Just before sunset on a recent evening, scores of lawyers in dark suits and polished loafers streamed into the swanky 18th-floor ballroom of a downtown high-rise here. They sipped chardonnay and nursed Heinekens, munched on cheese cubes and made small talk. The invitation to the event had asked for a “suggested contribution” of $500 to each of three candidates, who were now mingling sheepishly among the crowd. They were no ordinary politicians. In fact, they weren’t politicians at all, but rather Florida Supreme Court justices. Each has been in office since the 1990s, each retained by voters overwhelmingly in previous elections, and each now reluctantly campaigning — for the first time. While deep-pocketed super PACs and ultra-wealthy donors have attracted plenty of attention in the presidential contest this year, they are also making waves further down the political food chain. The mere possibility that a rich benefactor or interest group with endless amounts of money could swoop in, write massive checks and remake an entire court for ideological reasons has prompted judges here in Florida and elsewhere to prepare for battles they never expected to fight.
National: More voters casting ballots early – early voting benefits campaigns with money, manpower | USAToday.com
When South Carolina voters cast their ballots in the Republican presidential primary Saturday, they’ll have company. That same day, Florida Republicans can begin in-person voting for the state’s Jan. 31 primary, joining more than 100,000 state residents who already have cast absentee ballots. As the votes are counted in Florida on Jan. 31, voters in Ohio and other states with primaries on March 6 — Super Tuesday because of its 10 GOP primaries and caucuses — will begin absentee voting. That week, voters can vote early in Arizona for its Feb. 28 primary. Later in February, polls will open for early voting in the March 6 Georgia and Tennessee primaries.
Voting Blogs: Reduced and Uneven Hours for Early Voting in Florida’s Presidential Preference Primary | electionsmith
As I’ve written before, under Florida law the state must provide uniform standards for the proper and equitable implementation of voting laws. Unfortunately, House Bill 1355, enacted by the Florida legislature last May, has led to fewer and uneven opportunities for Floridians to cast ballots in the state’s January presidential preference primary.
If voting legislation in 2011 centered largely on hindering access to the ballot box, 2012 will hopefully be defined as the year that voting rights began fighting back. Last year, a rash of anti-voting legislation popped up in states around the country, from Florida to Texas to Wisconsin. New laws banning anyone without photo IDs from voting (commonly known as “voter ID”) grabbed the headlines, in part because of their potential to disenfranchise over 3 million citizens in the 2012 election, but lesser-known legislation emerged as well.
Attorney General Eric Holder says the U.S. Justice Department will move aggressively to review the plethora of new voting laws that state legislatures across the nation have passed in recent years to exclude minority voters. Get to it, Mr. Holder.
There is no better place to start than in Florida where picking and choosing voters has become a high art and low crime. And it is not just minority voters who face these new hurdles but young voters, voters who have moved into new precincts, voters whose interest in politics is newly awakened. In short, voters who aren’t part of a tightly knit group that can be counted on for party-line (dare we say, Republican) ballots in a state where Democrats outnumber GOP registered voters.
Consider the issue of restoring civil rights, including the right to vote, to people who have completed their sentences on felony convictions. Not a popular bunch, not a group easy to defend. Yet, these are people who have paid the debt demanded of them by society, and it’s in society’s best interest to give them a stake in the future of their communities.
Editorials: Holder’s Voting Rights Gamble – The Supreme Court’s voter ID showdown. | Rick Hasen/Slate
On the Friday before Christmas Day, the Department of Justice formally objected to a new South Carolina law requiring voters to produce an approved form of photo ID in order to vote. That move already has drawn cheers from the left and jeers from the right. The DoJ said South Carolina could not show that its new law would not have an adverse impact on racial minorities, who are less likely to have acceptable forms of identification.
South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley denounced the DoJ decision blocking the law under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act: “It is outrageous, and we plan to look at every possible option to get this terrible, clearly political decision overturned so we can protect the integrity of our electoral process and our 10th Amendment rights.” The state’s attorney general vowed to fight the DoJ move in court, and thanks to an odd quirk in the law, the issue could get fast-tracked to the Supreme Court, which could well use it to strike down the Voting Rights Act provision as unconstitutional before the 2012 elections.
The current dispute has an eerie echo. More than 45 years ago, South Carolina also went to the Supreme Court to complain that Section 5 unconstitutionally intruded on its sovereignty. Under the 1965 Act, states with a history of racial discrimination like South Carolina could not make changes in its voting rules—from major changes like redistricting to changes as minor as moving a polling place across the street—without getting the permission of either the U.S. Department of Justice or a three-judge court in Washington, D.C. The state had to show the law was not enacted with the purpose, or effect, of making minority voters worse off than they already were.
Editorials: Federal is the latest challenge to Florida’s politically motivated voting law | HeraldTribune.com
The venerable Florida League of Women Voters has decided to make a federal case out of a restrictive, punitive and politically motivated voting law approved this year by the state Legislature. Good for the league, and its co-plaintiffs.
The league is one of three groups that filed a lawsuit last week in a Tallahassee federal court, challenging the law. The suit asserts that the state law violates the plaintiffs’ rights to free speech and conflicts with the National Voter Registration Act. Joining the league were Rock the Vote — a national organization that engages young Americans in voting — and the Florida Public Interest Group Education Fund. This lawsuit is one of two federal cases involving the Florida voting law.
On Election Day 2000, tens of thousands of Floridians accidentally marked their ballots in ways that could not be read by the state’s voting machines. Their votes didn’t count. The identity of our next president hung in the balance for 36 days.
To prevent the Florida debacle from repeating, Congress passed the Help America Vote Act in 2002. The law required states to upgrade their voting machines. Voting machines must now warn voters and give them an opportunity to correct their ballot if they determined there was an “overvote,” the invalid selection of more than one candidate, on the ballot.
This technological fix was supposed to make these kinds of lost votes a thing of the past. Although there is no reliable nationwide data on the number of overvotes in recent elections, it is likely that the voting-machine changes mandated by HAVA have substantially reduced overvoting. But the HAVA requirements haven’t been enough to prevent votes from being lost — sometimes in staggering numbers — in recent elections.
The Obama administration on Tuesday will wade into the increasingly divisive national debate over new voting laws in several states that could depress turnout among minorities and others who helped elect the president in 2008.
A dozen states this year tightened rules requiring voters to present state-issued photo identification at the polls, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Although Democratic governors vetoed four of the measures, liberal and civil rights groups have been raising alarms about the remaining laws, calling them an “assault on democracy” and an attempt to depress minority voter turnout. Supporters of the tighter laws say they are needed to combat voter fraud.
With the presidential campaign heating up, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. will deliver a speech Tuesday expressing concerns about the voter-identification laws, along with a Texas redistricting plan before the Supreme Court that fails to take into account the state’s burgeoning Hispanic population, he said in an interview Monday.
Dawn Quarles, a high school teacher, is facing a $1,000 fine for doing something Florida has been cracking down on lately: registering students to vote. The state’s leaders want to stop registration drives that add more qualified voters to the rolls – and they are having a disturbing level of success.
Florida’s crackdown on voter registration is part of a larger national campaign against voting, which includes tough new voter ID laws in many states, rollbacks on early voting and other anti-democratic measures. Supporters of these laws argue that they are concerned with deterring fraud. But the real driving force is keeping down the number of voters – especially young, old, poor, and minority voters.
Quarles is a government teacher at Pace High School in the Florida Panhandle. Along with teaching her students about democracy, she has tried to get them to participate, by helping them register to vote. This should be a good thing. Our nation’s founders insisted that government should operate with the consent of the governed. Ideally, everyone who is eligible should be registered and vote.