The way elections are supposed to run — the way they were set up to operate — is that the voters elect the office holders, not the other way around. This is the basic premise that supports the challenges against Texas’ redistricting schemes and more recently the state’s voter ID law. What’s happened is that the basic electoral premise has been turned on its head. It’s a layering of two things: some politicians have decided that the end justifies the means, and at the same time they think no one is looking. And that’s only one-fourth correct.
The Texas attorney general announced both parties reached a compromise map in the Texas redistricting case today — hours before the court-mandated deadline to keep the April 3 primary. But the majority of the plaintiffs say there’s no compromise yet, and a federal court in San Antonio suggested it agrees. Texas will pick up four House seats in 2012 because of population growth, mostly in the Hispanic community. Lone Star State GOP lawmakers passed an aggressive new Congressional map last year, but the plan has been stuck in court as the state seeks pre-clearance approval under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. State Attorney General Greg Abbott’s alleged compromise map is somewhat similar to the plan passed by the Texas GOP Legislature last year but includes an additional Hispanic-majority seat in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
For the past 30 years, redistricting in Texas has provided great theater. As the state has gone from one-party Democratic to a Republican stronghold to renewed stirrings of bipartisan competition, the controlling party has exploited the decennial line drawing to lock in gains. And just as certainly, the courts have provided refuge for those on the outs. The Supreme Court has recognized the problem on a national scale but has been unable to see a solution. The justices have failed to find an easy definition of what is fair, what level of manipulation is permissible, how much greed is tolerable, how many districts should be assigned to this group or that group.
Editorials: Despite Supreme Court ruling, Texas congressional map still very uncertain | The Washington Post
The drama over Texas’s new congressional map will drag on after the U.S. Supreme Court on Friday blocked an interim court-drawn map. The Court on Friday ruled that an interim 2012 election map drawn by a federal court in San Antonio must give greater deference to the original map drawn by the GOP-controlled Texas state legislature. The ruling is at least a temporary victory for Republicans, in that it blocks an interim map to be used for the 2012 election that is preferred by Democrats. But it’s still not clear that the end result will be any better for Republicans. In fact, it’s not clear what the end result will be at all.
The Supreme Court on Friday unanimously overturned orders issued by a federal court in Texas that drew its own new maps for legislative districts, and ordered it to reconsider. In an 11-page unsigned opinion, the Court said that the three-judge District Court in San Antonio may not have used the “appropriate standards,” which the Court spelled out in some detail. Justice Clarence Thomas, in a separate opinion, repeated his view that a key federal voting rights act implicated in the Texas case is unconstitutional. The decision is here.
The Supreme Court ruled this morning that federal judges in Texas overstepped their bounds in drawing a minority-friendly set of interim maps for the state to use in the 2012 elections. The Court ruled unanimously that the judges should have given more deference to the new district maps drawn by the Republican-controlled Texas legislature even though parts of these maps may discriminate against Latinos. The Department of Justice has argued that the state legislature’s plans would harm minorities and violate the Voting Rights Act. A panel of federal judges in Washington, D.C., is in the process of determining whether those plans did, in fact, break the law. Because that decision may not be made in time for the next elections, federal judges in San Antonio were tasked with drawing interim maps for the state to use. The maps used in Texas’ next elections could impact the balance of power in Congress. They will likely determine whether the four new congressional seats awarded Texas via the census will be held by Democrats or Republicans. The Supreme Court’s decision leaves the fate of those seats in limbo.
If voting legislation in 2011 centered largely on hindering access to the ballot box, 2012 will hopefully be defined as the year that voting rights began fighting back. Last year, a rash of anti-voting legislation popped up in states around the country, from Florida to Texas to Wisconsin. New laws banning anyone without photo IDs from voting (commonly known as “voter ID”) grabbed the headlines, in part because of their potential to disenfranchise over 3 million citizens in the 2012 election, but lesser-known legislation emerged as well.
Several members of the Supreme Court appeared frustrated on Monday as they surveyed the available options and looming deadlines in a major voting rights case from Texas that could help decide control of the House. The case is a result of a population boom in Texas, which gained more than four million people in the last decade, about 65 percent of them Hispanic. The growth entitles the state to four additional Congressional seats.
The Texas Legislature, controlled by Republicans, enacted new electoral maps for both state houses the federal House of Representatives in May and June to take account of the growth in population, and Gov. Rick Perry signed them into law in July. Under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, though, the maps may not be used until they are approved, or “precleared,” by either the Justice Department or a special three-judge court in Washington. Texas officials chose to go to court, and they have so far not received clearance.
In the meantime, a second special three-judge federal court, this one in San Antonio, Tex., drew a competing set of electoral maps when Texas failed to obtain prompt federal clearance. The question for the Supreme Court justices is whether the court-drawn maps give enough deference to the Legislature’s choices. The answer may help determine whether the new districts elect Democrats or Republicans.
The Justice Department’s rejection of South Carolina’s voter ID law probably won’t prevent other states from adopting similar measures, analysts say. “Unfortunately, I don’t think this is going to have a significant chilling effect,” said Wendy Weiser, a voter ID opponent and lawyer at the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University law school.
The South Carolina law would have required voters to show one of five government-issued IDs — such as a drivers license or passport — before casting a ballot. Justice officials said the state didn’t show the law complied with the 1965 Voter Rights Act and didn’t justify the need for the law or prove widespread voter impersonation, which tougher ID laws are designed to prevent. South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley has promised to appeal.
Editorials: Holder’s Voting Rights Gamble – The Supreme Court’s voter ID showdown. | Rick Hasen/Slate
On the Friday before Christmas Day, the Department of Justice formally objected to a new South Carolina law requiring voters to produce an approved form of photo ID in order to vote. That move already has drawn cheers from the left and jeers from the right. The DoJ said South Carolina could not show that its new law would not have an adverse impact on racial minorities, who are less likely to have acceptable forms of identification.
South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley denounced the DoJ decision blocking the law under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act: “It is outrageous, and we plan to look at every possible option to get this terrible, clearly political decision overturned so we can protect the integrity of our electoral process and our 10th Amendment rights.” The state’s attorney general vowed to fight the DoJ move in court, and thanks to an odd quirk in the law, the issue could get fast-tracked to the Supreme Court, which could well use it to strike down the Voting Rights Act provision as unconstitutional before the 2012 elections.
The current dispute has an eerie echo. More than 45 years ago, South Carolina also went to the Supreme Court to complain that Section 5 unconstitutionally intruded on its sovereignty. Under the 1965 Act, states with a history of racial discrimination like South Carolina could not make changes in its voting rules—from major changes like redistricting to changes as minor as moving a polling place across the street—without getting the permission of either the U.S. Department of Justice or a three-judge court in Washington, D.C. The state had to show the law was not enacted with the purpose, or effect, of making minority voters worse off than they already were.
The Justice Department’s decision last week to block a new South Carolina law requiring voters to present photo identification is only the first of what will be a year-long battle between advocates and opponents of stricter voting laws. And the results of those fights could determine the winner of the 2012 presidential election.
South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, a Republican, said her state will appeal DOJ’s decision in court, casting it as “bullying” by the federal government. At the same time, civil right groups are promising to fight similar provisions in states such as Wisconsin and Texas, arguing these laws unfairly target minorities, who are less likely to hold photo identification.
Texas: Texas voter ID law unnecessary but state AG must defend it nonetheless | Fort Worth Star Telegram
When the U.S. Justice Department last week blocked South Carolina’s new voter ID law because of possible discrimination against minorities, attention quickly focused on Texas, which passed similar legislation this year.
Tentatively set to go into effect Sunday, the Texas law requires that a valid photo ID be presented at the polls along with a voter registration card. The accepted forms of identification are: Texas driver’s license, Texas election ID (issued by the Department of Public Safety), a personal identification card from the DPS, a Texas concealed handgun license, U.S. military ID card, U.S. citizenship certificate or U.S. passport.
In rejecting South Carolina’s law, the Justice Department used the state’s own data to show that tens of thousands of residents did not possess the required photo IDs, and that nonwhite voters would be most burdened under the statute.
With the new Texas voter ID bill now under scrutiny at the Department of Justice, Democrats are pressing Rep. Larry Gonzales, R-Round Rock, to present information proving the legislation will not infringe on minority voter’s rights. In an interview with YNN on Oct. 14, Gonzales responded to a report released by the Secretary of State that found 605,576 registered voters lack a state-issued driver’s license or identification card.
“What the Democrats aren’t taking into consideration is the numbers they saw do not include all 7 forms of identification (allowed under the new law),” Gonzales said. “We feel confident once all the forms are included, no one will be disenfranchised and people will have access to the polls.”
Congressional Democrats are warning that stricter voter identification laws sweeping through state legislatures could suppress voters in the 2012 elections. At least 34 states have introduced legislation, with varying degrees of restrictiveness, that would require voters to display identification at the polls before they are given a ballot. Some of these laws require voters to produce photo identification; some do not.
The battleground state of Wisconsin has a new law requiring photo IDs, while proposals at various legislative stages in the perennial presidential swing states of Ohio and Pennsylvania are also giving Democrats heartburn. The more restrictive voting ID measure in Ohio is pending Senate floor consideration. A bill to introduce ID rules for the first time in Pennsylvania has passed the state House and is currently in a state Senate committee. Democratic National Committee spokesman Alec Gerlach said Ohio is “one of the states where this has been a big concern.”
National: New census data trigger federal requirements for bilingual voting ballots in 25 states | The Washington Post
In the run-up to the 2012 elections, the federal government is ordering that 248 counties and other political jurisdictions provide bilingual ballots to Hispanics and other minorities who speak little or no English. That number is down from a decade ago following the 2000 census, which covered 296 counties in 30 states. In all, more than 1 in 18 jurisdictions must now provide foreign-language assistance in pre-election publicity, voter registration, early voting and absentee applications as well as Election Day balloting.
The latest requirements, mandated under the Voting Rights Act, partly reflect second and third generations of racial and ethnic minorities who are now reporting higher levels of proficiency in English than their parents. Still, analysts cite a greater potential for resistance from localities that face tighter budgets, new laws requiring voter IDs at polls and increased anti-immigration sentiment.
Effective this week, Hispanics who don’t speak English proficiently will be entitled to Spanish-language election material in urban areas of political battleground states including Pennsylvania, Virginia, Wisconsin and Utah, as well as the entire states of California, Florida and Texas. For the first time, people from India will get election material in their native language, in voting precincts in Los Angeles, Chicago and New York, due to their fast population growth.
Voting Blogs: A Win for Voters Is Colorado Secretary of State Gessler’s Second Loss | Jonathan Brater/Huffington Post
Across the country, legislators and political operatives seem determined to make it more difficult for American citizens to vote. Since January, more than a dozen states passed a variety of different laws and executive actions that will make it far more difficult for millions to vote. Seven states, including Texas and South Carolina, will now require voters to present specified government-issued photo IDs to vote. Florida has gone after organizations like the League of Women Voters, threatening them with huge fines if they try to help register citizens to vote unless they comply with a new set of byzantine state rules. Georgia and Arizona are trying to knock down the Voting Rights Act, the most successful piece of civil rights legislation, in a court challenge. And Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler made headlines with the false claim that thousands of non-citizens were voting in Colorado. Last week, Secretary Gessler was at it again. This time he asked a court to essentially freeze the Denver electorate to those who voted in 2010. The court refused.
Colorado gives counties the option of conducting certain elections by “mail ballot.” In those elections, there are no traditional polling places; instead, citizens vote by mailing in ballots sent to them by the state. Colorado is holding such an election this November, and the Denver County Clerk and Recorder had planned to take the unremarkable step of sending ballots to all registered voters in the County, as she has for the last five election cycles. Secretary Gessler sued the Denver County Clerk and Recorder to make her stop, arguing that she may only send ballots to voters who voted in the last election. This move, had it prevailed, could have kept thousands of eligible and registered Colorado citizens from participating in this November’s elections, for no good reason.
Well over a year before the 2012 presidential election, there’s a battle going on over next year’s ballots—how they’ll count and who will get to cast them. At stake is an attempt to distort the voters’ will by twisting the rule of law. Most recently, Pennsylvania has been the focus of this battle. Dominic Pileggi, the state Senate majority leader, wants to change the way the Keystone State distributes its electoral votes, divvying them up according to how each presidential candidate performed in each congressional district, with the remaining two electoral votes going to the candidate who won the popular vote.
So while Barack Obama’s 55 percent of the vote in Pennsylvania in 2008 netted him all 21 of its electoral votes, the Pileggi plan would have shaved that figure to 11 electors. (Nationwide, Obama won 242 congressional districts while John McCain got 193.) The change would be even sharper as Pennsylvania’s new congressional map is expected to have 12 of the state’s 18 seats drawn to favor the GOP. Obama could win a majority of the Keystone vote again but only score eight of the state’s 20 electors. Do we really want to bring gerrymandering into presidential elections?
Several states adopted new laws last year requiring that people show a photo ID when they come to vote even though the kind of election fraud that the laws are intended to stamp out is rare. Even supporters of the new laws are hard pressed to come up with large numbers of cases in which someone tried to vote under a false identify.
“I’ve compared this to the snake oil salesman. You got a cold? I got snake oil. Your foot aches? I got snake oil,” said election law expert Justin Levitt, who wrote “The Truth About Voter Fraud” for The Brennan Center for Justice. “It doesn’t seem to matter what the problem is, (voter) ID is being sold as the solution to a whole bunch of things it can’t possibly solve.”
Kansas, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin have passed laws this year that allow voters without the required photo ID to cast provisional ballots, but the voters must return to a specific location with that ID within a certain time limit for their ballots to count.
On May 27, 2011, Texas Governor Rick Perry signed into law Senate Bill 14, which requires that voters show photo identification at the polls in order to cast a ballot. Only the following forms of ID are acceptable for purposes of voting:
- Texas driver’s license;
- Personal identification card issued by the Texas Department of Public Safety and featuring the voter’s photograph;
- Election identification certificate (a new form of state photo identification created by the legislation);
- U.S. military identification card featuring the voter’s photograph;
- U.S. citizenship certificate featuring the voter’s photograph;
- U.S. passport; or
- Concealed handgun permit issued by the Texas Department of Public Safety.
To obtain an election identification certificate, personal identification card, or driver’s license, individuals must travel to a Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) office. Texas DPS runs the state’s Driver License Offices (DLOs). If the forms of identification mentioned above are obtainable at a DLO location, then assessing whether minorities must travel longer distances to reach their nearest DLO location is relevant to understanding the effect of Texas’ voter ID law. My analysis shows that Latino voters in Texas must travel farther than white voters to reach their nearest DLO.
As the nation gears up for the 2012 presidential election, Republican officials have launched an unprecedented, centrally coordinated campaign to suppress the elements of the Democratic vote that elected Barack Obama in 2008. Just as Dixiecrats once used poll taxes and literacy tests to bar black Southerners from voting, a new crop of GOP governors and state legislators has passed a series of seemingly disconnected measures that could prevent millions of students, minorities, immigrants, ex-convicts and the elderly from casting ballots. “What has happened this year is the most significant setback to voting rights in this country in a century,” says Judith Browne-Dianis, who monitors barriers to voting as co-director of the Advancement Project, a civil rights organization based in Washington, D.C.
Republicans have long tried to drive Democratic voters away from the polls. “I don’t want everybody to vote,” the influential conservative activist Paul Weyrich told a gathering of evangelical leaders in 1980. “As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.” But since the 2010 election, thanks to a conservative advocacy group founded by Weyrich, the GOP’s effort to disrupt voting rights has been more widespread and effective than ever. In a systematic campaign orchestrated by the American Legislative Exchange Council – and funded in part by David and Charles Koch, the billionaire brothers who bankrolled the Tea Party – 38 states introduced legislation this year designed to impede voters at every step of the electoral process.
When Victoria Faz registered to vote, no political party operative ushered her there. No governmental public service announcement prodded her, and neither a candidate nor a campaign signed her up on her 18th birthday.
Watching the junior senator from Illinois address the Democratic National Convention in 2004 did make an impression, but the 20-year-old political science major at UTSA was motivated most by another reason. “I wanted to do it for me,” the San Antonian said.
She’s a rarity in a state with dubious voter registration and turnout rates and one that political scientists view as dependent on largely ineffective ways to get voters registered and to the polls.