In June, the Supreme Court’s Shelby v. Holder decision disarmed Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, freeing nine states – mostly in the South – from having to submit election procedure changes for the Justice Department’s approval. The vast majority of voting laws that the department objected to as discriminatory came from towns and counties, rather than the state level. Since the ruling, such localities have seen both quiet changes to election code and also deep uncertainties among civil rights advocates who long relied on this key provision of the Voting Rights Act. The state of Georgia alone offers many examples. The city of Athens, for instance, is considering a proposal to eliminate nearly half of its 24 polling sites in favor of creating two early voting centers – both located inside police stations. Madelyn Clare Powell, a longtime civil rights activist in Athens, worries that some voters cannot regard police stations as neutral territory. “There is a major intimidation factor here – these police stations are seen by some in the community as hostile territory,” says Powell, citing historical tension between white police forces and minority communities in the region. Local activists also fear that the poll closures disproportionally impact neighborhoods with higher shares of minorities and college students, requiring three-hour bus rides for some public-transit dependent voters.Full Article: Voting Rights At Risk in Georgia | Politics News | Rolling Stone.
Prior to the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in Shelby County v. Holder, 40 counties in North Carolina were covered by Section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. A new report from the UNC Center for Civil Rights that looks at representation of people of color on county boards of commissioners shows that the act was working to increase political engagement in North Carolina and demonstrates the continuing need for legislation that protects and enhances equitable political representation. The State of Exclusion report covers all North Carolina communities where over 75 percent of the residents are people of color and examines a variety of factors affecting the quality of life for residents of those communities, including housing, the location of unwanted land uses, access to infrastructure and educational opportunities. As to political representation, the results were stark albeit unsurprising and serve as a reminder of the need for enhancing, not withdrawing, measures designed to minimize the continuing legacy of discrimination in elections.Full Article: The real landscape on voting rights in NC | Other Views | NewsObserver.com.
National: Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act is more effective than expected, new research shows | Slate
A voting rights battle royal began last month when the Department of Justice sued North Carolina over its restrictive new election law. DOJ alleged that the law, which imposes a photo ID requirement for voting, ends same-day voter registration, and cuts back on early voting, violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. Earlier this summer the DOJ also filed two Section 2 suits against Texas, arguing that its photo ID law and electoral district maps are illegal. Section 2 is the VRA’s core remaining prohibition of racial discrimination in voting. It bans practices that make it more difficult for minority voters to “participate in the political process” and “elect representatives of their choice.” It applies to both redistricting (as in Texas) and voting restrictions (as in North Carolina). And it just became a whole lot more important thanks to the Supreme Court’s June decision in Shelby County v. Holder, which neutered the VRA’s other key provision, Section 5. Section 5 used to bar certain states and cities, mostly in the South, from changing their election laws unless they first received federal approval. To get approval, the jurisdictions had to prove that their changes wouldn’t make minority voters worse off. Now that Section 5 is essentially gone, all eyes are on Section 2.Full Article: Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act is more effective than expected, new research shows..
The Supreme Court’s decision to restrict the Voting Rights Act, the 1965 legislation that prohibits discrimination against voters on the basis of race or color, could harm African-American political representation at the city council level, a new study says. The study found that municipalities with the strongest gains in black political representation were those protected by a provision of the Voting Rights Act that was invalidated by the Supreme Court in June. Some experts say the new study shows that the Court’s decision could reverse the gains that black voters have made as a result of the act, or at least impede further progress. The study, to be published this month in the upcoming issue of The Journal of Politics, is among the first on the act’s effectiveness on black political representation, according to researchers at Rice University, Ohio University and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Its conclusion is clear: The Voting Rights Act explains much of the electoral success of black candidates in city elections – and those gains could be at risk.Full Article: Study: Curbing Voting Rights Act could reverse black voters' gains | Al Jazeera America.
With deceptively little fanfare or attention, a federal judge in Wisconsin is poised to preside over the first trial challenging a photo ID law under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. On Nov. 4, 2013, U.S. District Judge Lynn Adelman will hear a challenge brought by Advancement Project and pro bono counsel Arnold & Porter to the state’s 2011 restrictive law. The lawsuit hinges on Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which bars racially discriminatory voting practices. The statute is taking on increased importance in the wake of the Supreme Court’s June 2013 decision in Shelby County v. Holder, in which the court blocked preclearance protections under Section 5 of the law. The Wisconsin trial is noteworthy for several reasons. First, as the leading democracy of the world, the U.S. should work to keep our voting system free, fair, and accessible to all Americans. Yet, Wisconsin is one of dozens of states pursuing restrictive voter laws that block some eligible Americans from voting, denying them the opportunity to participate equally in our democracy. Wisconsin’s photo ID law is one of strictest in the country. If the law is allowed to go back into effect, it stands to turn back the clock on Wisconsin’s historically strong protection of voting rights.Full Article: Wisconsin's Anti-Voting Law Heads to Federal Court | Penda D. Hair.
U.S. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Menomonee Falls, continues to campaign for Congress to restore many election monitoring powers to the federal government that a Supreme Court decision effectively stripped when it struck down Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act in June. The ruling did not forbid the federal government from subjecting certain jurisdictions to federal approval to make local voting changes, but it did strike down the criteria that the feds have used for nearly 50 years to determine which locales (mostly in the South) would be affected. Until Congress comes up with new criteria, no jurisdictions will be required to get federal approval for changes to their election procedures. “I am committed to restoring the Voting Rights Act as an effective tool to prevent discrimination, more so subtle discrimination now than overt discrimination,” the veteran Republican said in a speech to a Republican National Committee event commemorating the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. Sensenbrenner’s statement is notable for two reasons. First, he is straying from the GOP mantra that the greatest threat to elections is voter fraud, rather than voter disenfranchisement. Although Sensenbrenner supports Voter ID requirements, which Democrats criticize as disproportionately disenfranchising minority voters, Sensenbrenner is apparently not dismissing the notion that roadblocks to minority voting continue.Full Article: Jim Sensenbrenner squares off with conservatives over Voting Rights Act : Ct.
As Americans commemorate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, one of the key pieces of legislature accredited with advancing civil rights lingers in limbo. In April, a Supreme Court split along ideological and partisan lines voted 5-4 to strip the government of its most potent tool to stop voting bias: the requirement in the Voting Rights Act that all or parts of 15 states with a history of discrimination in voting, mainly in the South, get Washington’s approval before changing the way they hold elections. “Virtually everyone who has thought of this characterizes the Voting Rights Act as the most successful piece of civil rights legislation ever enacted,” said Charles Bullock, political science professor at the University of Georgia. “In Georgia, in 1962, prior to the adoption of the Voting Rights Act, only about 27 percent of adult blacks in Georgia were registered to vote. Now registration rates are pretty much identical to whites, and have been for awhile,” he said. “When that legislation was passed in Georgia there were three black offices holders. Now, there are thousands. It’s had a dramatic impact.” The decision was deplored by voting access activists and largely applauded by the states now free from nearly 50 years of intense federal oversight of their elections.Full Article: Voting Rights decision casts shadow over civil rights anniversary.
The Justice Department went to court again on Thursday to challenge the legality of Texas’s voter ID law — a law that Texas says it has put back into effect since the Supreme Court freed the state from federal court supervision. In that new lawsuit and in a new maneuver in a pending case over new election districting maps for Texas, the Department will be asking that the state be placed back under court oversight over all of its election laws, for at least a decade. Both new moves were announced ina press release. The legal filings are not yet available. “We will not allow the Supreme Court’s recent decision to be interpreted as open season for states to pursue measures that suppress voting rights,” Attorney General Eric Holder said. “The Department will take action against jurisdictions that attempt to hinder access to the ballot box, no matter where it occurs.” Holder said the Texas filings were “the latest action to protect voting rights, but will not be the last.” That statement may have been a signal that the Obama administration will also mount a legal challenge to the sweeping new North Carolina law limiting voting rights in that state.Full Article: U.S. sues Texas over voter ID (FURTHER UPDATED) : SCOTUSblog.
In June, five Supreme Court Justices rolled back the Voting Rights Act, widely considered the most effective tool in preventing discrimination in our nation’s history. Section 5 of the act required that certain states and localities “preclear” proposed election changes with federal officials to ensure the changes were not discriminatory. The Court ruled that the formula used to determine which jurisdictions needed to get preclearance was outdated and unconstitutional. For those of us who care about voting rights, the question now is how do we respond? Some have argued that Congress should update the Voting Rights Act by passing ambitious election reforms. Such proposals include mandating shorter voting lines, making registration more convenient, and passing less restrictive identification requirements. For example, Sam Issacharoff and Richard Pildes—both New York University law professors who advised the Obama campaign—argue that we should look beyond the race-discrimination approach and adopt general election reforms that are race-neutral. The effort to update the Voting Rights Act, however, should focus on preventing voting discrimination—not general election reforms. Promoting broader access is a critical democratic goal, but it is distinct from the goal of preventing voting discrimination. By analogy, a tax deduction for mortgage interest promotes access to home ownership, but separate laws are still needed to prevent banks from engaging in predatory lending—different problems require different solutions. Voting discrimination is real, and broad election reform is not sufficient to address it.Full Article: Against a "Post-Racial" Voting Rights Act.
After crying foul over Republican efforts to modify election laws in key states, Democrats are launching their own wide-ranging push to change the way Americans vote, kicking off the latest battles in a fight over voting rights that’s as old as the republic itself. Last week, operatives tied to the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee launched what they call a 50-state initiative to promote voting reforms that would make it easier to cast a ballot. The effort is being run by American Values First, an outside group organized under Section 501(c)(4) of the Internal Revenue Code and run by Michael Sargeant, the DLCC’s executive director. Democrats will push legislation similar to a Colorado measure signed into law earlier this year that requires all elections to be conducted by mail. Legislators in at least seven other states will propose bills that would tweak election laws in other ways. In some states controlled by Democrats, the measures have a good chance to pass. In other states with divided control or that operate under Republican control, Democrats plan to use the measures as political cudgels, painting the GOP as opposed to basic voting rights.Full Article: Democrats push back on voting rights.
Voting Blogs: What Did VRA Preclearance Actually Do?: The Gap Between Perception and Reality | Election Law Blog
A widespread perception exists that, in the years before the Court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder, the Section 5 preclearance regime was a powerful tool in protecting access to the ballot box for minority voters. Indeed, Section 5 is widely thought to have been overwhelmingly about protecting access in the covered areas: that is part of it symbolic meaning. On this view, Section 5 was a bulwark against laws like the one just signed by North Carolina’s governor – which makes voting more difficult for eligible voters by cutting the early voting period, eliminating same-day registration, and other measures. But the reality is that Section 5 was rarely used in this way, at least in its last three decades. Section 5 did not, primarily, function to protect access to the ballot box. Instead, the overwhelming uses of Section 5 were to ensure more majority-majority election districts or to stop at-large election systems and other practices believed to weaken minority voting strength. Some of these uses, especially the compelled creation of majority-minority election districts, are more controversial (even among conventional “liberals”) than are robust protections for access to the ballot box. Yet in practice, Section 5 was used primarily for redistricting and other matters of vote dilution rather than protecting the right of eligible citizens to cast a vote.Full Article: What Did VRA Preclearance Actually Do?: The Gap Between Perception and Reality | Election Law Blog.
Editorials: Here’s Where Rand Paul Can Find ‘Objective Evidence’ of Vote Suppression | Andrew Cohen/The Atlantic
Dear Senator Rand Paul:
If you want to be president of the United States one day, if you want more people to take you seriously as an independent thinker within the Republican Party, if you want to lead your party back to control of the Senate, or if more modestly you want simply to tether yourself to some form of reality, you are going to have to stop making false and insulting statements like you did Wednesday when you declared: “I don’t think there is objective evidence that we’re precluding African-Americans from voting any longer.” I guess it all depends upon your definition of “objective evidence.” On the one hand, there are the factual findings about evidence and testimony contained in numerous opinions issued recently by federal judges, both Republican and Democrat, who have identified racially discriminatory voting measures. And on the other hand, there is your statement that none of this is “objective.” It’s a heavy burden you’ve given yourself, Senator — proving that something doesn’t exist when we all can see with our own eyes that it does. Last August, for example, three federal judges struck down Texas’s photo identification law under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act because it would have led “to a regression in the position of racial minorities with respect to their effective exercise of the electoral franchise.” Those judges did find that some of the evidence presented to them was “invalid, irrelevant or unreliable” — but that was the evidence Texas offered in support of its discriminatory law. You should read this ruling before you talk about minorities and voting rights.Full Article: Here's Where Rand Paul Can Find 'Objective Evidence' of Vote Suppression - Andrew Cohen - The Atlantic.
National: Southern Discomfort: Republican voter ID initiatives are making it hard to rebrand the GOP as open to black voters | Slate Magazine
On Monday, North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory signed an omnibus voting standards bill into law. In a video message, he talked only about the voter ID portion of the law and assured citizens that only “the extreme left” opposed the law, for its usual crazy, extreme reasons. He neglected to mention that he’d just cut back on same-day registration and in-person early voting. Hours later the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People sued the governor, arguing that he and legislators had “evidence that African-Americans used early voting, same-day voter registration, and out-of precinct voting at higher rates than white voters.” On Wednesday, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul spoke at the Louisville Forum and fielded a question about voter ID bills. “The interesting thing about voting patterns now,” offered Paul, “is in this last election African-Americans voted at a higher percentage than whites in almost every one of the states that were under the special provisions of the federal government. So really, I don’t think there is objective evidence that we’re precluding African-Americans from voting any longer.” While Paul was speaking, the Republican National Committee announced a special 50th-anniversary commemoration of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. It would take place a few blocks from the Capitol, and feature the party’s lone black member of Congress, state legislators from Oklahoma and Louisiana, the party’s black committee members, and two once-rising black Republican stars who lost their last elections.Full Article: Republican voter ID initiatives are making it hard to rebrand the GOP as open to black voters. - Slate Magazine.
In June, the United States Supreme Court struck down a key formula of the Voting Rights Act. Section IV of the 1965 law determined which states needed to get federal approval before changing any voting laws. Alaska was one of nine states subject to that rule known as preclearance. Immediately following the ruling, a frustrated Attorney General Eric Holder condemned the decision. “Existing statutes cannot totally fill the void left by today’s Supreme Court ruling,” Holder said. “And I am hopeful new protections can and will pass in this session of Congress.” Congressional action is highly unlikely anytime soon. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in his opinion that voter discrimination still exists. The court did not invalidate the entire act, just the formula determining which states need federal scrutiny. Those states include Alaska, and there have always been those in the states who have thought that was unfair, including Governor Sean Parnell, who ordered the state to join the lawsuit against it.Full Article: Congress Shows No Urgency on Voting Rights Act | Alaska Public Media.
Last week, the State of Texas filed a brief responding to arguments that Texas should be ‘bailed in’ to preclearance coverage under section 3 of the Voting Rights Act. The brief makes any number of technical and procedural arguments, and the courts will have to sort through those in due course. But it’s worth pausing to consider two of the more far-reaching claims in the brief. The first of these is the claim that the Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby Co. means that ‘bail in’ under section 3 is now limited to situations like those that existed in the Deep South in the 1960s and that:
To suggest that Texas has engaged in or will engage in 1960s style ‘common practice of staying one step ahead of the federal courts by passing new discriminatory voting laws’ is absurd on its face.
Now, set aside, for the moment, Texas’ recent history of doing things like trying to re-draw CD-23 – in not one but two successive redistricting cycles – to take away the ability of Hispanic voters to elect their candidate of choice. Or its long record of other Voting Rights Act violations. Instead, stop and ponder this: Texas wasn’t originally subject to preclearance under section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. That’s right. Although it’s sometimes forgotten today, Texas didn’t become covered under section 5 until the 1975 amendments to the Act.Full Article: Greg Abbott's curious brief | TEXAS REDISTRICTING & ELECTION LAW.
Just over a month after the Supreme Court overturned a key provision of the Voting Rights Act, seven states — five of which were covered under the law — are moving ahead with voting changes that could affect the 2014 Congressional election. The Justice Department has sued Texas to prevent new voting changes and threatened to step in elsewhere. But the battle for the ballot box isn’t going to be waged on the national level, or even the state level, voting-rights advocates say. It’s going to be fought in cities and small towns, at the level of county seats, school boards and city councils. That’s where 85 percent of the DOJ’s Section 5 objections have been under the Voting Rights Act since it was passed. And that’s where legal challenges, the only remaining remedy to fight voter discrimination, are likely to take place, said Dale Ho, head of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project. “That’s what we’re really worried about,” Ho said, adding: “I need more lawyers.”Full Article: After Shelby, Voting-Law Changes Come One Town at a Time | Government / Elections / Politics | FRONTLINE | PBS.
Repeating its argument that its controversial new photo ID requirement for Texas voters is now in operation, the state on Thursday asked a federal court in Washington to put an end to a case testing that law’s validity. The state filed a two-page motion to dismiss the case. That, however, could encounter resistance from the Obama administration, which believes the law impairs minorities’ voting rights and wants to block Texas from enforcing any such law. “Senate Bill 14 [the photo ID law] is now in full effect and being implemented in Texas,” according to Texas’s motion, filed in U.S. District Court in the case of Texas v. Holder (District Court docket 12-128). That court ruled a year ago that the law would violate the voting rights of African Americans and Hispanics in Texas under the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The Supreme Court in late June sent that case back to the district court, to reconsider in the wake of the decision in the Voting Rights Act case of Shelby County v. Holder. Texas’s motion to dismiss the case altogether appeared likely to set up a new courthouse confrontation with the Obama administration, because Justice Department lawyers are pressing federal courts to put all Texas laws governing voting under a new form of federal court supervision, barring enforcement until any such law gets cleared in Washington. Texas is vigorously opposing that effort.Full Article: Texas moves to protect voter ID law : SCOTUSblog.
Texas escalated a confrontation with the Obama administration this week over the Voting Rights Act, staking out an aggressive new challenge to the landmark 1965 law that could send it back to the Supreme Court for yet another review. “Just a few weeks ago, the Supreme Court invalidated the legislatively imposed preclearance requirement, calling it an ‘extraordinary’ ‘departure from the fundamental principle of equal sovereignty’ of the states,” Attorney General Greg Abbott wrote in a 54-page brief filed this week, in a case about whether the state’s latest redistricting map should be subject to court review before taking effect. “A judicially imposed preclearance requirement is no less extraordinary and no less constitutionally suspect.” Rick Hasen, an election law expert and professor at UC-Irvine, told TPM that the brief is “a signal to DOJ that Texas is not afraid to escalate if necessary, and they may have a receptive audience among the conservative Justices on the Supreme Court.”Full Article: Texas Launches New Legal Attack On Voting Rights Act | TPMDC.
It was 48 years ago today when the nation saw a landmark piece of civil rights legislation go into effect with the enacting of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Enacted in the administration of President Lyndon B. Johnson, it was an act that sought to address and curtail discrimination that had existed in the United States, particularly in many of the states in the South, including many provisions to make voting more accessible for African-American citizens. The Voting Rights Act became most notable for establishing federal oversight of elections administration. It carried a key provision that prohibited various states from enacting any changes in voting laws without first obtaining approval from the Department of Justice, a process known as pre-clearance. It is that pre-clearance provision, known as Section 5 of the Act, that has long been the most controversial component of the act. The opposition to the measure grew steadily over the years, namely from Republican members of Congress who complained that it carried an unfair burden on election laws in their areas.Full Article: Historic Civil Rights Act of 1965 Celebrates a Bittersweet Birthday | News | BET.
The glee in Republican-controlled states after the Supreme Court’s Voting Rights Act ruling in June may give way to a different feeling for state officials: The crushing weight of a full legal offensive from the U.S. Justice Department. Attorney General Eric Holder is moving aggressively to renew federal control over Texas elections, even without the crucial legal lever the court eliminated. And Texas might be just the beginning. The court invalidated Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which required places with a history of discrimination to get any elections changes — everything from the location of polling places to voter ID laws — preapproved by a federal court or the Justice Department. All or parts of 16 states, mainly in the South, were bound by the so-called “preclearance” requirement.Full Article: How far will the Justice Department go over voting rights? - Stateline