Battles are being waged across the country over new voter ID laws and other election changes that have never before been tested in a presidential election. National and local civil rights groups also have launched grass-roots efforts to fight state laws that they say could suppress voting by minorities and the elderly. President Obama joined the cause in pledging during his Jan. 12 State of the Union Address to travel the country lobbying for steps to make voting easier. “You’re going to see some ramping up of activism,’’ said the Rev. William Barber, president of the North Carolina NAACP. “The president is right, but everybody should be joining in that (effort).’’ Barber’s group will lead a voting rights rally Feb. 13 in Raleigh. … Myrna Pérez, director of the Brennan Center’s Voting Rights and Election Project, said voters in some of those states, “are going to be voting in a presidential election with fewer federal protections than they’ve had in the last 50 years.”
Voting Blogs: Senate Confirms 3 Commissioners to the Election Assistance Commission | Election Law Blog
After years of the United States Election Assistance Commission having NO commissioners, tonight in a flurry of activity the Senate confirmed the following three members of the EAC: Thomas Hicks, Matthew Masterson, and Christy McCormick. These are two Republican-chosen commissioners and one Democrat. It takes three votes for any significant action on the commission. People in the know have high hopes for these three commissioners (a fourth nominee, Matthew Butler, has not yet had a chance for a hearing, after Myrna Perez withdrew). We will see.
Voting Blogs: Meet the New Nominee (Same as the Old Nominee?): Matthew Butler Tapped as New Dem EAC Pick | Election Academy
Recently, I mused about the future of the Election Assistance Commission in the wake of the 2014 election and related litigation – and it would appear that all of a sudden the future is now. On one side of the aisle, there are signs of progress: the Senate Rules Committee will be holding a hearing at 2pm today on the two Republican nominees, Christy McCormick and Matthew Masterson. On the other side of the aisle, however, we have continued intrigue. As was rumored late last week, Democratic nominee Myrna Perez of the Brennan Center has withdrawn her name from consideration. No reason for the withdrawal was given, but a good guess is the combination of an incoming GOP Senate majority and the Brennan Center’s high-profile (if not well-sourced) claims that new voting laws supported by the GOP affected outcomes in 2014. I have learned from a source close to the process that Perez withdrew her candidacy BEFORE Election Day. The confirmation challenges with a GOP Senate may still have been considerable but her withdrawal had nothing to do with what happened in the 2014 election – or afterwards. The White House has designated Matthew Butler (pictured above) as the new second Democratic nominee alongside Thomas Hicks. Butler is a former CEO of Media Matters and now is part of aconsulting group that offers “planning and production experience.”
It’s another election season in Texas. Another year that we’re on track to maintain the nation’s most dismal voter turnout. One difference this year is that voters are now required to present photo ID at the polls, the result of Republican-authored legislation ostensibly to deal with the diminishingly small number of voter fraud cases. It’s difficult to say what effect the voter ID requirement is having, though even some Republican state officials apparently knew that more than half a million registered Texas voters—disproportionately Hispanic and African American—lacked the credentials to cast ballots but didn’t bother to tell lawmakers. One thing is certain: Very, very few Texans have gotten election identification certificates (EIC), the new state-issued form of photo ID for those who don’t have it—340 Texans, to be precise.
In the run-up to the 2012 election, there was widespread concern about a slew of restrictive voting laws passed by Republicans. But those fears mostly weren’t borne out. Courts blocked several of the worst moves before election day. And record African-American turnout suggested the assault on voting might even have backfired by firing up minority voters. But Republicans didn’t ease off on the push to make voting harder. If anything, they doubled down. And this time around, they’ve had a lot more success as several voting restrictions are now in effect for the first time in a major election. That’s likely to help the GOP this fall. But voting rights advocates say the bigger lesson is that current laws protecting access to the ballot just aren’t strong enough. “This is a clear example of the need for additional federal protections,” said Myrna Perez, a top lawyer at the Brennan Center for Justice, and one of the attorneys who argued against the Texas voter ID law, which was approved for the election by the U.S. Supreme Court early Saturday morning. That decision—which came just two days before early voting kicks off in the Lone Star State—means most of the statewide voting restrictions that in recent weeks were the subject of court fights will be in place when voters go to the polls. In addition to the Texas law—green-lighted despite a federal judge’s ruling that it intentionally discriminated against minorities—North Carolina’s sweeping voting law and Ohio’s cuts to early voting will also be in effect.
Wisconsin’s voter ID law was on, then off, and now back on again—for now. A similar Texas law was blocked by a federal court before going into force last year, and could now be nixed once more. North Carolina’s sweeping and restrictive voting law looks likely to be in effect this November, but there’s no guarantee. Ohio’s cuts to early voting were put on hold recently, but that decision too could be reversed. And no one seems to know what’s going to happen with Arkansas’ ID law. In a slew of states with crucial races this fall, access to the polls is in the hands of the courts. That reality underlines how last year’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling that weakened the Voting Rights Act has transformed the legal landscape on the issue — but also how the conservative push to restrict voting is now a national, not a regional, campaign. It’s a situation that is likely to cause confusion for voters no matter the legal outcomes. And looming at the end of the road is the Supreme Court led by Chief Justice John Roberts, no friend of voting rights, which could upend everything if it decides to clear things up by weighing in. “That is the big question right now,” said Myrna Perez, a top voting rights lawyer with the Brennan Center for Justice, who has been arguing the Texas case. “Is this going to get before the court before the 2014 election? It’s certainly something that folks are pondering.”
Sammie Louise Bates moved to Texas from Illinois in 2011. She wanted to vote last year, but all she had was an Illinois identification card, and under Texas’s strict voter ID law, that wasn’t acceptable. To get a Texas ID, Bates needed a birth certificate from her native Mississippi, which cost $42. That was money that Bates, whose income is around $321 a month, didn’t have. “I had to put $42 where it would do the most good,” Bates, who is African-American, testified Tuesday, the first day of the trial over Texas’s ID law. “We couldn’t eat the birth certificate.” Another witness, Calvin Carrier, described the difficulties his father, a Korean War veteran, had in obtaining an acceptable ID, thanks to errors on his birth certificate. Myrna Perez, the deputy director of the Brennan Center for Justice, whose lawyers are among those arguing the case for the plaintiffs, said those witnesses were there to show that “there are real people out there who don’t have the ID that’s needed. When you are limited income, it can be very challenging to scrape up the money that you need for the underlying ID, and it requires a tremendous amount of hoops to go through.”
After years of inaction, it looks like the powers that be in Washington are ready to put the EAC back together. Yesterday, the White House issued a press release that included the following: President Obama announced his intent to nominate the following individuals to key Administration posts … This is good news on a variety of fronts. First, these two nominations suggest that Capitol Hill Republicans are ready to let the nomination and confirmation process move forward, which may put to rest (for the time being) the drive to defund and eliminate the EAC. Second, they raise expectations that a full complement of Commissioners will be able to restart and/or continue the lesser-known but crucial functions of the EAC like voting system standards adoption and management of the Election Administration and Voting Survey, which underpins much of the data-focused reforms underway nationwide.
Voting Blogs: U.S. Election Assistance Commission May Be Back with Commissioners Soon | Election Law Blog
President Obama just announced two nominations for the U.S. Assistance Commission. Matthew Masterson and Christy McCormick are Republican-chosen nominees to join the two nominees from the Democrats, Thomas Hicks and Myrna Perez. The EAC was created as part of the 2002 Help America Vote Act as a way of providing best practices and doling out voting machine money in the wake of the Florida 2000 debacle. The commission functions with two Democratic nominees and two Republican nominees. As I explain in The Voting Wars, the EAC started out with some independent commissioners who looked like they were going to transcend partisan politics and get some stuff done. But then there was controversy over a voter id report, and pressure on Republican commissioners.
President Obama warned recently that the “gridlock [which] reigns” in Washington could become “a self-fulfilling prophesy” of cynicism and dysfunction if voters fail to hold politicians accountable at the polls. That same gridlock could make it harder for Americans to vote and have their ballots counted as cast. In a study released last week, Common Cause found that a record number of pending executive and independent agency nominations are stalled on the Senate floor, despite filibuster reform that ended the 60-vote rule for most nominations. The person waiting the longest for a vote is Thomas Hicks, an Obama nominee for the Election Assistance Commission (“EAC”). His nomination has been pending for over four years – since April 2010. Waiting the third longest (over three years) is Myrna Pérez, also to serve on the EAC. This is no accident. It’s part of a larger strategy of obstructing action on the president’s executive nominations. When the report went to print last week, 115 executive and independent agency nominees were pending on the floor. At this point in President George W. Bush’s administration, only 34 were pending on the Senate floor. Under President Clinton, there were just 12. To the Senate’s shame, the EAC has not had a single commissioner since 2011. It should have four, with no more than two from any one political party.
It’s that time again, when primary voters start casting their ballots for the midterm elections. As in recent years, voters face new rules and restrictions, including the need in 16 states to show a photo ID. But this year, some voting rights activists say they’re seeing a change — fewer new restrictions and, in some places, even a hint of bipartisanship. Although that wasn’t the case last month in Ohio, when the Legislature voted along party lines to eliminate a week of early voting. Lawmakers also agreed to prevent local election officials from mailing out unsolicited absentee ballot applications. “We’re talking about disenfranchising thousands of folks,” Democratic state Rep. Alicia Reece said on the House floor. “And don’t tell me it can’t be done, because our history has shown it has been done.”
A wide majority of Iowans believe it’s more important to ensure ballot access for eligible voters than to guard against voting by those who are ineligible. That result, captured in The Des Moines Register’s latest Iowa Poll, casts new light on a debate that has been raging in the state and across the nation for years over the appropriate balance between ballot access and security. Seventy-one percent of poll respondents say it’s more important that every eligible, registered voter is able to vote, compared with 25 percent who say it’s more important that no ineligible person “slips through the cracks” to cast a vote. “Americans care about preventing voter fraud, but they care more about making voting free, fair and accessible,” said Myrna Perez, an expert on voting rights and elections at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University.
National: Kill the Election Assistance Commission? Two commissioner nominees languish as Congress mulls axing bedraggled body | Center for Public Integrity
Myrna Perez and Thomas Hicks again sat before a pair of U.S. senators Wednesday for a hearing on their presidential nominations to the Election Assistance Commission. Their session, however, morphed into a debate on whether this little-known and decidedly bedraggled commission — created by Congress in 2002 to help prevent voting meltdowns like those experienced during the 2000 presidential election — should exist at all. “The Election Assistance Commission has fulfilled its purpose and should be eliminated,” declared Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kansas, the ranking member of the Senate Rules and Administration Committee, which conducted the hearing. He quickly added: “None of my comments are a reflection of the nominees.” Reflection or not, the nominees find themselves in a political purgatory and legislative limbo soupy as any Congress is stirring.
A few weeks ago, a friend and colleague emailed to ask me if the Senate’s recent changes to the cloture rules on nominations meant that the U.S. Election Assistance Commission – vacant since the resignation of two Republican commissioners in late 2011 – would finally get some new members. I replied that it was highly doubtful, saying that I didn’t think Congress was even paying attention to the EAC anymore and that I thought the Senate would save its new firepower for higher-profile posts. I was wrong. This week, the Senate Rules Committee announced that it will be holding a hearing next week to consider the nominations of two potential Democratic commissioners, Myrna Perez and Thomas Hicks.
Advocates pleaded with Kentucky lawmakers Tuesday for legislation that could restore voting rights to some former felons, but Republicans say support remains murky in the Senate — where similar bills have died for years. Felons currently must petition the governor to regain voting rights under the Kentucky constitution, and Democrats are proposing changes that would allow most non-violent felons to vote once they have completed their sentence. Advocates say Kentucky is one of only four states that permanently bars felons from casting a ballot — a practice that hits hardest on African Americans and denies former convicts a chance to fully return to civic life, they argued. “I made a mistake, but I am not a mistake,” said Tayna Fogle, a former felon who works with Kentuckians For the Commonwealth, a left-leaning grassroots organization. “I can contribute to this community, and voting is very important to me.”
The Supreme Court is expected this month to announce rulings on two key voting rights cases that could reshape how Americans nationwide cast ballots in federal elections. The more high-profile of the two pending rulings — which could come as early as this week — involves an Alabama county that is pushing back against federal oversight of its election procedures. The other centers on an Arizona law that requires voters to submit documentary proof of citizenship when registering to vote. While both cases deal with specific jurisdictions, the court’s decisions will set legal precedents that could — depending on whether the justices uphold, strike down or suggest changes in the laws — trigger states nationwide to reform the way they hold elections and who they allow to vote.
Arizona is once again serving as a national flash point in a Supreme Court case to decide the legality of its law requiring proof of citizenship to register to vote. Oral arguments began on Monday with Sonia Sotomayor and Antonin Scalia squaring off, but experts say the law may lead to a trend of similar state laws if it is allowed to stand. At issue is the 1993 National Voter Registration Act, which was created to make it easier to register to vote and for an individual to maintain their registration. The “Motor Voter” section of the law allows people to register to vote by mailing in a form where they are asked if they are citizens. Prospective voters must check yes or no and sign the form under penalty of perjury. Arizona’s 2004 law requires documentation of citizenship to use the form. “I’m afraid we’re moving away from the Motor Voter trend,” says Thomas Saenz, the president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF). “Arizona seems to be the initiator of these restrictive laws. It’s an act to deter those who are eligible to vote when there is no evidence of any fraudulent voting.”
The Supreme Court this week will take up a potentially landmark case that could end almost five decades of Justice Department intervention that gives the federal government control over voting decisions in states and localities with a history of discrimination. Shelby County, Ala., is challenging a key provision in the 1965 Voting Rights Act that requires all or parts of 16 states with a history of discrimination in voting to get federal approval before making any changes in the way they hold elections. If successful, the challenge, which the high court will hear Wednesday, would strike down a major legislative tenant of President Lyndon Johnson’s civil rights legacy — though it’s one many argue is outdated and unnecessary.
Virginia: Virginia Governor McDonnell on pace to restore voting rights to record number of felons | The Washington Post
Gov. Robert F. McDonnell is on pace to achieve his campaign-trail pledge to restore the right to vote to more felons than any governor in Virginia history. Since announcing a streamlined, more efficient program in May 2010, McDonnell (R) has restored the rights of more than 3,800 felons and could clear hundreds more ahead of the November election. The issue is personal for McDonnell, a former prosecutor, and many are highlighting his record as progress on the issue. But others say that with an estimated 350,000 Virginians unable to vote because of a felony conviction, McDonnell could do more to re-enfranchise those who have paid their debt to society.
Florida does not have a good track record with voter purges. In 2000, Florida’s efforts to purge persons with criminal convictions from the rolls led to, by conservative estimates, close to 12,000 eligible voters being removed because the state’s process was so imprecise that an eligible voter named John Michaels could be confused with an ineligible person named John Michaelson. In 2004, Florida’s purge had a blatant racial disparity. Now, in 2012, Florida’s Secretary of State recently announced new efforts to purge Florida’s voter rolls. The initiative purports to be targeting non-citizens and deceased persons for removal from the voter rolls, but because Florida’s past efforts purged eligible voters from the rolls, careful scrutiny is warranted to ensure eligible Americans will not be blocked from voting. Clean voter rolls are very important. We all benefit when states undertake responsible list maintenance procedures. Because the fundamental right to vote is at stake when voter list cleansing efforts are undertaken, the process must be transparent, accurate, and under reasonable time frames, especially when the list maintenance effort is of the scale Florida is proposing.