National: Lawmakers, Obama, civil rights leaders to honor Selma’s ‘Bloody Sunday’ this weekend | McClatchy

Nearly one-fifth of Congress will be in Selma, Ala., this weekend with President Barack Obama and his family to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the “Bloody Sunday” march – a watershed moment that led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act. Civil rights groups say the commemoration of this moment in the civil rights movement should spark work in Congress to update the law after the Supreme Court weakened it in 2013. Some congressional supporters say the lawmakers’ pilgrimage could help build support. Rep. G.K. Butterfield, D-N.C., chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, will be one of 98 members of both parties from the House of Representatives and the Senate going to Selma. “It shows me there’s interest by Republicans to guarantee voting rights for African-Americans,” Butterfield said.

Texas: Texas voter ID trial opens in U.S. court | Reuters

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.

Editorials: Voter Discrimination Just Got Easier | Steven H. Wright/New York Review of Books

For almost fifty years, the US government has had an especially effective tool for ensuring fair elections: sending teams of federal observers to polling stations across the country. Though relatively little known, the program has been crucial in dismantling the discriminatory practices that disenfranchised voters of color. In the program’s early days, federal monitors risked their lives to collect evidence courts needed to outlaw the electoral mechanisms of Jim Crow. And as recently as the 2012 presidential election, the Justice Department dispatched more than 780 federal employees to 51 jurisdictions across 23 states. As a result of a 2013 Supreme Court decision, however, the program is now being quietly curtailed. In 2013, the Supreme Court hobbled the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which for decades had provided safeguards to prevent unfair voting practices, including special oversight for jurisdictions with a history of voter discrimination. In Shelby County v. Holder, the Court found that Congress created a flawed formula to select those special jurisdictions. Last week, the Justice Department revealed that, in light of the Supreme Court decision, it has concluded that the Attorney General no longer retains the statutory authority to send observers to those jurisdictions.

North Carolina: State wants voting law emails kept secret | MSNBC

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.

North Carolina: Why A Majority-Minority Congressional District May Go Unrepresented For An Entire Year | ThinkProgress

A quirk of North Carolina’s election law may leave voters in the state’s 12th Congressional district without representation until 2015. Though Rep. Mel Watt (D) resigned his seat on the first day of the legislative year to become director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, Governor Pat McCrory (R) announced Monday that his replacement will not be elected until November 4. The 12th District, which includes a long swath of central North Carolina running from Charlotte to Greensboro, has a majority of voters who are minorities. McCrory ordered a primary be held on May 6, 2014, the regularly scheduled date for North Carolina primary elections. If none of the candidates receives more than 40 percent of the vote, the second place candidate can request a runoff, which would be held on July 15 (the same day reserved for any regularly scheduled primary runoffs). This situation is quite possible, given that several candidates are reportedly seeking the Democratic nomination in this heavily Democratic district. The general election, again coinciding with the already scheduled state elections, will be held on November 4 — after all of the 2014 session is over, save for a possible lame-duck session. Oddly, the governor’s official writ of election did not include a provision for holding the general election in July if a runoff is not requested. Such a provision could potentially have vastly sped up the process. With the new Representative set to be elected on the same day in the normal general election, it is possible that the 12th District special election winner could serve for just for a lame-duck session — or never be sworn-in at all. McCrory’s office did not immediately respond to a ThinkProgress request for information about the writ.

Editorials: The Fight for Voting Rights, 50 Years Later | New York Times

On the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, the country can take pride in progress made toward the guarantee of equal rights for all. Yet it is disheartening to watch the continuing battles over the right to vote, a core goal of the civil rights movement and the foundation of any functioning democracy. The latest fights, over harsh new voting restrictions in Texas and North Carolina, have only made the need for comprehensive and lasting protection of voting rights that much clearer. In June, the Supreme Court hobbled the Voting Rights Act of 1965, one of the most effective civil rights laws in American history. A central element of that law required certain states and jurisdictions with a history of discrimination to obtain federal permission before making changes to their election laws. Finding that “things have changed dramatically,” the court struck down that part of the act.

Texas: DOJ to Texas: Voter Suppression Will Not Stand | The Nation

In one week last August, federal courts found that Texas’ voter ID law and redistricting maps were discriminatory and violated the Voting Rights Act. The Supreme Court’s recent decision invalidating Section 4 of the VRA, which previously covered Texas, tragically wiped away those rulings. Now the Department of Justice is once again stepping in to fight for voting rights in the Lone Star State. The DOJ announced today that it is objecting to Texas’ voter ID law under Section 2 of the VRA and will also seek to join a similar lawsuit against the state’s redistricting maps. Last month, DOJ asked a court in Texas to force the state to approve its voting changes with the federal government for a period of time under another provision of the VRA, Section 3, based on a finding of intentional discrimination in the restricting case. The federal courts found last year that Texas’ new maps for Congress and the state house were “enacted with discriminatory purpose.”

Editorials: Here’s Where Rand Paul Can Find ‘Objective Evidence’ of Vote Suppression | Andrew Cohen/The Atlantic

Dear Senator Rand Paul:

If you want to be president of the United States one day, if you want more people to take you seriously as an independent thinker within the Republican Party, if you want to lead your party back to control of the Senate, or if more modestly you want simply to tether yourself to some form of reality, you are going to have to stop making false and insulting statements like you did Wednesday when you declared: “I don’t think there is objective evidence that we’re precluding African-Americans from voting any longer.” I guess it all depends upon your definition of “objective evidence.” On the one hand, there are the factual findings about evidence and testimony contained in numerous opinions issued recently by federal judges, both Republican and Democrat, who have identified racially discriminatory voting measures. And on the other hand, there is your statement that none of this is “objective.” It’s a heavy burden you’ve given yourself, Senator — proving that something doesn’t exist when we all can see with our own eyes that it does. Last August, for example, three federal judges struck down Texas’s photo identification law under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act because it would have led “to a regression in the position of racial minorities with respect to their effective exercise of the electoral franchise.” Those judges did find that some of the evidence presented to them was “invalid, irrelevant or unreliable” — but that was the evidence Texas offered in support of its discriminatory law. You should read this ruling before you talk about minorities and voting rights.

National: The next round of the battle over voting rights has begun | The Washington Post

Civil rights groups filed a lawsuit Monday challenging a new North Carolina voter ID law in one of the first tests of the legality of new voting restrictions being implemented after the Supreme Court struck down parts of the 1965 Civil Rights Act in June. The Advancement Project and North Carolina NAACP, who filed the suit, charge that the law’s voter requirements will make it harder to vote and that racial minorities will be disproportionately impacted because they are less likely to possess required forms of identification. The lawsuit also argues voter fraud is not a significant problem in North Carolina. Republican Gov. Pat McCrory defended his signing of the law as common sense way to guard the integrity of North Carolina’s election process, insisting that the law is needed to ensure “no one’s vote is disenfranchised by a fraudulent ballot.” In a statement, McCrory also noted that voters won’t be required to present photo identification until the 2016 elections.

Editorials: An unseemly rush to voter suppression | San Antonio Express-News

Surely, street cred in conservative circles is not worth becoming the poster child for voter suppression. Again. What’s the rush? The ink was barely dry on the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on the Voting Rights Act, and there was Attorney General Greg Abbott saying Texas’ voter ID law would go into effect immediately. The problem: the ink has been quite dry for a while on another federal court ruling. This one, in August 2012, said discrimination and voter suppression was written all over Texas’ voter ID law. Yet, the state is now gearing up to implement this law, and county election officials around the state are surely scratching their heads. Why would a state, whose voting numbers are nothing to write home about, want to diminish them further? Particularly since this is ostensibly to address voter fraud — a problem that substantially doesn’t exist.

National: Why Minorities Usually Wait Longer to Vote in Elections | ABC

Racial minorities waited a lot longer than whites to vote last November. Lines weren’t a big issue for most voters, according to a new study from Massachusetts Institute of Technology Professor Charles Stewart III, but they were a huge issue for some – and those people tended to be African-American or Hispanic and live in urban areas. African Americans waited an average of 23 minutes to vote while Hispanics waited 19 minutes and whites just 12 minutes. Those numbers are startling when you factor in that about two-thirds of all voters waited less than 10 minutes to cast their ballots. That means some people, albeit a small percentage, waited a very long time. Stewart found that just three percent of voters waited more than an hour, with the average wait time at about 110 minutes. The author of the post you’re reading waited nearly three hours in the Columbia Heights neighborhood in Washington, D.C.

South Carolina: South Carolina voter ID law blocked until 2013 | Reuters

A federal court ruled on Wednesday that South Carolina may not implement a photo ID law for voters until 2013, in the latest setback for a mainly Republican effort to establish identification rules in several states before the November 6 elections. South Carolina joined Pennsylvania, Texas and Wisconsin as states with voter ID laws that have been blocked or deferred by state or federal judges. A three-judge panel in U.S. District Court in Washington said unanimously that South Carolina’s law would not discriminate against racial minorities. The U.S. Justice Department had argued the measure ran afoul of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, a landmark of the civil rights movement. But the judges said there was too little time to put the law into effect this year, and added they might have blocked the law entirely if South Carolina had not pledged to give wide leeway to voters who cannot comply.

National: Courts block Republicans’ voter ID laws – for now |

Earlier this year, voting rights advocates foresaw a cloud over this year’s election because new voting laws in Republican-led states tightened the rules for casting ballots and reduced the time for early voting. But with the election less than a month away, it’s now clear those laws will have little impact. A series of rulings has blocked or weakened the laws as judges — both Republicans and Democrats — stopped measures that threatened to bar legally registered voters from polling places in the November election. “Courts see their role as the protectors of the core right to vote,” said Ned Foley, an election law expert at Ohio State University. The laws were the product of a Republican sweep in the 2010 election. The GOP took full control in such states as Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Florida, and soon adopted changes in their election laws. Some states told registered voters they must show a current photo identification, such as a driver’s license, even if they did not drive. Others, including Florida and Ohio, reduced the time for early voting or made it harder for college students to switch their registrations.

Texas: Voter ID, district maps battles continue | Amarillo Globe-News

Despite two recent setbacks for the state of Texas in separate federal court rulings, the hard-fought voting battles continue. But, at least for now, those prolonged fights have nothing to do with Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott’s decision to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse both lower court rulings. For some of you who missed it, in late August two judicial panels in Washington ruled the state’s redistricting maps and the voter ID law — both approved by the Republican-dominated Texas Legislature last year — are unconstitutional because they violate the federal Voting Rights Act. The 1965 landmark legislation protects the voting rights of racial minorities.

Voting Blogs: Hans Von Spakovsky’s False Conclusions About Georgia’s Voter ID Impacts | Colorlines

In my last blog I said that Georgia has a unique situation in terms of its voter ID law, which was put into effect in 2007. As is often cited by photo voter ID law proponents, voter turnout did in fact increase between the 2004 presidential elections, which did not feature a photo voter ID mandate, and the 2008 presidential elections, which did. The numbers on this can not be refuted, and Heritage Foundation’s Hans Von Spakovsky often excitedly refers to the Georgia case when making his pro-voter ID arguments and did so in a recent blog. Citing recent voter turnout data released by Georgia Secretary of State Brian P. Kemp in a presentation he made before the Conservative Leadership Conference of the Civitas Institute on March 2 to rally North Carolina up for passing a voter ID bill:

Arizona: Federal Voting Rights Act is Arizona’s redistricting bogeyman | Caveat Lector

We should find out next week if Gov. Jan Brewer will make good on her threats from this week and impeach Colleen Mathis, the chairwoman of the Independent Redistricting Commission, or any other member of the commission. Brewer alleges gross misconduct by the commission, including failing to follow requirements of the independent redistricting commission act, bid rigging and open meetings law violations. Commissioners deny any wrongdoing.

Brewer is picking the wrong fight. The problem is not the commission, it’s Section 5 of the federal Voting Rights Act that requires Arizona to get the blessing of the U.S. Justice Department on any change it makes to voting districts, a process called preclearance. The Act’s intentions nearly 50 years ago was to right 100 years of wrongs in several states that imposed restrictions on voting by racial minorities, mostly southern blacks.