As college students across the country settle into new routines that the start of a semester typically bring, many in North Carolina are complaining of feeling unsettled about their voting rights. Since mid-August, when Gov. Pat McCrory signed broad revisions to North Carolina’s elections law, local elections boards in several counties – including Pasquotank and Watauga – have initiated changes that college students are fighting as attempts to suppress their votes. Three cases are scheduled to be heard by the state Board of Elections on Tuesday afternoon. Students and civic groups including NCPIRG, Common Cause, Ignite NC, NCSU Student Power Union, Democracy NC and Rock the Vote will gather outside the meeting to urge the board to reverse local county board decisions that protest organizers describe as ones “that make it harder for young people to vote and participate in our democracy.”
Florida’s voter registration numbers for both Republicans and Democrats stagnated over the course of about a year, and political experts say it’s mainly because of a law passed last year that put limits on third party voter registration. But, now that some of those restrictions have eased, there’s a mad dash around the state to ramp up voter registration drives before the October 9th deadline. “House Bill 1355 certainly had a dampening effect on voter registration in the state of Florida, when it went into effect July 1, 2011.” While he admits there are more registered voters today than there were for the last presidential election, University of Florida Political Scientist Daniel Smith says voter registration in Florida hasn’t been the same ever since a new election law passed last year.
For young voters busy registering for classes, registering to vote isn’t always their No. 1 priority. Tack on changing registration laws and voting can turn into a struggle. “When students come back to school, they’re either more worried about schools or worried about, let’s be honest, parties,” said David Schultz, an election law expert at Hamline University. “The first thing on their mind is not registering to vote, especially for students who just turned 18. They don’t know much about the process.” California’s new same-day registration law is a blessing for students with planners already crammed with exam dates, Rock the Vote President Heather Smith said. But across the country there are technical issues students face that could complicate the process for them. Students new to voting often don’t know registration deadlines (in Texas, Oct. 9 and Oct. 12 in New York) or even that they need to register to vote, Smith said. “It’s frustrating when a young person navigating the process for the first time is calling our office on Election Day (saying), ‘I’m here and ready to vote and I didn’t realize I needed to register,’” Smith said. Proposed ID requirements to register, like Texas and Pennsylvania laws currently in the courts that don’t accept all student IDs, have been criticized as adding another hurdle for young voters. For example, students in the dorms or on campuses with good public transportation often don’t need a driver’s license, Smith said.
Voting-rights groups that virtually stopped registering voters in Florida for a year as they challenged the state’s new restrictions on elections now are scrambling to get people there registered for the November 6 election. The effort in Florida – a large, politically divided state that is crucial in the nationwide race between Democratic President Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney – comes two weeks after a federal judge rejected strict limits on voter-registration drives that have led to a big drop in Floridians signing up to vote. The Florida law was so limiting that groups such as Rock the Vote and the League of Women Voters, which have helped to register millions of voters in the last two presidential elections, essentially halted their registration drives in the state. Now, with the restrictions lifted and Florida’s October 9 deadline for registering to vote in the November election looming, such groups are fanning out across the state to find new voters.
Let’s say you’re an average voter who spends his life working multiple jobs, and have limited time to watch the news, so you ignore the fact that voter ID laws have changed in your state. Or maybe you’re an elderly voter who has difficulty making your monthly expenses, let alone paying the $20 or so dollars that will get you a state ID. Or perhaps you’re a new voter, and lack information about the ID requirements, so when you show up on polling day, you’re turned away. In either case, if you happen to live in a state where the voting restriction laws have been enacted, you may be out of luck… and out of the voting process. None of these scenarios can seem very farfetched, given the slew of voter suppression laws popping up all over the country. Now, a coalition of organizations, including the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (LCCRUL), the National Association of Latino Appointed and Elected Officials Education Fund (NALEO), the New Organizing Institute (NOIEF), Rock the Vote and the Verified Voting Foundation have taken a brazen step in figthing these laws. The coalition just launched the Election Protection smartphone app, a dynamic smartphone application to educate and empower voters across the country.
If on-demand movies, a 4,000 song playlist and onboard video games aren’t enough to keep guests entertained on a Virgin America flight, the airline is now offering a complimentary new service to get passengers engaged before the November election — voter registration at 35,000 feet. Starting Tuesday, guests can register to vote on all of Virgin America’s flights, about 1,000 flights a day. The voter registration drive is in cooperation with “Rock the Vote,” a non-partisan voter registration organization targeted at young voters, that hopes to get 1.5 million new voters engaged in time for the 2012 election.
The same state voter ID laws that have drawn criticisms from Latino groups and immigrants are now taking heat from young voters. Gone are the days when young voters weren’t taken seriously. In 2008, they helped propel Barack Obama into the Oval Office, supporting him by a 2-1 margin. But that higher profile also has landed them in the middle of the debate over some state laws that regulate voter registration and how people identify themselves at the polls. Since the last election, Pennsylvania, Kansas, Wisconsin and Texas and other states have tried to limit or ban the use of student IDs as voter identification. In Florida, lawmakers tried to limit “third party” organizations, including student groups, from registering new voters.
The state and the opponents of a suspended voter registration law are moving toward a settlement in a lawsuit over the new rules, both sides said Thursday, even as a group of voters is trying to brush aside the state’s legal strategy and pursue an appeal. In a brief scheduling conference Thursday with U.S. District Court Judge Robert Hinkle, who struck down new regulations on third-party voter registration organizations at the end of last month, an attorney for the groups said the two sides were close to striking a deal. “We expect to get something on file with the court shortly memorializing the agreement,” said Farrah Berse, a lawyer representing opponents who had sued to block the law. In an interview later on Thursday, Secretary of State Ken Detzner confirmed that both sides are trying to avoid a longer legal battle over the voter law, passed by the Legislature last year. “I’m optimistic that we’ll probably get a good result and there won’t be an appeal,” Detzner said. “That’s not final, but we’re optimistic.”
This November should be an exciting time on Pennsylvania college campuses. Students across the state, many for the first time, will cast a vote in the presidential election. Unfortunately, many Pennsylvania students will be kept out of our political process. Some will not bother to go to the polls because they lack any of the recently specified forms of required photo identification; others will be turned away because they are unaware of the state’s new law. This is because of Pennsylvania’s new, complex voter ID law that puts strict requirements on which student IDs are acceptable for voting. Several student IDs issued by Pennsylvania colleges and universities currently do not comply with the new voter ID law. The few types of identification cards that will be acceptable in Pennsylvania for the November election include U.S. military IDs; employee photo IDs issued by federal or Pennsylvania state, county or municipal governments; photo ID cards issued by a Pennsylvania care facility; photo IDs issued by the U.S. Federal Government or the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, or photo ID cards from an accredited Pennsylvania public or private institution of higher learning.
Florida: Judge’s ruling means voter registration efforts will resume, ramp up in Florida | Palm Beach Post
Voter registration groups say they’re ramping up their efforts in Florida after a federal judge last week issued an injunction blocking what he called burdensome portions of the state’s 2011 election law. Some voter-registration organizations have already signed up tens of thousands of Hispanic voters, but several organizations, including non-partisan groups such as the League of Women Voters and Rock the Vote, had abandoned registration efforts because of the elections law passed by the GOP-dominated legislature and signed by Gov. Rick Scott last year. With U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle’s ruling blocking key parts of the law involving registration, the League and Rock the Vote said Wednesday they are going to resume registration efforts, joining Democratic and Republican parties and liberal and conservative groups already working throughout the state.
The left-leaning Florida New Majority, which dropped its registration campaign after the law went into effect, also will resume its efforts, policy and legislative director Badili Jones said.
Florida’s ever-escalating voting wars (see hereand here) have seen two big developments recently. First: Last week, a judge blocked most of Florida’s aggressive new restrictions on how groups can register voters. In his opinion, U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle argued in his opinion that the time limits and penalties thrust onto groups like the League of Women Voters, which ultimately caused them to famously shut down their voter registration drive in the state, was unconstitutional:
Together speech and voting are constitutional rights of special significance; they are the rights most protective of all others, joined in this respect by the ability to vindicate one’s rights in a federal court. … [W]hen a plaintiff loses an opportunity to register a voter, the opportunity is gone forever. And allowing responsible organizations to conduct voter-registration drives—thus making it easier for citizens to register and vote—promotes democracy.
That decision led the League and Rock the Vote to announce this week that they wereresuming their voter registration drives in the battleground state.
Florida: Victory for voting rights groups as judge blocks key sections of new Florida law | guardian.co.uk
Voting rights groups are celebrating a significant victory against what they claim is the pernicious spread of anti-democratic legislation across America after a federal judge in Florida blocked key sections of a new state law that discourages voter registration drives. Judge Robert Hinkle slapped down two of the most hotly contested elements of the new law, HB 1355, which he condemned in scathing terms (pdf). He said that a requirement to deliver voter registration applications to a state office within 48 hours was “harsh and impractical”. Hinkle also heavily criticised Florida’s imposition of a new form that warns volunteers seeking to register new voters that they face five years in prison if they submit applications including any false information. The judge pointed out that the warning was legally incorrect and concluded that it could only be an attempt on the part of the state of Florida to “discourage voluntary participation in legitimate, indeed constitutionally protected, activities”.
New voter ID laws being enacted in states across the nation could prevent many college students from voting in the next election. These laws, which have been passed in states such as Florida, Pennsylvania and South Carolina, among others, have the stated goal of preventing fraud by requiring voters to present photo ID when they go to the polls. But these laws may have unintended consequences, both for young people and the two presidential candidates. Heather Smith, president of Rock the Vote, a nationwide organization that mobilizes young voters, said that while these laws vary from state to state, they all make it harder for young people to register and vote. “We have a very busy year ahead of us, and a very important one,” she said in an April 21 Reuters article. “What a shame if we can’t continue to engage this generation in the political process, because these laws have made it harder.”
Since the beginning of 2011, lawmakers around the country abruptly enacted laws to curb voting rights and tighten registration rules. These measures are fiercely controversial. But lately the debate has taken a surprising turn. Suppressive voting laws have met resistance at the polls and in the courts. This surprisingly emphatic twist is good for our democracy. If the restriction of voting rights can be blocked or blunted, it will give us an opportunity to move forward with bipartisan reforms to our ramshackle registration system. Consider the recent backlash.
In Maine, voters reversed a new law, passed in June 2011, that ended same-day registration. Now voters will be able to register on Election Day in 2012. In Ohio, more than 300,000 citizens signed petitions, enough to temporarily suspend the state’s new law that curbed early voting and force a statewide referendum in November. Now nervous Republicans are close to a deal with Democrats that would repeal the law and restore early voting for the three days before the election. Florida, meanwhile, imposed onerous penalties and paperwork burdens on volunteers who sign up voters. Helping your neighbors participate in our democracy is not something we should restrict, which is why the Brennan Center is leading the fight to challenge this law. We represent the League of Women Voters, Rock the Vote, and other civic groups that have shut down registration drives. The league has won similar lawsuits twice before and now awaits a judge’s ruling, which is expected soon. Even on the contentious issue of requiring government-issued photo identification to vote, the strictest new laws have slammed into legal barriers.
In light rain outside a south Orlando pizza shop last week, Yohan Fonseca worked the trenches in one of Florida’s most contentious political battlefields. He was registering voters. “I love this work,” Fonseca, said after convincing Ramon Morales, 26, of Orlando, to fill out a registration form. “It’s really good to help the community. We need to vote.” Fonseca, 22, of Davenport, is a paid organizer for the non-profit Hispanic group National Council of La Raza. He and others are going where some long-time voter registration organizations say they are afraid to go: anywhere in Florida. Since passage last year of a new Republican-sponsored election-law rewrite, fierce debate has raged over whether new rules make it tougher for people to register and vote this election year. Among other changes, new law requires groups and individuals to turn in voter forms within 48 hours – they previously had 10 days – or face fines of $50 per late application, up to a maximum of $1,000 per organization per year.
New state laws designed to fight voter fraud could reduce the number of Americans signing up to vote in this year’s presidential election by hundreds of thousands, a potential problem for President Barack Obama’s re-election bid. Voting laws passed by Republican-led legislatures in a dozen states during the past year have sharply restricted voter-registration drives that typically target young, low-income, African-American and Hispanic voters – groups that have backed the Democratic president by wide margins. A further 16 states are considering bills that would end voter registration on election days, impose a range of limits on groups that register voters and make it more difficult for people to sign up, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School. The new laws – many of which include measures requiring voters to show a photo ID at the polls – could carve into Obama’s potential support in Florida, Ohio and a few other politically divided states likely to be crucial in the November 6 election, analysts say.
Florida, which is expected to be a vital swing state once again in this year’s presidential election, is enrolling fewer new voters than it did four years ago as prominent civic organizations have suspended registration drives because of what they describe as onerous restrictions imposed last year by Republican state officials. The state’s new elections law — which requires groups that register voters to turn in completed forms within 48 hours or risk fines, among other things — has led the state’s League of Women Voters to halt its efforts this year. Rock the Vote, a national organization that encourages young people to vote, began an effort last week to register high school students around the nation — but not in Florida, over fears that teachers could face fines. And on college campuses, the once-ubiquitous folding tables piled high with voter registration forms are now a rarer sight.
For Rock the Vote volunteers who roam rock concerts and college campuses looking for students to register, the typical dress code is jeans and a T-shirt.
But this year, many Rock the Vote organizers have traded their college clothes for suits and ties. That’s because they’re spending almost as much time in the courtroom fighting new restrictions on voters as they are out registering voters. Rock the Vote is one of several dozen organizations, from civil rights groups to Latino, labor and women’s groups, that have launched a multipart campaign to push back against new registration rules for voters that have been enacted in many states. The fight over voter access has triggered state-level lobbying, ballot initiatives and lawsuits, and the issue will likely land before the Supreme Court.
The Justice Department objected late Friday to new provisions of Florida election law which place strict regulations on third-party voter registration groups and cut down on the early voting period. DOJ alleged in a court filing that Florida was unable to prove the new provisions were not discriminatory under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. “As to the third-party voter registration and early voting changes enacted… respectively, the United States’ position is that the State has not met its burden, on behalf of its covered counties, that the two sets of proposed voting changes are entitled to preclearance under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act,” according to a court filing.
Florida will become the latest battleground in the national fight voter ID on Thursday, when a federal judge will hear a suit brought by Rock the Vote and other civic groups over new restrictions. “In states around the country, we’re witnessing the most significant assault on voting rights in a generation,” said Heather Smith, President of Rock the Vote, which encourages political participation. “It’s incredibly anti-American and undemocratic,” she said on a conference call with reporters Wednesday.
Editorials: Federal is the latest challenge to Florida’s politically motivated voting law | HeraldTribune.com
The venerable Florida League of Women Voters has decided to make a federal case out of a restrictive, punitive and politically motivated voting law approved this year by the state Legislature. Good for the league, and its co-plaintiffs.
The league is one of three groups that filed a lawsuit last week in a Tallahassee federal court, challenging the law. The suit asserts that the state law violates the plaintiffs’ rights to free speech and conflicts with the National Voter Registration Act. Joining the league were Rock the Vote — a national organization that engages young Americans in voting — and the Florida Public Interest Group Education Fund. This lawsuit is one of two federal cases involving the Florida voting law.
The GOP’s efforts to narrow voting rights in Florida have now engendered legal resistance. The League of Women Voters and other civic groups, claiming that a new state law unconstitutionally “burdens their efforts” to simply register voters, filed suit in state court last week seeking to dismantle the new legislation.
Attorneys for the League of Women Voters of Florida, Rock the Vote and the Florida Public Interest Research Group argue that Florida’s new law 40 requires so-called “third party voter registration” organizations such as theirs to pre-register with the state and satisfy a number of cumbersome disclosure requirements before engaging in any voter registration activities. Under the law, they are now also required to continually submit updates about their organization’s status, an act the groups call “burdensome.”
“There is no indication that Florida’s existing law was inadequate in addressing the state’s interest in preventing voter registration fraud and ensuring the integrity of the registration process,” the complaint reads. “Furthermore, even if the state had discovered shortcomings in the existing law, the new law burdens far more speech and associated activity than is necessary to accomplish any legitimate government interest.”
Florida: Federal is the latest challenge to Florida’s politically motivated voting law | HeraldTribune.com
The venerable Florida League of Women Voters has decided to make a federal case out of a restrictive, punitive and politically motivated voting law approved this year by the state Legislature. Good for the league, and its co-plaintiffs.
The league is one of three groups that filed a lawsuit last week in a Tallahassee federal court, challenging the law. The suit asserts that the state law violates the plaintiffs’ rights to free speech and conflicts with the National Voter Registration Act.
Joining the league were Rock the Vote — a national organization that engages young Americans in voting — and the Florida Public Interest Group Education Fund. This lawsuit is one of two federal cases involving the Florida voting law.
Florida’s new election law attracted more legal attention Thursday with a lawsuit from a trio of civic groups that contend the new rules are too burdensome on their voter registration efforts. The groups — League of Women Voters of Florida, Rock the Vote and Florida Public Interest Research Group Education Fund — are plaintiffs in a lawsuit that asks a federal court in Tallahassee to block the registration restrictions in the elections overhaul, which is in effect in 62 of 67 counties.
Attorneys argue the law is unconstitutional and violates the “motor voter” law by imposing burdensome regulations on volunteers and steep penalties for mistakes, such as not turning in voter registration applications within 48 hours. The window used to be 10 days.
Michigan: Rock the Vote urges Michigan to allow online registration – Secretary of State expresses concerns about security | Detroit News
Michigan is failing to engage young voters because it lacks online registration and some of its laws are too restrictive, according to a group whose aim is to get more youths to vote. Rock the Vote said the younger generation is comfortable with online access for everyday tasks and the current voting laws are outdated. Its study called for the state to update its laws.
“Today’s generation uses technology to register for classes and pay for taxes,” said Heather Smith, president of Rock the Vote. “It would seem quite normal that we’d also be able to fill out a voter registration form with technology.”