North Carolina’s voter ID law will be the topic of discussion this week among attorneys on each side of the lawsuits challenging the 2013 state election law overhaul. Lawyers for the NAACP and others offered that detail in an update to the federal judge presiding over the cases that will determine which rules govern elections in North Carolina next year. They plan to provide a report of their efforts to find common ground in a report to the judge on Sept. 17 as part of a trial could test the breadth of protections for African-Americans with claims of voter disenfranchisement two years after the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated a key provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. U.S. District Judge Thomas Schroeder presided over arguments during three weeks in July on parts of the challenge that did not include the requirement that N.C. voters show one of six photo identification cards to cast a ballot. The legislature amended that portion of the law on the eve of the trial, setting up a request from the challengers for deeper review of the broader implications of the changes.
U.S. District Judge Thomas Schroeder interrupted attorneys numerous times with questions during closing arguments Friday at the North Carolina voting rights trial. The federal judge is presiding over a nationally-watched case that could test the breadth of protections for African-Americans with claims of voter disenfranchisement two years after the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated a key provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The NAACP, League of Women Voters, the U.S. Justice Department and others contend that four parts of the 2013 overhaul to North Carolina’s election laws are intended to disenfranchise black, Hispanic and young voters.
Earlier this month, when the Center for American Progress Action Fund think tank released a state-by-state assessment of democracy, which looked at citizens’ access to the polls, legislative representation and political influence, most observers weren’t surprised that the Deep South ended up on the bottom rung. The seven-state region that seceded from the Union and formed the heart of the Confederacy was under federal occupation for about a decade after the Civil War, and in the post-Reconstruction, Jim Crow-era laws kept African-Americans from the polls – through lynchings and Klan terrorism if necessary. The South saw more bloodshed when, against armed white resistance, activists tried to register black voters during the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. And, from 1965 until last summer, several states in Dixie essentially had to ask permission from the Justice Department before making any substantial changes to its voting laws. Yet one state stood out in the CAP survey: Alabama, the Heart of Dixie and arguably the reddest state in the union, finished dead last out of all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
The voter ID debate isn’t going anywhere. The issue is largely a state-by-state one. Generally, Republicans rise to control in certain states and pass legislation, and then liberal and minority groups and supporters sue to overturn. And with the GOP obtaining full control of even more states after the 2014 election — they now have 24 — more states could look at such laws in the near future. So where do the American people stand? Well, on the surface, polls show they are overwhelmingly in favor of the concept of presenting identification before voting. But dig a little deeper, and you’ll find a pretty deep divide on the basis for such laws. A new poll from the Public Religion Research Institute asked people which they thought was a bigger problem: voter fraud or voter disenfranchisement. Forty percent of Americans said the former, while 43 percent said the latter — about an even split.
Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, who‘s trailing in the too-close-to-call Hawaii Democratic Senate primary against incumbent Brian Schatz, warned Monday of voting “irregularities” in precincts crippled by a massive tropical storm last week and said she’s speaking with campaign lawyers about a potential recourse. “There are irregularities that have occurred in terms of just access, and I’m hoping that the Office of Elections will look at it,” Hanabusa told POLITICO in a phone interview on Monday. Although much of the focus in the wake of this past Saturday’s primary has been on two precincts in the Big Island’s Puna District — home to some 8,200 registered voters — where polls were closed Saturday because of the storm and residents will vote instead this Friday, Hanabusa’s comments indicate for the first time that she’s examining the impact in surrounding communities as well, where polls were open but some voters were unable to leave their homes.
The U.S. Department of Justice made good today on its promise to intervene in Ohio elections, joining an existing lawsuit trying to restore more evening and weekend voting for Ohioans. The federal government filed a “statement of interest” in NAACP litigation against Secretary of State Jon Husted and Attorney General Mike DeWine. A separate filing today challenged changes in Wisconsin voting laws. “These filings are necessary to confront the pernicious measures in Wisconsin and Ohio that would impose significant barriers to the most basic right of our democracy,” said Attorney General Eric Holder in a release.
In its 2013 decision in Arizona v. The Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, the Supreme Court ruled 7-2 that Arizona’s proof of citizenship law for voter registration violated the 1993 National Voter Registration Act (NVRA). In 2004, Arizona voters approved Proposition 200, a stringent anti-immigration law that included provisions requiring proof of citizenship to register to vote and government-issued photo ID to cast a ballot. Last year, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit blocked the proof of citizenship requirement, which it said violated the NVRA. Under the 1993 act, which drastically expanded voter access by allowing registration at public facilities like the DMV, those using a federal form to register to vote must affirm, under penalty of perjury, that they are US citizens. Twenty-eight million people used that federal form to register to vote in 2008. Arizona’s law, the court concluded, violated the NVRA by requiring additional documentation, such as a driver’s license, birth certificate, passport or tribal forms. According to a 2006 study by the Brennan Center for Justice, at least 7 percent of eligible voters “do not have ready access to the documents needed to prove citizenship.” The Supreme Court affirmed the lower court ruling, finding that states like Arizona could not reject applicants who registered using the NVRA form. Now Arizona and Kansas—which passed a similar proof-of-citizenship law in 2011—are arguing that the Supreme Court’s decision applies only to federal elections and that those who register using the federal form cannot vote in state and local elections. The two states have sued the Election Assistance Commission and are setting up a two-tiered system of voter registration, which could disenfranchise thousands of voters and infringe on state and federal law.
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.
National Democrats will support the fight to overturn a controversial election-law overhaul signed by Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz said Friday. Wasserman Schultz called the Arizona legislation, House Bill 2305, an attempt at intimidation and an example of “Republican efforts to do everything they can to throw obstacles in the path of voters who simply want an opportunity to cast their ballot and exercise their right to vote.” An effort to refer the state law to the ballot is under way. “We’re organizing here and across the country to fight voter-suppression efforts at every turn,” Wasserman Schultz told The Arizona Republic. “Where lawsuits are necessary, we’ll engage in them. We are providing staff and resources on the ground and working with allied groups to fight these voter-suppression efforts.”
The Justice Department on Thursday redoubled its efforts to challenge state voting laws, suing Texas over its new voter ID measure as part of a growing political showdown over electoral rights. The move marked the latest bid by the Obama administration to counter a Supreme Court ruling that officials have said threatens the voting rights of minorities. It also signaled that the administration will probably take legal action in voting rights cases in other states, including North Carolina, where the governor signed a voter ID law this month. The Supreme Court in June invalidated a key section of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that had forced certain jurisdictions to receive approval from the Justice Department or a federal court before changing their voting laws. The ruling, however, did not preclude the Obama administration from using other sections of the law.
Ohio has a voter fraud problem, but the problem apparently isn’t nearly as bad as some suspected. That seems to be the conclusion of a report released by Secretary of State Jon Husted. Husted, as part of an effort to separate fact from fiction on voter fraud, had ordered all 88 of the state’s county boards of elections to hold public hearings if they were aware of any credible voter fraud allegations or claims of voter disenfranchisement during the 2012 election. The statewide review resulted in 135 cases being referred for prosecution out of 625 red-flagged for voting irregularities. Most of the cases, Husted noted, were caught before fraudulent votes were counted. The report also showed no findings of suppression, actual in-person ballot denials or intimidation at the polls. While one case of fraud is too many, the 135 cases represent a fraction of the 5.6 million votes cast in November. That’s 0.002397 percent.
House Republicans announced plans Tuesday to begin moving the politically divisive voter photo ID bill through the legislature, saying they would slow walk it to give all parties the opportunity to comment. GOP lawmakers, who have enough votes to pass the measure, disclosed a schedule that will begin with a public hearing on March 12 followed by two House committee meetings in which expert testimony will be heard. The bill will likely be introduced in late March and voted on by the House in mid-April. “We are going to go through a very deliberative, response-full and interactive approach through public hearings so that we arrive at a policy that is fair and that takes into account legitimate reasons why voters may not have an ID and puts into effect a way in which those IDs can be issued,” Tillis said at a news conference attended by about 30 GOP House members.
Local election results that were certified Monday and Tuesday appear to show that pre-election warnings of widespread voter fraud or significant voter disenfranchisement did not come to pass. Some political groups — usually conservative-leaning — warned of double-voting and challenged hundreds of voters’ eligibility. But a review of six local counties — Montgomery, Greene, Warren, Clark, Butler and Miami — where 751,795 people cast ballots shows only two cases where election officials referred a voter to the prosecutor’s office for investigation. “I don’t know where people hear these horror stories (of fraud), but we haven’t seen it around here” said Sally Pickarski, deputy director of the Clark County Board of Elections.
Amid calls for state and federal investigations into the number of provisional ballots cast in Arizona on Tuesday, election officials are appealing for patience — and some basic math skills. At a raucous downtown rally, state Democratic lawmakers and Latino activist groups said Friday that the U.S. Department of Justice and state officials should probe what the lawmakers and activists believe is an unusual number of uncounted early ballots, as well as what they said was a higher number of provisional ballots given to minority voters who showed up at the polls. They also want Maricopa County election officials to better publicize how voters who cast a “conditional” provisional ballot, because they were unable to present proper ID, can ensure their vote is counted.
Across the country, there has been a concerted effort by primarily Republican politicians to enforce what’s known as “Voter ID laws.” These ID laws would essentially make voting more difficult than purchasing ammunition for a firearm. The laws call for specific state issued ID’s that millions of Americans do not have. Also, there would be restrictions on who can and cannot vote early. Essentially, the voter ID laws disenfranchise millions of Americans by making it highly inconvenient or next to impossible to vote. However, now that we are mere breaths away from the presidential election, courts across the country are striking down the ID laws and any attempts to restrict the early voting process. The most recent case occurred on Tuesday, when the federal Supreme Court allowed early voting to take place in the crucially important swing state of Ohio. Republican leaders proposed that early voting should only be allowed for military members and their families to vote in person during the last three days before Nov. 6th. A federal appeals court concluded that if county election polls were going to be open for early voting, the polls had to be open for all voters and thus placed a hold on the early voting restriction.