In 2013, North Carolina drew national attention when it passed the nation’s most restrictive voting law—currently the subject of a challenge in federal court. The Republican-backed measure likely kept tens of thousands of voters, disproportionately minorities, from the polls last fall. But a subtler maneuver—and one that, until now, has largely flown under the radar—could throw up another major roadblock for non-white would-be voters next year, when the state figures to once again be a presidential battleground. Last year, North Carolina’s county election boards, which are controlled by Republicans, moved the location of almost one-third of the state’s early voting sites. Those changes, according to new data analysis by a consulting firm that was shared with MSNBC, will significantly increase the distance African-Americans have to travel to vote early, while leaving white voters largely unaffected.
With just over a month until Myanmar’s landmark elections, there are rising concerns over the use of religion to stoke fears and marginalize minorities. On Sunday, thousands of monks and supporters of a nationalist Myanmar Buddhist group held a rally in Yangon celebrating “victory” in the passing of four controversial race and religion laws. The Committee for the Protection of Nationality and Religion, better known by its Myanmar acronym Ma Ba Tha, has held events in almost all of Myanmar’s 14 states and regions in recent weeks to celebrate parliament’s passing of the bills, with the support of the military-backed ruling party.
Editorials: Why Republicans Should Worry About Restrictive Voting Laws | Jim Rutenberg/The New York Times
When The Times released its joint poll with CBS on race last week, its most eye-catching finding was that a majority of Americans have a negative view of race relations, a sharp reversal of expectations following Barack Obama’s election in 2008. But deeper in the results was a telling data point relating to the recent proliferation of state laws and policies having to do with access to voting, the topic of the cover story I wrote for this week’s magazine. One question in the poll asked respondents whether they believed laws and policies that restrict absentee and early voting — overwhelmingly championed by Republicans — were devised to save money or to make it harder for minorities to vote. Nearly 80 percent of the black respondents who had an opinion on the new voting rules said they were devised to make it harder for minorities to vote; only about 20 percent of them said the changes were devised to save money. Among whites who had an opinion on the new rules and regulations, the split was fairly even: 45 percent said the rules were to save money, while 46 percent said they were to make it harder for minorities to vote. (Whites were more likely than blacks to say they had not heard enough to have an opinion, at 53 percent compared with 40 percent.)
North Carolina: As voter ID changes approach, state to hold hearings in Boone, Sylva next week | Carolina Public Press
Voters across the state are getting a crash course in what it will take to cast a ballot in next year’s polls, at a series of hearings hosted this month by the State Board of Elections. The meetings, which kicked off Wednesday in Raleigh and will continue at eight additional locales, are geared at educating poll-goers on how to best anticipate changes that will be implemented in 2016 as a result of the 2013 voter ID legislation approved by the N.C. General Assembly. In particular, the hearings will focus on portions of the law which will require voters to present a government-issued ID bearing a “reasonable resemblance” to the voter, along with the criteria officials will use to determine if an ID is valid.
A proposed state Voting Rights Act remains alive this legislative session, but the odds of it passing the Republican-controlled Senate remain dim. On Wednesday, Senate Democrats attempted to pull Senate Bill 5668 from committee for a floor vote, but the motion was defeated along party lines, 26-23. However, this morning the Democratic-controlled House passed its own version of the Voting Rights Act by a vote of 52-46, again along party lines. It’s the third straight year that Democrats in Olympia have sought aggressively to move the bill forward. The law would allow residents to petition state courts for changes to local elections systems they believe violate the rights of protected minorities and other voters.
Lower income voters may not be as large of a Democratic voting bloc as once thought, but more importantly they may not vote much at all, according to a new Pew Research Center survey. “Because of their greater uncertainty about candidate preference and their lower propensity to vote, the least financially secure were poorly represented at the ballot box, with just 20 percent of this group predicted to turn out,” wrote Pew. The Pew study states that 80 percent of the lower-income demographic are not considered likely voters. The survey also says 42 percent prefer Democrat candidates, 41 percent are undecided and 17 percent prefer Republican candidates. Last year the Washington Post‘s Dylan Matthews poked holes in a theory supported by conservative radio show host Rush Limbaugh and activist Gary Bauer that lower-income people are a formidable voting bloc.
Editorials: Fifty years after the Voting Rights Act, Congress still doesn’t look like America | The Massachusetts Daily Collegian
Not surprisingly, the face of the newly inaugurated United States’ 114th Congress is a face of privilege: male, white, Christian and wealthy. What does this mean for citizens who do not fit these criteria? It means that the rest of us are severely underrepresented in lawmaking in a country that considers itself the ultimate upholder of democratic values. According to The Washington Post, about 80 percent of the members of the 114th Congress are men while only 20 percent are women. Of course, this does not reflect our nation’s reality. Women are not a minority in American society, making up just over half of the population and 64 percent of the electorate. Yet in Congress, the voices of women are far and few between. Drastic underrepresentation aside, this number has increased from nearly zero in the 1960s, but has gone up only slightly in the past 15 years. As for race, House members are 79.8 percent white, and the Senate is 94 percent white. Only 10.1 percent of the House and two percent of the Senate is black, 7.8 percent of the House and 3 percent of the Senate is Hispanic, and 2.3 percent of the House and one percent of the Senate is Asian.
Texas’ Voter ID law — which requires that voters show election officials an approved and up-to-date photo ID in order to cast a ballot — has long been a point of contention. Since the Lege passed a voter ID requirement in 2011, many of its opponents have questioned whether the law unfairly singles out minorities. While a legal challenge kept Texas’ law from taking effect in time for the 2012 election, the landmark US Supreme Court decision in Shelby v. Holder last year invalidated a key provision of the Voting Rights Act, paving the way for Texas to implement its brand new(ish) voter ID law in time for the November 2014 general election. Another lawsuit filed last year in federal court that challenges the law is set to go to trial in Corpus Christi next week. If the state prevails, November 2014 could be Texas’ first high-turnout election with a voter ID requirement. … The problem with this equation? Well, opponents of the law say that if you’re a poor minority, chances are you’re less likely to have an acceptable photo ID, which means you’re less likely to vote. Don’t believe us? Check out these handy maps assembled by Dr. Gerald Webster, a geography professor who filed the maps in court this summer.
Two Texas residents backed by a conservative legal group have filed a federal lawsuit in Austin challenging how state Senate voting districts were drawn, according to a published report Tuesday. The Project on Fair Representation wants a judge to cancel this year’s primaries, which used Senate boundaries drawn by the Legislature in 2013, the Austin American-Statesman reported. Instead, the group would like to see state lawmakers ordered to draw new districts. The plaintiffs are voters in two state Senate districts represented by Republicans Kevin Eltife, of Tyler, and Tommy Williams, of The Woodlands. The lawsuit argues that the way districts were drawn was unconstitutional since it was based on total population. The districts should have been drawn only based on the number of eligible voters, excluding children, felons and noncitizens, the lawsuit says. It also says that districts with fewer eligible voters have more influence than those in districts with more eligible voters, which is unconstitutional.
A Senate committee heard legislation Monday that would require voters to present a form of state-issued photo identification at the polls. The bill and accompanying ballot question are being sponsored by House Elections Committee Chairman Tony Dugger and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Stanley Cox, both Republicans. “As long as people aren’t eligible to vote, I don’t want them to vote,” Cox said. Similar bills have been filed in recent years in the state legislature. Still, none of the policy’s supporters said they knew of a case of voter fraud in the state. Crystal Williams, with the ACLU, said the issue has hardly ever been voter impersonation fraud, which supporters of voter ID requirements say the policy aims to prevent. “Most of time what we’ve seen has been voter registration fraud, not voter impersonation fraud,” she said.
The federal government has recently introduced legislation aimed at significantly revising the powers of Elections Canada. Critics of the Fair Elections Act (Bill C-23) contend that the bill offers an electoral advantage to the governing Conservatives, suggesting that its provisions have been designed to suppress voter turnout among segments of the population traditionally unfriendly to the Conservatives. That may be true, though we would suggest there are at least two ways in which the Fair Elections Act might actually hurt the Tories come 2015. No wonder the Tories were so nervous. The government had been noticeably skittish about what Marc Mayrand would say before the Commons Procedure and House Affairs committee Thursday: not only had it kept the chief electoral officer largely out of the loop in the months before it introduced its landmark Fair Elections Act, but there was doubt whether he would even be allowed to testify about it afterwards. A promise to that effect had been made to the NDP’s David Christopherson the night before to persuade him to end his filibuster of the Act in committee. Yet on the day Mr. Mayrand’s testimony was interrupted by the calling of not one but two votes in the Commons just as he was scheduled to speak.
Ahead of the November election, it may get more difficult to vote in Ohio, the quintessential swing state. The GOP-dominated General Assembly is pushing a collection of bills that sponsors – most from Southwest Ohio – say will make voting more fair, secure and efficient. Civil rights leaders and Democrats, however, say the provisions discriminate against the poor and harken back to post-Civil War laws intended to keep African-Americans from voting. Some of the changes would take away conveniences in Ohio’s voting system – for instance, eliminating the chance for someone to register to vote and cast a ballot on the same day. To state Sen. Bill Coley, R-Liberty Township, the potential extra trouble is worth the gains: “Uniformity across the state, cleaning up that process to make it crystal clear as to what everyone’s responsibilities are.”
A federal judge has set a September 2014 trial date for a lawsuit seeking to overturn Texas’ Voter ID — just ahead of a pivotal general election. U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos said Friday the trial will start September 2 in Corpus Christi. Opponents hope to halt the law before next year’s much-watched election. Attorney General Greg Abbott, who is running to replace Governor Rick Perry in 2014, is defending the 2011 law. His office declined to comment Friday. The law requires Texans to show one of six forms of identification at the polls.
Wisconsin: Bill to soften voter ID requirement for the poor gets mixed reviews in hearing | Journal Sentinel
Some poor people would be allowed to vote without a photo ID under a bill debated Wednesday that is aimed at overcoming a judge’s order blocking Wisconsin’s voter ID law. Republicans who control the Legislature hope the bill will blunt other legal challenges to the voter ID law, as well. A public hearing on it was held before the Assembly Committee on Campaigns and Elections on Wednesday as a federal trial on the voter ID law entered its third day in Milwaukee. Rep. Michael Schraa (R-Oshkosh) testified he believes the existing voter ID law will eventually be found constitutional, but said he was sponsoring changes to the law in hopes of putting the voter ID requirement in place more quickly. “With the delays that are already taking place, it could be years and years before courts reach an ultimate decision, leaving our elections in doubt,” Schraa testified.
The U.S. Justice Department’s lawsuit challenging North Carolina’s controversial voter ID law is the Obama administration’s latest forceful response to a Supreme Court decision that critics say gutted the 1965 Voting Rights Act. By claiming North Carolina legislators “intentionally” discriminated against minorities, the administration has taken up another fight with a Southern state over its voting laws. “We cannot, we must not, and we will not simply stand by as the voices of those disproportionately affected by some of the proposals we’ve seen – including the North Carolina minority communities impacted by the provisions we challenge today – are shut out of the process of self-governance,” Attorney General Eric Holder said Monday.
Nevada: Republican Assemblyman criticized for remarks about minority, young voters | Las Vegas Review-Journal
Assembly Minority Leader Pat Hickey, R-Reno, has come under fire this week, including from Sen. Dean Heller, for making comments that may have been factually correct but are unwise in today’s political world. During a Tuesday appearance on a Reno radio talk show, Hickey said Republicans in Nevada may pick up seats in next year’s election because many minorities and young people don’t vote in non-presidential elections. “Probably where we had a million voters turn out in 2012, we’ll have like 700,000,” Hickey told radio station KOH. “A lot of minorities and a lot of younger people will not turn out in a non-presidential (year). It’s a great year for Republicans.” Democrats have a 97,000 voter registration advantage over Republicans and control the state Senate, 11-10, and Assembly, 27-15. Heller, R-Nev., in a statement Thursday called the assemblyman’s comments “divisive, insensitive, and run counter to the basic duties and honor of public service. Assemblyman Hickey should know that it is a privilege to represent Nevada’s many cultures and ethnicities.”
The top Republican in the Nevada Assembly said during a radio talk show Tuesday that low turnout from minority and young voters could contribute to a winning election season for the GOP in 2014. Assembly Minority Leader Pat Hickey (R-Reno) is coming under fire from state Democrats for comments he made on the Dan Mason Show on KOH 780-AM radio in Nevada. “We have some real opportunities in 2014,” Hickey said during the Tuesday broadcast. “It is a great year in a non-presidential election. Seemingly no Democrats at the top of the ticket against (Republican Gov. Brian) Sandoval. No Harry Reid. Probably where we had a million voters out there in 2012, we have 700,000. A lot of minorities, a lot of younger people will not turn out in a non-presidential. It is a great year for Republicans.”
Several groups on Monday criticized language in an elections bill that they say would make it more difficult for some minority, disabled and elderly voters to cast ballots. A provision in the wide-ranging bill wouldn’t allow voters to use assistants to cast ballots if they didn’t previously know them. Also, nobody could assist more than 10 voters per election. That means that people who can’t read English, are blind, have a disability or have trouble voting for any other reason wouldn’t be able to ask for help from trained volunteers at the polls unless they already know them. “This is again not about what’s best for Florida’s elections, but it’s politicians getting in the way of solutions for democracy,” said Gihan Perera, executive director of Florida New Majority, a group that advocates for minorities.
A Washington state Senate committee heard testimony Tuesday on legislation to make it easier for minorities to get elected to local government posts. The Washington Voting Rights Act, as supporters call it, would encourage court challenges to cities, counties, school districts and others to push them to switch from at-large to district elections in areas where large minority groups are present. Sen. Pam Roach, chairwoman of the Senate Governmental Operations Committee, said it was not likely the bill would advance from her panel. “It’s a long reach,” she said, noting that her committee consists of four Republicans and three Democrats. “These haven’t traditionally been Republican issues.”
A trio of racially diverse state senators on Monday condemned elections-related bills that they say discriminate against minorities and called on the U.S. Department of Justice to monitor the legislation. Of particular concern to the senators are Senate Bill 1003, which would limit who can return a voter’s ballot, and SB 1261, which would drop people from the early voting list if they failed to mail in their ballots and instead voted at the polls. Both passed the Senate last week. “It would truly throw up obstacles to the early-vote process,” Senate Minority Leader Leah Landrum Taylor said of SB 1261. She is African-American. She was joined by Sens. Jack Jackson Jr., a Navajo, and Steve Gallardo, who is Latino. All three are Democrats, and all three said the bills would have a “devastating” impact on minority voting.
A group of House Democrats re-introduced a bill this session that would affect how local governments run their elections in certain political subdivisions. Known as the Washington Voting Rights Act, House Bill 1413 is intended to address underrepresentation of minority groups in local government. The bill prohibits unfair elections in which members of a protected class (members of a racial, ethnic or language minority) are unable to influence an election and/or receive adequate representation in local political subdivisions. To affect how elections are operated in local government districts, persons of a minority group must provide evidence that polarized voting has occurred and that members of a protected class, while maybe a smaller percentage of the total electorate, do not have an equal opportunity to influence election results. Polarized voting may be observed when there is a disparity between the candidate chosen by voters of a protected class or by those of the remainder of the electorate.
The fight over whether states can demand some sort of identification before allowing voters to cast ballots has finally reached the U.S. Supreme Court as the justices agreed to hear argument on Arizona’s law requiring voters to show proof of U.S. citizenship before registering. In the heat of the final days of the U.S. presidential election the case is not drawing much attention. Any argument and decision in the case won’t come until long after Election Day. And the arguments advanced by both sides in the case may seem as dry as unbuttered toast to the average American. The battle probably appeals mainly to political activists or Supreme Court wonks. But an eventual Supreme Court decision will help shape the voting landscape of the future.
Earlier this year, voting rights advocates foresaw a cloud over this year’s election because new voting laws in Republican-led states tightened the rules for casting ballots and reduced the time for early voting. But with the election less than a month away, it’s now clear those laws will have little impact. A series of rulings has blocked or weakened the laws as judges — both Republicans and Democrats — stopped measures that threatened to bar legally registered voters from polling places in the November election. “Courts see their role as the protectors of the core right to vote,” said Ned Foley, an election law expert at Ohio State University. The laws were the product of a Republican sweep in the 2010 election. The GOP took full control in such states as Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Florida, and soon adopted changes in their election laws. Some states told registered voters they must show a current photo identification, such as a driver’s license, even if they did not drive. Others, including Florida and Ohio, reduced the time for early voting or made it harder for college students to switch their registrations.
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.
Fourteen members of Congress have co-sponsored a bill that would override a recent spate of voter identification laws, passed in more than a dozen states to require voters to present government-issued photo ID in order to cast a ballot. Rep. Rick Larsen, a Washington Democrat, has introduced the “America Votes Act of 2012,” which he and other Democrats hope will counter the wave of new voter ID legislation passed by Republican-led legislatures across the country. The bill would allow voters to sign a sworn affidavit to prove their identity in lieu of providing government-issued photo identification such as a driver’s license or passport. The voter would then be able to cast a standard ballot and not a provisional ballot, the latter of which can be contested or thrown out for any number of procedural reasons under current voting ID laws.
The campaigns of President Barack Obama and his Republican rival, Mitt Romney, are preparing for what could be a series of legal battles over new U.S. voting laws after the Nov. 6 election – especially if the result of the presidential race is close. The campaigns and political parties are lining up lawyers for what would amount to a new wave of litigation surrounding election laws that have been approved by Republican-led legislatures in more than a dozen states since 2010. Some of the laws involve requiring voters to produce photo identification. Others curtail early-voting periods that are designed to help working-class people cast ballots if they can’t make it to the polls on Election Day. Still others have imposed strict requirements on groups that conduct voter-registration drives.
With 54 days until Pennsylvanians help decide who will be president, state Supreme Court justices will listen to arguments over whether a new law requiring each voter to show valid photo identification poses an unnecessary threat to the right, and ability, to vote. The high court appeal follows a lower court’s refusal to halt the law from taking effect Nov. 6, when voters will choose between President Barack Obama, a Democrat, Republican nominee Mitt Romney and as many as two third-party candidates. The arguments will be heard on Thursday morning. The state’s lawyers say lawmakers properly exercised their constitutional latitude to make election-related laws and that every registered voter, including those suing, will be able to cast a ballot, either after getting a valid photo ID or by absentee ballot if they are disabled or frail. But lawyers for the plaintiffs insist their clients, as well as hundreds of thousands of other registered voters, do not know about the complicated requirements, do not have a valid ID or will be unable to get one. ‘‘At stake in this case is the fundamental right to vote,’’ the plaintiffs’ lawyers argued in a 58-page appeal.
A Pennsylvania judge on Wednesday declined to block a new state law requiring specific kinds of photo identification to vote. Liberal groups, arguing that minorities and the poor would be disproportionately deprived of the ballot, said they would appeal to the State Supreme Court to stop the law before the November elections. The groups said the law, like those recently passed in 10 other states, was a Republican attempt to suppress participation of the less privileged, who tend to vote for Democrats. The laws’ backers said they were seeking to preserve the integrity of the electoral process. Both parties acknowledge that voter turnout could play a crucial role in what many predict will be a tight race between President Obama and Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican nominee, especially in battleground states like Pennsylvania. Other court cases under way include federal inquiries into voter ID laws in Texas and South Carolina and a state challenge in Wisconsin. In Ohio, a dispute over rules for early voting ended on Wednesday when the secretary of state set uniform hours statewide.
If you live in Butler or Warren counties in the Republican-leaning suburbs of Cincinnati, you can vote for president beginning in October by going to a polling place in the evening or on weekends. Republican officials in those counties want to make it convenient for their residents to vote early and avoid long lines on Election Day. But, if you live in Cincinnati, you’re out of luck. Republicans on the county election board are planning to end early voting in the city promptly at 5 p.m., and ban it completely on weekends, according to The Cincinnati Enquirer. The convenience, in other words, will not be extended to the city’s working people. The sleazy politics behind the disparity is obvious. Hamilton County, which contains Cincinnati, is largely Democratic and voted solidly for Barack Obama in 2008. So did the other urban areas of Cleveland, Columbus and Akron, where Republicans, with the assistance of the Ohio secretary of state, Jon Husted, have already eliminated the extended hours for early voting.
Rep. Terri Sewell is angry that Alabama wants registered voters such as her wheelchair-bound father to show a photo ID before casting a ballot. The Birmingham Democrat, Alabama’s only black member of Congress, said her 77-year-old father doesn’t have photo ID since he let his driver’s license expire years ago. If the state’s law takes effect as scheduled in 2014, thousands of elderly, disabled and minority Alabama voters will either stay home each election day or will have to make “extraordinary efforts” to get a driver’s license, passport or other form of identification, Sewell said.