Arizona asked a nonprofit watchdog for $50,000 for election registration records, but provides the information to political parties for free, Project Vote claims in court. Project Vote, a nonpartisan nonprofit advocate for voter registration, claims the state violates the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 and the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. It sued Secretary of State Michele Reagan, Maricopa County Recorder Helen Purcell and Pima County Recorder F. Ann Rodriguez on April 27 in Federal Court. Purcell’s office has been lambasted since many Maricopa County voters had to wait five hours in line to vote in the state’s March 22 Presidential Preference Election.
When the Affordable Care Act’s new enrollment season begins next month, people seeking health insurance through the online federal exchange will also be offered something they may not expect: a chance to register to vote. But voting rights groups say the offer — a link to a voter registration form that they can print and mail, deep inside the application for health coverage — does not go far enough. This week, the groups accused the Obama administration of violating federal law by not doing more to ensure opportunities for voter registration through the exchange, HealthCare.gov, which serves 38 states. In a letter to President Obama, the groups said that in contrast, most of the 13 state-based insurance exchanges have worked to comply with the National Voter Registration Act. The act, also known as the “motor voter” law, requires states to offer voter registration to people applying for a driver’s license or public assistance.
The year before a major election has brought about a flurry of legislative activity impacting voter eligibility and election procedures. Each week, Project Vote tracks such legislation and voting-related news throughout the country. Our biannual Legislative Threats and Opportunities report summarizes and highlights the information obtained from three areas: our ongoing bill tracking effort, our work with local advocates and officials, and a compilation of information on related factors like the partisan makeup of legislatures and state election officials. The report provides an important snapshot of activity by issue area and by state so we can reflect on current trends and prepare for the future. The good news: Recent policy trends favor voting rights expansion and election modernization over unnecessary restrictions that limit access to our democracy. Comparing the rates of both bill introduction and successful bill passage, proposals expanding voter access far outpaced those seeking to limit and restrict the right to vote. While positive legislation covered many areas, from restoring voting rights for disenfranchised felons to providing early voting, online registration and automatic registration dominated the year.
Voting Blogs: Both Lawmakers and Citizens Push for Voting Reforms Before 2016 Election | Project Vote
In 2015, nonpartisan voting rights group Project Vote monitored 315 bills, introduced by state and federal lawmakers, that could change the way people vote in 2016 and beyond. “It was a historic year in voting rights. Not only did we mark the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, but we also saw citizens and advocates on the ground demanding that our elected leaders restore voting rights protections,” said Project Vote President Michael Slater. “Although there has been a rise in positive election reform proposals, we still have a long way to go, particularly when it comes to protecting voters from new laws that undermine access to the ballot.”
Texas: Democrats ask for federal probe of AG raid that targeted voter sign-up group | Dallas Morning News
Democratic congressmen from Texas have asked the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate a raid by Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott’s office that targeted a nonprofit voter registration group. The Dallas Morning News reported Aug. 31 on the attorney general’s criminal investigation of Houston Votes, which was accused of election fraud. The probe was closed one year later, with no charges filed. Following the armed raid in 2010, the funding for Houston Votes dried up. Its efforts to register more low-income voters in the state’s most populous county, Harris, ended. The group’s records and office equipment were destroyed under a court order obtained by Abbott’s office last year. In a Sept. 10 letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, the 12 Democratic House members from Texas asked the Justice Department to open an investigation into the matter. “This raid raises serious concerns about the biased use of state resources to prevent Texans from legally registering to vote,” the letter said. Texas has 36 House districts, with Republicans holding 24 seats. A Justice Department spokeswoman said the investigation request is being reviewed.
Nobody would mistake Nebraska for a politically moderate state. It was the first state in the country to enact a 20-week abortion ban. They passed legislation restricting scientists’ ability to study climate change. Approximately 60 percent of voters cast a ballot for Mitt Romney in 2012, the ninth highest percentage of any state. So it was perhaps surprising when Gov. Dave Heineman (R) signed LB565 last week, a bill that enacts a form of same-day voter registration, one of the most progressive voting reforms in the country. The bill was passed by the nominally-nonpartisan-but-functionally-Republican unicameral legislature 37-3, with nine lawmakers abstaining. The new law allows citizens to register to vote at the polls during the early voting period and cast their ballot on the same day. Same-day registration will be available until the second Friday before Election Day.
Voting rights groups filed an appeal Friday of a judge’s order that federal election officials must help Kansas and Arizona enforce state laws requiring new voters to provide documentation proving their U.S. citizenship. A court filing sent to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals challenges a ruling earlier this month by U.S. District Judge Eric Melgren in Wichita. Melgren had ordered the U.S. Election Assistance Commission to immediately modify a national voter registration form to add special instructions requiring proof of citizenship for Kansas and Arizona residents. The appeal was filed by more than a dozen voting rights groups and individuals who had earlier intervened in the case on behalf of the election commission. They include the League of Women Voters of the United States, Project Vote Inc., Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, Common Cause, Arizona Advocacy Network, League of United Latin American Citizens Arizona, Southwest Voter Registration Education Project, Chicanos Por La Causa and others.
Alabama could see more low-income citizens signing up to vote now that voter rights groups and state officials have reached an agreement ensuring people who apply for social services also receive voter registration applications. The Alabama State Conference of the NAACP and others announced the agreement Tuesday. It calls for the state Medicaid Agency and the state Department of Human Resources to automatically distribute voter registration applications to people when they apply for social services, renew the services or file a change of address. Citizens whose transactions are completely remotely, such as by computer, will be mailed voter registration applications.
We’re a little under a month away from Election Day, which for some means time to prepare for early voting. For others, it means time to start purging names from voter rolls. Two Southern states, Florida and Virginia, are facing lawsuits after launching (or in Florida’s case, relaunching) controversial programs that could lead to thousands of voters’ names getting stripped from voting lists. In Virginia, the purging has already started. Voters from these states who may have failed to update their voter registration information — or who ended up on the purge lists by mistake — might show up at the polls during early voting or Election Day only to find that they can’t vote. This was a problem last year in Florida that civil rights advocates thought they had resolved. Gov. Rick Scott and Secretary of State Ken Detzner started a purge program last summer. They tried to use the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (SAVE) database, which tracks welfare benefits for immigrants, but DHS would not allow it. So instead they turned to state driving records.
On January 23, voting rights advocates won a major legal victory on behalf of Louisiana’s public assistance agency clients, the state’s most vulnerable and most marginalized residents. In a 36-page ruling, following a trial in October 2012 in the United States District Court in the Eastern District of Louisiana, Judge Jane Triche Milazzo found that the state of Louisiana violated federal law by failing to offer an opportunity to register to vote to all applicants and recipients of food stamps, TANF, Medicaid, and WIC. The National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) requires that voter registration be offered to all such individuals, whether they seek benefits in person, or by the internet, telephone, or mail.
National: Underfunding of voter registration: a guarantee that 25 percent or more of Americans won’t participate | Remapping Debate
Non-partisan voter registration organizations, while proud of their efforts, are conscious of their limited ability to reach the still-large unregistered population. They say that a critical problem they face in doing their work is a lack of available money. According to Michael Slater, executive director of Project Vote, a national organization that submitted 1.3 million registration applications, “I don’t see any sorts of funding that would allow a coalition of organizations working together to get…registration to the level that we need. I mean could we really boost registration in Ohio working together? Absolutely. But [all] across the country? No. No one’s in that position.” Caitlin Baggott, the executive director of the Bus Project Foundation, a smaller non-partisan group that seeks to engage young people in politics, and whose work includes registering young voters in Oregon, described “non-profit organizations and community groups [as] scrap[ing] together meager funds to register what truly ends up being a drop in the bucket [among younger] voters each election cycle, while literally millions of Americans are eligible to vote but don’t know how, where, or when to register or vote in an election.” That system, she said, “is fundamentally broken and unsustainable for the health of our democracy.”
Texas won a stay Thursday of a federal court decision that had barred enforcement of the state’s toughened voter registration law. Attorney General Greg Abbott described the development as a victory for voter integrity. The state had asked the 5th U.S. Court of Appeals in New Orleans to stay an order barring enforcement of several provisions of a 2011 law regulating third-party voter registration activities. The plaintiff was a nonprofit that Abbott said was linked to “notorious for voter registration fraud.” U.S. District Judge Gregg Costa of Texas previously ruled the law probably conflicted with federal rules and the Constitution, but the appeals court issued the stay pending appeal in a one-page order. “The majority will assign reasons as soon as possible,” the judges said, with one dissent.
Hans von Spakovsky, the controversial Bush administration official who writes in support of restrictive voting laws, worked with the office of Gov. Rick Scott on the rollout of Florida’s voting list purge, according to documents shared with TPM. Emails show that Scott’s communications staff planned to offer von Spakovsky up to local radio station as an expert on Florida’s effort to purge their voting lists back in June. While the purge targeted non-citizens, the state was using faulty data that included numerous legitimate voters.
A federal judge in Galveston today denied the state’s request for a stay that would have allowed Texas to enforce several of its voter registration laws. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott’s office asked for the stay on Aug. 4 — the same day it appealed an order by U.S. District Judge Gregg Costa that granted a temporary injunction sought by two Galveston residents and two national, nonpartisan groups that organize efforts to register people in areas with low registration levels. The provisions at issue include those that prohibit completed voter applications from being mailed to county offices; prohibit deputy voter registrars from registering voters in counties where they don’t live; prohibit the photocopying of voter registration cards; require voter registrars to be Texas residents; and prohibit registration drives from firing deputy registrars based on their performance. Some of the blocked provisions specifically address “volunteer deputy registrars,” the canvassers who, by law, must be appointed to take applications from prospective voters.
A federal judge is expected to rule by early next week whether Texas can resume enforcing what some call the most strict, burdensome and punitive body of voter registration law in the nation. The uncertainty arises after lawyers from the Texas Attorney General’s Office, who are representing Texas Secretary of State Hope Andrade, on Wednesday asked U.S. District Court Judge Gregg Costa to suspend a temporary injunction against enforcing several provisions of the state election code governing voter registration drives. If Costa grants the stay, the state can resume enforcing the law while it appeals the injunction to the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court.
A federal judge on Thursday granted a temporary injunction against five state provisions that affect voter registration in Texas. U.S. District Judge Gregg Costa of Galveston ruled that a law that prohibits third-party voter registrars from working in more than one county and another that mandates registrars in Texas be residents of the state violate the First Amendment. “During the 2011 legislative session, the Governor signed two bills that imposed a number of additional requirements,” Costa wrote in his 94-page opinion. “The result is that Texas now imposes more burdensome regulations on those engaging in third-party voter registration than the vast majority of, if not all, other states.”
As local officials gear up for a national election where razor-thin margins could tip the balance of power, the federal agency established after the Florida ballot disaster of 2000 to ensure that every vote gets counted is leaderless and adrift. There are supposed to be four commissioners on the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC), but right now there are none. The last executive director resigned in November, and the commissioners must vote to appoint a new one. President Barack Obama nominated two new Democratic commissioners last year, but congressional Republicans are trying to defund the agency entirely — which means for now no Republican nominations and no confirmation of the Democrats’ candidates. “If it is still as toothless by November 6 as it is today, I would have every expectation that things will fall through the cracks,” said Estelle H. Rogers, legislative director at Project VOTE, a nonpartisan group that supports voting accessibility. Rogers said the EAC has provided important assistance to local officials with respect to registration forms, poll worker training and issue alerts. “It is kind of disgraceful that we’re headed into a major election and the only federal agency that’s devoted to election administration has zero commissioners,” said Lawrence Norden, a lawyer at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University.
Civil and voting rights organizations on Tuesday filed a new lawsuit alleging that Gov. Rick Scott’s voter roll purge in Florida violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which bans discrimination in voting practices. Florida officials say the purge is meant to keep non-citizens off the voter rolls, but many legitimate voters ended up on the state’s inaccurate purge list.
Voting Blogs: Voting Rights Groups Move to Hold Alabama Accountable to Federal Voter Registration Law | Project Vote
Citing clear evidence that Alabama public assistance agencies are violating their federally-mandated responsibilities to offer tens of thousands of public assistance clients opportunities to register to vote, today attorneys from Demos, Project Vote, and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law sent a pre-litigation notice letter to the Alabama Secretary of State on behalf of the Alabama State Conference of the NAACP. The letter details violations of the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) and demands that the Secretary act immediately to bring the state into full compliance with the law or face litigation. The groups forwarded copies of the letter to the Alabama Department of Human Resources (DHR) and Medicaid Agency.
A coalition of voting rights groups is asking Gov. Rick Scott to stop a statewide effort to purge thousands of potential non-citzens from the voting rolls, and U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Boca Raton, also plans to ask the governor to stop the scrub. Lawyers for the groups said in a letter to Secretary of StateKen Detzner that the voting purge is in violation of the National Voting Rights Act which prohibits systematic purging of the voter rolls 90 days prior to a general election. The purge effort falls within that 90-day prohibition because of Florida’s Aug. 14 primary. Last month, Detzner sent a list of more than 2,600 potentially ineligible voters to the state’s 67 elections supervisors flagged as potentially ineligible by matching driver’s license and voting records. But the list was riddled with errors and included some voters who were born in the U.S. and others who had become citizens since getting their driver’s licenses or state-issued ID cards. Detzner’s office then went to work on scrubbing a list of up to 180,000 flagged voters whose citizenship is in question.
Massachusetts: Citizen and Community Groups Sue Commonwealth for Failing to Provide Voter Registration Opportunities | ProjectVote
Citing clear evidence that the Secretary of the Commonwealth and the Massachusetts Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA) have violated their federally-mandated responsibilities to offer tens of thousands of public assistance clients opportunities to register to vote, a Massachusetts citizen and two community groups filed suit today for violations of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA). Congress passed the NVRA to boost democratic participation by ensuring that all eligible citizens have ample opportunities to register to vote. Section 7 of the law requires state agencies that provide public assistance, including those that administer federal assistance programs such as food stamps, Medicaid, TANF, and WIC, to assist their applicants and clients in registering to vote.
The nonprofit Voting for America filed a federal lawsuit Monday alleging Texas voter rolls have been actively suppressed by excessive restrictions on volunteers who conduct registration drives, aggressive purges of county voter rolls and poll workers who improperly requested identification from voters. “A developing body of state practices and provisions targeted at voter registration activities is endangering the rights of many Texas voters,” the lawsuit alleges. The group, affiliated with the Washington D.C.-based Project Vote, runs nonpartisan voter registration drives nationwide and has previously mounted legal challenges to state voter registration procedures in Missouri, Ohio, Indiana and New Mexico, among other states.
If voting legislation in 2011 centered largely on hindering access to the ballot box, 2012 will hopefully be defined as the year that voting rights began fighting back. Last year, a rash of anti-voting legislation popped up in states around the country, from Florida to Texas to Wisconsin. New laws banning anyone without photo IDs from voting (commonly known as “voter ID”) grabbed the headlines, in part because of their potential to disenfranchise over 3 million citizens in the 2012 election, but lesser-known legislation emerged as well.
Prospective Michigan voters might have trouble getting their ballots after the state Senate votes on two bills that would change the procedures for voter registration, absentee ballots and required identification. One of the changes proposed by S.B. 754 is a requirement that anyone holding a voter registration drive would have to register with the Michigan Secretary of State and complete a training. It would also require that registration forms be turned in further in advance.
Several groups, including the League of Women Voters, have spoken out in opposition to the bills and what they say are the exclusionary restrictions they would put on voting and registration.
“Requiring state certification and training of third party agencies will make it more difficult for League members to register people to vote,” the League of Women Voters of Michigan wrote, according to the Kalamazoo Gazette. “The requirements placed on groups that register people to vote are excessive and will reduce registration opportunities for citizens, as some groups will not be able to meet the requirements.” S.B. 751 would require photo identification for in-person and absentee voting.
Voting Blogs: States Ignore the Impact Photo ID Laws Could Have on Their Citizens | Project Vote Blog
“The U.S. Supreme Court upheld voter ID requirements in concept three years ago, but justices said then that they might reconsider if opponents could produce actual voters who had been turned away because they could not get ID,” the Tennessean reports. This may not be far off as more and more reports of voters without photo ID begin to emerge. Although officials in at least three states have attempted to help voters adhere to the law, voters and advocates caution that it’s not enough if voters are not “plugged in” in the first place.
To prevent the disenfranchisement of Tennessee’s 230,000 senior citizens who have non-photo IDs, state officials are planning a campaign to teach them about the new photo ID law that goes into effect during the 2012 election. The new voting law essentially overrides another law that makes it more convenient for drivers over age 60 to renew their driver’s licenses. That law allows seniors to renew driver’s licenses—without a photo—online through the mail.
Transportation for elderly people in assisted living homes as well as long waiting periods at the DMV for seniors with disabilities are major concerns for groups like Tennessee Citizen Action, reports Chas Sisk at the Tennessean.
Florida Secretary of State Kurt Browning on Friday agreed with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to allow civil rights groups and individual legislators to intervene in a lawsuit over whether the state’s recent voter laws suppress minority voting.
Browning has asked the court to take over for the U.S. attorney general’s office and “pre-clear” the law to determine if it is in line with the minority voting protections of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The new law shortens the number of days available for early voting from 14 to eight days, (although it leaves open the opportunity to extend the number of total hours available for voting.) It also imposes tight limits on third-party voter registration groups and requires an out-of-county voter — such as a student — who tries to change her voting precinct on Election Day to cast a provisional ballot, which can be more easily challenged.
Voting Blogs: Indiana Reaches Settlement to Offer Voter Registration to Low-Income Citizens | Project Vote Blog
Thousands of low-income Indiana residents will finally have the opportunity to register to vote at state public assistance offices, as mandated by federal law.
Today, U.S. District Judge Tanya Walton Pratt approved a settlement of a class action lawsuit brought against Indiana officials to bring the state into compliance with the National Voter Registration Act. The suit was brought by the Indiana State Conference of the NAACP on behalf of state public assistance clients injured by the state’s violation of federal law. Plaintiffs are represented by attorneys from Project Vote, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Demos, the NAACP, the Chicago law firm of Miner, Barnhill & Galland, and the ACLU of Indiana.
A coalition of groups, including Demos, Project Vote, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (LCCRUL), and the NAACP, sent a letter to Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson last week alleging that the state is in violation of federal law requiring voter registration at public assistance offices.
… Nicole Zeitler, an attorney with Project Vote, told the Michigan Messenger that the state is not following the law. “The NVRA requires the state to do more than simply make voter registration ‘available’ at public assistance agencies,” she said. “
Agencies must affirmatively offer a voter registration application form with EVERY application for benefits, recertification, and change of address form, whether or not the client asks for one. Michigan DHS policy, on the other hand—in violation of the NVRA—is to ONLY offer a form IF someone specifically requests one. Furthermore, our field investigations found that only 1 in 4 clients who did request a form received one.”
Today, Florida Secretary of State Kurt Browning announced that the Justice Department approved part of a controversial new election law that is being challenged by Project Vote and the ACLU. The critical portions of the bill relating to restrictions on early voting and voter registration drives remain in question.
Browning took the most controversial elements of the law to a federal court in Washington D.C. instead of the Justice Department, a move that he claims was to avoid “outside influence” at the hefty expense of taxpayers.
A federal judge issued a stay to an earlier ruling that would have made voter registration records available to the public. U.S. District Judge Rebecca Beach Smith ordered the stay after the Virginia attorney general’s office filed an appeal. Smith ruled two weeks ago in favor of the voting rights group Project Vote, ordering Virginia to open its voter registration records for public inspection. At that time, Smith placed some restrictions on the open records, saying only applications from July 20 onward would be made available, and Social Security numbers must be redacted.
Project Vote had sued the Norfolk and state voter registrars after a number of Norfolk State University students had their voter registrations rejected during the last presidential election. The Norfolk registrar denied the group access to the records, citing Virginia election law.