Editorials: Does a voting-rights case threaten experimentation? | Michael McGough/Los Angeles Times

Suppose a state adopts a traditional approach to voting – only one day on which voters can cast their ballots at polling places, with limited opportunities for absentee voting. Yet legislators in this state are intrigued by innovations in other states, such as Oregon’s system of voting by mail or Sunday voting, which allows churches to organize “souls to the polls” programs that shepherd parishioners directly from services to a polling place. If this hypothetical state adopts such alternative methods but then finds them unduly expensive or susceptible to fraud, can it repeal them? On first blush, the answer seems obvious: What the legislature can do it can undo. But what if there is evidence that voting by mail or Sunday voting results in a higher turnout of racial minorities? Would doing away with those methods violate the federal Voting Rights Act?

North Carolina: Key Voting Rights Test Now in Federal Judge’s Hands | The New York Times

A federal trial that may help shape voting rights protections across the country in the 2016 elections and beyond came to a close here Friday, with the Department of Justice and civil rights groups charging that North Carolina deliberately sought to suppress black voting with a new election law, while the state defended its right to set election rules and said it treated all races equally. “African-Americans were on the verge of having real influence in the state of North Carolina,” Bert Russ, a lawyer with the Justice Department, said of the expanded voting procedures that were curtailed in a Republican-sponsored 2013 law. “The legislature stepped in and took away” the methods that drove this progress, he said, in “a troubling mixture of race and politics.” But a lawyer for the state argued that North Carolina had the right to set its election policies, and that the black voter turnout in 2014, under the new rules, was actually higher than before. The lawyer, Thomas A. Farr, accused the plaintiffs of trying to protect “practices that their political allies prefer.”

North Carolina: Closing arguments delayed in voting rights trial | News & Observer

The federal judge presiding over the North Carolina voting rights trial agreed Thursday to give the state more time to prepare for closing arguments, pushing them to Friday. Thomas Farr, a private attorney representing state legislators who shepherded the 2013 election laws through the General Assembly, told U.S. District Judge Thomas Schroeder he needed more time to cross-examine rebuttal witnesses. On Thursday morning, attorneys for the NAACP, League of Women Voters, U.S. Justice Department and others challenging key provisions of the 2013 election law changes asked experts and voters about testimony presented by attorneys representing the state. The challengers’ witnesses offered rebuttal to testimony from state experts and election board workers.

Editorials: North Carolina’s Messy Voting Laws Restrict Voting and Support Gerrymandering | AllGov

A federal court in North Carolina is now hearing testimony in a case that could have an impact on the rollback of voting rights across the country. At the start of this decade, North Carolina’s voting laws were a model of inclusion. The state allowed 17 days of early voting, teenagers who were approaching voting age could pre-register to vote, there was same-day registration and voters could even cast ballots outside their assigned precinct. The state’s Department of Motor Vehicles was also required to contact drivers about being registered when they reported an address change. Then, three things happened. First, a Republican tide swept through the North Carolina legislature in 2010. Next, after the 2010 Census, the legislature drew a congressional district map that some have called the most gerrymandered in the country. The gerrymandering worked; most of the state’s Democratic voters were packed into a few odd, snake-like districts. Democrats won only four congressional seats in 2012, when the state’s registration and voting numbers indicated they should have won seven.

Editorials: Another civil rights struggle in the Carolinas over voting | Ruth Marcus/The Washington Post

For all the understandable attention devoted to removing the Confederate flag from the South Carolina statehouse grounds, a civil rights struggle with far more practical consequences is playing out one state away. In a trial that just began in a federal courthouse in North Carolina last week, lawyers for the Justice Department and civil rights organizations are challenging a state law that limited the days for early voting, ended same-day registration and barred voters who turned up at the wrong precinct. The case presents the stark question: 50 years after its passage, does the Voting Rights Act retain any teeth? Two years ago in Shelby County v. Holder, the Supreme Court gutted a central aspect of the law, the “pre-clearance” provision requiring nine states and political subdivisions, mostly in the South, to submit proposed changes in voting procedures for federal approval.

Editorials: Why North Carolina Is the New Selma | Ari Berman/The Nation

 On the first day of the federal trial challenging North Carolina’s new voting restrictions, thousands of voting-rights activists marched through downtown Winston-Salem. They held signs reading, “North Carolina Is Our Selma” and “50 Years After Selma Voting Rights Still Matter.” At first glance, the comparison between the Selma of the 1960s and the North Carolina of today seems absurd. Before the VRA was passed, only 2 percent of African-Americans were registered to vote in Selma, the most segregated city in the South. Today, largely because of the VRA, 68 percent of black North Carolinians are registered to vote and black turnout exceeded white turnout in the past two presidential elections.  But there’s a crucial similarity between Selma in 1965 and North Carolina in 2015—both show the lengths conservative white Southerners will go to maintain their political power. The billy clubs and literacy tests of yesteryear have been replaced by subtler and more sophisticated attempts to control who can participate in the political process.

North Carolina: Sides Dispute Basis of North Carolina Voting Laws as Trial Contesting Them Opens | The New York Times

A trial over North Carolina’s voting laws opened in a federal courtroom here on Monday, with civil rights groups and the Justice Department arguing that the state had turned back the clock with sweeping changes to its election laws, while the state said the revisions applied equally to all and left its voting rules well within the national mainstream. “The history of North Carolina is not on trial here,” said Butch Bowers, a lawyer representing Gov. Pat McCrory, in an opening statement. “We will show that there is no discrimination, intentional or otherwise.” The plaintiffs in the case said the legislation, enacted in 2013, was deliberately drafted to reduce voting by African-Americans. They say the legacy of past racism in North Carolina, including the social and economic disparities between black and white citizens, is deeply relevant.

North Carolina: Voting rights trial in North Carolina begins: ‘This is our Selma’ | Los Angeles Times

Lawyers in North Carolina sparred over whether the state illegally weakened minorities’ strength at the polls during what is expected to become a significant test of the voting rights laws. The proceedings, which began in a Winston-Salem federal courtroom Monday, are expected to last several weeks. North Carolina argues that the changes were needed to protect the voting process from fraud. Civil rights activists, with the support of the U.S. Department of Justice, maintain that the law was designed to dilute the power of African Americans and Latinos in the GOP-controlled state. The case is one of several coming after a 2013 U.S. Supreme Court decision invalidated provisions of the federal Voting Rights Act that gave the Department of Justice final say over voting in areas with histories of racial discrimination. The 1965 law was considered a civil rights landmark by helping to ensure minority participation in a political process controlled by the white ruling structure that had evolved from legal segregation in the South.

North Carolina: Effects of changes on minorities at crux of North Carolina voting trial | Associated Press

Changes to North Carolina’s voting access rules finally go to trial this week, with a judge ultimately determining whether Republican legislators illegally diminished the opportunity for minorities to participate in the political process. The U.S. Justice Department, voting and civil rights groups and individuals sued soon after the General Assembly approved an elections overhaul law in summer 2013. After interim arguments reached the U.S. Supreme Court last fall, the trial begins Monday and expected to last two to three weeks addresses the crux of the allegations. Provisions being argued in a Winston-Salem federal courtroom reduced the number of days of early voting from 17 to 10, eliminated same-day registration during the early-vote period and prohibited the counting of Election Day ballots cast in the wrong precinct.

North Carolina: Voting Rights Legacy of the ’60s Heads to Court as North Carolina Law Is Tested | The New York Times

Days after South Carolina confronted its past and lowered the Confederate battle flag, North Carolina will grapple with its present-day rules that determine access to the voting booth. A federal trial opening in Winston-Salem on Monday is meant to determine whether recent, sweeping changes in the state’s election laws discriminate against black voters. These changes were adopted by the Republican-dominated state legislature in 2013, immediately after the United States Supreme Court struck down the heart of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 when it ended a requirement that nine states with histories of discrimination, including North Carolina, get federal approval before altering their election laws. But the case, as well as one involving a Texas law requiring voters to show a photo ID, could have far wider repercussions, legal experts say — helping to define the scope of voting rights protections across the country in the coming presidential election and beyond.

North Carolina: What’s At Stake In The Trial Over North Carolina Voting Restrictions | Huffington Post

When Army Spc. Timothy Patillo, 26, returned to Fort Bragg after an overseas deployment a month before the 2014 elections, he went to a North Carolina department of motor vehicles office to ask how to obtain a driver’s license and register to vote. He was given a list of documents he would need to provide, but wasn’t told of the approaching voter registration deadline. He returned to the DMV soon after that with his identification documents and signed up to vote. Days later, a notice came in the mail telling him he’d missed the voter registration deadline. Patillo would have been able to vote if, as in previous elections, North Carolina allowed same-day registration. But because the Republican-controlled legislature voted to eliminate same-day registration in 2013, Patillo was disenfranchised.

Illinois: Special 18th Congressional District primary includes same-day registration | The State Journal-Register

Sangamon County Clerk Don Gray isn’t hazarding a guess about turnout in Tuesday’s special primary to pick candidates to take the seat vacated by former U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock in the 18th Congressional District. “I’m even hesitant to say because of the uniqueness of it all,” Gray said Monday. … Gray did say that Sangamon County has done the work to meet a legal requirement that will allow voters to register or update their voter registration with a change of address or name at their polling place. They will then be able to cast a ballot at that polling place. For same-day registration, Gray noted, people will need two forms of identification, including one showing their current address.

North Carolina: Federal trial next month won’t address voter ID mandate | Associated Press

A federal trial in Winston-Salem next month on several provisions of North Carolina’s 2013 elections law won’t consider challenges to the state’s upcoming voter identification requirement in light of recent changes to the mandate, a judge has ruled. U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Schroeder decided that claims against the photo ID provision set to begin in 2016 will be kept out of the July 13 trial and considered later. Schroeder’s order came barely a week after the legislature finalized a bill creating a method by which people who can’t obtain a photo ID before next year can cast a lawful ballot. Other claims that still will be tried on time include accusations that minority citizens will be disproportionately harmed by such changes as reducing early voting days by one week, ending same-day registration during early voting and rejecting Election Day ballots cast in a voter’s incorrect precinct. Republicans in charge of the legislature, who championed the law, reject those claims.

North Carolina: Judge lays gound rules for trial on voter ID | Robesonian

A federal trial next month on several provisions of North Carolina’s 2013 elections law won’t consider challenges to the state’s upcoming voter identification requirement in light of recent changes to the mandate, a judge has ruled. U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Schroeder decided that claims against the photo ID provision set to begin in 2016 will be kept out of the July 13 trial in Winston-Salem and considered later. Schroeder’s order came barely a week after the legislature finalized a bill creating a method by which people who can’t obtain a photo ID before next year can cast a lawful ballot.

Delaware: Same day voting legislation again moving forward | Dover Post

A bill to allow prospective voters to register and cast their ballots on the same day as an election is pending a vote in the Delaware Senate. Introduced June 3, Senate Bill 111 was reported out of the Administrative Services/Elections Committee on June 11, and now is awaiting consideration by the full Senate. A similar bill was barely approved in the House during the last General Assembly session, but died before being considered by the upper chamber.

Illinois: How Kane County might combat same-day voter registration law | Daily Herald

Facing a $1.8 million price tag for implementation, Kane County is poised to ask Springfield politicians to back away from a new law requiring same-day voter registration at all polling places.A state law that just went active June 1 requires same-day registration at all polling places in counties and municipalities with populations of more than 100,000. The new law followed an experiment with same-day voter registration at a handful of polling places in each county during the November 2014 election.

Editorials: Thousands of Voters Are Disenfranchised by North Carolina’s Voting Restrictions | Ari Berman/The Nation

A month after the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act, North Carolina passed the country’s most sweeping voting restrictions. The Supreme Court refused to block key parts of the law—cuts to early voting, the elimination of same-day registration, a prohibition on voting in the wrong precinct—just weeks before the 2014 Election. As a result of the new restrictions, there were lengthy lines and confusion at many polling places, and longtime voters were turned away from the polls. Democracy North Carolina has estimated that “the new voting limitations and polling place problems reduced turnout by at least 30,000 voters in the 2014 election.” In a new report, the group analyzed provisional ballots cast during the 2014 election and concluded that 2,344 rejected ballots would have been counted if the new restrictions were not in place.

Editorials: The election reforms that could heal American democracy | Sean McElwee/Salon

Since America’s founding, the franchise has been dramatically expanded in waves: first, universal suffrage for all men (first, through the abolition of property ownership requirements for white men, then the 15th Amendment) then the expansion of suffrage to women and finally the Voting Rights Act, which abolished poll taxes and literacy tests. Today, the franchise is still under fire, from racially biased voter ID laws and felon disenfranchisement, as well as our complex registration system. Automatic voter registration and the abolition of voter ID laws could be part of the next wave of the slow march to true democracy. Recently, Hillary Clinton called out Republicans for their strategy of suppressing the vote and then called for automatic voting registration. While many pundits quickly chalked this up to an attempt to revive “the Obama coalition,” in fact, Clinton has been pushing for democracy reforms since before “the Obama coalition” existed. In 2005 she and Senator Barbara Boxer put forward the “Count Every Vote Act.” The law would have made same-day registration the law of the land, expanded early voting and made election day a holiday. In addition, Clinton has been fighting against felon disenfranchisement, though Rand Paul, who has a penchant for receiving praise for things he hasn’t done, has recently been garnering credit for his talk on the subject.

Illinois: New unfunded mandate adds $1.9M to Kane County Clerk’s budget | Chicago Tribune

Kane County Clerk John A. Cunningham is rallying colleagues and county officials to amend a newly enacted bill requiring clerks extend the grace period for voter registration to early registration and Election Day at all precincts, which would cost taxpayers $1.9 million. “It puts us in a bind,” Cunningham said Wednesday. “We have been working quite diligently and doing everything in our power to reduce the cost. We are trying to come in the back door and get an amendment,” the clerk said.

Illinois: Expansion of same-day voter registration hits snag? | DailyHerald.com

A change in Illinois law forcing large counties to provide same-day voter registration at polling places is drawing opposition from those charged with implementing it. The law requires same-day registration at all polling places in counties and municipalities with populations of more than 100,000. Illinois had tried same-day voter registration at a few polling places in each county during the November 2014 election. A month later, state legislators passed the law, which became effective June 1. With the exception of the special election to replace congressman Aaron Schock, county clerks are eyeing the change for 2016 elections. But early cost estimates of seven figures have several suburban officials — Democrats and Republicans alike — balking. Kane County Clerk Jack Cunningham estimates the cost of same-day registration at $1.8 million. That’s for $16,000 worth of equipment per polling place, plus training two people to register the voter. Kane County had same-day registration at five sites in November 2014; the new law requires same-day registration at 96 more sites in the county. “It’s a real burden,” Cunningham said.

National: US Justice Department eyes voting rights changes for American Indians, Alaska Natives | Associated Press

The U.S. Department of Justice is seeking legislation that would require state and local election officials to work with American Indian tribes to locate at least one polling place on or near each tribe’s land. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said the changes are needed because “significant and unnecessary barriers” exist for American Indians and Alaska Natives who want to cast ballots. American Indians sometimes have to travel great distances to vote, face language barriers and, in places like Alaska, do not have the same amount of time to vote as others. The Justice Department outlined its proposal in letters Thursday to House Speaker John Boehner and Vice President Joe Biden, after a year of consultation with tribes on voting access.

Editorials: Same-day voter registration will transform Delaware | Chris Bullock/Delaware Voice

Today, voting rights in America – and therefore, our civil rights – stand at a critical crossroads. As we await reauthorization by Congress of the Voting Rights Act, state legislatures across the country have rolled back critical voting rights provisions. Sadly, too many of today’s battles elicit a sense of déjà vu, harkening back to Civil Rights struggles that many of us believed that our nation had fought and moved past. In this troubling climate, I am proud to say Delaware is a bright spot: State Sen. Margaret Rose Henry is planning to introduce a new voting rights bill that will make it easier for all Delawareans to participate in our great democracy.

North Carolina: US Supreme Court won’t review voting rights provisions – for now | News and Observer

With lawsuits pending in federal court on sweeping changes to North Carolina elections law, the U.S. Supreme Court has declined to review questions about two specific provisions dealing with same-day registration and out-of-precinct voting. The decision is just a step in a protracted legal process that began in 2013 when the League of Women Voters, the NAACP, registered Democrats and others challenged changes to voting procedures adopted by the Republican-led legislature. Because U.S. District Judge Thomas Schroeder has set a trial for July 2015 to hear arguments for and against constitutional questions about the 2013 changes, the U.S. Supreme Court decision on Monday has little impact.

Alaska: Lawmakers eye ways to improve voter access to polls | Alaska Dispatch

Come next election, Alaskans may be able to register to vote as late as Election Day under bills introduced in the Senate and House that call for elimination of the current 30-day pre-election voter cutoff. Sen. Lesil McGuire, R-Anchorage, ran for lieutenant governor last year and discussed voting issues and problems with people all over the state, she said. “The biggest issue people had was access to voting and making it easier,” she said. “We have really low rates in our state.” McGuire’s bill, Senate Bill 93, and a companion bill, House Bill 95, would allow Alaskans to register and vote on the same day. Now, they must have been registered a month before an election to cast a ballot.

Illinois: Special election for Schock seat has election officials worried | The Southern

A new law allowing voters to register and vote on election day has county clerks in western and central Illinois on edge. With a special election to replace scandal-plagued U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock expected to occur in June or July, the clerks say they don’t have enough time or money to get the new system up and running. “There’s no way we can be ready for that,” McLean County Clerk Kathy Michael said Friday. At issue is a pending special election in the 18th Congressional District, which had been held by Schock for eight years.

Editorials: Ohio should focus on better voter access | Sean Wright/Cincinnati Inquirer

It is often remarked, “So goes Ohio, so goes the nation,” a common sentiment signifying that Ohio is a bellwether state for national politics. Perhaps it’s time to ask: Where is Ohio going? If you’re Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, you may think Ohio is heading toward rampant voter fraud. Last week, Husted released the results of an exhaustive investigation into non-citizen voting in Ohio, something he considers an “expanding loophole.” But despite the Republican’s alarmist calls, the investigation identified just 145 cases of non-Ohio citizens illegally registered to vote, an amount totaling a miniscule two ten-thousandths of a percent of the 7.7 million registered Ohio voters. Unsurprisingly, a similar investigation released by Husted’s office in 2013 found that only 0.0003 percent of all ballots casted in the state were by non-citizens.

Editorials: Our election system’s anti-minority bias is even worse than you think | Sean McElwee/Salon.com

In the wake of the recent gutting of the Voting Rights Act, partisans were quick to jump on the opportunity to restrict unfavorable voters. Across the country, conservatives in particular have debated fiercely whether to pursue voter suppression to remain competitive in an increasingly diverse electorate. There was, however, another way out, as I’ve argued before: Socially and economically conservative values are not unpopular, and if conservatives were to cease supporting people who made speeches at KKK rallies, they could garner enough votes to remain competitive. I worried, though, that the temptation of voter suppression would be too great. And, indeed, a new paper by Ian Vandewalker and Keith Bentele indicates that partisans have chosen the path of voter suppression to an even greater extent than previous thought.

North Carolina: Judge denies most voter ID motions | Winston-Salem Journal

A North Carolina state judge has declined for now to strike down or uphold photo identification requirements to vote in person starting in 2016 — keeping the path clear for a summer trial in a lawsuit. In a ruling provided Friday to case attorneys, Superior Court Judge Michael Morgan denied a motion by voters and advocacy groups who sued and believe the voter ID mandate is unconstitutional because legislators created another qualification to cast a ballot. But Morgan also refused to accept all the arguments of attorneys representing the state and State Board of Elections to throw out the lawsuit. With the refusals for “judgment on the pleadings” — meaning arguments with essentially no additional evidence — Morgan is indicating factual issues between the court opponents must be resolved. A trial already had been set for July 13.

Connecticut: State praises New Haven’s same-day voter registration | New Haven Register

Secretary of the State Denise Merrill swung by City Hall Friday to deliver a citation honoring the fact that New Haven accommodated the most Election Day voter registrations out of any Connecticut municipality, totaling more than 600. “Election Day registration is designed to increase voter participation and the last election was the state’s first big one,” Merrill said as she stood alongside Mayor Toni Harp, City Clerk Michael Smart and staffers from the registrar’s office. “More than 14,000 were able to vote who wouldn’t have been able to otherwise, because they had not been on the list for whatever reason, and chose to recognize their right to vote on Election Day.”

National: Lynch Pressed on Voting Laws at Confirmation Hearing | National Law Journal

During the Wednesday afternoon session of Loretta Lynch’s confirmation hearing, Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., pressed the attorney general nominee over her position on voting laws—and at one point tried to show she’d contradicted herself. Tillis, elected to the Senate in November, asked Lynch about the sweeping voting bill North Carolina’s governor signed into law in August 2013 while Tillis was speaker of the House in the state’s Republican-controlled Legislature. “It’s not something that I’m intimately familiar with,” Lynch, born in Greensboro, N.C., responded. “I look forward to learning more about it should I be confirmed, and I believe the matter will proceed to court and we will await the results there.” Tillis then focused attention to remarks Lynch delivered on a Martin Luther King Day celebration in January 2014. At the time, Lynch, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York, had more pointed comments about her native state’s new voter laws. “Fifty years after the march on Washington, 50 years after the civil rights movement, we stand in this country at a time when we see people trying to take back so much of what Dr. King fought for,” Lynch said in comments available on video. “People try and take over the Statehouse and reverse the goals that have been made in voting in this country.”