Justin Levitt

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National: For government’s top lawyer on voting rights, presidential election has begun | The Washington Post

The Justice Department has brought on a well-respected election law professor to oversee its voting section and lead the department’s battles over voting rights during this presidential election year. Justin Levitt of the Loyola Law School in Los Angeles has begun serving as the deputy assistant attorney general in the Civil Rights Division at a critical time, with Justice Department lawyers litigating several voting-rights cases across the country. Levitt will hold the position, which does not require Senate confirmation, until next January. Levitt, 41, takes charge as the Justice Department awaits high-profile court decisions on voting rights in North Carolina and Texas. The presidential election this year will be the first since a divided Supreme Court invalidated a critical component of the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965. Also, more restrictive voting laws will be in effect in 15 states for the first time in a race for the White House. “The biggest change since the last presidential election is unquestionably the Supreme Court’s decision [on voting rights],” Levitt said in an interview in his fifth-floor office at Justice Department headquarters.

Editorials: Voter ID: What Oregon gets right and Alabama gets wrong | Kyle Whitmire/AL.com

A year after Alabama’s Voter ID took effect, the state announced that Wednesday that it would close 31 drivers license offices, leaving 28 counties without a place to get a license. In Alabama’s Black Belt — disproportionately poor and disproportionately African-American — either 12 or 15 counties (depending on which counties you count in the Black Belt) will no longer have a place to obtain the most common form of identification used at the polls. State officials were quick to assure voters that they could still obtain special Voter ID cards through their probate offices. But let’s face it — why are we doing this at all? The old arguments are worth revisiting.

Full Article: Voter ID: What Oregon gets right and Alabama gets wrong | AL.com.

National: Fighting red maps in purple states | Politico

Based on the big elections in Virginia in recent years, the Old Dominion is turning reliably blue: victories by Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012, two Senate wins by Democrats in two years, and Terry McAuliffe’s triumph in between. So how is it that Republicans have a stranglehold on the state’s congressional delegation, holding eight seats to Democrats’ three? That question is at the heart of a legal battle over whether Republicans have improperly leveraged their power over the redistricting process. The outcome could have far-reaching implications because the contours of congressional districts drawn by Republican-controlled legislatures are seen as a driving reason why Democrats may be locked in the House minority until at least after the next census in 2020. In Virginia, Democrats are hoping to redraw the lines to make some GOP districts more competitive after a panel of federal judges ruled recently that the Republican-led Legislature’s decision to pack African-American voters into the 3rd Congressional District, which is represented by Democratic Rep. Bobby Scott, was motivated purely by race — a violation of the 14th Amendment. Other battleground states such as North Carolina and Florida also have redistricting battles pending.

Full Article: Fighting red maps in purple states - Tarini Parti - POLITICO.

Ohio: Republicans go head-to-head on redistricting reform | Cincinnati Inquirer

A race for redistricting reform appears to be on for Senate and House Republicans, leaving one to question whether legislators will be able to come together and make good on a promise to pass reform by year’s end. Redistricting discussion ramped up this past week as testimony began on a pair of joint resolutions by Rep. Matt Huffman, R-Lima, that would change the district mapmaking process for state and federal legislators. As voter advocates blasted Huffman’s plan, saying it would be the worst redistricting process in the country, the Senate began moving on a redistricting plan that’s effectively been on hold since it was voted out of committee in June 2013.

Full Article: Republicans go head-to-head on redistricting reform.

Editorials: How racism underlies voter ID laws: the academics weigh in | Michael Hiltzik/Los Angeles Times

The voting laws requiring photo IDs inherently racially discriminatory, as Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg maintained in her blistering dissent Saturday morning?  A team of politician scientists from Appalachian State, Texas Tech and the University of Florida took on that question for an article just published in Political Research Quarterly (h/t: Justin Levitt). Their conclusion is that the claims of proponents that they’re just upholding the principle of ballot integrity can be discounted; the photo ID laws aim to disenfranchise Democratic voters; they cite findings that the raised cost of voting imposed by photo ID requires “falls overwhelmingly on minorities.” In other words, the answer is yes. The researchers are William D. Hicks of Appalachian, Seth C. McKee of Texas Tech, and Mitchell D. Sellers and Daniel A. Smith of Florida. They observe that voter ID laws in general and photo ID laws specifically surged in 2006 and later, when the electorate became highly polarized. In 2000, four states–Arkansas, Georgia, Michigan and North Dakota–had enacted ID laws, none of them photo-based; they aimed to clarify voting rules, part of a trend that led to the Help America Vote Act, which was passed by a bipartisan vote in Congress in 2002. At the time, the idea of straightening out confusing differences in voting rules was noncontroversial: “why would any member of Congress oppose helping Americans vote?” the authors ask. The atmosphere soon changed. In 2001, only 14 states required identification to vote, of which only four specified photo IDs; by 2014, 34 states had ID laws, including 17 photo ID laws. In 2011 alone, six states added a photo ID requirement. 

Full Article: How racism underlies voter ID laws: the academics weigh in - LA Times.

Editorials: The disconnect between voter ID laws and voter fraud – The Washington Post

Almost no one shows up at the polls pretending to be someone else in an effort to throw an election. Almost no one acts as a poll worker on Election Day to try to cast illegal votes for a candidate. And almost no general election race in recent history has been close enough to have been thrown by the largest example of in-person voter fraud on record. That said, there have been examples of fraud, including fraud perpetrated through the use of absentee ballots severe enough to force new elections at the state level. But the slew of new laws passed over the past few years meant to address voter fraud have overwhelmingly focused on the virtually non-existent/unproven type of voter fraud, and not the still-not-common-but-not-non-existent abuse of absentee voting. In August, Justin Levitt, a professor at Loyola University Law School, detailed for Wonkblog 31 instances of documented, in-person voter fraud that would have been prevented by stricter rules around identification at the polling place. The most severe instance Levitt outlined involved as many as 24 voters in Brooklyn who tried to vote under assumed names.

Full Article: The disconnect between voter ID laws and voter fraud - The Washington Post.

National: Proof That Voter Impersonation Almost Never Happens | New York Times

An enduring Republican fantasy is that there are armies of fraudulent voters lurking in the baseboards of American life, waiting for the opportunity to crash the polls and undermine the electoral system. It’s never really been clear who these voters are or how their schemes work; perhaps they are illegal immigrants casting votes for amnesty, or poor people seeking handouts.  Most Republican politicians know these criminals don’t actually exist, but they have found it useful to take advantage of the party base’s pervasive fear of outsiders, just as when they shot down immigration reform. In this case, they persuaded the base of the need for voter ID laws to ensure “ballot integrity,” knowing the real effect would be to reduce Democratic turnout. Now a researcher has tried to quantify this supposed threat by documenting every known case of voter fraud since 2000 — specifically, the kind of impersonation that would be stopped by an ID requirement. (Note that this does not include ballot-box stuffing by officials, vote-buying or coercion: the kinds of fraud that would not be affected by an ID law.) 

Full Article: Proof That Voter Impersonation Almost Never Happens - NYTimes.com.

Editorials: 7 papers, 4 government inquiries, 2 news investigations and 1 court ruling proving voter fraud is mostly a myth | Christopher Ingraham/The Washington Post

Voter ID laws are back in the news this week after a group of college students joined a lawsuit challenging North Carolina’s new restrictive rules. And as Catherine Rampell pointed out earlier this week, it’s not just ID laws – Republican state legislatures have been busy devising all manner of creative ways to make voting more difficult for traditionally Democratic-leaning groups. All of these restrictive measures take their justification from a perceived need to prevent “voter fraud.” But there is overwhelming scholarly and legal consensus that voter fraud is vanishingly rare, and in fact non-existent at the levels imagined by voter ID proponents. That hasn’t stopped many Republican lawmakers from crying “fraud” every time they’re faced with an unfavorable election outcome (see also: McDaniel, Chris).

Full Article: 7 papers, 4 government inquiries, 2 news investigations and 1 court ruling proving voter fraud is mostly a myth - The Washington Post.

Virginia: Lawsuit alleges ‘racial gerrymandering’ | Associated Press

Virginia is one of several states where Democrats have gone to court to challenge redistricting plans drawn by Republicans seeking to keep control of the U.S. House of Representatives. Marc Elias, an attorney for the National Democratic Redistricting Trust, represents two Virginia voters in a lawsuit that accuses the General Assembly of “racial gerrymandering” by improperly packing African-Americans into the state’s only black-majority congressional district to make adjacent districts safer for GOP incumbents. A trial is set for this month. “We’re trying to remedy what we believe is an unconstitutional map drawn by the legislature,” Elias said. Democrats have also challenged GOP-drawn redistricting plans in other states — including Texas, Florida, Nevada and Missouri — but they are not alone in employing the tactic. Republicans also have asked courts to invalidate Democrat-produced remapping in a few states.

Full Article: Lawsuit alleges 'racial gerrymandering' in Va. | Home - Home.

National: Ruling Hints More Campaign Finance Dominoes May Fall | New York Times

The sweeping language and logic of Wednesday’s Supreme Court decision on campaign finance may imperil other legal restrictions on money in politics. The 5-to-4 decision, which struck down overall limits on contributions by individuals to candidates and parties, was the latest in a series of campaign finance decisions from the court led by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. that took an expansive view of First Amendment rights and a narrow one of political corruption. According to experts in election law, there is no reason to think that the march toward deregulating election spending will stop with the ruling in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission. “Those who support limits see the court right now as the T. Rex from ‘Jurassic Park,’” said Justin Levitt, a law professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. “What’s next? ‘Just don’t move. He can’t see us if we don’t move.’” For now, federal law bars corporations from making contributions to candidates, though they can spend what they like independently to support or oppose candidates. Contributions from individuals to candidates are capped at $2,600 per election. Individual contributions to political parties are capped, too. Public financing of elections is allowed.

Full Article: Ruling Hints More Campaign Finance Dominoes May Fall - NYTimes.com.

North Carolina: Voter fraud in North Carolina? Not so fast | MSNBC

Conservative supporters of voting restrictions think they’ve found the holy grail in North Carolina: A genuine case of massive voter fraud that can be used to justify efforts to make it harder to vote. The reality, of course, is far less clear. Non-partisan election experts are already pouring cold water on the claims, noting that other recent allegations of major voting irregularities have fizzled upon closer scrutiny. In a report released Wednesday, North Carolina’s elections board said it had found 35,570 people who voted in the state in 2012 and whose names and dates of birth match those of voters in other states. The board said it also found 765 North Carolinians who voted in 2012 and whose names, birthdates, and last four digits of their Social Security number match those of people in other states. The board said it’s looking into all these cases to determine whether people voted twice. There’s a lot riding on what the board finds. North Carolina Republicans last year passed a sweeping and restrictive voting law, which is currentlybeing challenged by the U.S. Justice Department. The law’s voter ID provision would likely have done nothing to stop the double voting being alleged here, but solid evidence of illegal voting could still bolster the state’s case that the measure is justified. It could also make it easier for the state to remove from the rolls voters who are thought to be registered in two states—raising concerns that legitimate voters could wrongly be purged.

Full Article: Voter fraud in North Carolina? Not so fast | MSNBC.

Voting Blogs: The Interest in Speech about Politics v. the Interest in Political Speech | More Soft Money Hard Law

The SCOTUSblog symposium on the McCutcheon case continued with postings on various aspects of the speech and government interests involved in the contribution/expenditure distinction. Justin Levitt argues that overall, in granting more protection to expenditures, the distinction correctly ranks the speech values. The independent expenditure is pure self-expression, the spender’s “unique” view; the contribution helps the candidate’s speech, and as he may speak as he pleases, the message he communicates and the “unique” view of the contributor may well diverge. Tamara Piety affirms the Court’s view that “the expressive interests of contributions are minimal” and that restrictions on them may be necessary to protect against loss of public confidence in government, to enhance the competitiveness of elections, and to focus governmental energies on voters and not contributors. What this analysis misses in following Buckley is the difference between an interest in speaking about politics, and an interest in effective political speech. The contribution and expenditure distinction is rooted in the first of these interests, and it is for this reason that the expenditure is the constitutionally privileged form of speech. In theBuckley view, the spender speaking just for herself may well treasure volume; the more said, the better, in order to drive the points home. By contrast, because the contributor supposedly speaks through another, “by proxy,” a strictly limited amount given still completes the expressive act of association and fully vindicates this more limited First Amendment interest. The contributor, however, in funding candidate speech is motivated by a deeper interest than Buckley accounts for—an interest in effective political speech. 

Full Article: The Interest in Speech about Politics v. the Interest in Political Speech -.

Editorials: The long road ahead for voting rights | NC Policy Watch

State GOP lawmakers wasted no time ramping up their efforts to drastically change voting in North Carolina after the U.S. Supreme Court, in Shelby County v. Holder, gutted the requirement that certain jurisdictions get proposed voting changes pre-approved. “Now we can go with the full bill,” Senator Tom Apodaca told WRALthat same day, referring to an omnibus voting bill that would do more than just require voter ID; it would reduce early voting, eliminate Sunday voting and ban same-day registration. Go they did, pushing House Bill 589 through both chambers and on to Gov. Pat McCrory’s desk for signature in just weeks and prompting voting rights advocates and even the Attorney General to warn that, by signing the bill into law, the governor would be casting the state into a protracted and costly battle in the courts. And those groups wasted no time, after the governor signed H589 into law on Monday, hauling McCrory and the state into court, filing three separate lawsuits challenging the law.

Full Article: The long road ahead for voting rights | NC Policy Watch.

Voting Blogs: Arizona: Voter Registration and the Road Ahead | Justin Levitt/Election Law@Moritz

June arrived with two election law cases at the Supreme Court. One is still pending: a highly anticipated decision on section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. The other, more frequently overlooked, was decided yesterday. And there are some quirks of the opinion that seem to depart from the swiftly congealing conventional wisdom that the states might actually have “won,” and now need only run out the clock. The case is called Arizona v. Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, Inc., but it has bounced through the courts under various names for seven years. In 2004, Arizona voters passed Prop 200, increasing identification requirements at the polls (one valid photo ID or two non-photo documents with name and current address) and requiring new voters to submit documentary proof of citizenship with a voter registration form.

Full Article: Election Law @ Moritz (Commentary: Arizona: Voter Registration and the Road Ahead).

National: Republicans Win Congress as Democrats Get Most Votes | Bloomberg

In the 1780s, Patrick Henry tried to shape Virginia’s House district lines to block James Madison from serving in the first U.S. Congress. The grudge between the two men: Henry opposed the U.S. Constitution freshly written primarily by Madison. The gambit failed and Madison won his seat.  More than two centuries later, the politics of redistricting still are shaping Congress. A majority of Americans disapprove of the Republicans in Congress, yet the odds remain in the party’s favor that it will retain control of the House. One big reason the Republicans have this edge: their district boundaries are drawn so carefully that the only votes that often matter come from fellow Republicans. The 2010 elections, in which Republicans won the House majority and gained more than 700 state legislative seatsacross the nation, gave the party the upper-hand in the process of redistricting, the once-a-decade redrawing of congressional seats. The advantage helped them design safer partisan districts and maintain their House majority in 2012 — even as they lost the presidential race by about 5 million votes. Also nationwide, Democratic House candidates combined to win about 1.4 million more votes than Republicans, according to data compiled by Bloomberg News.

Full Article: Republicans Win Congress as Democrats Get Most Votes - Bloomberg.

Minnesota: How to Vote Down Voter ID | American Prospect

In late October, two weeks before the election, amid the glut of attack ads, a TV commercial appeared in Minnesota that grabbed everyone’s attention. It opens on former Governor Arne Carlson, a Republican, who is a familiar and beloved figure in the state, looking into the camera. “This voter-restriction amendment is way too costly,” he tells viewers. An image of $100 bills flashes to his right. Carlson’s jowls quiver as he solemnly shakes his head. An American flag hangs behind his shoulder. Fade and cut to Mark Dayton, the state’s current governor, a Democrat, on the right half of the screen. “And it would keep thousands of seniors from voting,” Dayton continues, his Minnesota accent especially thick. As he speaks, a black-and-white photo of a forlorn elderly woman appears. In a year when the two parties seemed to agree on little except their mutual distaste for each other, here was a split-screen commercial with a Democrat and a Republican, the only bipartisan TV spot Minnesotans would see. The two trade talking points, Carlson focusing on the financial burden, Dayton highlighting the various groups who would be disenfranchised, until the split screen vanishes, revealing the two governors side by side in front of a painting of the Minnesota Capitol. “If you’re a Democrat, Republican, or independent please vote no—this is not good for Minnesota,” Carlson closes.

Full Article: How to Vote Down Voter ID.

National: Voter ID Laws Study: Voter Fraud Even Rarer Than Winning Mega Millions | @PolicyMic

You are more likely to win Mega Millions that commit voter fraud in the US according to this study. The Justice Department recently blocked a Texas law requiring voters to show government-issued photo identification at polls on the grounds that it disproportionately disenfranchised Hispanics. The state sued the government in response, and the law is scheduled to be disputed in a federal trial in July. Although voter fraud is a problem that should not be overlooked, I side with the Justice Department, as this law would negatively impact more people than the number of cases of voter fraud.  There is much ambiguity surrounding the issue of voter fraud. Only a few studies have measured the prevalence of fraud, such as this study conducted by the Brennan Center for Justice which showed that voter fraud is even rarer than being struck by lightning or winning the Mega Millions. But disenfranchisement of minority groups is very real. By disregarding an important component of the state’s population, Texas’ law creates a predetermined electoral  outcome, prohibits an entire demographic from voicing their own opinions, and obstructs a key cornerstone of democracy in order to produce desired results. 

Full Article: Voter ID Laws Study: Voter Fraud Even Rarer Than Winning Mega Millions @PolicyMic | Brian Tam.

Editorials: Supreme Court Messes With Texas, Voting Rights | Justin Levitt/Miller-McCune

There is a way the U.S. Supreme Court can extract some sense out of a wildly politicized Voting Rights Act it heard Monday, argues a prominent redistricting specialist. “Don’t mess with Texas” — this time, the U.S. Supreme Court should have listened. The court has injected itself into a 10-gallon disaster that grows messier with every passing day. Today, the court hears arguments. If only it could slowly back out of the room.

Full Article: Supreme Court Messes With Texas, Voting Rights - Miller-McCune.

National: Voter ID Laws Target Rarely Occurring Voter Fraud | AP/Fox News

Several states adopted new laws last year requiring that people show a photo ID when they come to vote even though the kind of election fraud that the laws are intended to stamp out is rare. Even supporters of the new laws are hard pressed to come up with large numbers of cases in which someone tried to vote under a false identify.

“I’ve compared this to the snake oil salesman. You got a cold? I got snake oil. Your foot aches? I got snake oil,” said election law expert Justin Levitt, who wrote “The Truth About Voter Fraud” for The Brennan Center for Justice. “It doesn’t seem to matter what the problem is, (voter) ID is being sold as the solution to a whole bunch of things it can’t possibly solve.”

Kansas, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin have passed laws this year that allow voters without the required photo ID to cast provisional ballots, but the voters must return to a specific location with that ID within a certain time limit for their ballots to count.

Full Article: Voter ID Laws Target Rarely Occurring Voter Fraud | Fox News.

National: Congress Investigates GOP War on Voting | Rolling Stone

In the current issue of Rolling Stone, I examine how Republican officials in a dozen states have passed new laws this year designed to impede voters at every step of the electoral process. It’s a widespread, deliberate effort that could prevent millions of mostly Democratic voters, including students, minorities, immigrants, ex-convicts and the elderly, from casting ballots in 2012. Congress is, belatedly, starting to pay attention, and yesterday afternoon Illinois Senator Dick Durbin, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights, held a hearing on “New State Voting Laws: Barriers to the Ballot?”

“I am deeply concerned by this coordinated, well-funded effort to pass laws that could have the impact of suppressing votes in some states,” said Durbin, the number two Democrat in the Senate.

“Rather than protecting right to vote,” said Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown, a witness at the hearing, “we’re seeing a brazen attempt around the country to undermine it.” He pointed to legislation that would make it more difficult for citizens to register to vote or for groups like the League of Women Voters to register new voters, cut back on early voting, require government-issued IDs that specifically target young and minority voters, and disenfranchise ex-felons.

Full Article: Congress Investigates GOP War on Voting | Rolling Stone Politics | RS Politics Daily | Rolling Stone Writers and Editors on Political News.