Polling places mysteriously ran out of ballots when Mexican Americans showed up to vote. Ads on Spanish language radio threatened fines and imprisonment to those who voted without first properly registering to vote. Illiterate voters were not given assistance at the polls. These were just a few examples of tactics used to keep Mexican Americans from voting in elections after the Voting Rights Act was passed given by scholars and activists at a two-day conference in Texas on the struggle for Latino voting rights. The Voting Rights Act protections are weakened today after a 2013 ruling by the Supreme Court that gutted the act, experts said, and new tactics are taking their place to suppress Latino votes as the population grows and becomes more politically potent.
t an event in Iowa today, Jeb Bush was asked whether he believed the Voting Rights Act (VRA) should be reauthorized by the Congress following the gutting of one of its most important provisions by the Supreme Court in 2013. Bush responded: “If it’s to reauthorize it to continue to provide regulations on top of states as though we’re living in 1960, because those were basically when many of those rules were put in place, I don’t believe we should do that. There’s been dramatic improvement in access to voting, exponentially better improvement, and I don’t think there’s a role for the federal government to play in most places.” Bush is wrong on multiple counts.
Ireland has voted by a huge majority to legalise same-sex marriage, becoming the first country in the world to do so by popular vote in a move hailed as a social revolution and welcomed around the world. Some 62% of the Irish Republic’s electorate voted in favour of gay marriage. The result means that a republic once dominated by the Catholic church ignored the instructions of its cardinals and bishops. The huge Yes vote marks another milestone in Ireland’s journey towards a more liberal, secular society. Out of an electorate of more than 3 million, 1,201,607 backed gay marriage, while 734,300 voters said No. The result prompted a massive street party around the gay district of central Dublin close to the national count centre.
A lawsuit alleging that Jackson County has impaired Native Americans’ right to vote on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota will move forward, a federal judge ruled on May 1. Plaintiff Thomas Poor Bear, Vice President of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, filed the lawsuit in September 2014, alleging that Jackson County’s refusal to open a satellite voter registration office on the reservation amounted to discrimination against Native American voters, many of whom did not have transportation to the county seat for voting. The defendants – Jackson County, County Auditor Vicki Wilson, and County Commissioners Glen Bennett, Larry Denke, Larry Johnston, Jim Stillwell and Ron Twiss – responded by filing a motion to dismiss, arguing “the complaint contains no facts showing that the plaintiffs were unable to vote absentee or vote by regular ballot.”
President Obama on Saturday used the 50th anniversary of the landmark civil rights march here to urge Republicans to move new voting rights protections. He probably shouldn’t hold his breath. GOP leaders have opposed new legislation updating the Voting Rights Act (VRA) in the wake of a Supreme Court ruling that gutted central provisions of the 1965 law. And the Republicans on hand in Selma this weekend showed no indication that the silver anniversary festivities had changed their minds. “They knocked out part of the Voting Rights Act … but the federal government still has the power to prosecute and investigate anyone who violates of the [law],” Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) said Saturday just before the president’s speech. “So as we go forward, maybe there are some other things that need to be done, but I think fundamentally the Supreme Court was correct.”
Thousands of Victorians cannot vote in this year’s state election because they have been deemed to have an “unsound mind”. You won’t find a definition for the term in either the federal Electoral Act or in any of its state and territory counterparts. But since the 2010 election, 7176 people have been removed from the state’s electoral roll for this reason, according to Australian Electoral Commission figures. Anyone who is eligible to vote can object to another person being on the roll if they believe they have an “unsound mind”. There are growing calls for the law around such objections to be scrapped to avoid discrimination. Victorian Electoral Commission spokeswoman, Sue Lang, said she was still receiving requests to remove people’s elderly relatives from the roll – usually people with dementia – days before the election.
A week from Tuesday, voters will choose an entirely new House of Representatives, a third of the U.S. Senate and the governors of 36 states. Lamentably, many qualified voters will stay home, some out of apathy or disillusionment but others because they lack the right sort of identification. In Texas, thanks to an outrageous order by the Supreme Court, voters will have to display a photo ID under a law that a lower court judge concluded was a deliberate attempt to disenfranchise blacks and Latinos, who disproportionately lack such identification. Welcome to the new world of voter suppression, the culmination of a sustained effort by mostly Republican state legislators to make it harder for Americans to exercise the most basic right afforded to citizens in a democracy. It’s an effort whose effect, if not its intent, has been to reduce the participation at the ballot box by groups that historically have been the victims of discrimination. It has been abetted by a Supreme Court that blithely gutted an important section of the landmark 1965 Voting Rights Act and by a Congress that has been to slow to undo the damage caused by the court.
Half a century ago, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 brought an end to the era of Jim Crow by prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin. One year later, the landmark legislation was strengthened and expanded when the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was signed into law on Aug. 6, 1965. The Voting Rights Act prohibited discrimination in voting and, together with the Civil Rights Act, enshrines the principles upon which our nation was founded. These laws serve as a testament to all who sacrificed to work toward ending segregation and discrimination. For nearly half a century, the Voting Rights Act has stood as a central pillar in the protection of fair voting practices. Our nation now faces the greatest threat to voting rights since Reconstruction.
Until recently, the federal government monitored states like Arizona — which has the country’s fifth-largest Hispanic eligible voter population — that had a demonstrated history of racial discrimination at the polls. Arizona was one of nine states, along with other jurisdictions, required by Section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, to get federal approval before making changes to its voting laws. But in 2013, the Supreme Court invalidated key parts of the Voting Rights Act, ruling in Shelby County v. Holder that they were based on outdated data. In response, a bipartisan group of lawmakers has introduced legislation that would strengthen the Voting Rights Act. Reps. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., John Conyers, Jr., D-Mich. and Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., have introduced the Voting Rights Amendment of 2014. But under their plan, only four states – Georgia, Louisiana, Texas, and Mississippi – would initially be subject to federal supervision.
Martin Luther King Jr. marched famously from Selma, Ala., to Montgomery in March 1965 in a campaign that helped put the Voting Rights Act onto President Lyndon Johnson’s desk. But King didn’t live long enough to witness even the first legislative extension of the act in 1970. In fact, his murder in Memphis happened long before it became clear that the controversial federal law had succeeded, grandly, in protecting black citizens from discriminatory voting policies and practices in the Old South and elsewhere. Although its passage seemed impossible even two years before it was signed, the law was renewed five times by Congress over the next 41 years—the last time, in 2006, with extraordinary bipartisan support. Were King alive today, wizened at the age of 85, it’s likely he would have the same perspective that many of his still-alive-and-kicking civil rights contemporaries have about what the Voting Rights Act accomplished, where it failed and why the U.S. Supreme Court’s renunciation of it last June was so profoundly premature.
Conventional wisdom among some liberals, conservatives, and moderates is that a “polarized Congress” will never update the Voting Rights Act. The Voting Rights Act bill introduced today in Congress (summary here, bill text here), however, shows that a bipartisan update is possible. Last June, the U.S. Supreme Court scaled back part of the Voting Rights Act. The Act required that all or parts of 15 states (many in the South) preclear their changes to election rules with federal officials. The Court ruled that the formula that determined which states had to preclear their changes was unconstitutional because it was based on election data from the 1960s and ’70s, and the decision effectively released those 15 states from preclearance. The new bill responds to the Court’s decision by tying preclearance to recent discrimination. For example, the bill would require a state with five or more Voting Rights Act violations in the last 15 years to preclear new election law changes. While the new bill would require that fewer states preclear changes, the new bill expands nationwide some of the functions served by preclearance.
On December 1, Croatia, the newest European Uion member state, held a referendum on same-sex marriage. However, unlike other European countries, Croatia was not voting on its legalisation, but on whether a new clause, defining marriage as a “union between a woman and a man”, should be included in the constitution. The preliminary results show that 65 percent have said “yes”. The referendum was called for in reaction to the election promises [Sr] of the ruling coalition to give certain rights to same sex couples. A Croatian Catholic group “In the Name of the Family” launched a petition on this matter, gathering 750,000 signatures. As a result, the Croation parliament, with 104 out of 151 votes, decided to open the decision-making to the public, through a referendum. Although less than 40 percent of the 3.8 million [Sr/Hr/Bs] eligible voters actually took part in the referendum, the results are binding, as there is no required quorum. Although most Balkan countries include sexual orientation in their anti-discrimination laws, Croatia’s call for referendum and the petition do not come as much of a surprise to anyone in the region. Past attempts at asserting LGBT rights have been greeted with contempt and sometimes outright violence. Croatian analysts and intellectuals indicate that the referendum on marriage is just a prelude to the referendum on the use of the Cyrillic alphabet in Croatia.
Last year, we wrote extensively about photo ID laws and the Supreme Court’s decision to strike a key section of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Now, with gubernatorial elections in New Jersey and Virginia, and the debt ceiling and healthcare debates already shaping the 2014 midterms, we’re revisiting voting policies to see which states have enacted tougher restrictions since the Supreme Court ruling in June. Under the Voting Rights Act, states and localities with a history of racial discrimination needed to get permission from the federal government to enact any changes to their voting laws, in a process called “preclearance.” As of June 2013, nine states, mostly in the South – Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia – needed to get any new voting laws pre-approved. Some counties and townships in California, Florida, New York, North Carolina, South Dakota and Michigan were also subject to preclearance. Section 5 first applied to states that imposed literacy tests or other unfair devices, and had low voter registration or turnout. Congress later expanded the law to add jurisdictions with sizable minority populations and English-only election materials.
Editorials: North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper must declare election law unconstitutional | Bob Geary/Indy Week
Richard Hasen is the nation’s leading scholar on elections law as political weapons and constitutional fights. A University of California-Irvine political scientist and law professor, Hasen was in Raleigh last week speaking at N.C. State University. His topic: “Race, Party and Politics: North Carolina’s New Front in the Voting Wars.” Naturally, I thought of our Attorney General Roy Cooper, who wants to be governor. Cooper has a constitutional problem. I’ll get to it shortly. But first, as Hasen did, consider the case of a political party that—under the guise of “reform”—passes election laws designed to cripple the rival party by disenfranchising African-American voters. North Carolina, 2013? Not yet: Hasen started with North Carolina in 1898, when the all-white Democratic Party ousted the fusionist Republicans (blacks and some whites) who’d governed after the Civil War. “Reforms” then prevented most blacks from voting, and the Republican Party ceased to be a force. In 2013, the parties have flipped, but the situation is familiar. The Republican Party, virtually all-white, is in charge. This year’s Republican “reforms”—the infamous House Bill 589, which critics term a voter-suppression law and which, Hasen said, is the most restrictive set of voting requirements passed by any state since the civil rights era—will hurt the Democrats, now the party supported by almost every African-American voter. So, Hasen asked: Was 1898 about race? Or party? And is 2013 about party? Or race?
As Americans commemorate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, one of the key pieces of legislature accredited with advancing civil rights lingers in limbo. In April, a Supreme Court split along ideological and partisan lines voted 5-4 to strip the government of its most potent tool to stop voting bias: the requirement in the Voting Rights Act that all or parts of 15 states with a history of discrimination in voting, mainly in the South, get Washington’s approval before changing the way they hold elections. “Virtually everyone who has thought of this characterizes the Voting Rights Act as the most successful piece of civil rights legislation ever enacted,” said Charles Bullock, political science professor at the University of Georgia. “In Georgia, in 1962, prior to the adoption of the Voting Rights Act, only about 27 percent of adult blacks in Georgia were registered to vote. Now registration rates are pretty much identical to whites, and have been for awhile,” he said. “When that legislation was passed in Georgia there were three black offices holders. Now, there are thousands. It’s had a dramatic impact.” The decision was deplored by voting access activists and largely applauded by the states now free from nearly 50 years of intense federal oversight of their elections.
In one week last August, federal courts found that Texas’ voter ID law and redistricting maps were discriminatory and violated the Voting Rights Act. The Supreme Court’s recent decision invalidating Section 4 of the VRA, which previously covered Texas, tragically wiped away those rulings. Now the Department of Justice is once again stepping in to fight for voting rights in the Lone Star State. The DOJ announced today that it is objecting to Texas’ voter ID law under Section 2 of the VRA and will also seek to join a similar lawsuit against the state’s redistricting maps. Last month, DOJ asked a court in Texas to force the state to approve its voting changes with the federal government for a period of time under another provision of the VRA, Section 3, based on a finding of intentional discrimination in the restricting case. The federal courts found last year that Texas’ new maps for Congress and the state house were “enacted with discriminatory purpose.”
In June, five Supreme Court Justices rolled back the Voting Rights Act, widely considered the most effective tool in preventing discrimination in our nation’s history. Section 5 of the act required that certain states and localities “preclear” proposed election changes with federal officials to ensure the changes were not discriminatory. The Court ruled that the formula used to determine which jurisdictions needed to get preclearance was outdated and unconstitutional. For those of us who care about voting rights, the question now is how do we respond? Some have argued that Congress should update the Voting Rights Act by passing ambitious election reforms. Such proposals include mandating shorter voting lines, making registration more convenient, and passing less restrictive identification requirements. For example, Sam Issacharoff and Richard Pildes—both New York University law professors who advised the Obama campaign—argue that we should look beyond the race-discrimination approach and adopt general election reforms that are race-neutral. The effort to update the Voting Rights Act, however, should focus on preventing voting discrimination—not general election reforms. Promoting broader access is a critical democratic goal, but it is distinct from the goal of preventing voting discrimination. By analogy, a tax deduction for mortgage interest promotes access to home ownership, but separate laws are still needed to prevent banks from engaging in predatory lending—different problems require different solutions. Voting discrimination is real, and broad election reform is not sufficient to address it.
Republican Governor Rick Scott is restarting his high-profile purge of suspected noncitizens from Florida’s voting rolls in a move to appeal to core supporters that risks losing the backing of key swaths of the electorate. Scott, seizing on the U.S. Supreme Court’s rejection of a main element of the Voting Rights Act, has revived one of his administration’s most contentious missions: rooting out noncitizens from Florida’s list of 11.8 million voters. While the move to fight fraud may burnish Scott’s appeal to Republicans, strategists say, it risks reviving memories of polling-place snafus in 2012 and alienating the state’s growing Hispanic population. The purge, which began before the 2012 election, stalled when several U.S. citizens were targeted and a Latino-advocacy group sued, claiming discrimination.
Voting Blogs: Texas Ups the Ante in Fight Over Voting Rights Act, Betting on An Emboldened Conservative Supreme Court | Election Law Blog
I recently wrote in NLJ about AG Holder’s Texas-sized gambit: to get Texas covered again under a preclearance regime using section 3 of the Voting Rights Act. It’s a move that is risky both legally and politically, for reasons I explain in the earlier piece and do not repeat here. Still, I was struck by the boldness of the State of Texas filing opposing bail in. Texas made the arguments I expected it to make: about the burden on those seeking preclearance to prove intentional discrimination being high, the inappropriateness of relying upon findings of intentional discrimination in a different court opinion—especially one that has been vacated, etc. (See Lyle Denniston’s summary of Texas’s filing.) But Texas made a bigger argument too, and it one that may make it back to the Supreme Court where, for reasons I will explain, the Court may accept it.
I’ve been in Texas this week researching the history of the Voting Rights Act at the LBJ Library. As I’ve been studying how the landmark civil rights law transformed American democracy, I’ve also been closely following how Republicans in North Carolina—parts of which were originally covered by the VRA in 1965 —have made a mockery of the law and its prohibition on voting discrimination. Late last night, the North Carolina legislature passed the country’s worst voter suppression law after only three days of debate. Rick Hasen of Election Law Blog called it “the most sweeping anti-voter law in at least decades” The bill mandates strict voter ID to cast a ballot (no student IDs, no public employee IDs, etc), even though 318,000 registered voters lack the narrow forms of acceptable ID according to the state’s own numbers and there have been no recorded prosecutions of voter impersonation in the past decade. The bill cuts the number of early voting days by a week, even though 56 percent of North Carolinians voted early in 2012. The bill eliminates same-day voter registration during the early voting period, even though 96,000 people used it during the general election in 2012 and states that have adopted the convenient reform have the highest voter turnout in the country.
The Justice Department on Thursday announced that it is fighting back after the Supreme Court effectively invalidated part of the Voting Rights Act. In its first step, Justice signaled that it would support a lawsuit against Texas’s GOP-drawn redistricting plan and seek to get a federal judge to require the state to continue to obtain pre-clearance for any electoral changes — as it did before part of the VRA was struck down. Justice is also expect to sue to stop Texas’s new Voter ID law. The move is a significant one, for a few reasons. First, it signals that the Obama administration is not going to wait and cross its fingers hoping Congress will replace the VRA language that was struck down. The Supreme Court struck down the formula that determines which states and areas with a history of racial discrimination are required to gain pre-clearance for electoral changes — effectively rendering pre-clearance inoperable until a new formula is established. In its decision, the court noted that Congress can simply replace the formula with a new one.
The Justice Department is preparing to take fresh legal action in a string of voting rights cases across the nation, U.S. officials said, part of a new attempt to blunt the impact of a Supreme Court ruling that the Obama administration has warned will imperil minority representation. The decision to challenge state officials marks an aggressive effort to continue policing voting rights issues and follows a ruling by the court last month that invalidated a critical part of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The Justices threw out a part of the act that required certain states with a history of discrimination to be granted Justice Department or court approval before making voting law changes. In the coming weeks, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. is expected to announce that the Justice Department is using other sections of the Voting Rights Act to bring lawsuits or take other legal action to prevent states from implementing certain laws, including requirements to present certain kinds of identification in order to vote. The department is also expected to try to force certain states to get approval, or “pre-clearance,” before they can change their election laws.
Access to the polls has not always been assured for all Americans, and before the Voting Rights Act of 1965, many were subjected to so-called literacy tests and poll tax. The law was created to tackle such injustices, but in June, the Supreme Court struck a key provision of the legislation. Section 4 established a formula determining which states and localities had to get federal approval (known as pre-clearance) before changing their voting procedures. The provision applied to nine states, mainly in the South, with a history of voter discrimination. The court deemed it unconstitutional for relying on old data. It is now up to Congress to figure out where the Voting Rights Act goes from here. Both the House and Senate held hearings this past week.
The Voting Rights Act remains an effective tool for preventing discrimination against minority voters even after the Supreme Court threw out a key section last month, a key House Republican said Thursday. Democrats countered that the remaining provisions aren’t enough and said the one the court overturned needs to be replaced. That dispute played out before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice, the second congressional panel this week to discuss the Supreme Court’s June 25 decision in a historic case out of Shelby County, Ala. The court’s 5-4 decision ended the 48-year-old requirement that certain states with a history of discrimination at the polls — including Alabama and South Carolina — obtain “pre-clearance” from federal officials before making any changes to their election procedures.
Last month’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling voiding a key section of the Voting Rights Act requires the lines for the state’s 30 legislative districts to be redrawn before the 2014 election, an attorney for Republican interests is contending. In legal papers filed in federal court late Friday, attorney David Cantelme said the Independent Redistricting Commission’s own data shows that it overpopulated some of the districts and underpopulated others. The result, Cantelme said, was to politically disadvantage Republican candidates to the benefit of Democrats. Cantelme also pointed out to the three-judge panel hearing his legal challenge that the commission’s key legal argument for why it made those decisions was that it needed comply with the federal Voting Rights Act. More to the point, commissioners wanted to ensure that the map it drew was “precleared” by the U.S. Department of Justice as not diluting the voting strength of minorities. But the high court last month overturned a provision of that law that created a formula to identify which states and counties have a history of discrimination and therefore must submit any changes in voting laws to be precleared. That list included nine states, including Arizona, and parts of several others.
Pennsylvania court may rule this week on the legality of the state’s controversial new voter identification law. Passed last spring without a single Democratic vote, the law was blocked before the presidential election by a judge who said the state had not done enough to ensure people who needed IDs got them. The state offered free IDs, but there were limited locations and hours to obtain them, opponents argued. That injunction didn’t stop the state from putting up Spanish-language billboards urging people to show ID at the polls, though. The law eventually made its way to Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court, which ordered the Commonwealth Court to examine its constitutionality. The trial began this week and could go either way. If the court sides in favor of the law, its opponents will likely appeal to the state Supreme Court. The issue is fraught with emotion and comes just after the U.S. Supreme Court crippled a key part of the Voting Rights Act.
Surely, street cred in conservative circles is not worth becoming the poster child for voter suppression. Again. What’s the rush? The ink was barely dry on the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on the Voting Rights Act, and there was Attorney General Greg Abbott saying Texas’ voter ID law would go into effect immediately. The problem: the ink has been quite dry for a while on another federal court ruling. This one, in August 2012, said discrimination and voter suppression was written all over Texas’ voter ID law. Yet, the state is now gearing up to implement this law, and county election officials around the state are surely scratching their heads. Why would a state, whose voting numbers are nothing to write home about, want to diminish them further? Particularly since this is ostensibly to address voter fraud — a problem that substantially doesn’t exist.
A lawsuit filed by several civil rights groups this week could result in continued federal oversight of Texas voting laws despite a Supreme Court ruling that section 4 of the voting rights act is unconstitutional. Section 4 mandated that some states, including Texas, must get pre-clearance for any voting changes made by the legislature. The suit was filed in a Washington D.C. court by the League of United Latin American citizens, the NAACP, the Texas Legislative Black Caucus and state Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth.
The House will hold hearings on the Voting Rights Act in July, following the Supreme Court’s decision last week striking down a central part of the landmark law, House Judiciary Committee chairman Bob Goodlatte told CNN Sunday. The Virginia Republican said he doesn’t know whether Congress will work to change the law so that it’s considered constitutional by the justices. “We will look at what the Supreme Court was talking about in terms of old data,” Goodlatte said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “We’ll look at what new data is available and we will make sure that people’s freedom to vote in elections in this country is protected.”
In a vacuum, perhaps, the majority of the U.S. Supreme Court would be correct. Maybe, just maybe, five decades of the Voting Rights Act could undo two centuries of brutal disenfranchisement against blacks and other minorities in a large swath of the country. It’s much easier today for African Americans to cast ballots in nine “covered” states – including Virginia – than it was when the law took effect in 1965. Of course, we don’t live in a vacuum in America. Race still affects many facets of society, from housing to schools to political representation. That’s why the high court’s sharply divided ruling Tuesday, which gutted one of the nation’s most important pieces of civil rights legislation, was so obtuse – and so disappointing.