As it stands now, all Georgians will cast their 2016 votes for president on English-language ballots. While the population of Hispanic voters is growing, it’s not grown enough for Georgia counties to join the 248 counties in 25 states that by law must offer bilingual voting material. But some advocates for Latino and Hispanic voting rights are working on a way around that. To get a language other than English on a ballot, more than 5 percent of voting age citizens in a county must primarily speak that specific language. In Georgia, that hasn’t happened. But the Voting Rights Act makes an exception when it comes to one particular community: Puerto Ricans.
Faced with a close vote on a leadership-backed map to redraw state Senate districts, the Florida Senate agreed to modify three minority-based districts in Miami-Dade County on Tuesday, hoping to win the crucial votes needed to send the proposal to the House and win support for the revision in court. The sponsor of the amendment, Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Coral Gables, argued that change was needed to make the districts more compact, in compliance with the anti-gerrymandering provisions of the Florida Constitution, and to preserve the voting strength of Hispanic voters. He argued that the original map, which was drawn by House and Senate staff and approved on a party-line vote last week by the Senate Reapportionment Committee, diminished the ability of Hispanics to elect a candidate of their choice.
For a small Caribbean island barely half the size of Connecticut, Puerto Rico seems to be assuming outsized importance in the race for the White House. A flying visit this week from the former Florida governor Jeb Bush – who appears ever closer to announcing his intention to seek the Republican presidential nomination – placed the US territory and its electorate of 2.4 million at the heart of his push to win back Hispanic voters. Bush, who speaks Spanish fluently and who has a Mexican wife, told supporters at public appearances in San Juan and Bayamón about the party’s need to reconnect with the Latino vote.
Miami-Dade County’s law aimed at curbing absentee-ballot fraud has withstood a first big legal challenge. An appeals court on Wednesday shot down the case of Hialeah’s Sergio “El Tio” Robaina, who claimed the county law was unconstitutional and unfair to elderly Hispanic voters who rely on friends to deliver their absentee ballots. The ruling is a resounding victory for Miami-Dade County, which in 2011 passed the ordinance amid fears of growing election fraud. Under the law, a person can only turn in two absentee ballots other than their own: one belonging to an immediate family member, and another belonging to a voter who has signed a sworn statement designating that person as responsible. The Third District Court of Appeal issued the ruling without a written opinion, which means that Robaina will likely be unable to appeal his case to the Florida Supreme Court.
Some of the longest lines on Election Day occur at polling places in black and Hispanic neighborhoods. A new report says that’s not a coincidence. In the three states with the longest lines in 2012, precincts in minority neighborhoods were systematically deprived of the resources they needed to make voting operate smoothly — specifically, voting machines and poll workers, according to the report by the Brennan Center for Justice. The report’s data show the growing need for federal supervision of voting rights, though ensuring supervision is harder than ever since the Supreme Court removed the teeth from the Voting Rights Act of 1965 last year. The report looked at Maryland, South Carolina and Florida, where many voters waited for hours to cast a vote in the 2012 presidential election. In all three, minority precincts were more likely to have had long lines. In South Carolina, the 10 precincts with the longest waits had more than twice the percentage of black registered voters, on average, than the rest of the state.
A law requiring Texas voters to show government-issued identification before casting a ballot is the latest example of the state’s long history of discrimination against minorities and puts unjustified burdens on the right to vote for more than half a million Texans, lawyers challenging the law told a federal judge here on Monday. The Justice Department, joined by several black and Hispanic voters, elected officials and advocacy groups, sued Texas in federal court over the state’s voter-identification law, asking a judge to overturn it and arguing that it discriminates against minority voters. Texas officials said the law was necessary to prevent voter fraud and have denied that it discriminates, arguing that the five elections Texas has held using the law’s requirements had yielded few reports of people being unable to produce the types of ID needed to vote.
Imani Clark, Aurica Washington, Crystal Owens and Michelle Bessiake are students at Prairie View A&M and Texas Southern University, two historically black colleges in Texas. They do not have a driver’s license or own a car, and do not possess one of the five forms of government-issued identification required by Texas to vote. They can no longer vote with their students IDs in Texas, where a handgun permit is a valid voter ID but a student ID is not. The four students are among the plaintiffs challenging the constitutionality of Texas’s voter ID law in federal court in Corpus Christi this week. The trial before Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos, an Obama appointee, is expected to last two to three weeks. In August 2012, a three-judge district court in Washington found that the law discriminated against black and Hispanic voters under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. The court called it “the most stringent [voter ID law] in the country.” But after the Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder freed states like Texas with a long history of voting discrimination from having to approve their voting changes with the federal government, Texas wasted no time in implementing the blocked law. “With today’s decision, the state’s voter ID law will take effect immediately,” Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott announced hours after the court’s ruling. Groups like the Justice Department, NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the Mexican American Legislative Caucus are now challenging the law under Section 2 of the VRA, which remains on the books.
Despite a “wave” of Hispanics moving to Orange County, elected leaders “made it harder” for them to get elected when it redrew its political borders, plaintiffs’ attorney Juan Cartagena told a federal judge Monday at the opening of a voting-rights lawsuit. Orange County’s lead attorney countered that voters have elected Latinos to county offices in districts with fewer Hispanic voters than today — and despite what the plaintiffs want, it may be legally impossible to create a majority-Hispanic district. In the suit, local Hispanics accuse Orange leaders of diluting Latino political power. The New York City civil rights group representing them, LatinoJustice PRLDE, called its first witness, who said Hispanics are a large and cohesive enough group to have a majority district.
Voting Blogs: Federal Judge Orders Texas to Produce Legislative Docs That May Prove Polling Place Photo ID Restriction Law Was Racially-Motivated | BradBlog
Just over a week ago, it was North Carolina legislators ordered by the court to cough up documentation relating to passage of new, draconian restrictions on voting rights in their state. Now, legislators in Texas are facing much the same thing, as that state’s extreme polling place Photo ID restrictions also face legal and Constitutional challenge. By way of an eight-page Order [PDF]issued late last week, U.S. District Court Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos has directed the State of Texas to serve upon the U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ) documents that relate to the question of whether “state legislators, contrary to their public pronouncements, acted with discriminatory intent in enacting SB 14,” the Lone Star State’s polling place Photo ID restriction law. That law had previously been found to be discriminatory against minority voters in TX, and thus rejected by both the DoJ and a federal court panel as a violation of the Voting Rights Act (VRA). It was then re-enacted by the state of Texas almost immediately after the U.S. Supreme Court gutted a central provision of the VRA in the summer of 2013.
Low voter turnout among Hispanics in Texas plays a key role in preventing the Republican-dominated state from being politically competitive, according to a new report from the polling company Latino Decisions. In Texas, which is home to nearly one in five of all U.S. Hispanics, just 39 percent of Hispanics who were eligible to vote in the 2012 presidential election cast a ballot. That’s compared with 48 percent of eligible U.S. Hispanics, 61 percent of eligible white Texans and 64 percent of eligible white Americans. “If Hispanic voter mobilization efforts were successful in the state, Texas would be as competitive as Florida in statewide contests, including presidential elections,” said the report, which was commissioned by America’s Voice, which advocates for immigration reform. Twenty-five percent of Texas Hispanic voters said they were contacted by campaigns or organizations encouraging them to vote in 2012, the report said. The national average was 31 percent.
It’s time to face reality: There’s no significant problem with voter fraud in Florida. If it did exist, highly trained investigators with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement would’ve been able to find it. Late last month, the law-enforcement agency quietly closed two high-profile cases, having found no fraud of any significance. Only one arrest was made. While other cases are pending, there’s nothing to suggest the epidemic of voter fraud hyped by Gov. Rick Scott and Republican lawmakers in advance of the 2012 presidential election. They played on fears at the time to pass a law that reduced early voting days from 14 to eight and restricted voter-registration drives. Both changes made voting harder — especially on groups likely to back Democrats. After Florida was embarrassed by hours-long lines on Election Day, some of those “reforms” were undone in last spring’s legislative session.
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.”
Last week, the State of Texas filed a brief responding to arguments that Texas should be ‘bailed in’ to preclearance coverage under section 3 of the Voting Rights Act. The brief makes any number of technical and procedural arguments, and the courts will have to sort through those in due course. But it’s worth pausing to consider two of the more far-reaching claims in the brief. The first of these is the claim that the Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby Co. means that ‘bail in’ under section 3 is now limited to situations like those that existed in the Deep South in the 1960s and that:
To suggest that Texas has engaged in or will engage in 1960s style ‘common practice of staying one step ahead of the federal courts by passing new discriminatory voting laws’ is absurd on its face.
Now, set aside, for the moment, Texas’ recent history of doing things like trying to re-draw CD-23 – in not one but two successive redistricting cycles – to take away the ability of Hispanic voters to elect their candidate of choice. Or its long record of other Voting Rights Act violations. Instead, stop and ponder this: Texas wasn’t originally subject to preclearance under section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. That’s right. Although it’s sometimes forgotten today, Texas didn’t become covered under section 5 until the 1975 amendments to the Act.
When the Supreme Court dismantled a key provision of the Voting Rights Act last June, there were two small silver linings in this decision. The first was the possibility that Congress could revive the regime killed by the Court, where states with particularly poor records of racialized voter suppression must “preclear” their voting practices with the Justice Department or a federal court before those practices can take effect. The second potential silver lining is Section 3 of the Voting Rights Act, which allows a state to be brought back under the preclearance requirement if a court finds that it engaged in “violations of the fourteenth or fifteenth amendment justifying equitable relief.” Now, however, Texas wants to destroy these two silver linings as well. And there is a fair chance that the conservative Supreme Court will allow them to do so.
National: Presidential commission probes Florida voting lines, which study shows were longest for Hispanics | Miami Herald
Hispanic voters waited longer at the polls last November than any other ethnic group, a statewide study has concluded, with black voters also experiencing longer delays than whites. The study, submitted Friday in Coral Gables to a bipartisan election reform commission created by President Barack Obama, found that precincts with a greater proportion of Hispanic voters closed later on Nov. 6 than precincts with predominantly white ones. In some cases, blacks also had longer waits than whites. The 10-member Presidential Commission on Election Administration met at a day-long session at the University of Miami to hear from Florida elections supervisors, political science professors and the public about how the government can help avoid delays at the polls. “Everyone we’ve talked to from all levels, from all disciplines, says you can’t have a one-size-fit-all solution,” said Ben Ginsberg, who co-chairs the commission with Bob Bauer. Both are Washington D.C.-based elections attorneys with extensive experience advising presidential candidates and political parties.
In 2008, Wendy Davis, a city councilmember in Fort Worth, Texas, narrowly defeated a 20-term incumbent to win a state Senate seat. Davis, a Democrat, enjoyed strong support from her district’s black and Hispanic voters, who had largely been ignored by her Republican predecessor, and once in office she set about fighting for those who she felt lacked a voice. She worked to kick-start economic growth in poor neighborhoods, pushed for increased public-school funding, and cracked down on predatory lending practices targeting the poor. When Fort Worth kids were forced to crawl under idling trains to get to school, Davis won funding to fix the problem. But Texas Republicans were eager to win back Davis’ seat and increase their Senate majority. And in 2011, they used their control of the redistricting process to improve their chances.
Could a county in Alabama affect your ability to vote? Absolutely. Any day now, the Supreme Court will issue its decision in Shelby County v. Holder, a case challenging Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Section 5 requires states with a history of discrimination to get approval from the federal government before they change their voting laws. Most of these states are in the South. Shelby County, Alabama says this is unfair and wants Section 5 struck down. Section 5 is not just one part of the Voting Rights Act. Section 5 is the heart of the Voting Rights Act. Getting rid of it would be a setback to civil rights. It would negatively impact Hispanic voters. And it would represent a troubling overreach by the Supreme Court into Congressional jurisdiction. The Fifteenth Amendment of the Constitution states that no citizen should be denied his right to vote on account of race or color. But Southern states for years found ways to prevent African Americans from voting. So in 1965 Congress passed Section 5, to ensure an end to poll taxes, literacy tests, and other means of obstructing access to the ballot box.
On Wednesday, the Census Bureau released its biannual study of voting patterns in federal elections, which included a remarkable finding: African-American voter turnout surpassed that of white, non-Hispanic voters in 2012 for the first time in recent memory, perhaps ever. USA Today ran this news on the front page, and the report received write-ups in every other major national newspaper. There’s only one problem: That landmark may have been passed four years ago. Or maybe not at all. The uncertainty stems from the fact that the data the census used to create this report has what several experts consider a major hole in it: Data on whether people voted is collected every other November in a supplement to the Current Population Survey, a regular government survey of about 60,000 households. If respondents decline to say whether or not they voted, or if the interviewer does not ask, it is assumed that they did not vote.
Legislation to require voters to show a photo ID began moving through the state House on Wednesday after a debate that touched on some of the most sensitive subjects in politics – vote stealing, race, newly arrived Hispanic voters, and voter suppression. The House Election Committee, in a party-line Republican 23-11 vote, passed a bill requiring voters to produce a government-approved photo ID before being allowed to vote in the 2016 election. But poll workers would begin asking for photos on a voluntary basis next year under the bill. The measure heads to the House floor next week – after several quick stops in two other House committees – before going to the Senate.
On Election Day 2012, black voters waited on average nearly twice as long to vote as did white voters, while the wait time for Hispanic voters fell in between those two groups. So say the available data, according to Massachusetts Institute of Technology political scientist Charles Stewart III. He decided to see what he could learn by examining statistics on Election Day waits and sums up his findings in a research paper titled “Waiting to Vote in 2012.” Stewart says the national average wait for white voters was 12 minutes, while that same metric for African-Americans was 23 minutes. For Hispanics, it was 19 minutes. Although it would be easy to jump to the conclusion that some form of discrimination might have been at work, Stewart suggests that other factors could be at play, such as geography.
Hispanics and African-Americans under age 30 were disproportionately hampered in their efforts to vote in the November election even in states without voter ID laws, a new study indicates. The study, “Black and Latino Youth Disproportionately Affected by Voter Identification Laws in the 2012 Election,” shows that voter ID laws are applied differently across racial and ethnic groups, said professor Cathy Cohen of the University of Chicago and assistant professor Jon C. Rogowski at Washington University. Among Hispanic youths, 8.1 percent couldn’t vote because they didn’t have the necessary identification. The numbers for blacks were even higher at 17.3 percent, but just 4.7 percent for whites. “Our study shows that without a doubt youth of color are discriminated against at the voting booth,” Rogowski said in a statement. “It doesn’t matter whether it results from conscious or unconscious bias, the result is that people of color are being disenfranchised and our nation has an obligation to put an end to it.”
Editorials: Voting Rights 2.0: How the Supreme Court could make the VRA better instead of striking it down | Emily Bazelon/Slate Magazine
Congressional District 23 cuts across a rural swath of southwestern Texas, from the state’s border with New Mexico, hundreds of miles south along the Rio Grande, stretching east to San Antonio. It’s among the least densely populated terrain in the country—and the most electorally disputed. The district was created in 1967, two years after the passage of the Voting Rights Act. The voters of District 23 sent a Democrat to Congress every term until the 1992 election. At that point, following the 1990 census, which gave Texas three additional seats, District 23 was redrawn to include a Republican-leaning part of San Antonio. Republican Henry Bonilla won the 1992 election. And in 2003, the district was redrawn again to keep him there, by moving 100,000 Latinos out. Bonilla was still in office in 2006, when the Supreme Court ruled that District 23 violated the Voting Rights Act. The act bars states and cities from discriminating against minority voters with crude tools like poll taxes and literacy tests (and in our time, some voter ID requirements); it also aims to ensure that when district lines are redrawn, they can’t be gerrymandered in a way that dilutes the electoral power of minorities. District 23 was supposed to be a Hispanic opportunity district—one in which Latinos could potentially elect their preferred candidate despite the racially polarized voting patterns of Anglos in the area. From ’92 on, Latinos were voting against Bonilla in greater numbers each time, nearly ousting him in 2002. But the 2003 map, the Supreme Court said, in essence “took away the Latinos’ opportunity because Latinos were about to exercise it.”
There were many images typical of Election Day last November 6, including the usual confetti and tears that accompanied the victory and concession speeches at the end of the night. Unfortunately, there was another image that is increasingly common on Election Day, especially during presidential contests: long lines. While it was inspiring to see so many Americans endure hours of standing to exercise their most fundamental right, it was also troubling. We admire the voters in Miami who waited for hours and “refused to leave the line despite fainting.” But should this kind of fortitude be needed to vote? By modernizing voter registration, providing more early voting opportunities, and setting minimum national standards for polling place access, America can fix the long lines that plague elections and bring our voting system into the 21st century.
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.
Recognizing this year’s elections are just a few weeks away, a panel of three federal judges questioned on Monday whether South Carolina should wait until 2014 to put its voter identification law into effect. The judges raised the question as an attorney for South Carolina delivered closing arguments in the trial over whether the state’s law discriminates against minorities. Last December, the Justice Department refused to “preclear” — find it complies with the Voting Rights Act — the law so it could go into effect. A decision in the case is expected in early October.
Come the November general election, close to 1 million minority voters under the age of 30 could be affected by voter ID laws implemented in 17 states, according to a new study. Between 700,000 and 1 million minority voters under 30 are expected to be unable to place a vote thanks to recently implemented voter suppression laws, with a potential drop-off in turnout amongst these voters to be close to 700,000, according to a study from the Black Youth Project.
Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz told a legislative rules committee on Tuesday that he’s not trying to give an advantage to any candidates in November but only doing his job by passing emergency voter rules to ensure only U.S. citizens vote. Schultz defended the rules before the Legislature’s Administrative Rules Review Committee when confronted by some of the group’s Democrats who said the rules will intimidate Hispanic voters, and perhaps others, and scare them away from voting. Sen. Tom Courtney, of Burlington, said many Latinos he’s talked to in his district are afraid election officials are going to try to keep them from voting. “These are good people who happen to be naturalized American citizens and they want to vote. They want to do their part. They’re scared, Mr. Secretary,” Courtney said. “This scares them and I don’t like that. We’ve never had that in this state. We’ve always been above board and everybody voted.”
Representative Trey Martinez Fischer, the chairman of the Mexican-American Legislative Caucus in the Texas House of Representatives, flew to Washington this week to persuade a panel of federal judges to invalidate a requirement that voters must have an ID card. His trip was less arduous than the one some residents would have to endure to get a government-issued photo ID. “In West Texas, some people would have a 200-mile round-trip drive” to the nearest state office to get a card, he testified, according to The Dallas Morning News. More than a quarter of the state’s counties don’t even have an office to get a driver’s license or voter card. Lines at the San Antonio motor vehicles offices are often more than two hours long, he said. Texas is one of 10 Republican-controlled states that have imposed a government ID requirement to vote, purportedly to reduce fraud but actually to dissuade poor and minority voters who tend to vote Democratic. (Seven other states have passed slightly less-restrictive rules.) In most cases the federal government can do little to resist this incursion on voting rights, because the Supreme Court upheld ID requirements in 2008. But Texas is different. It is covered by the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which allows the Justice Department to disapprove of any change in voting procedures in areas with a history of discrimination.
A panel of federal judges on Friday peppered lawyers for Texas with skeptical questions about the state’s new voter identification requirement and whether it runs afoul of federal anti-discrimination laws. At the end of a week-long trial in Washington, D.C.’s District Court, the three judges questioned whether requiring voters to present government issued photo identification – such as a driver’s license or passport – was too onerous, and may disproportionately affect black and Hispanic voters. “People who want to vote already have an ID or can easily get one,’’ said John Hughes, one of the lawyers representing Texas. Among election lawyers, the case is seen as an early legal test for a number of voter ID laws recently passed or under consideration by Republican-controlled state legislatures. Texas passed its law in 2011, saying it would help prevent voter fraud. In March the Justice Department moved to block it, saying it discriminated against minorities by making it more difficult for them to vote. The Obama administration has also moved to block a voter ID law in South Carolina, a case that will be heard next month.
Four days of testimony ended Thursday in a federal trial on the legality of a new Texas voter ID law that was rejected by the Justice Department under the Voting Rights Act. The case is being watched closely by other states that have recently passed restrictive voter laws. “It’s over. The trial has ended. It’s a tough set of issues, it’s a tough case,” said U.S. District Judge Rosemary Collyer, one of three federal judges hearing the case. Closing arguments are scheduled today, and a decision by the judges on the lawsuit filed by Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott could come this month. At issue is a voter ID law that the government and experts have said will disproportionately affect more than 1 million minorities in Texas. Attorneys for the state reject the claim and argue that the law is designed to combat voter fraud.