Rodney Cruz was born an American citizen. He did a tour in Iraq during 10 years in the Army, and was wounded on the battlefield three times, eventually suffering a traumatic brain injury. His enlistment followed in the footsteps of many of his relatives, an unbroken line of military service. Five successive generations of his family have put their lives on the line for the country, but like four million other Americans in the U.S. territories, Cruz, as a resident of Guam, is constitutionally barred from voting in federal elections. But with some help from a brand-new legal platform, Cruz intends to change that. As the founder of the Iraq-Afghanistan Persian Gulf Veterans of the Pacific, Cruz is one of the lead plaintiffs in the Segovia v. Chicago Board of Elections Commissioners’ case, a lawsuit seeking to challenge the prohibition on residents of U.S. territories voting in federal elections. The suit is one of several recent legal challenges around the issue of voting rights, sovereignty, and citizenship in the U.S. territories. After the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois ruled against the plaintiffs and denied a motion for summary judgment last year, the plaintiffs and a nonprofit voting-rights organization called We the People Project turned to crowdfunding to finance an appeal to the U.S. Seventh Circuit court.
An elections bill up for consideration in the state House Wednesday has raised the ire of voter advocacy groups, who say it could disproportionately hurt minority Georgians trying to join the state’s voter rolls. House Bill 268, which is scheduled to be considered by the state House, would create a 26-month deadline for voting applicants to correct discrepancies in what they submit to the state when they register. It is being opposed by the same groups who sued Secretary of State Brian Kemp last year, alleging the system disenfranchised minority voters because the requirement blocked tens of thousands of them from voter rolls. That suit was settled two weeks ago.
Ecuadorean transgender people on Sunday voted for the first time according to their chosen gender, in what activists say are signs of progress in the socially conservative and Catholic Andean nation. In Ecuador, men and women wait in separate lines to cast their ballots, which for years created uncomfortable moments for transgender voters who had to queue up according to their biological sex. “The rumors would start, and the looks,” said LGBT activist Mariasol Mite, 32, who changed her ID description from “sex: male” to “gender: female” last year. Fears of harassment were such that voters would sometimes send their brothers or husbands to wait in line until they got close to the booth, according to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender activists. “This year, everything was different,” said Mite, adding that public officials and fellow voters were much more aware of the issue.
Arizona may have made headlines in 2016 when voters had to wait hours in the sun just to vote in the presidential preference election, but advocates in the state said problems with voting are nothing new to them. “Since we’ve been addressing it since 2012, there has been little to no action in actually fixing anything,” said Viri Hernandez, director at the Arizona Center for Neighborhood Leadership. Hernandez pointed to a mix-up on Spanish ballots in 2012 on ballot due dates, and then-Maricopa County Recorder Helen Purcell’s comment last year that voters turning out were partly to blame for polling lines being so long as just two examples of what she sees as systemic problems. Hernandez was in Washington this week with voting rights advocates from around the nation to take part in the America Votes State Summit, where voting advocates and mostly liberal groups planned strategy to reverse the “shocking” 2016 election results. The sessions were largely closed to the press, but Arizona advocates had plenty to say afterwards.
The essential battleground state of the 2004 presidential campaign was Ohio, and as the election approached, supporters of embattled President George W. Bush announced an exceptionally controversial scheme to station citizen “challengers” at polling places. As a Brennan Center for Justice report explained, “Only a few weeks before Election Day, the Ohio Republican Party announced its plan to deploy thousands of citizen challengers across the state, mostly in African-American voting precincts. The announcement led to multiple voting rights lawsuits and sparked a media firestorm.” The firestorm ultimately led Ohio Republicans to abandon their initial plan. But, as the Brennan Center analysts noted, “the ensuing controversy shined a national spotlight on the disruptions that partisan and discriminatory challenge efforts can cause.” It also shined a light on Alexander Acosta, President Trump’s latest nominee to serve as secretary of labor, and the first Latino to be tapped by the president as a cabinet pick. Acosta is an experienced government hand, who has a long history of working the conservative Republican side of the aisle. After finishing Harvard Law School, he clerked for future Supreme Court justice Samuel Alito, who was then serving as a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, and as a senior fellow with the right-leaning Ethics and Public Policy Center. Acosta served briefly as a Bush appointee to the National Labor Relations Board, and then was appointed by Bush as the assistant attorney general with responsibility for leading the US Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division.
North Carolina: Black voters in Jones County haven’t been heard, they say. Can a new lawsuit change that? | CSMonitor
Black residents of Jones County, N.C., have struggled for years to ensure local representation, some say, but they hope that a new lawsuit will finally bring results. On Monday, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, a nonprofit based in Washington, D.C., joined with two law firms to bring a suit on behalf of black residents of Jones County, N.C. The lawsuit, filed in federal court, alleges that the county’s at-large voting system has systematically prevented black residents, who comprise almost one-third of the county, from electing the candidates of their choice to the county’s five-member Board of Commissioners. Since the five candidates receiving the most votes from across the county are elected to the board, the white majority can vote as a bloc to prevent black candidates from winning seats, the plaintiffs say. They argue that this election system has effectively sidelined the black community’s issues, since it is relatively easy to be elected without their votes. Instead, the plaintiffs propose creating single-member local districts, giving predominantly black neighborhoods a higher likelihood of electing their chosen candidate.
Texas: Pasadena won’t fight voting rights order; elections will proceed as planned | Houston Chronicle
The city of Pasadena will not fight an appellate court ruling over its election system, a decision that will allow the upcoming May council elections to proceed with eight-single member district seats, according to the lead attorney for the city in the closely watched voting rights case. The elections will proceed under the district format and will not using six neighborhood council and two at-large seats, a system a district judge ruled was discriminatory against Latino voters. The city, through its attorneys, sought a stay of Chief U.S. District Judge Lee H. Rosenthal’s order, but the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of appeals upheld the order.
In a bid to create a better chance for black residents of rural areas to get elected to local office, a team of civil rights and private lawyers has filed what one prominent civil rights organization calls the first major voting rights lawsuit of the year. Attorneys from from the Washington-based Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and two private law firms filed the suit Monday in federal court in North Carolina. The suit alleges that the black residents who account for about a third of the population in Jones County, N.C., are prevented from electing candidates who represent their needs because the county elects commissioners at large rather than by district. The complaint alleges the at-large system prevents black residents from electing black candidates from their communities, and says the at-large system dilutes black voting power.
A group of military veterans living in Guam, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands are crowd-funding their appeal to challenge federal voting laws that deny U.S. citizens living in the territories the ability to vote in presidential elections. Americans in the U.S. territories follow the same federal laws, pay billions in taxes and have some of the highest rates of enlistment in the U.S. military, but they say their equal protection rights are being violated based on where they live. People born in Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands are all U.S. citizens. “I don’t feel that I am a complete person as an American,” said Rodney Cruz, a disabled veteran who served multiple tours in Iraq before his injury in 2008. “I went over, I took a bullet, I did everything that was required of me, but when it comes to electing our commander in chief every four years I’m told, ‘You can’t because you’re a nonvoting citizen.’ ” A native of Guam, Cruz is the sixth generation in his family to serve in the U.S. military. The nonprofit he founded to help veterans with mental health issues – Iraq, Afghanistan and Persian Gulf Veterans of the Pacific – is a plaintiff in the case. Every election year while Cruz was deployed, he said, he felt frustrated watching fellow soldiers cast their absentee ballots.
When Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell silenced Elizabeth Warren last week as she was reading Coretta Scott King’s 1986 letter denouncing Jeff Sessions, he jogged the memory of another Massachusetts Democrat, Rep. William R. Keating. “I went to bed that evening seeing what was occurring,” Keating said in an interview, “and when I woke up in the morning, my mind immediately went back to the outrage of an amendment that had been passed in the House,” almost entirely with Republican votes. The amendment, introduced by Rep. David Schweikert (R-Ariz.) and approved on May 9, 2012, was aimed at preventing the Justice Department from using its funds “to bring any action against any state for implementation of a state law requiring voter identification.” In other words, even if the Department of Justice thought a voter ID law discriminated against African Americans or Latinos, it could not sue to protect them.