Breaking news can be hard to predict, except when it’s tied to a controversial court case. Candidates and consultants spend their time, energy and dollars staying on message — trying to focus voters on winning issues. But breaking news, even something such as a court decision that can be anticipated, often derails those plans by interjecting a subject that wasn’t in the campaign prospectus into the national conversation. It’s far too early to declare which issues will be decisive in the 2016 elections, but a handful of court cases are likely to become news throughout the next year. That would force candidates for president, the Senate, and the House to respond, creating opportunities for them to shine — or to say something controversial, even stupid. Of course these news events could be trumped by bigger breaking news, such as another terrorist attack.
The point was to protest what the 30 people assembled said was the state’s misplaced priorities in recent attempts to shut down rural driver’s license offices – major sources of photo IDs required for voting – while keeping some money-losing Alabama Beverage Control (ABC) stores open. “They would leave state-owned liquor stores open that were losing up to $75,000 a year,” said Sen. Hank Sanders, D-Selma. “What it did was told us over how many a year it was easier to get alcohol than it was to get the ballot. They work hard to make sure you get alcohol. They work hard to make sure you don’t get the ballot.” The crowd chanted “Give us the ballot, not just the bottle” at the end of the performance. The Save Ourselves Movement for Justice and Democracy organized the event.
An Alabama congresswoman has formally asked the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the state’s shuttering of driver’s license offices in several heavily black counties, warning that the closures throw up another obstacle to voting. The call for a federal probe comes as opposition to the state’s decision, announced last Wednesday, continues to mount. “These closures will potentially disenfranchise Alabama’s poor, elderly, disabled, and black communities,” wrote Rep. Terri Sewell in a letter sent Monday to Attorney General Loretta Lynch. “To restrict the ability of any citizen to vote is an assault on the rights of all Americans to equally participate in the electoral process.” Sewell, a Democrat whose district includes Selma, the historical birthplace of the push for African-American voting rights, called for “a full and thorough investigation by DoJ.”
Editorials: Texas Voter ID law is discriminatory, un-American and needs to be amended | Raúl A. Reyes/Fox News Latino
Just in time for the 50th anniversary of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, a panel of federal appeals court judges in Texas last week ruled against the state’s Voter ID law. They agreed that the law violated the provisions of the Voting Rights Act, because it disproportionately impacted Latino and African-American voters. In response, Texas Governor Greg Abbott said in a statement, “Texas will continue to fight for its voter ID requirement to ensure the integrity of elections in the Lone Star State.” Texas’ Voter ID law is a solution in search of a problem. While in theory it fights voter fraud, in reality it has disenfranchised thousands of minority voters. Texas’ Voter ID law deserves to be amended or dismantled so that all eligible voters have equal access to the ballot box. True, these days a valid ID is necessary to board a plane or to buy alcohol. But travelling or buying beer is not a constitutional right; voting is.
Recently passed Ohio voting laws create hurdles for minority voters casting absentee and provisional ballots, advocates argued in an updated federal lawsuit filed on Monday. The laws and similar orders by the secretary of state unconstitutionally permit absentee votes to be thrown out for ID errors, according to the lawsuit. Those mistakes could include putting down the wrong birth month on the absentee envelope even when a voter supplied the correct information when requesting the ballot, the lawsuit said. The laws also removed protection for voters casting provisional ballots by failing to provide the chance for voters to be notified of errors that could cause the ballot to be rejected, according to the lawsuit.
The day after the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Texas’s Voter ID law has a discriminatory effect on elections, a new study found some evidence in our backyard. A joint study by Rice University and the University of Houston examined Voter ID’s impact on the 2014 District 23 Congressional race between Democratic incumbent Pete Gallego and Republican challenger Will Hurd. District 23 covers 800 miles of Texas borderland, and stretches from San Antonio to El Paso. Bexar County contains 42 percent of the district’s registered voters. Given that the two major critiques of Voter ID — enacted in 2011 with Republican support, and Democratic opposition — are that it has a discriminatory impact on minority voters and that the GOP pushed it in order to help their own political cause, the 2014 election in District 23 provided the research group a perfect test case. “The great thing about CD-23 was that it allowed us to look at both of those things at the same time, because it’s a Latino majority district, but it’s also one that’s politically relevant,” said Mark Jones, the fellow at Rice’s Baker Institute for Public Policy.
Democrats allied with Hillary Rodham Clinton have filed a voting rights lawsuit in Virginia, the third time they have done so in a crucial presidential battleground state in the last two months. The suit, like the others, was filed by Marc Elias, a Democratic election lawyer whose clients include Mrs. Clinton’s presidential campaign and four of the party’s major national committees. Mrs. Clinton is not a party to any of the lawsuits, but her campaign aides have expressed supported for the two earlier suits, in Ohio and Wisconsin. The Virginia lawsuit is part of a broader effort by Democrats to try to roll back voting laws that have been passed in nearly two dozen states since 2010. Many of the laws were passed in states where Republican governors and legislatures rose to power after the Tea Party wave.
Hillary Rodham Clinton on Thursday accused Republicans including her potential rivals Jeb Bush, Scott Walker and Rick Perry of “deliberately trying to stop” young people and minorities — both vital Democratic constituencies — from exercising their right to vote, as she presented an ambitious agenda to make it easier for those groups and other Americans to participate in elections. Speaking at Texas Southern University here in front of her largest crowd yet as a candidate for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, Mrs. Clinton accused Republicans generally of enacting state voting laws based on what she called “a phantom epidemic of election fraud” because they are “scared of letting citizens have their say.”
Virginia House Republicans are fighting to keep hundreds of pages of documents secret as attorneys for Democratic groups push for full access, hoping to find something useful in an ongoing lawsuit over state election maps. The lawsuit targets 12 districts in the House of Delegates, and it follows the same argument that invalidated Virginia’s 3rd Congressional District earlier this year: That the General Assembly’s Republican majority focused on race as it drew maps, packing minority voters into a handful of districts and diluting their voting power in neighboring ones.
A divided U.S. Supreme Court handed down a victory Wednesday for black legislative leaders in Alabama, and the decision may signal a coming win for Virginia Democrats fighting Republican-drawn election maps here. The court’s 5-4 decision sends Alabama Legislative Black Caucus v. Alabama back to the federal district court there with an admonition that the case be re-argued. Plaintiffs there argued that Alabama legislators unfairly packed minority voters into districts to dilute black voting strength elsewhere. A federal judicial panel in the state disagreed, but the U.S. Supreme Court vacated that decision Wednesday. A three-judge panel in Virginia decided just the opposite in a case challenging the state’s 3rd Congressional District, which is held by U.S. Rep. Robert C. “Bobby” Scott, D-Newport News. Federal judges here decided last year that race was the predominant factor in drawing district lines and ordered the map redrawn.
New York: Federal judge cites Albany County redistricting failure; legal fees could top $1M | Times Union
Albany County diluted minority voting power in its 2011 redistricting plan, a federal judge ruled Tuesday in a decision that temporarily freezes this year’s legislative elections until a new plan is drafted. Senior U.S. Judge Lawrence Kahn’s 81-page decision orders the county to submit an amended map of its 39 legislative districts within three weeks -— a timetable aimed at minimizing disruption to an election calendar that begins in June. The defeat marks the third straight time the county will be forced to alter its political lines amid a challenge under the federal 1965 Voting Rights Act — a landmark piece of legislation aimed at protecting the franchise of minority voters. “With rare exceptions, there is not yet an equal, fair opportunity for minority-preferred candidates to be elected on a county level absent special circumstances,” Kahn wrote, calling the county’s entire redistricting process “questionable.”
Voting Blogs: Texas Post-Election Report Indicates Systemic Election Issues | Texas Election Law Blog
After the November 2014 general election, Battleground Texas used the data from its Election Day voter hotline to summarize and describe the problems that voters faced in the election. That public report is available as a .pdf file through Battleground Texas. You can read the report here. Among other things, the report finds that (1) the statewide voter registration list is riddled with errors (and the fact that the statewide database went down on Election Day was frustrating), (2) compared to the experience in other states, provisional ballots in Texas are used disproportionately in response to registration problems, (3) The Texas Department of Public Safety has a deserved reputation for particularly poor handling of “motor voter” registrations, a responsibility of the state agency that administers drivers’ license issuance and renewal as mandated by the National Voter Registration Act, and (4) voting systems in Texas are showing their age – equipment is breaking down, touchscreens are getting misaligned, and the availability of back-up machines is declining.
National: New evidence shows election officials are biased against Latino voters | The Washington Post
Voter identification laws are cropping up around the country: 31 states had a voter identification requirement in the 2014 midterms, up from 14 states in 2000. These laws vary widely in the types of identification they accept, even in whether identification is required or merely requested. And many people don’t know whether they need identification to vote, or what type of identification to bring. Opponents argue that these laws disproportionately impact minority voters, who are less likely to have required identification. Our new research in this month’s American Political Science Review shows that minorities face another hurdle: bias in the bureaucracy that implements these laws. Roughly 8,000 local officials – county or municipal clerks and election boards – manage the nation’s election system. These officials train local poll workers, provide information, and interact with constituents with little immediate oversight from state officials.
Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner fell short in his 2014 efforts to convince GOP leadership to take up his Voting Rights Amendment Act, but the Wisconsin Republican is ready to take another stab at passing a rewrite of the historic law. But there’s little indication this year will be any different. For Sensenbrenner and his fellow co-sponsors of the legislation introduced Wednesday, many of the same obstacles remain — along with a few new ones. On the surface, it would seem the time has never been better — nor the political pressures greater — for the Republican-controlled House to take action. The VRA’s 50th anniversary this summer has the landmark civil rights legislation back in the spotlight almost two years after the Supreme Court, challenging lawmakers to update the law for the 21st century, struck down the enforcement section of the act. Sensenbrenner chose to drop his bill on the same day the House considered legislation to award Congressional Gold Medals to the “foot soldiers” of 1965’s bloody civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Ala.
National: White House seeks $50 million to restore civil rights sites as voting rights anniversary nears | Associated Press
The White House is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act by earmarking $50 million to restore key civil rights areas around the nation. The president’s budget includes money for the national historical trail from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, which commemorates in part the “Bloody Sunday” attack by police on civil rights demonstrators. Their march was portrayed in the Oscar-nominated film “Selma.” The attack helped boost the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which banned the use of literacy tests, added federal oversight for minority voters and allowed federal prosecutors to investigate the use of poll taxes in state and local elections.
County Executive Dan McCoy told a federal judge Wednesday that he kept his hands off the county’s controversial 2011 redistricting process after he created the commission charged with carrying it out. “When I put the commission together, I gave them no guidance after that,” said McCoy, who was at the time chairman of the Albany County Legislature and the county Democratic Party. His testimony, which last 35 minutes, came on day nine of the trial in a lawsuit challenging the political map. McCoy asserted he did not recall many of the details of the contentious political maneuvering that embroiled the legislature’s sharply divided Democratic majority during passage of the electoral map nearly four years ago. Democrats including McCoy split 16-14 in favor of the law creating the map, which ultimately passed 22-14 with Republican support.
For most people, Ferguson, Mo., will be remembered for one awful August afternoon, when a white police officer there shot and killed an unarmed black teenager, Michael Brown. But that incident was only a snapshot in the town’s long and complicated racial history — a history characterized by entrenched segregation and economic inequality, as well as by familiar and systemic obstacles that have kept black residents from holding positions of political power. Ferguson’s population is two-thirds African-American, and yet its mayor, city manager and five of its six City Council members are white. So are its police chief and all but three officers on its 53-member police force. The school board for the Ferguson-Florissant School District is much the same: More than three-quarters of the district’s 12,000 students are black, but the seven-member board includes only one African-American.
County lawmakers on Monday forcefully rejected a proposed settlement to a three-year-old voting rights lawsuit, sending the case back to federal court with an emphatic rebuke of County Executive Dan McCoy. The settlement would have ended the complex and increasingly costly case alleging racial imbalances in the county’s political map by, among other things, establishing a fifth legislative district in which minority voters are a majority. And while several of the majority Democratic lawmakers said that they support that goal, they blasted McCoy for freezing the legislature out of the settlement process and accused him of overstepping his authority in trying to dictate how the new lines would be drawn. High on the list of grievances is that the settlement would have prescribed the makeup of the county’s redistricting commission, a task legislative leaders said is clearly lawmakers’ prerogative. The vote was 34-3, with even some of the Democratic executive’s Republican allies opposing it.
National: Voters encounter faulty machines, website crashes and other sporadic Election Day problems | Associated Press
Voters around the country encountered malfunctioning machines, website crashes and delayed polling place openings, but the problems for the most part appeared sporadic rather than systemic and there was no immediate indication that they factored in the outcome of an election. Beyond routine mechanical problems, the midterm elections Tuesday also represented for some states the first major tests of new voter identification laws that opponents say disenfranchise minorities and the poor. In Texas, where the U.S. Supreme Court last month let stand a strict photo ID law, there were reports of “voter confusion about how and whether their votes would be counted,” according to Election Protection, a voter advocacy coalition. The law, which Democrats had said would prevent roughly 650,000 people from casting a ballot, meant voters had to show one of seven approved kinds of photo identification. The law has not previously been used in congressional elections or a high-profile race for governor such as the one Tuesday, won by Republican Greg Abbott.
A get-out-the-vote drive that encouraged minority voters to cast their ballots Sunday saw record-breaking turnout Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties —three of the largest and heavily Democratic counties in the state. Statewide vote totals for the two-weeks of early voting — won’t be known until number-crunchers for both parties finish analyzing data to determine whether “Souls to the Polls” brought in enough ballots to close the GOP’s 125,000 vote advantage. In Palm Beach County, Sunday’s turnout was 11,069, compared to Oct. 31 — the second-highest turnout — when 9,060 ballots were cast.
Every document Casper Pryor could think of that bore his name was folded in the back pocket of his jeans. But sitting on a curb Thursday, a can of Sprite in hand, Pryor wasn’t sure whether those papers and the hour-long bus ride he had taken to get to Holman Street would result in a crucial new piece of ID. An ID that would allow the 33-year-old Houston native to vote. Election identification certificates were designed for the 600,000 to 750,000 voters who lack any of the six officially recognized forms of photo ID needed at the polls, according to estimates developed by the Texas secretary of state and the U.S. Department of Justice. Legislators created the EICs, which are free, in part to quell criticism that enforcing the state’s much-litigated ID law amounted to a poll tax that could disenfranchise low-income and minority voters. But as of Thursday, only 371 EICs had been issued across Texas since June 2013. By comparison, Georgia issued 2,182 free voter ID cards during its first year enforcing a voter ID law in 2006, and Mississippi has issued 2,539 in the 10 months its new law has been in place. Both states accept more forms of photo identification at polls than Texas does, so fewer voters there would need to apply for election-specific IDs. In Texas, some would-be voters are hitting roadblocks.
On Monday, October 27, eight activists with Moral Monday Georgia occupied the office of Georgia GOP Secretary of State Brian Kemp, holding signs that read “Let Us Vote.” There are 800,000 unregistered African-American, Hispanic and Asian eligible voters in Georgia. This year, the New Georgia Project registered 85,000 of them. After the applications were submitted, Kemp subpoenaed the group’s records and accused them of voter registration fraud. It turned out that only 25 of the forms were fraudulent and the group was required by law to turn them in regardless. Despite the scant evidence of voter fraud, 40,000 new voter registration applications have yet to be processed in the state, according to the New Georgia Project. Civil rights groups sued Kemp and voter registration boards in five heavily populated urban counties, but on Wednesday a Fulton County judge dismissed the lawsuit. It was the latest court decision restricting voting rights this election year.
A Georgia state judge is weighing whether it’s appropriate for him to intervene in a dispute over more than 50,000 voter registration records in one of the nation’s most politically contested states. Lawyers for the NAACP and a voter registration group that recruited new minority voters allege that elections officials have misplaced or mishandled more than half of the 86,000 voter registration applications that they collected ahead of an Oct. 6 deadline. Republican Secretary of State Brian Kemp and elections officials in several counties — most of them majority Democratic — say they are correctly processing all the forms. Attorneys for the groups said they feared that would-be voters, several of whom attended Friday’s hearing, would not have their ballots counted, and they asked Fulton County Superior Court Judge Christopher Brasher to compel the counties and Kemp to confirm the voters’ registration or explain any denials. “What does the law require that they haven’t done?” Brasher asked, noting that Georgia election law doesn’t set specific deadlines for county elections boards to process applications.
A bitter feud between a voter registration group and Georgia’s Republican Secretary of State has seen a lawsuit, claims of voter suppression, a politically motivated effort to hype voter fraud, and fears that large numbers of minority voters could be disenfranchised. But in the final analysis, it perhaps says just as much about less sensational but more intractable problems in the way we run elections. How the fracas gets resolved may play a key role in Georgia’s tight U.S. Senate race, which could hang on minority turnout, and might end up determining control of the chamber next year. The latest twist in the saga came Monday evening, when a local news report cast doubt on claims made by Secretary of State Brian Kemp to justify a controversial investigation he launched last month into the New Georgia Project (NGP), a voter registration group working in minority areas.
Documents obtained from Secretary of State Brian Kemp’s office appear to contradict Kemp’s claim that a voter fraud probe was based on numerous complaints from counties across Georgia. For weeks, Democrats have hinted that Secretary of State Brian Kemp is trying to keep newly registered Democrats off the voters rolls. Kemp, a Republican, makes no apologies for investigating the New Georgia Project — which has focused on registering Democratic-leaning minority voters. Last week, Kemp said again that reports of potential voter fraud led to the probe.
Democrats and civil rights groups hope the fight to restore a key provision of the Voting Rights Act will boost turnout among minority voters this year, particularly in the South. “We’re going to do some things to raise the profile of the Voting Rights Act and the fact that the Supreme Court gutted it,” said Rep. Cedric Richmond, a Democrat from Louisiana. “You will see us be more active. We tried to do it in a very bipartisan manner … But it just doesn’t seem like that’s going to go far enough soon enough, so it’s going to be a fight.” Richmond is among those working to pass legislation that would revive a section of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that the Supreme Court threw out last year. The bill’s supporters are making their case at press conferences, town halls and in newspapers — online and in print — to mobilize voters. The issue will be the focus of several panels at the Congressional Black Caucus’ annual legislative convention in Washington this week.
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.
Georgia’s top elections official gave a nonprofit group that has registered more than 85,000 minority voters until tomorrow to produce every record it has, in what critics say is an effort to suppress minority voting in November’s tight race for the U.S. Senate. Secretary of State Brian Kemp, a Republican, is accusing the New Georgia Project of fraud in its drive to reach the more than 800,000 minority Georgians not on the rolls. Kemp served a subpoena on organizers a day after first lady Michelle Obama urged on the effort at an Atlanta appearance. Kemp spokesman Jared Thomas said the office received fraud reports from several county elections offices. “We had clear evidence,” he said. “We need to know the totality of it.”
The Justice Department and the state of Texas are tangling in two separate court cases that could determine how much of the Voting Rights Act is still enforceable. Last year, the United States Supreme Court moved to narrow the scope of the historic act, passed in 1965 as a watershed moment in the civil rights movement. The Act in its original form guaranteed the voting rights of minorities under the 14th and 15th Amendments, including a provision called Section 5 that required states with a history of discrimination to get federal government approval before changing their election laws. In 2013, the Supreme Court decided in Shelby County v. Holder that the formula used to decide which states had historically discriminated against voters was unconstitutional, and it asked Congress to devise a new coverage formula. The ruling effectively allowed nine states (mostly in the South) to change their election laws without federal approval, since there was little expectation that Congress could agree on a new coverage formula in the near future. But the Obama administration and the Justice Department, under Attorney General Eric Holder, vowed to use other parts of the Voting Rights Act to press its case where it believed voter discrimination existed. In Texas, the Justice Department is pursuing two federal court actions: one in San Antonio and the other in Corpus Christi.
California: Senate Bill Strengthening California Voting Rights Act Headed to Gov. Brown | California Newswire
A bill that would strengthen the California Voting Rights Act (CVRA) is on its way to the desk of Calif. Governor Jerry Brown for consideration. The bill won final legislative approval today in the State Senate. SB 1365 by Senator Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima) would expand the CVRA by explicitly prohibiting school boards, cities, and counties from gerrymandering district boundaries in a manner that would weaken the ability of a racial or language minority to influence the outcome of an election. “With today’s vote, we are one step closer to strengthening voting rights in Californian,” said Senator Alex Padilla. “As our state becomes increasingly diverse we must ensure that the rights of all voters are protected,” added Padilla.