A U.S. court in Texas heard arguments on Tuesday in a case over a law requiring voters to present photo identification, a move the state’s Republican leaders say will prevent fraud while plaintiffs call it an attempt at suppressing minority turnout. The case is also part of a new strategy by the Obama administration to challenge voting laws it says discriminate by race in order to counter a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June that freed states from strict federal oversight. The trial that started on Tuesday at the U.S. District Court in Corpus Christi stems from a battle over stringent voter ID measures signed into law by Texas Governor Rick Perry, a Republican, in 2011. The law requires voters to present a photo ID such as a concealed handgun license or driver’s license, but it excludes student IDs as invalid. Plaintiffs argued in opening arguments the law will hit the elderly and poorer voters including racial minorities the hardest because they are less likely to have such IDs.
Imani Clark, Aurica Washington, Crystal Owens and Michelle Bessiake are students at Prairie View A&M and Texas Southern University, two historically black colleges in Texas. They do not have a driver’s license or own a car, and do not possess one of the five forms of government-issued identification required by Texas to vote. They can no longer vote with their students IDs in Texas, where a handgun permit is a valid voter ID but a student ID is not. The four students are among the plaintiffs challenging the constitutionality of Texas’s voter ID law in federal court in Corpus Christi this week. The trial before Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos, an Obama appointee, is expected to last two to three weeks. In August 2012, a three-judge district court in Washington found that the law discriminated against black and Hispanic voters under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. The court called it “the most stringent [voter ID law] in the country.” But after the Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder freed states like Texas with a long history of voting discrimination from having to approve their voting changes with the federal government, Texas wasted no time in implementing the blocked law. “With today’s decision, the state’s voter ID law will take effect immediately,” Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott announced hours after the court’s ruling. Groups like the Justice Department, NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the Mexican American Legislative Caucus are now challenging the law under Section 2 of the VRA, which remains on the books.
Dozens of lawyers will gather in a federal courtroom in Corpus Christi, Texas, on Tuesday for the start of a new challenge to the state’s controversial voter ID law. The trial is expected to last two to three weeks, but it’s unlikely to be the end of what’s already been a long, convoluted journey for the Texas law — and many others like it. First, some background: Texas’ Republican-controlled Legislature passed new photo ID requirements for voters back in 2011. Supporters said the law was needed to prevent voter fraud, although opponents noted that there was little evidence of such fraud at the polls. At the time, the state was covered by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which meant it needed federal approval for the law to go into effect, because the state had a history of discrimination against minority voters. The case ended up before a three-judge federal court in Washington, D.C., which in 2012 ruled against the state. It said Texas could not impose the new ID requirement, because the state was unable to show that it would not discriminate against blacks and Latinos. Under Section 5, the burden of proof was on the state to show that the law was nondiscriminatory.
If Ferguson residents want a diverse police force that reflects the community, they need to elect someone who makes inclusion a priority, said Michael McMillan, president and CEO of the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis. In Ferguson – where an unarmed black teenager was fatally shot by a white police officer on Aug. 9 – the police department has three black officers and 50 white officers. The town’s population is 67 percent African-American, yet Ferguson has a white mayor and five of the six-member city council members are also white. As the Post-Dispatch illustrated with a startling graphic on the front page of the Sunday paper, Ferguson is typical among county municipalities for its lack of representation of blacks in police and government. Several local leaders are encouraging protesters fighting for justice in the Michael Brown case to keep marching, but also register to vote. The Urban League, NAACP, ministers and politicians have all organized volunteers to educate residents on the voting process and register especially African-American voters. In 2013, only about six percent of the eligible black voters cast their ballot in Ferguson’s municipal election, compared to 17 percent of white voters. “The need for voter registration education and mobility has always been a cornerstone of the Civil Rights Movement,” McMillan said.
North Carolina: Attorneys for state NAACP file appeal of federal judge’s ruling on voting law | Winston-Salem Journal
Attorneys for the state NAACP and others filed a motion Monday asking the 4th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals to overrule a federal judge’s decision to deny a preliminary injunction blocking the state’s new voting law for the Nov. 4 general election. The state NAACP had announced last Thursday that it would appeal the ruling. The motion Monday comes two weeks after U.S. District Judge Thomas D. Schroeder denied the preliminary injunction that would have barred a state law that reduces days for early voting, eliminates same-day voter registration and prohibits county officials from counting ballots cast by voters in the correct county but wrong precinct. The law also gets rid of preregistration for 16- and 17-year-olds and increases the number of poll observers that each political party assigns during an election.
North Carolina: NAACP appeals federal judge’s ruling to let 2014 elections proceed under new voting rules | News Observer
The NAACP has appealed a federal judge’s decision to allow elections to proceed under the sweeping changes made to North Carolina voting laws in 2013. U.S. District Judge Thomas D. Schroeder rejected a request earlier this month by the NAACP and other challengers of the 2013 overhaul to hold the November elections under old election laws instead of the ones at the heart of the lawsuit scheduled for trial in July 2015. The NAACP, the League of Women Voters, registered Democrats in North Carolina and others contend that voters will suffer “irreparable damages” if any elections scheduled before the hearing of the lawsuit are held under the laws adopted by the Republican-led General Assembly and signed into law by Gov. Pat McCrory last summer. “If one person’s right to vote is denied or abridged this election, this democracy suffers,” the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, president of the North Carolina NAACP, said in a prepared statement. “While restoring the rights of North Carolina voters and renewing the integrity of democracy in our state will require a long legal fight, we must start now by doing everything we can to block this law for the November election.”
Civil rights activists opposed to North Carolina’s dramatic voting law changes will use the ballot box and the courts to try to overturn them after a judge refused to block them from being used, attorneys for the state NAACP said Monday. A U.S. District Court judge declined late last week to prevent continued implementation of several provisions being challenged in court by advocacy groups, voters and the federal government. But Judge Thomas Schroeder allowed a trial on the constitutionality of those provisions to continue as planned next July, rejecting requests of the state to throw out the three lawsuits. The provisions, already used in the May primary, eliminated same-day registration during early voting, reduced the early-voting period by a week and eliminated the counting of ballots cast on election day outside of a person’s home precinct. Voters also are being told at the polls to prepare for a photo identification requirement in 2016. Political parties also can send in more observers to monitor voting.
A federal judge in Ohio is weighing arguments over the impact of early-voting changes in the presidential battleground state, as civil rights groups and voting rights organizations seek to block recent restrictions from being in place this November. Ohioans vote absentee by mail or in person without giving any reason. The lawsuit before U.S. District Judge Peter Economus challenges two early-voting revisions. One is a directive this year from Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted that set uniform, early voting times that included restrictions on weekend and evening hours. The other is a bill passed by the GOP-led General Assembly in February that shortens the early voting window. Instead of 35 days, the period would typically be 29 or 28 days. The law gets rid of a so-called “golden week” when people could both register to vote and cast a ballot at the same time.
Editorials: North Carolina Becomes the Latest Casualty of the Supreme Court’s Voting Rights Act Decision | Ari Berman/The Nation
On Tuesday, August 6, the country celebrated the forty-ninth anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, the most impactful civil rights law ever passed by Congress. Three days later, a federal judge in North Carolina denied a preliminary injunction to block key provisions of the state’s new voting law, widely described as the most onerous in the country. North Carolina’s new voting restrictions will now be in effect for the 2014 midterms and beyond, pending a full trial in July 2015, a month before the fiftieth anniversary of the VRA. The federal government and plaintiffs including the North Carolina NAACP and the League of Women Voters argued during a hearing last month that three important parts of the law—a reduction in early voting from seventeen to ten days, the elimination of same-day registration during the early voting period, and a prohibition on counting provisional ballots cast in the wrong precinct—disproportionally burdened African-American voters in violation of Section 2 of the VRA and should be enjoined before the 2014 election. As evidence, plaintiffs showed that in recent elections African-Americans were twice as likely to vote early, use same-day registration and vote out-of-precinct. In 2012, for example, 300,000 African-Americans voted during the week of early voting eliminated by the state, 30,000 used same-day registration and 2,500 cast out-of-precinct ballots. Overall, 70 percent of blacks voted early and African-Americans made up 42 percent of new same-day registrants.
Voting rights activists on Thursday petitioned the governor to intervene in their battle with the city of Palmdale over its method of electing officials. Nearly 200 Palmdale voters signed the petition asking the governor to exercise authority under state Elections Code Sections 10300-10312, according to Kevin I. Shenkman, an attorney for the plaintiffs who sued the city. They want Gov. Jerry Brown to appoint a three-member commission to oversee a new election for the Palmdale City Council. Shenkman said the petition drive was spearheaded by the Antelope Valley chapters of the NAACP and LULAC and the African American Caucus of the California Democratic Party.
North Carolina’s new voting law that, among other things, reduces early voting hours and eliminates same-day voter registration will be in place for the November elections, a federal judge ruled late Friday. U.S. District Judge Thomas D. Schroeder denied a preliminary injunction barring the use of the laws, saying that the U.S. Department of Justice, the state NAACP and others had failed to show that the law would have such “irreparable harm” to blacks, young people, other racial minorities and poor people that it should be blocked for the November election. That election features the hotly contested U.S. Senate race between Democratic U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan and Thom Tillis, the Republican speaker of the House and one of the main architects of the new law. Schroeder also denied a request by the Justice Department to have federal observers in North Carolina for the November election. But Schroeder also declined to dismiss the trio of lawsuits filed last year, which included the League of Women Voters, the state NAACP, the Justice Department and individual plaintiffs such as Emmanuel Baptist Church in Winston-Salem. The lawsuits, which challenge the constitutionality of North Carolina’s voting law, are scheduled for trial in July 2015.
National: NAACP worries that low November turnout could lead to voter ID expansion | Associated Press
Civil rights leaders at the NAACP annual convention in Las Vegas on Tuesday worried that dwindling African-American turnout in November could lead to the expansion of voter-identification laws that makes it harder for that community to vote in subsequent contests. In 2012, blacks turned out at a higher rate than whites for what is believed to be the first time in American history and helped re-elect President Obama. But in the prior midterm election, in 2010, blacks turned out at a much lower rate, and Republicans won control of the House of Representatives and many state and local offices.
A federal judge will now have to decide whether North Carolina’s new voting law is so onerous on black voters that it needs to be blocked before the upcoming November elections. That’s the central question after a four-day hearing in U.S. District Court in Winston-Salem ended Thursday afternoon. National and local voting-rights activists are closely watching the case. U.S. District Judge Thomas D. Schroeder said in court that he would issue a written decision at a later date, noting it would be “sooner rather than later,” given the urgency of the matter. State attorneys argued Thursday that the law was not discriminatory and that it gave everyone an equal opportunity to vote. Opponents disagree. The hearing featured about three days of testimony from state officials, Democratic legislators, experts and blacks voters who said they would be burdened by voting changes that Republicans legislators passed in 2013. The law, known as the Voting Information Verification Act and referred to in the hearing as House Bill 589, would reduce early voting from 17 days to 10, eliminate same-day voter registration, prohibit county elections officials from counting ballots cast by voters in the correct county but wrong precinct and get rid of pre-registration by 16- and 17-year-olds.
North Carolina’s voter identification law, which has been described as the most sweeping attack on African American electoral rights since the Jim Crow era, is being challenged in a legal hearing that opens on Monday. Civil rights lawyers and activists are gathering in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, for the start of the legal challenge that is expected to last all week. They will be seeking to persuade a federal district judge to impose a preliminary injunction against key aspects of HB 589, the voting law enacted by state Republicans last August. Lawyers for the North Carolina branch of the NAACP and the civil rights group the Advancement Project will argue that the main pillars of the law should be temporarily halted ahead of a full trial next year. Otherwise, they say, tens of thousands of largely poor black voters could find themselves turned away at the polls at the midterm elections in November.
The Ohio Conference of the NAACP is asking a federal judge to expand early voting by restoring “ golden week” and allowing in-person ballots to be cast on more Sundays and during evening hours. Meanwhile, a coalition led by the Ohio Legislative Black Caucus said yesterday that it will continue its signature-gathering efforts to get an Ohio Voter Bill of Rights before voters, but it will not make the 2014 ballot. The NAACP lawsuit was filed with the same federal judge who two weeks ago required Secretary of State Jon Husted to implement early voting on the three days before Election Day. But the lawsuit filed this week with U.S. District Judge Peter C. Economus says that does not go far enough to ensure access to the ballot.
North Carolina: NAACP, others to argue for a preliminary injunction against voting law | Winston-Salem Journal
The state NAACP and other civil rights groups want a federal judge to block what they call the worst voter suppression bill since the days of Jim Crow. “The reality is that this monster voter suppression law was passed a few weeks after Shelby,” said the Rev. William Barber, the president of the state NAACP, in a conference call Tuesday. Barber was referring to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that struck down Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act that required states and other communities to seek federal approval for changes in voting laws. Forty counties in North Carolina had been under the Section 5 requirement. The law, officially known as the Voter Information Verification Act, includes a number of provisions. The most well-known is a requirement that voters present a photo ID, beginning in 2016, but it also reduces the number of days for early voting from 17 to 10, eliminates same-day voter registration during early voting and prohibits county elections officials from counting ballots cast by voters in the right county but wrong precinct.
For nearly three years, Alabama’s state and local officials have been preparing for the first election that will require voters to have photo identification — today’s statewide primary. The new law, passed by the state Legislature in 2011, requires that all voters show a photo ID at the polling place. But some say one of the alternative methods of confirming a voter’s identity is unconstitutional and racially discriminatory. If a voter doesn’t have one of the 10 accepted forms of ID at the polling place, the individual can vote if two poll officials can confirm the person’s identity.
The Republican lawmaker in a key position to help bolster the Voting Rights Act (VRA) isn’t convinced new legislation is needed, and wants more evidence that current laws aren’t strong enough to stop racial discrimination in voting, according to people involved in the discussions. Virginia Rep. Bob Goodlatte’s go-slow approach—which comes as efforts to pass the bipartisan measure before this fall’s midterm elections enter a critical phase—is causing frustration among voting-rights advocates. Goodlatte chairs the House Judiciary Committee. Before agreeing to hold a hearing on the bill, Goodlatte has asked for examples of voting discrimination that have occurred since the Supreme Court weakened the VRA last year in Shelby County v. Holder, as well as information on how such incidents would have been stopped by the proposed legislation. Lobbyists with the NAACP responded to Goodlatte’s request last week with a 16,000-word document outlining a slew of discriminatory voting changes stopped by the VRA before the Shelby decision, as well as several new ones that went into effect after the landmark civil rights law was eroded.
Time is running out for Congress to fix the Voting Rights Act. The Supreme Court last year struck down major parts of the voting law, and a bipartisan fix has stalled in Congress. The justices ruled that the formula used to designate which parts of the country must face heightened federal voting clearances was outdated and unconstitutional. New legislation, introduced earlier this year, seeks to update the procedures. Advocates believe the bill will pass both chambers of Congress if it is brought up to a vote, but that looks unlikely. In the House, conservative Republicans, especially those from Southern states that are singled out for the extra scrutiny, are skeptical of the measure Rep. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.) hammered out with House and Senate Democrats. If the bill were signed into law soon, it would be in effect for this November’s elections. Some Democrats are unhappy with compromises struck to win GOP support related to voter identification. Others on the left are concerned with the scope of the bill. Previously, nine states with histories of voter discrimination were required to get federal approval before they changed their election procedures. Under the new plan, only four states would be forced to seek such approval. Still, most Democrats would back the bill if it comes up for a vote. A number of senior Democrats, including members of the Congressional Black Caucus, are on board.
North Carolina: Federal judge rules correspondence, emails over voter ID law a public record | Charlotte News Observer
The North Carolina legislative leaders who led the crafting of the state’s new voter ID law will have to turn over some of their correspondence and email messages to voters and organizations challenging the wide-ranging amendments, according to a federal court ruling. U.S. Magistrate Judge Joi Elizabeth Peake issued a ruling on Thursday that addresses an attempt by lawmakers to quash subpoenas seeking email, correspondence and other documents exchanged while transforming the state’s voting process. In a court hearing earlier this year, attorneys for 13 Republican legislators tried to turn back efforts to get the correspondence released.
Speakers at the commemoration Sunday of a key event in African Americans’ fight for voting rights urged Congress to resurrect the requirement that many southern states get federal approval for changes in election laws. The son of Martin Luther King Jr. said blood spilled on Selma’s Edmund Pettus Bridge helped pave the way for the Voting Rights Act of 1965. But a court case also arising out of Alabama led the U.S. Supreme Court last year to effectively strike down a key provision of the law that requires federal approval for election changes in all or parts of 15 states. “I’m very concerned because it is ironic that the state that helped to give us so much has temporarily set up a scenario to take it away. That we must change,” Martin Luther King III said in a speech this morning.
Wisconsin: State Supreme Court hears arguments on voter identification law; no timeline on ruling | Star Tribune
A member of the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s conservative majority said Tuesday she’s troubled by the state’s voter photo ID requirements, saying it’s not fair that people who lack identification may have to pay for supporting documents to obtain it. The League of Women Voters and the NAACP’s Milwaukee branch have filed separate lawsuits challenging the Republican-authored voter ID mandate. Both cases have wound their way to the Supreme Court; the justices spent more than three hours listening to oral arguments in a packed hearing room Tuesday. The lawsuits face an uphill fight given the court’s ideological makeup. Surprisingly, though, Justice Patience Roggensack said the provisions were troubling because people who lack acceptable IDs for voting would have to pay for copies of supporting documents, such as birth certificates, to get them. “It’s still a payment to the state to be able to vote,” Roggensack said. “That bothers me.”
A Wisconsin law requiring voters to show identification at the polls went before the state’s highest court Tuesday. The Wisconsin Supreme Court listened to arguments for more than three hours in front of a packed courtroom. Attorneys on both sides of the law faced questions from the court’s justices. Justice Pat Roggensack told the state’s attorney she’s concerned some people have to pay $20 for a birth certificate, which they need to get an ID. “It’s still a payment to the state to be able to vote. That bothers me, can you address that?” asked Roggensack. “Since the voter ID law was in place, or was going to be in place, there were some places in Wisconsin that offered free birth certificates,” responded Clayton Kawski, an assistant Attorney General for Wisconsin. The law was enacted in 2011. It was in effect for a primary election in February 2012, but it was blocked soon after by a court order. It hasn’t been in place since.
Oral arguments in two cases challenging the state’s voter photo identification (ID) law are scheduled for 9:45 a.m. on Feb. 25. In January, the court asked the parties to advise the court in writing, if they believed arguments in the two cases should be consolidated. The responses from the two parties indicated they did not wish the cases to be consolidated. The two cases are: No. 2012AP584-AC – League of Women Voters of Wisconsin Education Network, Inc. v. Scott Walker L.C.#2011CV4669/ and No. 2012AP1652 – Milwaukee Branch of the NAACP v. Scott Walker L.C.#2011CV5492. Both the League of Women Voters and the Milwaukee Branch of the NAACP have challenged Wisconsin’s voter photo ID law. In both cases, Dane County judges struck down the law.
With the Hamilton County Board of Elections members in a 2-2 political deadlock over a proposal to move its headquarters to the former Mercy Hospital in Mt. Airy in the College Hill area. Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted may be the one to cast the deciding vote. The stalemate came at the Jan. 27 Board of Elections meeting following a public hearing on the issue, during which Republicans and Democrats expressed the pros and cons of it. Speakers on the Republican side said the move would be a sound financial decision in that it saves the county $700,000 in annual rental now paid for the Downtown office on Broadway, and Democrats opposed it as another move to suppress and disenfranchise voters. The Mt. Airy site is offered at no cost to the County. Cincinnati City Council members are unanimously against the move, following a vote on the issue.
A lawsuit that alleges Albany County didn’t do enough in 2011 to create a new election district made up mostly of minority voters can go forward, a judge ruled. In a decision issued Tuesday, Judge Lawrence E. Kahn ruled there are enough black residents in a compact geographic area in the county to create a fifth minority district, allowing the case to proceed to trial. The plaintiffs — who include local NAACP leader Anne Pope and former County Legislator Wanda Willingham — brought the action seeking to invalidate the 2011 redistricting map by arguing the 2010 census showed a growth in the minority population, and therefore, minority representation should have been increased to five legislators out of 39 from the current of four. The suit says the county violated the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
Kentucky: House panel approves bill to give most ex-felons in Kentucky the right to vote | Kentucky.com
Nearly 180,000 ex-felons in Kentucky who have fully served their sentences would regain their right to vote under a proposed constitutional amendment that a state House committee approved Tuesday. House Bill 70, sponsored by Rep. Jesse Crenshaw, D-Lexington, would not apply to ex-felons who committed intentional murder, rape, sodomy or a sex offense with a minor. The legislation has sailed through the Democratic-controlled House in past sessions but has stalled in the Republican-controlled Senate. Some Republicans say the measure would benefit Democratic candidates, but House Minority Leader Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, told the House Committee on Elections, Constitutional Amendments and Intergovernmental Affairs on Tuesday that he doesn’t buy that argument. The legislation is needed because it “is a matter of fairness,” he said. “We are a forgiving society.”
The head of the state’s NAACP said the civil rights organization is broadening its lawsuit against North Carolina’s new voter ID law and election law changes. The Rev. William Barber, North Carolina NAACP president, said the organization was making it clear in the lawsuit that the new law would have a disparate impact on Hispanics as well as African Americans. He also said that the state would add the elimination of pre-registration for 16- and 17-year-olds to the lawsuit. Meantime, a former member of the Federal Elections Commission said the expanded lawsuit still fails to prove that aspects of the state’s election reform laws are unconstitutional. “We will take on the issue of Latinos, and how this bill is impacting the Latino community,” Barber said Thursday during a telephone press conference. He said Maria Palmer, a newly elected member of the Chapel Hill Town Council and the first Hispanic elected to that post, was being added to the lawsuit as a plaintiff.
North Carolina is asking a federal judge to keep secret Republican state lawmakers’ communications as they pushed through the nation’s most restrictive voting law last summer. “They are doing everything they can to try to keep us from finding out what they did and how they did it and who was involved,” Rev. William Barber II, the president of the state’s NAACP chapter, which is challenging the law, told reporters Thursday. “It’s time for what was done in the dark to come into the light.” Barber’s NAACP, backed by the Advancement Project, wants access to the lawmakers’ emails and other internal communications in order to bolster the case that the law’s Republican sponsors knowingly discriminated against racial minorities. In response, the state argued late last week that the communications are protected by legislative privilege. In October, a GOP precinct chair resigned after saying that it would be OK if the law keeps “lazy blacks” from voting. The spat comes as the civil rights groups add more claims to their lawsuit, which was originally filed in August. The U.S. Justice Department has filed its own lawsuit against the measure.
During his Senate hearing yesterday, Debo Adegbile, President Obama’s pick for Justice Department Civil Rights Division chief, was asked by Sen. Chuck Grassley if he would block state voter ID laws if confirmed. In his previous capacity, Adegible served as attorney and one-time acting president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which has been in litigation with Texas over its voter ID law for the past three years. Adegbile also twice argued before the U.S. Supreme Court in defense of the Voting Rights Act. Sen. Grassley’s question mistakenly assumed that the assistant attorney general could unilaterally veto a state’s law, through dictatorship or executive order or something. The role of the Assistant Attorney General is not “to determine in the first instance how states run their voting systems,” said Adegbile in response to Grassley. “It’s only in the context of a particular law that is passed that [it] then occasionally becomes subject to review either because of the way in which it was passed or because of its impact.”