The U.S. District Court is soon to rule on Texas’s new voter ID law. Ostensibly to combat voter fraud — the existence of which has yet to be demonstrated — the law would require every voter to present a government-issued photo ID at the poll. After a week of arguments this month, the question before the panel of federal judges is whether this law — one of many to emerge in the wake of 2010’s Republican legislative resurgence — places an undue burden on minorities. Under the Voting Rights Act of 1965, jurisdictions such as Texas with a history of suppressing minority voting must prove that any new requirements don’t “have the effect of denying or abridging the right to vote on account of race or color.” In March, the Justice Department denied the Lone Star State the necessary clearance for this new law, arguing that it would disproportionately affect Hispanic voters. Texas officials appealed. To preserve the access of all citizens to the right to vote — certainly among the most sacrosanct in our democracy — the District Court should follow the Justice Department’s lead and strike down this highly suspect and unnecessary law.
At least 5 million voters, predominantly young and from minority groups sympathetic to President Barack Obama, could be affected by an unprecedented flurry of new legislation by Republican governors and GOP-led legislatures to change or restrict voting rights by Election Day 2012. Supporters of these new laws — spearheaded in six swing states, as well as other less competitive ones — argue they are just trying to stop voter fraud and protect the integrity of the vote. But opponents, mainly Democrats and Obama’s campaign, which is closely monitoring the daily warfare over the new laws, believe they are trying to change the face of the electorate in a way that benefits the Republican candidate for president. Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Virginia and Wisconsin, all viewed as important states this fall, each have enacted stricter ID laws. Florida and Ohio have cut back on early voting. And a whole host of other states have passed new ID laws as well. As a result, millions of voters will find it much more difficult to vote on Election Day in November — some estimates, such as one from the Brennan Center of Justice last fall, put the number of those affected nationwide at more than 5 million. In Pennsylvania alone, the state’s Transportation Department released figures showing that more than 750,000 registered voters in the state — 9.2 percent of voters there — do not have the required forms of ID to vote in November.
Across the country, legal challenges are mounting to voter identification laws in several states, and the outcome of the November election could be hanging in the balance. A lawsuit is underway in Pennsylvania, where voters are challenging the state’s strict ID requirement; the state of Texas is suing the Obama administration over its move to block a voter ID law; a judge in Wisconsin barred enforcement of a voter ID rule this week; and in Florida, officials sued for access to a federal database of noncitizens in hopes of purging them from voter rolls, according to the New York Times.
Earlier this week, Attorney General Eric Holder declared in his address to the NAACP national convention in Houston what many voting rights advocates had been saying for months: that the photo voter ID law passed in Texas is a poll tax. Determining whether voter ID laws are as unconstitutional as poll taxes won’t be up to him, though. That honor goes to the US Supreme Court justices who lately have been signaling they may be ready to gut the 1965 Voting Rights Act. What this means is that a legal challenge to a voter ID law in Texas could be the trigger for the demise of the constitutional act that made it possible for people of color to vote in much of the country. Right-wing pundits have all but conceded this week’s US District Court hearing over Texas’s voter ID law to the Department of Justice. There’s agreement on the left and the right that Texas didn’t do a good enough job proving that the law has no discriminatory purpose nor effect. Experts have testified that almost 1.4 million Texans could be disenfranchised due to lacking ID. The state’s argument wasn’t helped by Texas state Senator Tommy Williams, an author of the voter ID law, who said, “I think people who live in west Texas are accustomed to driving long distances for routine tasks,” when confronted with the fact that the closest DMV for some low-income Texans could be dozens of miles away.
The decades-old legal battle between states’ rights and civil rights returns to a familiar venue – a federal courtroom – on Monday as lawyers for the state of Texas try to convince a panel of judges that the U.S. Justice Department has no legal authority to block the state from immediately implementing a voter ID law. Civil rights groups contend that Texas’ 2011 law requiring voters to provide identification with a photo issued by the state or the military discriminates against minority citizens and violates the federal Voting Rights Act. They say it harkens back to state laws designed to disenfranchise minorities, such as poll taxes and literacy tests. “The effort to suppress the vote is not a new thing,” said Leon W. Russell, vice chairman of the NAACP Board of Directors. “What we’ve seen in the last two years, though, is the most egregious effort to compound and collect every single method that anybody could think of that would discourage a person to vote and put it in a piece of legislation and inflict it on our community.”
The nation’s largest labor federation plans to mount an aggressive campaign against voter identification laws in a half-dozen battleground states that will be key in the presidential election. AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Arlene Holt Baker told reporters on Tuesday that the labor federation will have boots on the ground registering and helping voters in Florida, Michigan, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin in coordination with the group’s political program. Labor is pushing back against voter ID laws, which they say suppress voting by minorities, the elderly, the poor and students. Supporters of the measures say showing identification to vote is needed to crack down on fraud and protect the integrity of elections.
“There has never been in my lifetime, since we got rid of the poll tax and all the Jim Crow burdens on voting, the determined effort to limit the franchise that we see today. Why should we disenfranchise people forever once they’ve paid their price?” — Bill Clinton
Despite the propaganda being advanced by the government, the purpose of voter ID laws is not to eliminate voter fraud and protect the integrity of elections. Rather, their aim is to silence and suppress as many American voters as possible and increase the already widening chasm between the electorate and our government representatives. In fact, voter ID laws are the icing on the cake when it comes to public officials shutting Americans out of the decision-making process, silencing dissent, and making sure that those in power stay in power and have the last word on government policy. In other words, voter ID laws are the final step in securing the American corporate oligarchy, the unchallenged rule by the privileged and few.
A wave of Republican-sponsored laws restricting who can and cannot vote may mean that fewer Democrats, especially those who are low-income or minorities, vote in the 2012 presidential election. Since the beginning of 2011, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Wisconsin, and West Virginia have passed, or have plans to pass, restrictive voting laws. More than 70 percent of the 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency will come from these states, the Brennan Center reported in March. Republican lawmakers argue that the laws are necessary to prevent voter fraud, but fewer than 100 people have been charged with voter fraud in the past five years, according to the Washington Post. In 2011, former President Bill Clinton condemned the laws for disenfranchising Democrats, describing them as “the disciplined, passionate, determined effort of Republican governors and legislators to keep most of you from voting next time.There has never been in my lifetime, since we got rid of the poll tax and all the other Jim Crow burdens on voting, the determined effort to limit the franchise that we see today,” he said.
Republicans are waging the most concerted campaign to prevent or discourage citizens from exercising their legitimate voting rights since the Jim Crow days of poll taxes and literacy tests. Four years ago, Democrats expanded American democracy by registering millions of new voters — mostly young people and minorities — and persuading them to show up at the polls. Apparently, the GOP is determined not to let any such thing happen again. According to the nonpartisan Brennan Center for Justice at New York University, which keeps track of changes in voting laws, 22 statutes and two executive actions aimed at restricting the franchise have been approved in 17 states since the beginning of 2011. By the center’s count, an additional 74 such bills are pending.
On March 7, 1963, civil rights activists were brutally beaten by police in Selma, Alabama, during the infamous “Bloody Sunday” march, for advocating for the right to vote. This week, forty-seven years later, today’s civil rights leaders retraced the march from Selma to Montgomery, protesting what NAACP President Ben Jealous calls “the greatest attack on voting rights since segregation.” Since the 2010 election, Republicans have waged an unprecedented war on voting, with the unspoken but unmistakable goal of preventing millions of mostly Democratic voters, including students, minorities, immigrants, ex-convicts and the elderly, from casting ballots in 2012. More than a dozen states, from Texas to Wisconsin and Florida, have passed laws designed to impede voters at every step of the electoral process, whether by requiring birth certificates to register to vote, restricting voter registration drives, curtailing early voting, requiring government-issued IDs to cast a ballot, or disenfranchising ex-felons.
Here’s hoping that expected legal challenges of a requirement that Pennsylvania voters show photo identification at the polls will occur before the ink is dry on Gov. Corbett’s signature on legislation racing through Harrisburg. A Wisconsin judge has halted implementation of that state’s voter identification law before its April primary, responding to an NAACP lawsuit that contends voters without driver’s licenses are “disproportionately elderly, indigent, or members of a racial minority.” Likewise, the Republican proposal in Pennsylvania is nothing more than a new form of a poll tax, similar to those imposed to turn away black voters in the old, segregated South. So-called voter-ID rules would hit the old, young, poor, and minority voters the hardest — a slice of the electorate least likely to have government-issued identification of the type required under the measure approved Wednesday by the state Senate. The fact that this group of voters disproportionately leans toward Democratic candidates, particularly in Philadelphia and other urban areas, uncovers the voter-ID proposal for what it is — a blatant bid for a GOP advantage at the polls.
Wisconsin State Court Judge David Flanagan issued a temporary injunction on Tuesday that will prevent Wisconsin’s controversial Voter ID law from going into effect prior to the state’s April 3 presidential primary. After noting in the order that the Wisconsin State Constitution recognizes voting as a guaranteed right, Judge Flanagan called the bill “the single most restrictive voter eligibility law in the United States.” The challenged provisions of Wisconsin Act 23 would have required that all voters display a drivers license or voter photo identification before being permitted to vote in any federal, state, or local elections. The bill, like the voter ID bills being pushed in Republican-controlled legislatures around the county, was purportedly designed to prevent voter fraud and maintain the accuracy and security of the ballot process. Judge Flanagan noted in his opinion that the Attorney General failed to introduce any evidence of fraud that would justify this interference with Wisconsin voters’ constitutional right to vote.
Voter ID laws have been all the rage around the country, with conservative lawmakers pushing to make it harder to vote, often by requiring some form of government-issued photo identification. The goal, at least according to rhetoric, is to keep the process safe from fraud—despite there being no real evidence of in-person voter fraud, the only kind such laws would actually prevent. In the meantime, states struggle with low-turnout rates and sometimes low registration rates. In Texas, which recently passed one of the more stringent ID requirements, residents vote at among the lowest rates in the country. All of which makes Connecticut’s current voting debate somewhat shocking by comparison. The secretary of state has taken the lead in proposing measures to increase voter turnout by—get this—making it easier to vote. Two proposals make it easier to register by offering same-day registration for those who show up on Election Day and creating an online voter registration system so people can do it from home. Another measure would increasing penalties for voter intimidation. According to officials, the efforts are much-needed to increase turnout.
National: Voting Rights Act: Is Obama letting the civil rights law die before the Supreme Court kills it? | Slate
When Georgia’s Republican leaders redrew the state’s election-district maps last year, Democrats and minorities instantly cried foul. In an increasingly diverse state where 47 percent of voters chose Obama in 2008, the new maps looked likely to hand the GOP 10 of the state’s 14 seats in Congress. Perhaps even more significantly, they were drawn so as to give Republicans a shot at a two-thirds majority in both chambers of the state legislature, allowing them to pass constitutional amendments unilaterally. They achieved this in part by “packing” the state’s black voters (who overwhelmingly vote Democratic) into a handful of districts in order to make others more solidly white (and Republican).
Fortunately for the state’s Democrats, federal law seemed to offer a time-tested remedy. Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, a landmark civil rights bill passed in 1965 to crack down on poll taxes and other discriminatory practices, requires Georgia and a number of other Southern states to get federal approval for any changes to their voting laws. Any that harmed minorities’ chances of fair representation were to be thrown out. And that’s exactly what Georgia Democrats expected Obama’s Department of Justice to do with Republicans’ new maps. Just two years earlier, it had invoked Section 5 to block two Georgia voter-verification laws. Liberals gleefully predicted the Republican gerrymanders would likewise be “DOA at the DOJ.”
The 2012 general election campaign is likely to be a fight for every last vote, which means that it will also be a fight over who gets to cast one. Partisan skirmishing over election procedures has been going on in state legislatures across the country for several years. Republicans have called for cutbacks in early voting, an end to same-day registration, higher hurdles for ex-felons, the presentation of proof-of-citizenship documents and regulations discouraging registration drives. The centerpiece of this effort has been a national campaign to require voters to present particular photo ID documents at the polls. Characterized as innocuous reforms to preserve election integrity, beefed-up ID requirements have passed in more than a dozen states since 2005 and are still being considered in more than 20 others. Opponents of the laws, mostly Democrats, claim that they are intended to reduce the participation of the young, of the poor and of minorities, who are most likely to lack government-issued IDs — and also most likely to vote Democratic.
A high-stakes political struggle over requiring voters to show photo identification at the polls is erupting in Minnesota, conjuring up emotional precedents from the notorious Jim Crow poll taxes to the old Chicago admonition to “vote early and often.” The determined Republican drive to pass a photo ID constitutional amendment as a needed deterrent to fraud — and the equally strong DFL effort to oppose it as a partisan ploy to suppress votes — has turned the ordinary driver’s license into a symbol of our national divide. “It’s like we’re back in slavery, only it’s all of us this time,” said Antoinette Oloko, an African-American woman at one of several protests against photo ID and news conferences at the Capitol in recent days. “We’ve had cases of ineligible voters, convicted felons, voting when they shouldn’t be,” said Dan McGrath of the pro-ID group Minnesota Majority, who has collected pictures of voters’ given “addresses” that turn out to be empty lots.
Dr. Brenda Williams, who grew up in the segregated South, has spent 30 years helping patients register to vote. She considers the state’s new voter ID law a reminder of when blacks were forced to sit in the back of the bus. “It is a way of disenfranchisement of certain segments of our society, primarily African-Americans, the elderly, and the indigent,” Williams said in an interview in her office in Sumter, halfway between Columbia and Charleston. “It is very sad to see our legislators try to turn the clock back,” she said. In all, 85,000 registered voters in South Carolina are without the kind of ID that would be required under the new law, according a vetting of the voter rolls by the state’s department of motor vehicles.
As lawmakers prepare to a debate a measure to require voters to show some sort of identification before casting ballots, Fremont Sen. Charlie Janssen says he has amended the bill to make it less onerous to opponents. “This is much ado about nothing,” Janssen said before dozens of opponents gathered Wednesday in the Rotunda to assail the measure. And they begged to differ with his “much ado” characterization.
On the Sunday before the 2008 presidential election, church goers in Florida streamed from the pews to early voting places to cast their ballots. The so-called Souls to the Polls campaigns were a windfall for then-presidential candidate Barack Obama and the Democrats. According to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, more than 32 percent of those who voted early on that last Sunday before Election Day were African American, and nearly 24 percent were Latino. Moreover, according to a report released by the Florida State Senate, 52 percent of people who voted early in the 2008 election were registered Democrats.
“Preachers would preach a great sermon and then march to the polls with their congregations,” said Hilary Shelton, senior vice president for advocacy and policy at the NAACP.
But voting laws passed in Florida last year have limited early voting, including on the Sunday before Election Day. Opponents say the early voting limitations are part of a broader effort by Republican-led legislatures across the country to suppress the black, minority and elderly voting blocs, groups expected to be key to President Obama’s bid for reelection in 2012. The efforts include new voting laws passed in more than a dozen states, some requiring government-issued identification to vote and others limiting third-party voter registration drives.
It’s one of the most important rights we have in a democracy, the right to vote. To help protect that right, a Nebraska state senator wants to set up what he believes is a simple process, but opponents of a voter ID bill are already up in arms.
The bill’s language is simple. Anyone who wants to vote must provide a state or government issued ID that shows a current address. A group of community members, elected officials and representative from area organizations met Wednesday morning in Omaha. They said not only is the idea unnecessary, it would create a burden for anyone without an ID or who would need to update their old ID at a cost of $26.50.
“It unfairly targets citizens with low income, seniors, youth and citizens with disabilities,” said Linda Duckworth with the League of Women Voters of Nebraska. “It points us in a direction that Nebraskans should be ashamed to take.”
The NAACP’s Pittsburgh branch is mobilizing to oppose a bill that would require Pennsylvanians to show identification before voting. The organization on Wednesday likened the importance of the effort to ones that resulted in the abolishment of poll taxes. Members called on city residents to sign and help circulate petitions. They called on ministers to shout it down from their pulpits.
“The African-American community across the country fought long and hard to be able to vote,” said NAACP President M. Gayle Moss. “This is a tactic to reduce the number of senior citizen voters, African-American voters, who do not have cars or drive, and young voters.”
National and local civil rights groups are asking federal officials to aggressively challenge new election laws in Alabama, Mississippi and other states, saying the laws threaten to reverse decades-old efforts to expand voting rights to all Americans. “
It’s a widespread rollback of voting rights the likes of which we haven’t seen since poll taxes,” said Judith Browne Dianis, co director of the Advancement Project, a voting rights group based in Washington. “So we’re going to fight like we did in 1964.” U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said he understands the fight, calling voting rights protection a priority for the Justice Department.
“Despite so many decades of struggle, sacrifice, and achievement, we must remain ever vigilant in safeguarding our most basic and important right,” Holder said in a speech in Texas Tuesday. “The reality is that in jurisdictions across the country, both overt and subtle forms of discrimination remain all too common.”
Wisconsin’s voter ID law is again being challenged, this time in federal court. It’s the only active federal challenge of a photo ID law, say representatives of the national and state chapters of the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, who are bringing the lawsuit.
The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in the Eastern District of Wisconsin federal court, seeks an injunction against enforcement of the voter ID law, which takes full effect on Feb. 21, 2012 for Wisconsin’s spring primary elections.
“The photo ID law imposes a severe and undue burden on the fundamental right to vote under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution; violates the Twenty-Fourth and Fourteen Amendments to the United States Constitution as an unconstitutional poll tax; and violates the Equal Protection Clause o the Fourteenth Amendment in arbitrarily refusing to accept certain identification documents,” the December 13 complaint (PDF) states.
The League of Women Voters of Wisconsin Education Network filed suit in October against Wisconsin’s law in state court, and the Milwaukee branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is also expected to file a state challenge this week.
A coalition of nearly 20 organizations, including the NAACP and the National Urban League, announced they have launched a “Stand for Freedom” voting rights campaign and also a major mobilization on Dec. 10 — United Nations Human Rights Day — to protest what they say is an attack on voting rights throughout the country.
The campaign will take aim at election laws which, the coalition says, will suppress the rights of millions of Americans to vote in 2012 and beyond. In dozens of states, new rules will create what the coalition describes as a modern-day poll tax by requiring voters to obtain and present official photo ID in order to cast ballots. In many of those same states, new laws significantly cut early voting and Sunday voting, as well.
Ninety-seven-year-old Emma Lee Green balances an armload of old books and yellowing papers around the stacks of musty files in her San Bernardino attic. She remembers well the days of Jim Crow, poll taxes and literacy tests that barred many African-American citizens from the voting booth.
Americans set their clocks back one hour last Sunday. But a wave of new voting restrictions could turn back the clock to the days poll taxes and literacy tests meant to stop African-Americans from voting. She witnessed first-hand the valiant struggle to ensure that all American citizens could raise their voices on Election Day.
Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Fla.) on Wednesday night said Republican governors and legislatures are purposefully pressing for the enactment of voter identification laws in order to suppress Democratic voter turnout in the 2012 election. “State legislatures are attempting to impose voting restrictions that are the modern day equivalent of poll taxes and…
Editorials: 2011 year of unprecedented GOP attack on voting rights of average Americans | TCPalm.com
2011 maybe remembered for the mean-spirited and extremely undemocratic GOP assault upon the voting rights of Americans. Over the history of our great nation there always has been positive momentum to expand the voting franchise.
The original tea partiers pointed to the lack of voting rights with their motto, “No taxation without representation.” Eventually the limitation of voting rights to property owners slowly ended state by state. After the Civil War three important constitutional amendments were passed to ensure the rights of newly freed, former slaves, including the right to vote. The original voting franchise in America had empowered only white men to vote, and in many instances only white men who owned property.
Next November more than 5 million Americans will not be allowed to vote because of a criminal conviction in their past. Nearly 4 million of these people are not in prison, yet they remain disenfranchised for years, often for decades and sometimes for life.
States vary widely on when they restore voting rights after a conviction. Maine and Vermont do not disenfranchise people with convictions; even prisoners may vote there. People with felony convictions in Florida, Iowa, Kentucky and Virginia are disenfranchised for life, unless they are granted clemency by the governor. The rest of the country falls somewhere in between.
Mississippi voters this week passed the voter ID ballot initiative by a wide margin, making that state the eighth in the nation to adopt a strict voter photo ID requirement, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Lawmakers in Kansas, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin enacted similar laws earlier this year.
The Mississippi amendment requires residents to present a government-issued photo ID before they can vote, and says those who lack proper identification can obtain one from the state for free.
Today millions of people will go to the polls to vote in state and local elections. As they cast their ballot, they cast a vote for the most treasured aspect of our democracy. The voting booth is the one place where we are all equal — all Americans are able to have an equal voice in determining the shape of our government. That sacred right is now under the largest assault we have witnessed in more than a century.
Through a spate of restrictive laws passed in Republican-led state legislatures, a disproportionate number of African-Americans, Latinos, people with disabilities, the elderly and the young will find voting difficult and in many cases impossible. These laws require a state photo ID to vote, limit early voting, place strict requirements on voter registration and deny voting rights to Americans with criminal records who have paid their debt to society.