Editorials: Voting Rights & Wrongs | Commonweal Magazine

President Barack Obama recently joined former presidents George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Jimmy Carter at the President Lyndon Baines Johnson Library in Austin, Texas, to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. It is no exaggeration to say that the Civil Rights Act, and the Voting Rights Act of the following year, were the most transformational political developments of the past century in the United States. It was a difficult, often violent struggle, but in the end what was implicit in the nation’s founding documents finally became explicit in federal law. The Civil Rights Act made it illegal to discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin in public accommodations. The Voting Rights Act addressed discrimination in elections, ultimately dismantling a system that had shut African Americans out of voting booths for nearly a hundred years. A few days after his Austin speech the president was in New York City to speak to Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network, and he took that opportunity to remind his audience that the struggle for equal rights never ends and to call attention to a disturbing political development. “The right to vote is threatened today in a way that it has not been since the Voting Rights Act became law,” Obama said. “Across the country, Republicans have led efforts to pass laws making it harder, not easier, for people to vote.” With uncharacteristic severity, Obama has called the effort to restrict voting “un-American.”

Editorials: Why voting rights is the Democrats’ most important project in 2014 | Washington Post

Although the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is the main muse of the Civil Rights Summit taking place at the LBJ Presidential Library this week, legislation passed the following year, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, has brought forth many words from the Obama administration this week, many of which can be linked neatly to the 2014 midterms and where the Democratic Party sees itself in the future. His discussion of voting rights is framed by the civil rights movement and the once overwhelming and bipartisan support for expanding voter franchise. He mentions that Strom Thurmond voted to reauthorize the Voting Rights Act in the ’80s, and that the Senate vote to reauthorize the law in 2006 was 98-0. Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) said before that vote, “As we reflect on the true wrongs that existed in the 1950s and 1960s and where those wrongs may have taken place, we owe it to history . . . to pay tribute to those who took the law and made it a reality.” Last year, the Supreme Court struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, which means states with a history of discrimination that once needed preclearance for redistricting no longer require special attention from the Justice Department, unless Congress passes an amended Section 4, an unlikely prospect given the current congressional class. Many state legislatures reacted by passing legislation that often makes it harder to vote. There are new voter-ID laws, and early voting and same-day registration have been sanded away in many states. The conservative argument for these laws is that they help prevent voter fraud. Democrats respond that it also prevents their base from voting.

National: Obama, Citing New Laws, Says the G.O.P. Is Moving to Restrict Voting Rights | New York Times

President Obama deplored on Friday what he called a Republican campaign to deny voting rights to millions of Americans as he stepped up efforts to rally his political base heading into a competitive midterm campaign season. Appearing at the annual convention of the Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network in Manhattan, Mr. Obama accused Republicans of trying to rig the elections by making it harder for older people, women, minorities and the impoverished to cast ballots in swing states that could determine control of the Senate. “The right to vote is threatened today in a way that it has not been since the Voting Rights Act became law nearly five decades ago,” Mr. Obama said in a hotel ballroom filled with cheering supporters, most of them African-American. “Across the country, Republicans have led efforts to pass laws making it harder, not easier, for people to vote.”

Ohio: Voting rights battle heating up | MSNBC

Ohio Republicans have backed down on an effort to penalize the state’s largest county for sending out absentee ballots. But the escalating battle over voting rights in the nation’s most pivotal swing state shows no sign of subsiding—with one top Democrat calling for a federal probe of GOP voter suppression. A spokesman for House Republicans said Tuesday afternoon that the GOP would drop a measure that would have cut funding by 10% for any county that doesn’t follow state law regarding absentee ballots. The proposal, inserted Monday into a larger budget bill, was a direct shot at the state’s largest county, Cuyahoga, which has asserted the right to mail absentee ballots to all registered voters—in defiance of a recently passed state law barring counties from doing so. Hours later, the Cuyahoga council voted to assert its “home rule” power, giving it the authority to send absentee ballots to all registered voters in the county.

Editorials: The Supreme Court Gutted the Voting Rights Act. What Happened Next in These 8 States Will Not Shock You. | Mother Jones

When the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 to overturn a key section of the Voting Rights Act last June, Justice Ruth Ginsburg warned that getting rid of the measure was like “throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.” The 1965 law required that lawmakers in states with a history of discriminating against minority voters get federal permission before changing voting rules. Now that the Supreme Court has invalidated this requirement, GOP lawmakers across the United States are running buck wild with new voting restrictions. Before the Shelby County v. Holder decision came down on June 25, Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act required federal review of new voting rules in 15 states, most of them in the South. (In a few of these states, only specific counties or townships were covered.) Chief Justice John Roberts voted to gut the Voting Rights Act on the basis that “our country has changed,” and that blanket federal protection wasn’t needed to stop discrimination. But the country hasn’t changed as much as he may think.

Delaware: House passes same-day voter registration | The News-Journal

Delaware is one step closer to allowing its unregistered voters to sign up and cast a ballot on Election Day. House lawmakers passed same-day voter registration legislation Thursday, allowing voters to register for presidential primary, primary, special and general elections on the same day they would cast their ballot. The current deadline is the fourth Saturday prior to the date of the election. The legislation, passed 24 to 15, reduces the need for provisional ballots, boosts voter registration, increases turnout among minorities and young voters, and is particularly effective during primary elections when a majority of Delaware’s elections are decided, its supporters say. “I don’t think that we, as elected officials, should put up artificial barriers in front of people,” said bill sponsor Rep. John Viola, D-Newark. “I think that people should be able to vote. How can we stop them from voting. I think it’s wrong.”

Utah: Democrats excited about Utah’s same-day voter registration, even if it helps GOP | The Salt Lake Tribune

The Democratic National Party is excited about Utah’s new pilot project on same-day voter registration — even if it does help the opposition party sign up new voters in the GOP-dominated state. The Legislature passed a measure this session to allow counties and municipalities to have same-day registration in the next three years, a move that dovetails with Democratic efforts nationwide to increase access to the polls for Americans. Pratt Wiley, the Democrats’ national director of voter expansion, acknowledges that in deep-red Utah, the program could “absolutely” help Republicans. “Our job is to make sure we’re working so that everyone votes,” Wiley said this week, “not to make sure that Obama voters vote, not to make sure that Democrats vote; it’s to make sure that everyone votes. And so we recognize that this can help Republicans — especially in a state like Utah, it can help Republicans probably in a way that it doesn’t in some swing states.”

Delaware: Democrats rally for same-day voter registration | The News Journal

Democrats rallied at Legislative Hall on Tuesday in favor of legislation that would allow Delawareans to register to vote on the same day as a primary or general election. “We should so everything we can to make sure eligible others have every opportunity to exercise their constitutional right to vote,” said Rep. John Viola, D-Newark, the legislation’s sponsor. Democrats and activists supporting the bill dismissed concerns that same-day registration could lead to voter fraud. “There’s nothing there,” Viola said, adding that he feels “confident” the bill will pass the House in the “next couple weeks.”

Massachusetts: Election law conference gets underway with private talks | WWLP

Negotiations between the House and Senate began in earnest on Wednesday over a package of election law reforms that could bring early voting and same-day voter registration to Massachusetts before the next presidential election. A six-member conference committee charged with seeking compromise between the branches on competing bills met for the first time, beginning a back-and-forth nearly two months after the committee was formed to resolve the disagreements. Led by Sen. Barry Finegold and Rep. James Murphy, the co-chairs of the Election Laws Committees, the committee voted 3-2 to close their deliberations to the public, a common but not required step. The two Republicans on the panel – Sen. Robert Hedlund and Rep. Shawn Dooley – voted against closing the meetings to the public.

Editorials: Ohio Mistrusts Democracy | New York Times

Ohio Republicans must not think their political candidates can win a fair fight against Democrats. They’ve decided to rig the state’s election system in their favor, deliberately making voting harder for people who tend to vote Democratic, particularly minorities and the poor. After years of debate and litigation on this issue, Ohio lawmakers know full well that there is no history of electoral fraud in the state and no pattern of abuse by any voters or groups. The sole reason for a series of recently passed bills is that Ohio is a perennial swing state, and Republicans want to give themselves every possible advantage in sending party members to Congress later this year, and putting electoral votes in the Republican column in the 2016 presidential election.

National: Are Americans souring on voting restrictions? | MSNBC

As Republicans have pushed for voter ID in states across the country, they’ve been emboldened by polls showing such laws are popular with voters. But new research—conducted partly in Ohio, still the most pivotal presidential swing state—suggests that when it comes to making voting harder, the tide of public opinion may be turning. There isn’t enough data to draw firm conclusions. But a genuine shift would be a major boon to the movement to protect voting rights, and it would significantly complicate efforts to enact new restrictions. A Des Moines Register poll released Monday found that 71% of Iowa voters—including two out of three Republicans—think it’s more important that every eligible registered voter has the chance to vote than that no ineligible voter is allowed to cast a ballot. Just 25% said the reverse.

Iowa: Poll: Access to voting trumps voter fraud concerns | The Des Moines Register

A wide majority of Iowans believe it’s more important to ensure ballot access for eligible voters than to guard against voting by those who are ineligible. That result, captured in The Des Moines Register’s latest Iowa Poll, casts new light on a debate that has been raging in the state and across the nation for years over the appropriate balance between ballot access and security. Seventy-one percent of poll respondents say it’s more important that every eligible, registered voter is able to vote, compared with 25 percent who say it’s more important that no ineligible person “slips through the cracks” to cast a vote. “Americans care about preventing voter fraud, but they care more about making voting free, fair and accessible,” said Myrna Perez, an expert on voting rights and elections at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University.

Ohio: Husted cuts early voting method favored by blacks | MSNBC

Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted announced Tuesday he is cutting early voting on Sundays and weekday evenings, dealing another blow to the voting rights effort in the nation’s most pivotal swing state. Husted’s change would spell doom for a voting method that’s popular among African-Americans in Ohio and elsewhere. Many churches and community groups lead “Souls to the Polls” drives after church on the Sunday before the election. There’s little doubt that cuts to early voting target blacks disproportionately. In 2008, black voters were 56% of all weekend voters in Cuyahoga County, Ohio’s largest, even though they made up just 28% of the county’s population. “By completely eliminating Sundays from the early voting schedule, Secretary Husted has effectively quashed successful Souls to the Polls programs that brought voters directly form church to early voting sites,” said Mike Brickner, a spokesman for the Ohio American Civil Liberties Union, in an email.

Colorado: Tracking Voters in Real Time in Colorado | National Journal

Hoping to make voting accessible without opening the door to fraud, Colorado is turning to technology. In 2013, the state Legislature created Colorado’s own “electronic pollbook,” a new real-time voter-tracking system that allows the state to combine an all-mail election with traditional in-person voting, maximizing the opportunities for residents to cast ballots. Colorado already had a robust vote-by-mail system—about three-quarters of the state’s voters mailed their ballots in 2012—but now, every registered voter in the state, including previously “inactive” voters, will receive a mail ballot in upcoming elections. Yet unlike in Washington state or Oregon, which run all-mail elections, Coloradans can still vote in person if they choose. Instead of being tethered to a local precinct, voters can cast ballots or return their mail ballots at any “voting center” in their county, where poll workers can check them in using the real-time connection in the new e-pollbook to ensure they haven’t already voted using a mail ballot. The process is spread over a couple of weeks of early voting and Election Day itself to reduce crowding and wait times at polling places.

Ohio: Kasich signs both elections bills; ‘livid’ FitzGerald may take action | The Columbus Dispatch

With Gov. John Kasich’s signature now on two Republican-sponsored bills that reduce early voting, eyes turn toward his likely Democratic challenger to see if he follows through on a threat to challenge the new laws in court. Yesterday, Kasich signed Senate Bill 238, which eliminates “Golden Week” — when Ohioans could register and vote on the same day — and shortens early voting by a week. He also signed Senate Bill 205, which makes legislative approval a requirement before the secretary of state can mail out absentee-ballot applications statewide. Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald, who also is the elected Cuyahoga County executive, said he has asked his county law director to review the two new laws for possible legal action. “We’ve done that before,” said FitzGerald, who emailed supporters after Kasich signed the bills to say he was “livid.”

Hawaii: Same-Day Voter Registration Bill Considered Today | Maui Now

A house bill that would provide a process for the public to register to vote at polling sites on election day will be heard before the House Finance Committee this afternoon. House Bill 2590 was introduced by Representative Kaniela Ing of South Maui. Under the bill, late voter registration would be allowed at absentee polling places beginning in 2016. The measure would also allow late voter registration on election day at both absentee polling and precinct polling places beginning in 2018.

Ohio: Voters’ Bill of Rights blocked in Ohio | MSNBC

Concerned about the coming wave of restrictive voting laws in their state, black Ohio leaders are working to get a “Voters’ Bill of Rights” on the ballot this fall. But the state’s top legal official, a Republican, is putting obstacles in their path. And some voting law experts suggest he’s twisting the law to do so. Ohio remains the single most pivotal state for presidential elections, so its rules for voting could well have major national implications come 2016. The Ohio Legislative Black Caucus (OLBC) wants a constitutional amendment that would declare voting “a fundamental right,” expand early voting, and make it harder to use challenges to disqualify ballots, among other measures. The effort is a response to an aggressive push by state Republican lawmakers to make voting more difficult. Bills that would cut early voting, end same-day registration, and make it harder to get an absentee ballot are likely to pass the GOP-controlled legislature in the coming weeks. There is no explicit right to vote in the U.S. Constitution—an omission some lawmakers want to fix.

Delaware: Supporters say same day registration bill ensures voter access | The News Journal

Supporters of same-day voter registration called on Delaware lawmakers Wednesday to approve the practice and reject efforts to prevent voters from registering on the same day as primary elections. “This bill ensures fair and equal access for all citizens to engage in their right, not privilege, their right to exercise their vote,” said Rep. John Kowalko, D-Newark South, during a press conference Wednesday held by a interest groups promoting the bill that cleared the House Administration Committee last year. Proponents say same-day registration reduces the need for provisional ballots, boosts voter registration, increases turnout among minorities and young voters, and is particularly effective during primary elections when a majority of Delaware’s elections are decided. It’s unclear whether the legislation has enough support to clear the House.

Montana: GOP looks to end same-day voter registration | MSNBC

Voting experts say allowing people to register and vote on the same day is among the most effective ways to boost participation in the election process. So naturally, Republicans in states across the country have been looking to crack down on same-day registration. And in Montana, they got a step closer last week to ending the practice. A GOP-backed bill passed last year by state legislators would let Montanans vote this November on whether to end same-day registration. On Wednesday, the state’s Supreme Court ruled against a challenge to the legislation from labor and voting rights groups, clearing the way for the issue to appear on the ballot.

Montana: Same Day voter registration measure can stay on ballot, with some changes | KBZK

The Montana Supreme Court says a referendum that might make it harder for some people to vote can stay on the November ballot — with revisions to the language that will appear with it. LR-126 would end same-day voter registration in Montana. A group of unions and voting-rights groups challenged the referendum, saying its title is inaccurate and misleading. They said the title of the bill wrongly suggests that ending same-day registration is required under federal law.

Colorado: GOP wants to nix same-day voter registration | Associated Press

Colorado Republicans on Monday launched their bid to undo a new elections law that allows same-day registration, saying they’re still not convinced the change isn’t a recipe for possible voting fraud. Democrats insist the new law is sound and won’t be going anywhere. The Republican proposal includes a two-year “time out” on the new law, which added same-day registration and a requirement that ballots go by mail to all registered voters. Republicans want to undo that law, at least temporarily, while a bipartisan panel reviews the measure. Republicans say the law is riddled with problems, such as conflicting residency deadlines between state and local races. Their main gripe, though, is same-day voting registration, which makes voting more convenient for people who forget to register but could also make it more difficult to determine who’s eligible to vote in an election.

Voting Blogs: So Yesterday: “The (Rather Outdated) Case Against Early Voting” | Election Academy

Earlier this week, law professors Eugene Kontorovich and John McGinnis contributed a piece to Politico Magazine making The Case Against Early Voting. … This piece isn’t unique; indeed, the proposal to expand early voting seems to have struck more of a nerve than the endorsement of online voter registration. But this piece is especially curious because it seems to focus on one criticism of early voting that was more prevalent years ago – namely, the loss of the experience of a single day of voting. … This argument, which was popular a decade ago, is undercut by research by Paul Gronke and othersshowing that early voters are not only more partisan but less undecided, meaning that they have no interest in “taking in the full back and forth of the campaign.” It also flies in the face of voters, well, voting with their feet by choosing to cast ballots outside of the traditional polling place. There are, to be sure, evidence-based arguments that early voting isn’t the turnout machine it’s often sold to be – indeed, Barry Burden and three colleagues have a provocative new paper that suggests that early voting actually DECREASES turnout in the absence of opportunities for same-day registration. There is also a growing realization of the need to do cost-benefit analyses of lengthy voting periods and identify the best time to open the process when significant numbers of voters are ready to take advantage of early voting.

National: Bipartisan election commission releases list of suggested fixes | The Washington Post

A bipartisan commission recommended a series of steps Wednesday to make it simpler to cast ballots in the next election, but largely avoided the most politically contentious issues in a debate over voter access that has become deeply partisan. Concluding a six-month review, the Presidential Commission on Election Administration said in its report that jurisdictions should expand online voter registration and early balloting, update electronic voting equipment as first-generation voting machines grow obsolete and share voter registration records across state lines to protect against fraud.

Editorials: Streamlining the voting process in Massachusetts | GazetteNet

At a time when some states are restricting access to the polls, following the demise of the Voting Rights Act, Massachusetts is moving to empower voters. Last week, the state Senate agreed to reforms that hold the potential to increase participation in elections and modernize how voting takes place. The bill goes now to a conference committee with representatives of both the Senate and House, whose members have passed similar legislation. We think state Sen. Stanley Rosenberg of Amherst, the Senate’s majority leader and future president, is right to declare that his chamber’s vote last Thursday represents the most significant election reform in two decades. As with the “motor voter” legislation in the early 1990s, which allowed voters to sign up through the Registry of Motor Vehicles, the new legislation is designed to streamline and simplify the process of voting.

Ohio: Bills may make voting more difficult in Ohio | Cincinnati.com

Ahead of the November election, it may get more difficult to vote in Ohio, the quintessential swing state. The GOP-dominated General Assembly is pushing a collection of bills that sponsors – most from Southwest Ohio – say will make voting more fair, secure and efficient. Civil rights leaders and Democrats, however, say the provisions discriminate against the poor and harken back to post-Civil War laws intended to keep African-Americans from voting. Some of the changes would take away conveniences in Ohio’s voting system – for instance, eliminating the chance for someone to register to vote and cast a ballot on the same day. To state Sen. Bill Coley, R-Liberty Township, the potential extra trouble is worth the gains: “Uniformity across the state, cleaning up that process to make it crystal clear as to what everyone’s responsibilities are.”

Missouri: Online Voter Registration in Missouri | Northwest Missourian

As the midterm elections loom closer and closer, voter registration becomes increasingly important. Online voter registration is a recent concept in Missouri after going into effect December 20th. It was successfully pushed by Secretary of State Jason Kander in an effort to boost turnout rates, but there are some that feel it can cause issues. Beth Walker, the Nodaway County clerk and election authority, feels the idea may skew the numbers of voter turnout. “So many people register… but they are not wanting to go to the polls,” Walker said. “People are going to have to believe that their vote matters.” Another question that has been brought up is if online registration will lead to online voting. “There is a high possibility that we could see electronic voting in the near future,” Walker said. “This is in part because we have created a society to make everything easy.”

North Carolina: The right to vote cannot be voted on | Technician Online

North Carolina’s state government functioned in a state of confusion last summer. Each Monday, Raleigh hosted hundreds of protestors, ranging from those who challenged the proposed, heavily restrictive anti-abortion laws and cuts to teacher salaries as waves of conservative influence exerted itself on the floor of the North Carolina House. While the aforementioned proposals drew attention from major news sources, the legislation that most propelled North Carolina into the national spotlight and the center of heavy media debate was its reintroduction of a new set of regulations relating to voting rights. Suddenly, North Carolina was facing the passage of a bill that, at its surface, seemed to be an attempt to bolster a strong image of voter security. In actuality, voter fraud rarely happens. A study by the U.S. Department of Justice found that between 2002 and 2005, only 40 voters were indicted for voter fraud. North Carolina’s voter ID bill represents the failings of a conservative state legislation in regards to not only the right to vote but also the interests of those in minority status.

Colorado: No charges against activist who voted in recall to point out flaws in Colorado law | The Gazette

The Attorney General’s Office will not charge Jon Caldara for voting in the September recall election of Sen. John Morse, despite what investigators deemed extremely suspect behavior. Caldara, a longtime Boulder resident and a Republican, used a new same-day registration law to register to vote in El Paso County and cast a ballot in the recall election. Caldara told the media that he was voting to prove a point: that the Democrats’ new election law was flawed and allowed voters to move from district to district and vote in close elections with little recourse. “It’s not a big surprise. I wasn’t worried about it,” Caldara said of the decision. “This law was created to legalize voter mischief. It was created so that voters could be moved around into districts where their vote was most needed at the very last moment of the campaign. All I did was to make public what happens privately.”

Editorials: An interesting effort to expand ballot access in New Hampshire | Concord Monitor

State politicians across the country, including in New Hampshire, have spent the past few years debating a variety of ways to limit access to the ballot box – various forms of voter ID requirements, limiting hours and polling places, changing same-day registration rules and more. That context makes it all the more encouraging that there are two state legislators in New Hampshire actually working in the opposite direction: a plan to expand access to the voting booth. When the Legislature returns in January, one of the proposals on their agenda will be a constitutional amendment to allow 17-year-olds who will be 18 by November to vote in that year’s primary elections. The idea sounds sort of random until you think about it a bit: The target audience are those teenagers who will have the right to vote in November but – without the change – get no say in whose names appear on that general election ballot. If you consider party primary elections part of that year’s total election process, why not let them participate in the entire operation?

North Carolina: Judicial Watch wants to join fray over voter ID law | News Observer

Judicial Watch, a conservative-leaning organization that uses litigation to make its political points, wants in on the legal fray over North Carolina’s elections law changes. The Washington-based organization filed a motion on Friday to intervene on behalf of North Carolina officials defending the new rules. “We think it’s a case of national importance,” said Tom Fitton, Judicial Watch president. In the court documents seeking status in the four-month-old lawsuit, Judicial Watch highlights an unsuccessful 2012 candidate for Buncombe County commissioner as the basis for the organization’s interest. Christina Kelley Gallegos-Merrill, a Republican who lost her bid for county office by 13 votes, contends that same-day registration during the early-voting period could have played a role in her loss.