Editorials: The Supreme Court should seize the chance to strike down voter discrimination | Nina Perales/The Washington Post

Texas has a long history of voting discrimination against racial minorities. As Supreme Court rulings invalidated the Texas white primaries in 1944, the poll tax in 1966 and Texas’s system of multi-member state House districts in 1973, Texas turned to redistricting to dilute minority voting strength. The federal Voting Rights Act is the bulwark against unfair redistricting in Texas. Nationwide, the Voting Rights Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of race and, for certain jurisdictions with a history of voting discrimination (including Texas), until 2013 it required federal preapproval of voting-related changes. In every decade since the 1970s, courts or the U.S. Justice Department have relied on the Voting Rights Act to block one or more unjust statewide redistricting plans enacted in Texas.

National: Sen. Tim Scott Calls For Updating Voting Rights Act, But Opposes Bill That Would Do It | Huffington Post

Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) won’t support legislation to restore the 1965 Voting Rights Act. But on Sunday, he called for updating the landmark law in a way that sounds awfully similar to the legislation he opposes. In an interview on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” Scott was asked if he supports a bill that would restore a key portion of the law that the Supreme Court struck down in June 2013. That provision, Section 4, determined which states and localities with a history of suppressing minority voters had to get permission from the Justice Department to change their voting laws. In a 5-4 ruling, the court said that section was outdated, and left it up to Congress to come up with a new formula for designating which regions of the country warrant special scrutiny. Lawmakers have put forward a bill that offers a solution: It would update the formula to make it apply to states and jurisdictions with voting violations in the past 15 years. But supporters have had a hard time getting Republicans to sign on, which has prevented the measure from moving forward. The House bill has just a handful of GOP co-sponsors; the forthcoming Senate bill has none.

Editorials: Celebrating Selma without fixing the Voting Rights Act dishonors the sacrifices of Bloody Sunday | Sherrilyn Ifill/Los Angeles Times

Long after he had left his career as a civil rights lawyer to become a justice on the Supreme Court, Thurgood Marshall described his 1944 success in a case striking down all-white primary elections in Texas as his “greatest victory.” This is an astonishing statement for a man who was the architect and chief litigator of the most important civil rights case of the 20th century, Brown vs. Board of Education. But Marshall recognized that breaking down the stranglehold on exclusive white political power was as crucial to defeating Southern white supremacy as dismantling segregation in education. Despite Marshall’s victory in the Texas case, it took 20 years and the activism of thousands before the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965 provided the tools to protect the right of blacks to participate equally in the political process. On Saturday and Sunday, thousands converged on Selma, Ala., to commemorate March 7, 1965, “Bloody Sunday,” and the voting rights marches from Selma to Montgomery that led to the passage of the act.

Ohio: Democrats pushing voting-rights update | The Columbus Dispatch

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown and Rep. Joyce Beatty said yesterday that they are working to pass the Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014 in the Senate and House, respectively, to improve voter access before Election Day. “That’s one way to suppress the vote is by confusing voters, and we’ve seen that in this state for a number of years,” Brown said at the event at Bethel AME Church on Cleveland Avenue in South Linden. Dispatch Voters Guide: View a sample ballot customized to your location. The Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014 would be an update to the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which prevents voter discrimination based on race, color or membership in a minority language group.

Editorials: The Texas two-step and the Voting Rights Act | Scott Bomboy/Constitution Daily

The Justice Department and the state of Texas are tangling in two separate court cases that could determine how much of the Voting Rights Act is still enforceable. Last year, the United States Supreme Court moved to narrow the scope of the historic act, passed in 1965 as a watershed moment in the civil rights movement. The Act in its original form guaranteed the voting rights of minorities under the 14th and 15th Amendments, including a provision called Section 5 that required states with a history of discrimination to get federal government approval before changing their election laws. In 2013, the Supreme Court decided in Shelby County v. Holder that the formula used to decide which states had historically discriminated against voters was unconstitutional, and it asked Congress to devise a new coverage formula. The ruling effectively allowed nine states (mostly in the South) to change their election laws without federal approval, since there was little expectation that Congress could agree on a new coverage formula in the near future. But the Obama administration and the Justice Department, under Attorney General Eric Holder, vowed to use other parts of the Voting Rights Act to press its case where it believed voter discrimination existed. In Texas, the Justice Department is pursuing two federal court actions: one in San Antonio and the other in Corpus Christi.

North Carolina: After loss in court, voting rights activists turn attention to mobilizing in the streets | Facing South

Following a federal judge’s decision last week to deny a request by the U.S. Department of Justice and civil rights groups to block North Carolina’s restrictive new voting law from being enforced during this November’s election, voting rights activists are turning their attention from the ongoing legal battle in the courtroom to organizing voters to turn out despite the new rules. “We will not falter in our efforts to mobilize until this extreme law is completely repealed,” said Rev. William Barber of the N.C. NAACP, one of the civil rights groups that sought the injunction. “Our movement against this voter suppression law is built on the legacy of those who have testified before us, with their feet and blood, to fight for equal rights in North Carolina and the nation.” On Friday, U.S. District Court Judge Thomas D. Schroeder declined to issue a preliminary injunction that would have prevented restrictive provisions in the voting law passed last year by the Republican-controlled North Carolina legislature and signed by Gov. Pat McCrory (R) from taking effect during this year’s general election. Those provisions include a shorter early voting period and an end to same-day registration, out-of-precinct voting and straight-party voting.

National: Where is Voter Discrimination the Worst? | Frontline

Voting discrimination persists nationwide, but the worst offenders today are still southern states with a history of such actions, according to a new report that examined 18 years of lawsuits, challenges and settlements. The report, by the National Commission on Voting Rights, is the most comprehensive look at voter discrimination since 2006, when Congress reauthorized the Voting Rights Act. Congress had commissioned a similar report in the lead-up to the reauthorization. The commission was formed in the wake of Shelby v. Holder, the landmark June 2013 Supreme Court ruling that overturned a key provision of the Voting Rights Act. The provision had required that nine states with a history of discrimination, and a handful of counties in other states, submit all voting-law changes to the federal government for preclearance. The court rejected that provision, saying that in a post-civil rights era, it was no longer necessary or constitutional to single out these states because of their history. After Shelby, the commission, a consortium of more than 12 civil rights groups, set out to gather a current record of racial voting discrimination and other election administration problems from 1995 through June 2014. It held more than 25 regional and state-based hearings nationwide.

Editorials: Reflecting on the voting Rights Act of 1965 | Alcee Hastings/Sun Sentinel

Half a century ago, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 brought an end to the era of Jim Crow by prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin. One year later, the landmark legislation was strengthened and expanded when the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was signed into law on Aug. 6, 1965. The Voting Rights Act prohibited discrimination in voting and, together with the Civil Rights Act, enshrines the principles upon which our nation was founded. These laws serve as a testament to all who sacrificed to work toward ending segregation and discrimination. For nearly half a century, the Voting Rights Act has stood as a central pillar in the protection of fair voting practices. Our nation now faces the greatest threat to voting rights since Reconstruction.

Editorials: Voter Discrimination Just Got Easier | Steven H. Wright/New York Review of Books

For almost fifty years, the US government has had an especially effective tool for ensuring fair elections: sending teams of federal observers to polling stations across the country. Though relatively little known, the program has been crucial in dismantling the discriminatory practices that disenfranchised voters of color. In the program’s early days, federal monitors risked their lives to collect evidence courts needed to outlaw the electoral mechanisms of Jim Crow. And as recently as the 2012 presidential election, the Justice Department dispatched more than 780 federal employees to 51 jurisdictions across 23 states. As a result of a 2013 Supreme Court decision, however, the program is now being quietly curtailed. In 2013, the Supreme Court hobbled the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which for decades had provided safeguards to prevent unfair voting practices, including special oversight for jurisdictions with a history of voter discrimination. In Shelby County v. Holder, the Court found that Congress created a flawed formula to select those special jurisdictions. Last week, the Justice Department revealed that, in light of the Supreme Court decision, it has concluded that the Attorney General no longer retains the statutory authority to send observers to those jurisdictions.

North Carolina: New voting law will hurt minority voting, witness says | Greensboro News-Record

North Carolina has a long and established history of voter discrimination against blacks and that history would continue under a new state voting law, an expert testified this afternoon in U.S. District Court in Winston-Salem. Poll taxes were on the books until the 1920s, said Barry Burden, a professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. And literacy tests, in which blacks were sometimes forced to read the preamble of the U.S. Constitution, remain on the books, even though they aren’t enforced, Burden said. Burden was testifying in a hearing on a preliminary injunction to block provisions of North Carolina’s voting law that was passed in 2013. Those provisions include reducing the number of days for early voting from 17 to 10, eliminating same-day voter registration and prohibiting county elections officials from counting ballots cast by voters in the correct county but wrong precinct.

National: Republicans used to unanimously back the Voting Rights Act. Not any more. | The Washington Post

Yesterday was the one-year anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision on Shelby County v. Holder, which invalidated part of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on Sen. Patrick Leahy’s (D-Vermont) proposed Voting Rights Act amendment to commemorate the occasion. “From its inception through several reauthorizations the Voting Rights Act has always been a bipartisan, bilateral effort,” Leahy said, “and it would be a travesty if it became partisan for the very first time in this nation’s history.” What was Leahy talking about? In 2006, when the Voting Rights Act was last reauthorized, no Republican senators voted against it. In 2014, no GOP senators have stepped forward to co-sponsor the amendment to update it.

Florida: Hispanic Officials Call For More Protection Against Voter Discrimination | CBS Miami

Hispanic elected officials have called on Florida’s congressional delegation to start moving the Voting Rights Act Amendment of 2014 through the U.S. House of Representatives. In a conference call on Monday, members of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) said voter discrimination is a fact of life for Hispanics in Florida. Luz Urbaez Weinberg, an Aventura city commissioner, said that since last June, when the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated a key section of the Voting Rights Act, it’s been “hunting season” on voter protection.

Editorials: New Voting Rights Act Bill Won’t Stop ID Schemes | Mother Jones

Civil rights advocates and some progressives are voicing concerns about a bipartisan Voting Rights Act overhaul introduced in both houses of Congress Thursday. The proposal would reinstate federal oversight of states with a recent history of voter discrimination, though it leaves voter ID laws off the list of grievances that qualify as discrimination. The original Voting Rights Act, passed in 1965 and amended most recently in 2006, subjected states and counties that had historically used a “test or device” like literacy tests or racial gerrymandering to restrict voting to special oversight—any new election laws in those places had to be approved as nondiscriminatory by the federal government.

Editorials: The Year in Preview: Post-Preclearance Voter Protection | American Prospect

Anyone concerned about voting rights will remember 2013 as the year the Supreme Court neutered one of the strongest protections against voter suppression, the “preclearance” requirement of the Voting Rights Act. Sections 4 and 5 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) had required that nine states (as well as dozens of counties) – Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia – all needed to abide by Section 5 preclearance requirements. Three counties in California, Five counties in Florida, three counties in New York, 40 counties in North Carolina, two counties in South Carolina, and two towns in Michigan also needed to have new election laws approved by the Department of Justice until last June. (as well as dozens of counties) with long histories of voter discrimination get any changes in election law approved by the Department of Justice or the D.C. District Court. This preclearance requirement was an invaluable civil-rights protection. It stopped many discriminatory elections laws, including gerrymandered maps and photo-ID requirements, like those in Texas and South Carolina.

Editorials: Get to Know Section 3 of the Voting Rights Act | Abby Rapoport/American Prospect

arlier this summer, the U.S. Supreme Court gutted the most potent provision of the Voting Rights Act: Section 5, which had required nine states and a number of individual counties with long histories of voter discrimination to clear any new election law changes with the feds. In the weeks since the decision, voting rights advocates have been searching for new strategies to protect voting rights. And now, in recent days, a previously ignored portion of the Voting Rights Act has become a key tool in the fight. Advocates—as well as Attorney General Eric Holder—are hoping Section 3 will prove to be a powerful tool in the face of an onslaught of voting restrictions from Republican legislatures—and can at least partially replace the much stronger voter protections the Supreme Court took away. Since that Supreme Court decision, the states that had been covered by Section 5 have run roughshod over voting rights. Texas has set about implementing a voter ID law—previously nixed by the DOJ under the Section 5—that would require some people to drive 176 miles round trip on a weekday to get the government-issued photo ID they’ll now need to vote. In Florida, Governor Rick Scott has announced he would re-start a purge of non-citizens from the voter rolls. North Carolina, for its part, passed what is likely the most sweeping set of voting restrictions since the original Voting Rights Act was passed.

National: Congress Shows No Urgency on Voting Rights Act | Alaska Public Media

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.

National: After Shelby, Voting-Law Changes Come One Town at a Time | Frontline

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.”

National: New war begins: Beating voting rights bigots | Salon.com

With North Carolina GOP Gov. Patrick McCrory ready to sign the most restrictive voting rights bill in generations (though he may not know what’s in it), one influential Republican is backing Attorney General Eric Holder’s decision to use a creaky but powerful section of the Voting Rights Act to challenge a similar law in Texas. “The [Justice] department’s actions are consistent with the Voting Rights Act,” Rep. James Sensenbrenner, a VRA reauthorization co-sponsor in 2007, told The Hill last week. “Increased litigation will be one of the major consequences of the court’s decision as courts will have to litigate more allegations of voter discrimination.” Here’s hoping Holder makes North Carolina his next target, if and when McCrory signs the bill. There’s almost no chance he won’t. He’s promised to – although he then had to admit he didn’t know exactly what was in it. McCrory denied it restricted voter registration – although it eliminates same-day voter registration and pre-registration by 17-year-olds who’ll turn 18 by Election Day – insisting “there is plenty of opportunity for voter registration — online, offline, through many methods.”

North Carolina: Opponents plan legal challenge to voting changes | WRAL.com

As the Senate takes up a raft of changes to North Carolina election laws on Wednesday, opponents said attorneys are already reviewing the proposal for a planned legal challenge. House Bill 589 initially called for voters to present photo identification at the polls, but Senate Republicans rolled out an amended bill Tuesday that included measures affecting voter registration, early voting and campaign finance. Rep. Mickey Michaux, D-Durham, said the legislation runs afoul of the Voting Rights Act. Although the U.S. Supreme Court recently invalidated part of the federal law, saying it was outdated, other sections prohibiting voter discrimination remain intact. “Voting is being emasculated in this state,” Michaux said during a news conference by the Legislative Black Caucus.

National: Some Republicans quietly cheer end of voting rights act | MSNBC

Several Republicans spoke out against VRA reform today, but softly. Rep. Franks, who is known for his strident abortion views and opposition to the VRA, struck a respectful and bipartisan tone. He hailed John Lewis as a civil rights hero. He emphasized his openness to working with James Sensenbrenner, the most prominent Republican backer of the VRA. But Franks has not changed his mind. After the hearing, he told me that his “heart and mind is open,” but he doesn’t think VRA reform is necessary. He pointed to parts of the law that the Supreme Court didn’t strike down. And he said when he assesses racism in America, he looks to the Court’s standards, voter turnout in the South, and the “mechanisms of discrimination” that were used in the 1960s. “I don’t know all of the suppression that existed at the time,” he volunteered, but still, Franks said he believes under current precedent, DOJ no longer needs to oversee local voting in advance. Several witnesses and Democratic members marshaled data showing the persistence of voter discrimination today, and the need for the VRA’s supervision. But just as Senate Democrats muddled their focus at yesterday’s hearing, some House Democrats hit on themes that are unlikely to recruit GOP support.  (Rick Hasen, an election law expert, has more on that point.)

South Carolina: Voting laws no longer require federal approval | The Island Packet

South Carolina and other areas with histories of discriminatory voting practices no longer need federal approval to change their voting laws — at least for now. That oversight ended Tuesday as the U.S. Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional part of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, ruling in the case of an Alabama county that sued the U.S. attorney general in 2010, arguing voting laws meant to prevent discrimination are outdated. In its 5-4 decision, the court struck down a formula that determined whether states or other jurisdictions should be required to get federal approval before making changes to their voting laws — based, in part, on their discrimination in the 1960s and ’70s.

National: After Supreme Court ruling, states see green light for voter ID laws | CNN

With the Supreme Court’s ruling Tuesday on the Voting Rights Act, Mississippi and Texas announced they’re ready to move forward with their controversial voter identification laws. Eleven states in the past two years have approved laws that would require voters to show identification at voting booths. But Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act required some of those states with a history of voter discrimination to get “precleared” by the federal government before making any changes to voting laws. A separate part of the law known as Section 4 relies on a federal formula to determine which states would be covered under that “preclearance” regime. Requests by Texas and Mississippi for clearance in their voter ID laws were pending with the federal government when the high court struck down the constitutionality of the act’s Section 4 on Tuesday, which also appears to have nullified Section 5.

National: Anticipation builds for Supreme Court ruling on Voting Rights Act | The Post and Courier

Joyce Ladner was a senior at Tougaloo College in Jackson, Miss., in the early 1960s when she failed the voter registration literacy test for the third time. But she said she already knew the registrar would not pass her because she was black. And aside from questions like, “How many grains of salt are in a quart jar,” one stood out to her and she knew her answer would not sit well with the registrar. “What are the characteristics of a good citizen?” she read. Her response: “One who follows just laws and disobeys unjust laws.”  Ladner later registered under a court order and helped others exercise that same right by working as a field organizer with her sister Dorrie Ladner and South Carolina native Cleveland Sellers in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). On Aug. 6, 1965, after years of tumultuous violence and lives lost, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act.

Editorials: Bring Voting Rights Law Into the 21st Century | Kat Kane/Huffington Post

If skepticism from the Supreme Court’s conservative wing is any indication, a core provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 could be struck down this year. This should alarm anyone who views voting as a fundamental right and not, as Justice Scalia characterized it (to audible gasps), a “racial entitlement.” Section 5, the statute at the heart of Shelby County vs. Holder, requires areas with a history of voter discrimination to obtain federal approval before changing any election laws. The measure is considered one of the most successful anti-discrimination laws on the books and today remains key to combating voter suppression. Yet during oral arguments last week, the high court’s conservatives suggested that this critical voter protection tool has served it’s purpose and now unjustly infringes upon the rights of states and municipalities; that, essentially, the law worked too well to continue. To this point, Chief Justice Roberts rhetorically asked whether “citizens of the South are more racist than citizens of the North.” Clearly, no region has a monopoly on discrimination. But the question the court should be asking is ‘are minority voters still vulnerable to systemic disenfranchisement?’

National: How The Voting Rights Act, Now In Danger, Came To Pass And Shaped History | TPM

On March 15, 1965, a week after Alabama state troopers brutally attacked civil rights protesters in Selma, President Lyndon Johnson delivered a stirring speech to a joint session of Congress introducing a bill to end voter discrimination against blacks. The law that it gave birth to, the Voting Rights Act, now hangs in the balance, with oral arguments next week before the Supreme Court. Five conservative justices are skeptical that a centerpiece of the nearly-half-century-old law is constitutional. “I speak tonight for the dignity of man and the destiny of democracy,” Johnson said that night, nearly half a century ago. “A century has passed, more than a hundred years, since equality was promised. And yet the Negro is not equal. A century has passed since the day of promise. And the promise is unkept. The time of justice has now come.” Days later, he submitted legislation to Congress aimed at taking stringent, unprecedented steps to end voter discrimination and disenfranchisement. As Congress took it up, opponents rebelled. “I said it was worse than the Thaddeus Stevens legislation during Reconstruction, sir, and it is,” said Leander Perez, a pro-segregation Louisianan, at a subsequent Senate hearing. “It is the most nefarious — it is inconceivable that Americans would do that to Americans.”

National: States, GOP Lawmakers Eye Tougher Voter ID Laws | Stateline

The run-up to the 2012 elections was one of court battles and legislative jockeying over Republican-backed voter ID and elections laws that critics called bald-faced attempts to suppress turnout and disenfranchise Democratic voters. Now with 2013 legislative sessions getting under way, those fights show no signs of slowing. Lawmakers in as many as a dozen states are considering new or tougher voter ID laws this year, many of which are expected to become law despite criticism similar moves received in 2012. Indeed, it already seems likely more states will have stricter elections administration schemes come 2014 than there were just last year.

Editorials: Is The Voting Rights Act Outdated? | NPR

For more than four decades, the Voting Rights Act never lost a court decision as it cut a path for minorities’ increased participation in elections. But the most effective civil rights law in U.S. history faces its most serious challenge as the Supreme Court prepares to re-examine its constitutionality. Why now? Some say it’s because of the law’s own success. The plaintiff in the case blames Congress for failing to amend part of the legislation to reflect changing times.

National: At polling places, some fear monitors will challenge some legitimate voters, intimidate others | The Washington Post

Kimberly Kelley of Tampa has provided Florida elections officials with thousands of names of people she thinks may be ineligible to vote and should be removed from the rolls. On Election Day, she’ll join thousands more — people of all political stripes — to monitor balloting. “I believe there is fraud both ways. I don’t think it’s a specific group,” said Kelley, a registered Republican whose group is called Tampa Vote Fair. “We’re just there to observe. We’re not going to intimidate anyone.” Poll watchers from unions, immigration groups and other organizations favoring greater voter access will also be on hand. Gihan Perera of the group Florida New Majority said training sessions are being held for observers and communications lines set up to respond to problems. “We’ll be aware and vigilant so that all of the rules and processes are honored and that our people are able to vote with ease,” he said.

Montana: Tribal members sue for voting access | Missoulian

A group of American Indians from the Crow, Northern Cheyenne and Fort Belknap reservations sued state and county election officials in federal court on Wednesday, seeking equal access to voting through satellite offices. The lack of satellite election offices on reservations, the plaintiffs allege, forces Indians to drive long distances to vote at the county seat, is discriminatory and denies Indians their voting and civil rights under federal law and the U.S. and Montana constitutions. A few of the 15 plaintiffs and consultants assisting with the case gathered outside the federal courthouse in Billings on Wednesday to discuss the issue. Plaintiff Marty Other Bull, a Crow tribal member and registered voter who lives in Crow Agency, votes in person. While he has a greater opportunity to vote at the Big Horn County election office in Hardin, about 15 miles away, Other Bull said many tribal members in Wyola, Lodge Grass and Pryor have to travel farther. “For us to be traveling to Hardin, it’s a hardship for most of us. This is a good step to work together,” Other Bull said.