Civil rights leaders and groups are hailing legislation introduced by U.S. Reps. Mark Pocan (D-Wisc.) and Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) on Jan. 22 that would unequivocally guarantee every American’s right to vote under the U.S. Constitution, in the wake of growing attacks on that right. “This amendment would affirm the principle of equal participation in our democracy for every citizen,” Pocan said in a statement. “As the world’s leading democracy, we must guarantee the right to vote for all.” Added Ellison: “Our nation is stronger when we make it easy for Americans to participate in democracy…A guaranteed right to vote in the Constitution would go a long way towards increasing access to the ballot box for all Americans.” Contrary to popular belief, the lawmakers said, the right to vote is not enshrined in the U.S. Constitution, and the “Pocan-Ellison Right to Vote Amendment” would amend the Constitution to expressly guarantee that fundamental right.
Republicans used the confirmation hearings this week for Loretta Lynch, President Obama’s attorney general nominee, to stress their commitment to voting restrictions—and to try to tie Lynch’s hands on voting issues should she assume the post. One GOP senator pressed Lynch on her stance on restrictive voting laws. And Republicans asked for testimony from a witness who has led the effort to stoke fear over voter fraud, suggested her group was targeted by the Obama administration because of her group’s support for voter ID laws. Under Attorney General Eric Holder, the Justice Department has acted aggressively to protect voting rights, challenging strict GOP-backed voting laws in Texas and North Carolina. Holder also has seemed to compare these laws to past efforts to keep minorities from voting. So Republicans sought to put pressure on Lynch to take a more conciliatory approach.
If it doesn’t take 30 days to get a sandwich made-to-order, it shouldn’t take 30 days to process a voter registration form. That’s one York County legislator’s take on same-day voter registration, under which people could turn out at the polls the same day as an election, register on the spot and cast a vote. “In this day and age, you can walk into a gas station and get a custom-made sandwich in minutes just by touching a screen,” said Rep. Kevin Schreiber, D-York City. “We should make voting that easy.” The process of casting a vote is already as effortless as touching a screen, but Schreiber and Erie County Democrat Rep. Ryan Bizzarro are resurrecting a proposal to make registration just as easy.
National: These States Are Actually Considering Ways To Make Voting More Convenient | Huffington Post
November’s midterm election meant grappling with new voter identification requirements, cutbacks to early voting and the elimination of same-day registration and out-of-precinct voting in several states, but advocates are cautiously optimistic that 2015 could be an improvement for voting rights. Last cycle’s voter turnout, about 36 percent, was estimated to be the lowest since 1940, but changes that could make voting more convenient — like online registration — might help mitigate some of the barriers from laws that restrict access. Twenty states of varying political inclinations offered online registration as of December, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. “This is a time where we should be reaching across the aisle looking for commonsense solutions,” said Myrna Pérez, the deputy director of the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program, which tracks voting legislation. “A lot of those involving technology and leveraging technology are very appealing — and it’s exciting because [electronic and online registration] both have the habit of making it simpler and easier to run elections correctly. They make the rolls cleaner and are cheaper, and we saw some bipartisan support for this last year.”
Illinois: State law expanding same-day voter registration will cost Will County $1 million | The Herald-News
A new state law making permanent same-day voter registration – first piloted in the November election – is sure to be a $1-million headache for the county, Will County Clerk Nancy Schultz Voots told members of the county board’s Finance Committee on Tuesday. That’s about how much it’s going to cost to comply with Senate Bill 172, passed last month, that requires Illinois counties with a population of at least 100,000 to offer same-day voter registration at every polling place beginning with the March 2016 election. In the county’s case, that’s 303 polling places – a substantial increase from the five locations that offered same-day registration in the Nov. 4 election.
Pennsylvania state government behind the times? Let’s count the ways. We can list failure to privatize liquor sales and a system so far behind that visitors are amazed at the hoops we jump through to buy beer, wine and spirits. Go up the scale in intensity and we encounter an outdated property tax system for funding schools, and a public pension system racking up a $50 billion liability shortfall. Our lawmakers choose denial over solutions. Twice a year, we encounter another area in which the Commonwealth falls woefully short — ease of voting. Unlike other states, Pennsylvania has failed to adopt practices made possible in the internet age that make it easy for people to register and to vote. Instead of making the process more customer-friendly, Republicans two years ago used their majority in the House to push through even stricter requirements for voter ID. The new law which required a state-issued photo ID for all voters was challenged and struck down in Commonwealth Court. Now, some legislators are hoping to enact some meaningful reform and get Pennsylvania voter services out of the past. PAIndependent reported last week that a number of proposals are in the works to make voting more user-friendly.
In the age of Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat, Pennsylvania is stuck in the past century when it comes to voter registration. Prospective voters can download the necessary form online, but can’t submit it digitally. Instead, they have to mail it or personally deliver it to their county voter registration office. That’s among the voting procedures some members of the General Assembly want to change. It’s early in the new legislative session, but several proposals to modernize voting protocol are already circulating among state lawmakers. One piece of legislation would provide for electronic voter registration and another would allow citizens to register the same day as an election and then vote, which proponents say could increase turnout. “In this day and age, I do truly believe that we should be doing everything we can to make voting easier and as accessible as possible to all eligible voters,” said state Rep. Kevin Schreiber, D-York, who has joined state Rep. Ryan Bizzarro, D-Erie, in sponsoring same-day registration legislation.
With roughly 44 percent of registered voters participating in 2010 and 2014 midterm elections, the impact of changes to North Carolina’s election law on the overall turnout remains unclear. Supporters of the changes – which include a shorter early voting period and the loss of same-day registration – say the turnout shows that claims of “voter suppression” were unfounded. Early voting participation and early turnout among minorities was higher than in 2010. But liberal groups say the turnout would have been even higher had the Republican-dominated legislature rejected the changes. They point to a study by Democracy North Carolina that estimated that 50,000 voters were “silenced” by the new law. That figure was generated from calls to a voting hotline, reports from volunteer poll monitors and a review of past election data. A deluge of ads in the most expensive U.S. Senate race in state history didn’t change turnout much. It barely increased, from 43.3 percent in 2010 to 44.3 percent this year.
You’ve all heard the story. The young couple in Chicago waiting hours to use the city’s new same-day registration system to register to vote and then finally casting their ballot just after 3 a.m. on November 5. What you most likely haven’t heard about are the thousands of Americans in other parts of Illinois, Connecticut, Colorado and nine other states and the District of Columbia that utilized same-day registration with little to no problem on November 4. While same-day registration took some well-publicized legislative and legal hits in Ohio and North Carolina recently, it is working and by many accounts working well in other jurisdictions. In fact, it’s working so well in Montana that the residents overwhelmingly defeated a referendum this November that would have eliminated that state’s election day registration.
The Illinois House of Representatives on Wednesday passed a bill that would make the voter registration process easier during a time when other states are coming under fire for tightening restrictions on voting. Illinois tried out a pilot program in the Nov. 4 election allowing voters to register on Election Day. Since then, the Illinois Senate passed legislation to make that program permanent and with a couple tweaks to the bill, the House gave its stamp of approval Wednesday. After the Senate OKs the amended legislation, it is expected Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn — who supported the pilot program — will sign the bill into law.
A pilot program that allowed same-day voter registration in Illinois in the Nov. 4 election would become permanent under legislation that passed the House Wednesday. Besides allowing people to register and vote on the same day at polling places, the bill would allow extended early voting, as well as make it easier for students to vote at college campuses. The legislation passed the Democrat-controlled House on partisan lines by a 70-44 vote. It’s been amended from the original version that passed the Senate — also controlled by Democrats — so a concurrence vote would need to happen in that chamber before it can be sent to Gov. Pat Quinn. Quinn supported the pilot program, so it’s expected he’d sign the bill into law.
Lawmakers are set to consider making permanent a law that allowed same-day voter registration for Illinois’ Nov. 4 election. Legislation sponsored by State Sen. Don Harmon is scheduled to be presented in a House committee in Springfield on Monday afternoon. It would make permanent a measure passed last spring that allowed same-day voting registration, extended early voting and made it easier to vote on college campuses.
New voting restrictions and poll workers’ unpreparedness and confusion kept somewhere between 30,000 and 50,000 eligible North Carolinians from voting in this fall’s general election. That’s the conclusion of a new report from Democracy North Carolina. The voting rights watchdog analyzed 500 reports from poll monitors in 38 counties and 1,400 calls to a voter assistance hotline to come up with its estimate, which does not include the thousands of people who might have voted before Election Day if the law had not cut the early voting period by a full week. The report found that most of the problems were due to three changes made by the law passed last year by the Republican-controlled legislature and signed by Gov. Pat McCrory: the repeal of same-day registration, which allowed qualified citizens to register and vote during the early voting period; the repeal of out-of-precinct voting, which allowed people to cast a valid provisional ballot at different polling sites in their county on Election Day; and the repeal of straight-party voting, which created backlogs at polling places and led to long waits for many. (Read the full report, which includes examples of specific challenges faced by voters, online here.)
“It’s exhausting.” That’s how Clifford Tatum, the executive director of the D.C. Board of Elections, describes the work that has taken place after the Nov. 4 general election. Though the campaign signs are coming down, public attention has shifted away and most of the top-ticket races — mayor, attorney general, D.C. Council seats, the marijuana legalization initiative — were settled after votes were tallied on election night, work has since continued for Tatum and his staff. That’s because as with every election, the elections board is charged with counting every ballot that’s properly cast. The bulk of those come during early voting or on Election Day — 25,750 residents voted early, while 125,606 voted on Nov. 4. But for those residents living outside the city, or those who fall into a number of categories that may require that they vote using a special — or provisional — ballot, their votes are counted in the two weeks following the election. For the general election, that adds up to a lot of ballots — close to 6,000 absentee ballots and over 20,000 special ballots.
Editorials: Texas should learn from states that led in voter turnout | Elaine Ayala/San Antonio Express-News
Secretaries of state across the country have begun to report their voting statistics, and the United States Elections Project out of George Mason University is eagerly awaiting them. It will be deep into January, however, before its analysis will be completed. Already, however, indications are that history has repeated itself — the states that historically have done the best job of getting voters to the polls were on top again. Think Oregon, South Dakota, Alaska, Wisconsin and Maine. Texas is expected to come in at the bottom again with one of the lowest voter participation rates in the country. What do the best voting states do? It’s not too surprising. They’re liberal in their openness, having instituted same-day registration, or voting by mail, or in one of the most interesting cases (North Dakota) no voter registration at all. These high-turnout states share some characteristics. They have higher educational and income levels. They’re whiter and older, and many of them have had highly competitive elections in which no one party dominates. They’re states that UTSA political scientist Patricia Jaramillo has called “moralistic states,” which encourage participation, as opposed to “traditionalistic individualist states” that don’t encourage voting beyond those already engaged.
For far too many Americans, voting became more difficult or, in some cases, impossible in 2014. In Texas, Imani Clark, a Black state college student and client of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund in the lawsuit that declared Texas’s strict voter ID law unconstitutional, was unable to vote with her student ID as she had in the past. Thousands of other students like Imani were also disenfranchised. In Alabama, a 92-year-old great-grandmother was disfranchised by the secretary of state’s last-minute determination that a photo ID issued by public housing authorities is not acceptable ID for voting. She had previously voted with a utility bill. These were familiar stories in each of the 14 states with restrictive voting laws that took effect for the first time during this election season. The new laws include strict photo ID requirements, significant reductions to early voting, limits on same-day registration, and more. All had two things in common: They were reactionary responses to changing demographics and had a disproportionate impact on communities of color. If it were not for the U.S. Supreme Court’s devastating June 2013 decision in Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder, many of these changes likely would have been blocked by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Indeed, Texas’s photo ID measure was previously blocked from going into effect for the 2012 elections by Section 5.
Editorials: Did Voting Restrictions Determine the Outcomes of Key Midterm Races? | Ari Berman/The Nation
Bryan McGowan spent twenty-two years in the US Marine Corps, including four tours in Afghanistan and Iraq. When he was stationed at Camp LeJeune in North Carolina from 2005 until 2010, McGowan used same-day registration to register and vote during the early voting period in the state. He relocated to Georgia in 2010 because of his military service and returned to North Carolina in 2014. On the first day of early voting this year, McGowan arrived at his new polling place in western North Carolina to update his registration and vote, like he had done in the 2008 presidential election, but this time he was turned away. North Carolina eliminated same-day registration as part of the sweeping voting restrictions enacted by the Republican legislature in the summer of 2013. The registration deadline had passed, and McGowan was unable to update his registration and vote. “All I want to do is cast my vote,” the disabled veteran said. After fighting for his country abroad, McGowan felt betrayed by not being able to vote when he returned home. Sadly, McGowan’s story was not atypical this election year. Voters in fourteen states faced new voting restrictions at the polls for first time in 2014—in the first election in nearly fifty years without the full protections of the Voting Rights Act. The number of voters impacted by the new restrictions exceeded the margin of victory in close races for senate and governor in North Carolina, Kansas, Virginia and Florida, according to the Brennan Center for Justice.
Montanans rejected efforts to curb late voter registration Tuesday. The legislative referendum, LR-126, would have ended the ability for people to register to vote as late as Election Day, which has been allowed in Montana since 2006. With 78 percent of precincts in, the Associated Press reported that 56 percent had voted to keep same-day registration and 44 percent had voted to end it. The measure was sponsored by Sen. Alan Olson, a Republican from Roundup, who says he introduced it because late registrants cause problems for volunteers at polling places and create long lines.
Some longtime voters in Texas reported on Tuesday that they were refused a ballot because they lacked newly required photo identification. In North Carolina, voters who showed up at the wrong precinct were unable to vote, reflecting a new policy. And in Georgia, hundreds of frustrated people called a hotline to say they were unsure if their voter registrations had been processed, some of the thousands of would-be new voters who reportedly faced uncertainty. In many cases, the accounts seemed to reflect concerns raised by civic groups and civil rights leaders that new photo identification requirements in several states and cutbacks in early voting and same-day registration in others would deter significant numbers of people from participating in the elections. Most of the new policies were adopted by Republican legislatures in the name of electoral integrity, even though evidence of voter fraud has been negligible. They are opposed by Democrats who say tighter rules are aimed at discouraging minorities, poor people and college students, groups that tend to prefer Democrats, from voting. Many of the changes adopted in recent years “will make it harder for millions of Americans to participate,” said Wendy R. Weiser, director of the democracy program at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law. “But the problems of disenfranchisement don’t show up in a visible way,” Ms. Weiser added. “It’s people who don’t show up, or someone’s who’s turned away.”
With several key elections potentially hinging on razor-thin margins, Americans went to the polls Tuesday in 34 states with new voting laws that critics fear will adversely impact minority turnout and proponents say are needed to protect against voter fraud. The new laws – ranging from photo identification requirements to restrictions on same-day registration – brought increased scrutiny Tuesday from the two major political parties, civic groups, voting rights advocates and the Justice Department, almost all deploying monitors and lawyers to polling stations to look out for voting problems. “It’s the new normal since 2000,” said Richard Hasen, a law and politics professor at the University of California, Irvine, and author of “The Voting Wars: From 2000 to the Next Election Meltdown.” “Some of this is legitimate fear, some of it is a way of getting the base wound up and (to) raise funds.” From the moment polls opened ‑ and in some cases before ‑ reports of voting irregularities began. The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law’s election protection program reported more than 12,000 calls to its hotline – the bulk of them from Florida, Georgia, Texas, New York and North Carolina.
Election Day brings a series of changes in voting for North Carolina’s residents—but the early voting period showed that not all of the modifications have had the expected outcome. Some experts initially said that a 2013 bill limiting early voting, eliminating same-day registration and requiring voters to present identification at polling places would drive down voter turnout. This was anticipated to affect Democrats in particular—whose most loyal constituents, minorities and youth, are already less likely to vote, especially in midterm elections. But early voter turnout has increased across the state, with Democrats accounting for much of the surge. In the year since the bill was passed in the Republican-controlled legislature, it has been labeled by a number of state and national Democrats as a voter suppression campaign.
Democrats and Republicans battling in close contests for the governor’s office and U.S. Senate in Colorado are wading into new territory with the advent of Election-Day voter registration and ballots being mailed to every registered elector. The changes passed by Democrats who control the Colorado Legislature mean campaigns are making their final arguments to voters weeks in advance of Nov. 4, and they’re sprinting to the very end to get every possible voter registered and voting. It has also prompted concerns from Republicans about greater chances for voter fraud — a worry that Democrats don’t share. Already, 518,610 people have voted since ballots were mailed early last week. Last year, in an election with only two statewide ballot measures, there were 1.4 million votes. In the 2012 presidential year, nearly 2.6 million people voted. At the current pace this year, a big portion of the Colorado vote will likely be in before Nov. 4.
In the run-up to the 2012 election, there was widespread concern about a slew of restrictive voting laws passed by Republicans. But those fears mostly weren’t borne out. Courts blocked several of the worst moves before election day. And record African-American turnout suggested the assault on voting might even have backfired by firing up minority voters. But Republicans didn’t ease off on the push to make voting harder. If anything, they doubled down. And this time around, they’ve had a lot more success as several voting restrictions are now in effect for the first time in a major election. That’s likely to help the GOP this fall. But voting rights advocates say the bigger lesson is that current laws protecting access to the ballot just aren’t strong enough. “This is a clear example of the need for additional federal protections,” said Myrna Perez, a top lawyer at the Brennan Center for Justice, and one of the attorneys who argued against the Texas voter ID law, which was approved for the election by the U.S. Supreme Court early Saturday morning. That decision—which came just two days before early voting kicks off in the Lone Star State—means most of the statewide voting restrictions that in recent weeks were the subject of court fights will be in place when voters go to the polls. In addition to the Texas law—green-lighted despite a federal judge’s ruling that it intentionally discriminated against minorities—North Carolina’s sweeping voting law and Ohio’s cuts to early voting will also be in effect.
Republicans are poised to gain next month from new election laws in almost half the 50 U.S. states, where the additional requirements defy a half-century trend of easing access to the polls. In North Carolina, where Democratic U.S. Senator Kay Hagan’s re-election fight may determine the nation’s balance of power, the state ended same-day registration used more heavily by blacks. A Texas law will affect more than 500,000 voters who lack identification and are disproportionately black and Hispanic, according to a federal judge. In Ohio, lawmakers discontinued a week during which residents could register and vote on the same day, which another judge said burdens lower income and homeless voters. While Republicans say the laws were meant to stop fraud or ease administrative burdens, Democrats and civil-rights groups maintain they’re aimed at damping turnout by blacks, Hispanics and the young, who are their mainstays in an increasingly diverse America. Texas found two instances of in-person voter fraud among more than 62 million votes cast in elections during the preceding 14 years, according to testimony in the federal case. “You’re seeing the use of the election process as a means of clinging to power,” said Justin Levitt, who follows election regulation at the Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. “You have more states passing laws that create hurdles and inconveniences to voting than we have seen go into effect in the last 50 years.”
Montana House Majority Leader Gordy Vance and the Montana Republican Party are asking voters to consider the pros of LR-126, the ballot measure that would move the deadline for voter registration from Election Day to 5 p.m. the Friday before. “The take from the groups that say it’s bad is based on misinformation and that’s unfortunate, but that’s how folks operate in this arena,” the Bozeman Republican said. In 2005, the Legislature passed Democratic state Sen. Jon Ellingson’s Senate Bill 302, which moved the deadline for voter registration from 30 days before the election to Election Day. The bill had broad bipartisan backing and support from the Montana Association of Clerk and Recorders.
Editorials: When Duty Doesn’t Call: Voter ID laws bring out the worst in their uncivic-minded opponents | The American Spectator
Americans will cease arguing over the federal Voting Rights Act and its intricacies — oh, I imagine around the time Texas starts exporting ground water to Minnesota, or the Lord returns to judge the quick and the dead. Mandatory voter ID laws passed by Republican legislatures in Texas, Arkansas, and Wisconsin have been under legal assault by Democrats. A lower federal court order expanding statewide early voting and same-day registration in Ohio got overturned by the Supreme Court — which had before it, at the same time, an appeal from North Carolina asking affirmation of its right to eliminate same-day registration and voting, along with out-of-precinct voting. Democrats see in these various state laws an evil Republican attempt to suppress voting by minority group members likely to — duh — vote Democratic. Requirements to present photographic identification draw particular scorn. Republicans say all they want to do is make sure voting procedures are honest and reflective of actual popular will. The point commonly buried in these slanging matches over intent and results is a point little attended to in our current ideological wars. I would call that point the need for rekindled earnestness regarding the duties that come, or ought to, with exercise of the franchise.
As Montana voters head to polls this fall, they’ll decide not only on competing candidates but also on a referendum that would end the state’s policy of allowing voters to register on Election Day. The measure, Legislative Referendum 126, would amend state election law to move up the voter registration deadline to 5 p.m. Friday of the week before elections. Currently, voters can register until the close of polls the Tuesday elections are held. Advocates say the change is a common-sense way to help elections run more smoothly, and that asking people to register beforehand represents a reasonable burden. Opponents protest that it would make it harder for many Montanans to exercise their constitutional right to vote, particularly potentially marginalized groups such as seniors, young voters and American Indians. Underlying the debate is a widely held perception that Election Day registrants tend to skew liberal with their votes. Many of the measure’s proponents are prominent Republicans, and many of its opponents are Democrats or liberal advocacy groups.
The Supreme Court on Wednesday issued a brief, unsigned order reinstating provisions of a North Carolina voting law that bar same-day registration and counting votes cast in the wrong precinct. A federal appeals court had blocked the provisions, saying they disproportionately harmed black voters. In a dissent, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, joined by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, said she would have sustained the appeals court’s determination that the two provisions “risked significantly reducing opportunities for black voters to exercise the franchise.” The case arose from a law enacted by North Carolina’s Republican-controlled Legislature in the wake of Shelby County v. Holder, the 2013 Supreme Court decision that effectively eliminated a central provision of the federal Voting Rights Act, its Section 5.
The U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling on Wednesday that means voters in North Carolina will not be able to vote out of their precincts on Nov. 4 nor register to vote and cast ballots on the same day. The ruling blocked a 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision Oct. 1 that reinstated same-day voter registration and out-of-precinct voting for the coming election. The justices offered no insight into their 7-2 ruling to uphold a district court ruling to let the November election proceed under the 2013 rewrite of the state’s elections laws. Supreme Court Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor dissented and issued an opinion outlining their reasons. They said they had no reason to disagree with the 4th Circuit’s reasoning that elimination of same-day registration and out-of-precinct voting would limit opportunities for black voters to cast ballots. Ginsburg said the Voting Rights Act of 1965 had “worked to safeguard long-obstructed access to the ballot by African-Americans” by blocking such election-law changes in the South. But the court voided that “pre-clearance rule” last year in a 5-4 decision. North Carolina voting laws were changed weeks after the Supreme Court ruling on the Voting Rights Act.
North Carolina: Supreme Court allows North Carolina to implement voting law for midterm elections | The Washington Post
The Supreme Court Wednesday night allowed North Carolina to implement for the coming election changes in the state’s voting law that an appeals court had blocked. The action means that the state can eliminate same-day registration and not count ballots cast by voters who show up at the wrong precinct. A panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit had blocked both changes because it said they would disproportionately affect African-American voters. The Supreme Court’s order did not detail the majority’s reasoning. But Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor said they would have kept the lower court’s order in place. “The Court of Appeals determined that at least two of the measures — elimination of same-day registration and termination of out-of-precinct voting — risked significantly reducing opportunities for black voters to exercise the franchise in violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act,” Ginsburg wrote. “I would not displace that record-based reasoned judgment.”