice as municipal elections in most all local cities are on Aug. 28.
A landmark federal law used to block the adoption of state voter identification cards and other election rules now faces unprecedented legal challenges. A record five federal lawsuits filed this year challenge the constitutionality of a key provision in the Voting Rights Act. The 1965 statute prevents many state and local governments from enacting new voter ID requirements, redistricting plans and similar proposals on grounds that the changes would disenfranchise minorities. The plaintiffs, which include Alabama, Florida and Texas, are aiming for the Supreme Court because some justices in a previous ruling openly questioned the continued need for parts of the Voting Rights Act. The high court recently received two of the cases on appeal and could take them up in the fall term. The three states, and two smaller communities in Alabama and North Carolina, want to regain autonomy over their elections, which are under strict federal supervision imposed by the Voting Rights Act to remedy past discrimination. The complaints ask the courts to strike down the central provision in the law, known as “pre-clearance,” which requires governments with a history of discrimination to get federal permission to change election procedures. Pre-clearance is enforced throughout nine states and in portions of seven others. Most of the jurisdictions are in the South.
Rep. Terri Sewell is angry that Alabama wants registered voters such as her wheelchair-bound father to show a photo ID before casting a ballot. The Birmingham Democrat, Alabama’s only black member of Congress, said her 77-year-old father doesn’t have photo ID since he let his driver’s license expire years ago. If the state’s law takes effect as scheduled in 2014, thousands of elderly, disabled and minority Alabama voters will either stay home each election day or will have to make “extraordinary efforts” to get a driver’s license, passport or other form of identification, Sewell said.
The court case against Pennsylvania’s new voter ID law is wrapping up, and supporters of the law say it’s necessary in order to reduce voter fraud. However, when you hear the words “voter fraud,” there are three things you need to keep clearly in mind: In-person, In-person, In-person. Got that? There’s only one kind of fraud that voter ID stops: in-person voter fraud. That is, the kind of fraud where someone walks into a polling place and tries to vote under someone else’s name. That’s it. There are plenty of other types of voter fraud, of course. There’s registration fraud, where you send in forms for Mary Poppins and James Bond. There’s insider fraud, where election officials report incorrect tallies. There’s absentee ballot fraud, where you fill in someone else’s absentee ballot and mail it in. But a voter ID law does nothing to stop those kinds of fraud. Even in theory, the only kind of fraud it stops is in-person voter fraud.
The U.S. Department of Justice is demanding that Hillsborough turn over voter-purge records, pulling the county into a growing legal fracas over Gov. Rick Scott’s push to clean out the state’s voter registry. The county received a subpoena Wednesday for documents dating to Jan. 1 relating to any efforts at identifying voters as potential noncitizens. The subpoena stems from a lawsuit filed June 12 in Tallahassee by the federal government against Florida and Secretary of State Ken Detzner over state efforts to scrub voter rolls. Hillsborough Elections Supervisor Earl Lennard said he would comply with the subpoena. Like supervisors across the state, Lennard halted efforts to purge voters when the tools to cross-reference citizenship and voter registration — a Department of Homeland Security database and motor vehicle records — proved unreliable, he said.
The U.S. government wants to block Florida from resuming its purge of suspected noncitizens from the voter rolls, saying it would violate federal law. The Justice Department filed papers in U.S. District Court in Tampa accusing the state of ignoring a requirement that it first obtain approval for such action because five Florida counties are subject to federal pre-clearance of changes in voting procedures: Hillsborough, Collier, Hardee, Hendry and Monroe. The removal of noncitizens in a presidential election year has mushroomed into a major controversy, with Democrats and left-leaning voter advocacy groups accusing Gov. Rick Scott and the Republican Party of using the purge to suppress voter turnout in a state widely seen as a must-win for both presidential candidates.
The U.S. District Court is soon to rule on Texas’s new voter ID law. Ostensibly to combat voter fraud — the existence of which has yet to be demonstrated — the law would require every voter to present a government-issued photo ID at the poll. After a week of arguments this month, the question before the panel of federal judges is whether this law — one of many to emerge in the wake of 2010’s Republican legislative resurgence — places an undue burden on minorities. Under the Voting Rights Act of 1965, jurisdictions such as Texas with a history of suppressing minority voting must prove that any new requirements don’t “have the effect of denying or abridging the right to vote on account of race or color.” In March, the Justice Department denied the Lone Star State the necessary clearance for this new law, arguing that it would disproportionately affect Hispanic voters. Texas officials appealed. To preserve the access of all citizens to the right to vote — certainly among the most sacrosanct in our democracy — the District Court should follow the Justice Department’s lead and strike down this highly suspect and unnecessary law.
The Alabama Attorney General’s Office has opened yet another front in the legal battle to scale back the 1965 Voting Rights Act. With a lawsuit filed this week in Washington, D.C., add Alabama to the growing list of governments complaining to judges that they’re chafing under the burdens of the 47-year-old law that doesn’t let them run their elections without strict supervision. All or part of 16 states — those with a blatant history of discrimination against minority voters — have to get permission from the federal government before they change any election-related procedures. Alabama is one of those states. “The fact that so many covered states are now willing to come out against the Voting Rights Act is a sea change since the act’s amendments passed 98-0 in the Senate in 2006,” said Rick Hasen, professor at the University of California Irvine School of Law and election law expert. Congress approved a 25-year extension of the law in 2006 and, as with previous renewals, sparked a new round of legal action. Shelby County has a case pending at the U.S. Supreme Court, as does a jurisdiction in North Carolina. And other states from around the South have challenges at various stages in the legal process.
House Republicans on Thursday criticized the Justice Department’s decision to challenge new voter ID laws in several states, saying it shows the Obama Administration is more concerned with Democrats winning in November than protecting against election fraud.
“The Department of Justice has embarrassed itself,” said Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz. “The partisan bias is obvious.” Thomas Perez, the department’s chief civil rights enforcer, denied any partisan bias or motivation in bringing federal court challenges under the Voting Rights Act to recently passed voter ID laws in Texas and South Carolina. In both states, Republican-controlled legislatures passed laws requiring voters to show government-issued photo identification in order to vote. The Justice Department indicated this week it also is looking at whether Pennsylvania’s new voter ID law violates the Voting Rights Act, a 1965 law for ensuring minorities’ right to vote. “Our philosophy has been very straight forward,” Perez told a House Judiciary subcommittee that Franks chairs. “We want to enforce laws. There’s a robust debate in this country, and we think we need to continue to have that debate and we do our level best to ensure that every eligible voter casts their vote and has access to the ballot.”
Alabama: State asks federal court to rule its redistricting plan doesn’t violate Voting Rights Act | The Washington Post
Alabama’s attorney general filed a lawsuit Thursday asking a federal court to approve a redistricting plan for his Legislature without requiring the plan to go through the U.S. Justice Department for approval to make sure it doesn’t discriminate against minority voters. The lawsuit seeks a declaratory judgment from a three-judge panel of U.S. District Court in Washington finding that the plan approved by the Alabama Legislature during a special session in May does not deny or abridge the right to vote based on race or color. Joy Patterson, a spokeswoman for the Alabama Attorney General’s office, said the state has the option of seeking pre-clearance from the Justice Department or asking for a three-judge panel to do it. She said the attorney general’s office filed a similar suit last year for its new Congressional and state school board districts. But the Justice Department ended up preclearing those districts anyway.
Pennsylvania’s voter ID law goes on trial this week. The first thing this challenge to the state’s law has going for it are the real people who will testify about why it means they can’t vote. The second thing is the Pennsylvania constitution. And the third is the utter lack of legitimate justification for the burdens the law imposes. This law should go down, and now, before it can cause problems in November. But if you’re a Democrat worried that the law — which requires voters to show an approved form of photo ID at the polls — is going to cost President Barack Obama the election, there’s a possible silver lining. The number of voters affected may not be as huge, or as overwhelmingly Democratic, as it seems. Let’s start with the trial. The Talking Points Memo website and The New York Times have introduced us to 93-year-old Viviette Applewhite and 60-year-old Wilola Shinholster Lee. Applewhite has never had a driver’s license, lost her Social Security card when her purse was stolen, and can’t easily get a new one because she has changed her name twice to marry. Lee — who was born in Georgia but has lived in Pennsylvania since she was 5 years old — lost her birth certificate in a house fire and she can’t get another one. (According to the state of Georgia, her original birth certificate was lost in a fire there, too.)
With polls showing President Obama and Mitt Romney locked in a desperately close race for the presidency, will voter identification laws suppress the Democratic vote and cost Obama the election, or will they simply cut down on voter fraud as Republicans contend? What effect, if any, will the court challenges to state voter ID laws have on the laws’ impact, given the short window before the November balloting. What will the U.S. Supreme Court do and how quickly? By law the high court has to hear the appeals of the challenges. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder laid down the gauntlet for the administration in his speech to the NAACP annual convention in Houston July 10. “As many of you know, yesterday was the first day of trial in a case that the state of Texas filed against the Justice Department, under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, seeking approval of its proposed voter ID law. After close review, the department found that this law would be harmful to minority voters — and we rejected its implementation. “Under the proposed law, concealed handgun licenses would be acceptable forms of photo ID — but student IDs would not,” Holder said. “Many of those without IDs would have to travel great distances to get them — and some would struggle to pay for the documents they might need to obtain them.” Holder said some recent studies show only 8 percent of white voting age citizens nationally lack a government-issued ID, while 25 percent of African-American voting age citizens lack one. “But let me be clear: We will not allow political pretexts to disenfranchise American citizens of their most precious right,” Holder said.
Tomorrow the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania will hear a challenge to the state’s new voter ID law from the ACLU and other voting rights groups. The lead plaintiff is Viviette Applewhite, a 93-year-old great-great grandmother who marched with Martin Luther King Jr. Applewhite worked as a hotel housekeeper and never had a driver’s license. Four years ago, her purse was stolen and she lost her Social Security card. Because she was adopted and married twice, she cannot obtain the documents needed to comply with the state’s voter ID law. After voting in every election for the past fifty years, she will lose the right to vote this November. The ACLU will argue that Pennsylvania’s voter ID law needlessly disenfranchises voters like Applewhite and violates Article I, Section 5, of the state constitution, which states: “Elections shall be free and equal; and no power, civil or military, shall at any time interfere to prevent the free exercise of the right of suffrage.” As in Wisconsin, where two federal judges have blocked that state’s voter ID law, the Pennsylvania Constitution affords strong protections to the right to vote. (The Justice Department is also investigating whether the law violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.)
As the Justice Department investigates Pennsylvania’s voter ID law on the federal level, a coalition of civil rights groups is gearing up for a state trial starting Wednesday examining whether the law is allowable under Pennsylvania’s constitution. In that case, Pennsylvania might have handed those groups and their clients (including 93-year-old Viviette Applewhite) a bit of an advantage: They’ve formally acknowledged that there’s been no reported in-person voter fraud in Pennsylvania and there isn’t likely to be in November. The state signed a stipulation agreement with lawyers for the plaintiffs which acknowledges there “have been no investigations or prosecutions of in-person voter fraud in Pennsylvania; and the parties do not have direct personal knowledge of any such investigations or prosecutions in other states.”