If Judge Peter Economus’ reasoning is ultimately upheld by a higher court, that would be a serious blow to efforts by many state lawmakers to enact laws restricting the franchise.
Ohio’s attempt to reduce the number of days voters may cast an early ballot is unconstitutional and violates the Constitution and the Voting Rights Act (VRA), according to a decision handed down Thursday by a federal court in that state. Though the decision has a difficult road to travel before Ohio voters can be certain that it will stand — it will appeal to the Sixth Circuit, which has a conservative majority, and ultimately to the same Supreme Court that struck down a key provision of the VRA — Judge Peter Economus’ decision may be the strongest voting rights decision handed down since the justices’ attack on the VRA. Or, at least, it may be the strongest decision in the sense that it calls for a very strong shield to be erected around the right to vote. If his reasoning is ultimately upheld by a higher court, that would be a serious blow to efforts by many state lawmakers to enact laws restricting the franchise.
Much of Judge Economus’ opinion is devoted to explaining how limits on early voting disproportionately impact African-American voters. Many black churches, for example, conduct “Souls to the Polls” events that encourage churchgoers to vote after attending Sunday services — as an Ohio NAACP leader explained, “Sunday was a focal point also because many churches already provide transportation to take people to church, and carpools are also arranged so that everyone is together” — yet the new restrictions on early voting limit these churchgoers’ opportunities to vote on Sunday. Additionally, the new early voting schedule eliminates “Golden Week,” a period when voters can register and vote on the same day. The same NAACP leader testified that African-Americans are especially likely to take advantage of this period because “people in the African-American community in [his community] move frequently, especially since the 2008 recession.”
Empirical data also demonstrates that black voters are more likely to take advantage of early voting. Indeed, according to University of Florida Research Professor Daniel Smith, an expert witness who testified in this case, the rate of early voting in areas that are entirely African-American is more than twice the rate in areas that are entirely white. Additionally, Smith explained that “there is strong empirical evidence in Ohio that a greater proportion of blacks not only cast [early] ballots than whites but do so on early voting days that have been eliminated by” the new voting schedule.
This data matters because, under one of the provisions of the Voting Rights Act that was not struck down by the Roberts Court, “[n]o voting qualification or prerequisite to voting or standard, practice, or procedure shall be imposed or applied by any State or political subdivision in a manner which results in a denial or abridgement of the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race or color.” Moreover, as a precedent cited by Judge Economus explains, this provision of the VRA “does not require proof of discriminatory intent. Instead, a plaintiff need show only that the challenged action or requirement has a discriminatory effect on members of a protected group[.]”
The VRA prohibits laws that abridges black people’s right to vote. Restricting early voting abridges black people’s right to vote. Therefore it violates the VRA. Q.E.D.
Yet, while this is the strongest argument presented by Economus’ opinion, that doesn’t mean that it will be upheld on appeal. For one thing, as Sean Trende, a political analyst for the news site Real Clear Politics explained in expert testimony on behalf of the state, “’Ohio maintains one of the most expansive systems of early voting in the country,’ with an early-voting period twice the national median.” Though reducing the number of early voting days in Ohio reduces the opportunities for African-Americans to vote from its previous baseline, it is far from guaranteed that a Supreme Court which has been hostile to the Voting Rights Act in the recent past will hold that Ohio is required to maintain its prior baseline.
Indeed, just last month a George W. Bush-appointed judge in North Carolina refused to suspend cuts to early voting in that state, arguing that it was “speculative” to assume that black voters will not shift their voting patterns to other days when voting is allowed. This argument could resonate with a conservative Supreme Court.
Nevertheless, it this decision stands it will be a very important victory for voting rights. Among other things, as Attorney General Eric Holder noted in a press conference Thursday afternoon, Economus’ decision uses some of the “same legal reasoning that underlies the Department’s pending challenges to voting measures” to states like Texas and North Carolina, where lawmakers and state officials are aggressively taking advantage of the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down much of the VRA.
Source: Ian Millhiser for ThinkProgress
"Voters will more vulnerable this November than they have been in decades."
Just over a year after the Supreme Court ruled that the nation has made so much progress on voting rights that key legal protections are no longer needed, a coalition of civil rights groups released a report documenting hundreds of voter discrimination and suppression cases. The organizations also called on Congress to rewrite the gutted section of the Voting Rights Act.
“Voters will more vulnerable this November than they have been in decades,” said Barbara Arnwine, Executive Director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, in a conference call with reporters. “Contrary to the Supreme Court’s assertion, voter discrimination is still rampant, and states continue to implement voting laws and procedures that disproportionately affect minorities.”
The report, released this week on the 49th anniversary of the signing of the Voting Rights Act, counted 332 cases in the last two decades in which voters successfully sued for violations of their voting rights, or when the U.S. Department of Justice blocked a state or county’s attempt to change their voting laws in an unconstitutional way. They counted another ten instances in which aggrieved voters settled out of court.
Tellingly, the majority of the violations happened in a small handful of states — Texas, Georgia, Louisiana and Mississippi, with South Carolina close behind — that were covered by the very Voting Rights Act formula that the Supreme Court ruled outdated and unconstitutional. As a result of the Court’s Shelby County decision, the Justice Department may no longer deploy federal observers to the formerly covered states to deter and report race-based voter suppression. The civil rights advocates that the loss of this federal monitoring program will result in “a substantial increase in voter intimidation.”
Dolores Huerta, a longtime civil and labor rights activist who organized farmworkers with Cesar Chavez, told reporters the study indicates another trend she called “appalling.”
“As the Latino community grows in numbers and their influence grows in the political process, discrimination also seems to be growing,” she said. “It is sad to see how legislation and practices have continued unabated against people of Latino descent.”
Huerta and others involved in the National Commission on the Voting Rights said their research found that modern day voter suppression takes a variety of forms, and not all of them have received the kind of media and political attention garnered by controversial gerrymandering and voter ID laws.
Huerta pointed to states that disenfranchise former felons after they have served out their sentences, or charge them hefty fines to have their voting rights restored. Arnwine also mentioned dozens of documented violations involving the local government’s failure to provide ballots and information in other languages, which they are required to do by law.
Vice-Chair Leon Russell of the NAACP added: “When I attended hearings [on voting rights] in Florida and Mississippi, we saw continuing barriers to equal participation. We saw long lines created intentionally, either by not having enough polling places in certain areas, or not having enough machines at those places. Some counties in Florida even got rid of bathrooms at the polls, which makes it harder not just for people with disabilities, but for everyone.”
The report comes on the heels of another study debunking the main justification used for passing many of the controversial voting laws in question: fraud.
Harvard Professor Justin Levitt surveyed more than a billion votes cast in general, primary, special, and municipal elections across the US from 2000 through 2014, and found only 31 credible instances of voter impersonation. And many of those 31 were never confirmed and prosecuted.
Source; Alice Ollstein for ThinkProgress
The 5 Craziest Planks In Draft Texas GOP Platform: Ban Morning After Pill, Ending Direct Election Of Senators, Defunding ACORN
According to a draft party platform obtained by the Houston Chronicle, the Texas Republican Party is ready to support a sweeping right-wing agenda with planks related to the “Benghazi cover up,” the elimination of the minimum wage and “the myth of separation of church and state.”
Not only does the draft platform advocate for the abolition of the Federal Reserve, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Transportation Security Administration and the Departments of Education and Energy, but it also calls for an end to the direct election of U.S. Senators:
Full Repeal of the 17th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution: Return the appointment of U.S. Senators by the State Legislatures.
While the state GOP wants Texas voters to lose their right to elect their U.S. senators, the party does on the other hand “support our right to select our judges by direct vote.”
The party also wants to make it more difficult to register to vote and urges Congress to repeal the Voting Rights Act:
Voter registration: We support restoring integrity to the voter registration rolls and Registration reducing voter fraud. We support repeal of all Motor Voter laws; re-registering voters every four years; requiring photo ID of all registrants; proof of residency and citizenship, along with voter registration application; retention of the 30-day registration deadline; and requiring that a list of certified deaths be provided to the election administrator in order that the names of deceased voters be removed from the list of registered voters.
VRA: We urge that the Voter [sic] Rights Act of 1965 codified and updated in 1973 be repealed and not reauthorized.
Science And Education
The draft platform also targets schools, calling evolution a “controversial theory” that should be challenged in the classroom, demanding that schools restrict access to “community organizers” and encouraging schools to embrace “subjects with emphasis on the Judeo-Christian principles upon which America was founded and which form the basis of America’s legal, political and economic systems.”
The platform also includes climate change denial: “While we all strive to be good stewards of the earth, ‘climate change’ is a political agenda which attempts to control every aspect of our lives. We urge government at all levels to ignore any plea for money to fund global climate change or ‘climate justice’ initiatives.”
The draft describes Agenda 21, a nonbinding United Nations agreement on sustainable development, as a threat to America and calls for “the withdrawal of the United States from the United Nations and the removal of U.N. headquarters from United States soil.”
Along with supporting “reparative therapy and treatment to patients who are seeking escape from the homosexual lifestyle,” [link to previous post] the state party also wants to repeal Texas’ hate-crimes statute (or at least its “sexual orientation category”), block non-discrimination laws and seeks a “prohibition of the manufacturing and sale of abortifacients (e.g. morning after pill).”
The draft also calls for bans on “any form of reparation” and Sharia law, and limits to data gathering by the U.S. Census. It opposes “the use of Radio Frequency Identification Chips (RFID) on humans,” while reaffirming opposition to “any direct financial support of special interest organizations, such as ACORN and the ACLU, by any level of government.” ACORN, of course, hasn’t existed since 2010.
Unsurprisingly, the Texas GOP believes the state should be able to ignore federal gun laws:
All federal acts, laws, executive orders, and court orders which restrict or infringe on the people’s right to keep and bear arms shall be invalid in Texas, not be recognized by Texas, shall be specifically rejected by Texas, and shall be considered null and void and of no effect in Texas.
Just to clarify that they mean business, the party supports “the establishment and maintenance of a volunteer Constitutional State Militia with assistance from County Sheriffs.”
To cap it off, Texas Republicans also have an anti-vaccination stance:
Immunizations: All adult citizens should have the legal right to conscientiously choose which vaccines are administered to themselves, or their minor children, without penalty for refusing a vaccine. We oppose any effort by any authority to mandate such vaccines or any medical database that would contain personal records of citizens without their consent.
H/T: Brian Tashman at RWW
After several centuries of brutal anti-black racism and structural white privilege, apparently 50 years of modest civil rights progress was too unbearable for many “aggrieved” white people. Gutting the Voting Rights Act, weakening Affirmative Action and the proliferation of Stand Your Ground laws are each part of an unmistakable conservative effort to return all of America to a pre-civil rights, antebellum confederacy where “states rights,” judicial nullification and Jim Crow etiquette are the norm. Again.
Today Representatives Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) and John Conyers (D-MI) and Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) will introduce legislation to strengthen the Voting Rights Act of 1965 in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision last June invalidating a critical section of the VRA. The legislation, known as “The Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014,” represents the first attempt by a bipartisan group in Congress to reinstate the vital protections of the VRA that the Supreme Court took away.
In the Shelby County v. Holder ruling on June 25, 2013, the Court’s conservative majority struck down Section 4 of the VRA, the formula that compelled specific states with a well-documented history of voting discrimination to clear their voting changes with the federal government under Section 5 of the VRA. The two provisions were always meant to work together; without Section 4, Section 5 became a zombie, applying to zero states.
Section 4 covered nine states (Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia) and parts of six others (in California, Florida, Michigan, New York, North Carolina, South Dakota) based on evidence of voting discrimination against blacks and other minority groups dating back to the 1960s and 1970s. Since the Shelby decision, eight states previously covered under Section 4 have passed or implemented new voting restrictions. This includes onerous new laws in states like North Carolina and Texas, which the Justice Department objected to under other provisions of the VRA (Sections 2 and 3).
The Sensenbrenner-Conyers-Leahy bill strengthens the VRA in five distinct ways:
1: The legislation draws a new coverage formula for Section 4, thereby resurrecting Section 5. States with five violations of federal law to their voting changes over the past fifteen years will have to submit future election changes for federal approval. This new formula would currently apply to Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas. Local jurisdictions would be covered if they commit three or more violations or have one violation and “persistent, extremely low minority turnout” over the past fifteen years.
The formula is based on a rolling calendar, updated with a current fifteen-year time period to exempt states who are no longer discriminating or add new ones who are, creating a deterrent against future voting rights violations. It’s based on empirical conditions and current data, not geography or a fixed time period—which voting rights advocates hope will satisfy Chief Justice John Roberts should the new legislation be enacted and reach the Supreme Court.
The new Section 4 proposal is far from perfect. It does not apply to states with an extensive record of voting discrimination, like Alabama (where civil rights protests in Selma gave birth to the VRA), Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia, which were previously subject to Section 5. Nor does it apply to states like Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin that have enacted new voting restrictions in the past few years.
Moreover, rulings against voter ID laws—like in Texas in 2012—will not count as a new violation. Voter ID laws can still be blocked by the Department of Justice or federal courts in the new states covered under Section 4, but that will not be included as one of the five violations needed to keep the state covered. This exemption for voter ID laws was written to win the support of House majority leader Eric Cantor and other Republicans.
2: The legislation strengthens Section 3 of the VRA, which has been described as the Act’s “secret weapon.” Under Section 3, jurisdictions not covered by Section 4 could be “bailed-in” to federal supervision, but plaintiffs had to show evidence of intentional voting discrimination, which is very difficult to do in court. Under the new Section 3 proposal, any violation of the VRA or federal voting rights law—whether intentional or not—can be grounds for a bail-in, which will make it far easier to cover new states. (One major caveat, again, is that court objections to voter ID laws cannot be used as grounds for “bail-in” under Section 3.)
3: The legislation mandates that jurisdictions in all fifty states have to provide notice in the local media and online of any election procedures related to redistricting changes within 120 days before a federal election and the moving of a polling place. This will make it easier for citizens to identify potentially harmful voting changes in the forty-six states not subject to Sections 4 and 5.
4: The legislation makes it easier to seek a preliminary injunction against a potentially discriminatory voting law. Plaintiffs will now only have to show that the hardship to them outweighs the hardship to the state if a law is blocked in court pending a full trial. There will be a preliminary injunction hearing on North Carolina’s voting law in July 2014, before the full trial takes place July 2015.
5: The legislation reaffirms that the attorney general can send federal observers to monitor elections in states subject to Section 4 and expands the AG’s authority to send observers to jurisdictions with a history of discriminating against language minority groups, which includes parts of twenty-five states.
The bill is certain to have its critics, including on the left. Voting rights supporters will argue, justifiably, that the new Section 4 formula does not apply to enough states and wrongly treats voter ID laws differently than other discriminatory voting changes. Despite these flaws, the legislation represents a significant improvement over the disastrous post-Shelby status quo, which has seen states like North Carolina and Texas rush to pass blatantly discriminatory voting restrictions after being freed from federal oversight. The legislation strengthens voting rights protections in a number of tangible ways and gives the federal government and voting rights advocates new tools to combat voting discrimination.
The sponsors of the bill have a lot of credibility on this issue. Sensenbrenner, as chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, shepherded through the 2006 reauthorization of the VRA—which passed 390-33 in the House and 98-0 in the Senate. Conyers first entered Congress in 1965, the year of the VRA’s passage, and has served on the House Judiciary Committee ever since. Leahy is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and has recently worked with Sensenbrenner on reforming the NSA.
The problem of contemporary voting discrimination ultimately requires a solution that only Congress can provide. It was Congress, after all, that passed the VRA in 1965 in response to the failure of litigation to stop the mass disenfranchisement of black voters in the South. Yes, yes, I realize that a Congress that can scarcely do more than name a Post Office nowadays is not likely to resurrect the VRA any time soon—especially when so much of the GOP is devoted to erecting new barriers to the ballot box. But now that there’s legislation on the table, members of Congress face a choice: Do you want to make it easier or harder for people to vote? The question, and answer, is really that simple.
A federal judge in Winston-Salem today set the schedule for a trial challenging North Carolina’s sweeping new voter restrictions. There will be a hearing on whether to grant a preliminary injunction in July 2014 and a full trial a year later, in July 2015.
This gives the plaintiffs challenging the law, which includes the Department of Justice, the ACLU and the North Carolina NAACP, a chance to block the bill’s worst provisions before the 2014 election. Earlier this year, in July 2013, the North Carolina legislature passed the country’s worst voter suppression law, which included strict voter ID to cast a ballot, cuts to early voting, the elimination of same-day voter registration, the repeal of public financing of judicial elections and many more harsh and unnecessary anti-voting measures.
These restrictions will impact millions of voters in the state across all races and demographic groups: in 2012, for example, 2.5 million North Carolinians voted early, 152,000 used same-day voter registration, 138,000 voters lacked government-issued ID and 7,500 people cast an out-of-precinct provisional ballot. These four provisions alone will negatively affect nearly 3 million people who voted in 2012.
Ironically, it took the North Carolina legislature less than a month to approve the law, but it will take a year before an initial hearing on it and two years before a full trial. That’s because in June 2013 the Supreme Court invalidated Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, which meant that previously covered states like North Carolina, with the worst history of voting discrimination, no longer had to clear their voting changes with the federal government.
North Carolina passed its new restrictions a month after the SCOTUS decision, making the legislation as draconian as possible because it no longer needed federal approval. The state is crystal-clear evidence of why SCOTUS was wrong to gut the VRA and to treat voting discrimination as a thing of the past. It also shows why Section 2 of the VRA is no substitute for Section 5.
Under Section 5 of the VRA—which SCOTUS paralyzed by invalidating the states covered under Section 4—North Carolina would have had to prove to the Justice Department or a three-judge court in Washington that its new law was not discriminatory. The burden of proof would have been on the state and the law would have been frozen until DOJ or the courts weighed in. Given the clear evidence of disparate racial impact in this case—African-Americans are 23 percent of registered voters in the state, but made up 29 percent of early voters in 2012, 34 percent of those without state-issued ID and 41 percent of those who used same-day registration—the law would have almost certainly been rejected.
Augusta has long held local elections in November, when turnout is high. Now Republicans have moved them to July, when far fewer blacks make it to the polls.
For years, Augusta, Georgia, has held its local elections in November, when turnout is high. But last year, state Republicans changed the election date to July, when far fewer blacks make it to the polls.
The effort was blocked under the Voting Rights Act (VRA) by the federal government, which cited the harm that the change would do to minorities. But now that the Supreme Court has badly weakened the landmark civil rights law, the move looks to be back on. The city’s African-Americans say they know what’s behind it.
“It’s a maneuver to suppress our voting participation,” Dr. Charles Smith, the president of Augusta’s NACCP branch, told msnbc.
The dispute is flaring at a time when Georgia, long deep-red, is becoming increasingly politically competitive, and Democrats have nominated two candidates with famous names for high-profile statewide races next year.
Voting rights experts say the events in Augusta may be a sign of what’s to come—or even of what’s already happening. In June, the Supreme Court invalidated Section 5 of the VRA, which had required certain jurisdictions, mostly in the south, to submit election changes to the federal government to ensure they didn’t harm minority voters. Since then, harsh voting restrictions put in place by several southern states have generated national news coverage—Texas’ voter ID law and North Carolina’s sweeping voting bill most prominent among them. But most of the changes stopped by Section 5 weren’t statewide laws. Instead, they were measures adopted at the local or county level.
“It’s school boards, and county commissions, and city councils, and water districts, and police juries,” Julie Fernandes, a former top voting-rights official at the Justice Department, said last week at apanel on voting rights. “It’s all the stuff that really, really, really matters to folks all over the country, where they live.”
So it’s no surprise that since the high court’s ruling, smaller jurisdictions from Georgia to Arizona are moving to change election rules in ways that undermine hard-won minority political power. Donita Judge, a staff attorney with the Advancement Project, a civil-rights organization, said these kind of local election changes deserve more focused attention.
“In many ways, those type of elections are the ones that really impact you day-to-day,” Judge told msnbc. “We have to keep our eyes on those areas also.”
In Augusta, a city with a troubled history of race bias in elections, conservatives reached back over a century to unearth a tactic that was used to keep blacks from the polls during Jim Crow: changing the date of elections.
Last year, Rep. Barbara Sims, a Republican who represents the area, pushed a law through Georgia’s GOP-controlled legislature that applied only to Augusta. Against the clear wishes of the city council, the law moved the city’s elections for mayor and city council from the day of the general election in November to the day of the primaries in July.
Sims said at the time the goal was to establish uniformity with other non-partisan local elections in the state, which had been moved to July under previous legislation that applied only to counties, not cities.
But local Democrats and minorities saw the law as a bid to lower turnout among blacks, who usually vote in much higher numbers in November general elections, which tend to have a high profile, than they do in less-publicized primaries.
That figures to be particularly true next year, when two highly anticipated statewide races are likely to draw black voters to the polls in the fall. Jimmy Carter’s grandson, Jason Carter, is challenging the incumbent Republican governor, Nathan Deal. And Michelle Nunn, the daughter of longtime Georgia senator Sam Nunn, is running for an open U.S. Senate seat that could help determine control of the chamber. Adding to the intensity of the partisan conflict, there’s growing talk that, as with Texas, demographic trends could slowly be turning Georgia blue.
A close look at turnout numbers bears out the concern that the change in Augusta will hurt minorities. Seventy-five percent of Augusta blacks voted in the November 2012 general election, while just 33% did so in the July primaries. By comparison, 73% of whites voted in November, and 43% voted in July, according to U.S. Justice Department figures. 2010 showed a similar pattern. In other words, moving the election from November to July would likely lead to a sharp decline in voting among both blacks and whites—in itself an argument against the change—but the drop-off would be bigger among blacks.
Turnout rates are often the key factor in election results in Augusta, where blacks make up a slim majority of the population. If black and white turnout is roughly equal, as it tends to be in November, black and black-supported candidates can win. If whites turn out at a higher rate, as they usually do in July, white conservative candidates get a major boost.
Among the candidates likely to be harmed by the election change is state Sen. Hardie Davis, an African-American Democrat running for mayor.
Citing those turnout numbers, the Justice Department blocked the change last December under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, finding that it would reduce the political power of Augusta’s blacks.
“Although the change affects only Augusta-Richmond, it does not appear to have been requested by local citizens or officials,” a Justice Department official wrote in a letter to Georgia officials. “There is no evidence that the legislation’s sponsors informed, much less sought the views of the local delegation, minority legislators, or local officials about the change at any point.”
This wasn’t the first time the Feds had stepped in to block changes that they concluded would hurt Augusta’s black citizens. As the Justice Department noted, there was even a previous effort in Augusta to move the election from November to July, blocked by DoJ in 1989.
But then came the Supreme Court’s ruling in Shelby County v. Holder. Deciding that the South had made enough progress on race relations since the 1960s, the court declared the formula behind Section 5 unconstitutional, neutering the provision unless Congress acts.
That led the office of Georgia’s attorney general to conclude that the move to July could go forward. The secretary of state still needs to rule on the issue, and lawsuits are expected whatever the outcome. But it currently looks more likely than not that the election will be moved.
If it is, Augusta would join a growing list of places where conservatives have taken advantage of the Shelby County ruling to institute changes that diminish the political influence of local blacks and Hispanics.
As msnbc reported last month, Shelby gave a key boost to a group of white conservatives in Beaumont, Texas, who have been pushing to oust the black majority of the local school board. Not far away in the city of Pasadena, just east of Houston, Shelby also emboldened conservatives to pass a voter initiative this month that changes the way council districts are drawn up, likely reducing the council’s Hispanic representation. Galveston County, also in southeast Texas, seized on Shelby to push forward in August with a plan that would reduce the number of minority justices of the peace, a version of which had been blocked under Section 5 last year. And Arizona is now moving forward with a plan to add two at-large members to the district community college board for Maricopa County, which had been blocked under Section 5 because it would dilute minority representation on the board.
Those cases may just be the tip of the iceberg. Without Section 5’s preclearance requirement, there’s no longer an effective way for national voting-rights advocates and the federal government to find out about ground-level changes.
“We, and I’m sure the Department of Justice as well, are all trying to figure out how we’re going to learn about those kinds of changes at the local level now,” Dale Ho, the director of the ACLU’s voting-rights project, told msnbc. “I just have a hard time believing this is the only thing happening out there. But right now we don’t know.”
North Carolina has a new law scaling back the period for early voting and imposing stringent voter identification requirements. It is among at least five Southern states adopting stricter voter ID and other election laws. The Justice Department on Aug. 22 sued Texas over the state’s voter ID law and is seeking to intervene in a lawsuit over redistricting laws in Texas that minority groups consider to be discriminatory.
Republican lawmakers in southern states insist the new measures are needed to prevent voter fraud, though such crimes are infrequent. Democrats and civil rights groups argue the tough new laws are intended to make voting more difficult for minorities and students, voting groups that lean toward Democrats, in states with legacies of poll taxes and literacy tests.
Attorney General Eric Holder is expected to announce the lawsuit against North Carolina at a news conference Monday, according to a person who has been briefed on the department’s plans but is not authorized to speak publicly about the matter and spoke only on condition of anonymity.
Holder will be joined at the news conference by the acting assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s civil rights division, Joceyln Samuels, and the three U.S. attorneys from North Carolina, the person said.
In the North Carolina lawsuit, the person said, the government will challenge requirements in state law that eliminate the first seven days of early voting opportunities and eliminate same-day voter registration during the early voting period. Same-day registration allows voters to cast a ballot immediately after presenting elections officials with proof of their name and home address.
The Justice Department challenge also is aimed at a provision eliminating the counting of certain types of provisional ballots by voters who cast ballots in their home counties but do not vote in the correct precincts.
Finally, the federal government will challenge a provision in the new law that requires voters to present government-issued identification at the polls in order to cast ballots. In North Carolina, a recent state board of elections survey found that hundreds of thousands of registered voters did not have a state-issued ID. Many of those voters are young, black, poor or elderly.
In remarks Sept. 20 to the Congressional Black Caucus, Holder said the Justice Department will not allow the Supreme Court’s action to be interpreted as “open season” for states to pursue measures that suppress voting rights.
The Justice Department will ask a federal judge to place the four provisions in North Carolina’s new law under federal scrutiny for an indeterminate period — a process known as pre-clearance. However, the provision of the Voting Rights Act that the Justice Department is invoking may be a difficult tool for the Obama administration to use.
A handful of jurisdictions have been subjected to pre-clearance, or advance approval, of election changes through the Civil Rights Act provision it is relying on, but a court first must find that a state or local government engaged in intentional discrimination under the Constitution’s 14th or 15th amendments, or the jurisdiction has to admit to discrimination. Unlike other parts of the voting law, the discriminatory effect of an action is not enough to trigger court review.
Nowhere is the debate over voting rights is more heated than in Florida, where the chaotic recount in the disputed 2000 presidential race took place.
Florida election officials are set to resume an effort to remove noncitizens from the state’s voting rolls. A purge last year ended in embarrassment after hundreds of American citizens, most of whom were black or Hispanic, were asked to prove their citizenship or risk losing their right to vote.
John Lewis At March On Washington: 'I'm Not Going To Stand By And Let The Supreme Court Take The Right To Vote Away' | ThinkProgress
Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) — who was the youngest speaker during the March on Washington in 1963 — delivered a passionate address about the importance of protecting voting rights at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial fifty years later, as thousands gathered to celebrate the anniversary of the historic event on Saturday.
“When I stood here 50 years ago, I said one man, one vote is the African cry. It is ours, too. it must be ours,” he began, before connecting the demands of 1963 to today’s struggles. “Almost 50 years ago, I gave a little blood on that bridge in Selma, Alabama, for the right to vote. I am not going to stand by and let the Supreme Court take the right to vote away from us!”
LEWIS: You cannot stand by. You cannot sit down. You have to stand up, speak up, speak out and get in the way. Make some noise. The vote is precious. It is almost sacred. It’s the most powerful non-violent tool we have in a democratic society and we’ve got to use it. Back in 1963 we didn’t have a cellular telephone, iPad, iPod, but we used what we had to bring about a non-violent revolution. And I said to all of the young people, you must get out there and push and pull and make America what America should be for all of us. We must say to the Congress, ‘Fix the Voting Rights Act’
Since the Supreme Court struck down a key section of the Voting Rights Act that allowed the federal government to decide if voting changes in states with histories of disenfranchisement are discriminatory, at least six states have renewed efforts to pass voter ID measures, redistricting maps that could divide and weaken minority voting blocks, and other voter suppression measures.
North Carolina became the first to enact what some are describing as “the worst voter suppression law” in the country. The measure mandates strict voter ID to cast a ballot, reduces the number of early voting days by a week, eliminates same-day voter registration during the early voting period, eliminates flexibility in opening early voting sites at different hours within a county and ends pre-registration for 16 and 17 year olds, among other changes.
Earlier on Saturday, Attorney General Eric Holder, whose department is considering a challenge to the law, said equal access to the ballot box is a key part of advancing “our nation’s quest for justice.” “This morning, we affirm that this struggle must, and will, go on in the cause of our nation’s quest for justice – until every eligible American has the chance to exercise his or her right to vote, unencumbered by discriminatory or unneeded procedures, rules, or practices,” he said. The Justice Department is suing to stop Texas’ restrictive voter ID law and is also seeking a declaration from the court that the state’s legislative and congressional maps were redrawn specifically to hurt minority voting power.
“So hang in there, keep the faith,” Lewis extolled. “I got arrested 40 times during the ’60s, beaten, bloodied and unconscious. I’m not tired, I’m not weary. I’m not prepared to sit down and give up. I am ready to fight and continue to fight, and you must fight.”
New restrictions have been popping up in states across the south since the Voting Rights Act was essentially gutted last month.
It’s one more reason why the right to vote needs to be protected: http://on.msnbc.com/17iLp32
Which state are you most concerned about?
The U.S. Department of Justice on Thursday officially joined the battle to prevent Texas from changing its voting laws without federal permission. The move comes after the Supreme Court’s decision in June overturning a key section of the Voting Rights Act and freeing Texas from such federal oversight.
Attorney General Eric Holder’s decision carries important short-term implications and sets the stage for potentially sending the Voting Rights Act back to the Supreme Court so that the justices can decide whether or not to continue chipping away at what’s left of it.
“Today I am announcing that the Justice Department will ask a federal court in Texas to subject the state of Texas to a preclearance regime similar to the one required by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act,” Holder said in a speech before the National Urban League in Philadelphia, Pa. “We believe that the State of Texas should be required to go through a preclearance process whenever it changes its voting laws and practices.”
In the near term, this provides a substantial boost to civil rights advocates in Texas. Using the same section of the Voting Rights Act that Holder announced he is proceeding under, they hadalready asked a federal court earlier this month to require Texas to get what is called “preclearance.” But rather than proceeding under Section 4 of the act, which the Supreme Court struck down, the groups proceeded under the lesser-known Section 3, which lets courts “bail in” jurisdictions for preclearance if those jurisdictions have demonstrated an intent to marginalize certain racial or ethnic groups.
In Texas, statehouse Republicans passed a 2011 redistricting map for state legislative and congressional districts that a court later found intentionally discriminated against blacks and Latinos. The court threw out that map and drew its own for the 2012 elections. Texas Republicans this year passed a new map to replace the court-drawn one. That map would also have have to been reviewed by the Justice Department or the courts, until the Supreme Court decision in June cut Texas loose from such oversight. That dubious recent history is what civil rights advocates are staking their Section 3 claim on.
Hank Sanders grew up in segregated, rural southern Alabama and in 1971 moved to Selma—the birthplace of the Voting Rights Act. Before the VRA, only 393 of the 15,000 black voting-age residents in Dallas County, where Selma is located, were registered to vote. Less than a year later, after federal registrars arrived in August 1965, more than 10,000 black voters had been added to the rolls. Sanders experienced firsthand how the VRA transformed Selma and the rest of the country. In 1983, he became the first African-American state senator from the Alabama Black Belt since Reconstruction, representing a new majority-black district created by the VRA.
Thirty years later, Sanders watched in disbelief this June as the Supreme Court overturned the centerpiece of the VRA in Shelby County v. Holder. “It’s the most destructive Supreme Court decision in my lifetime,” Sanders said. “It reverses the very foundation of all the progress that we have made.” Reactions in Selma, he said, “ranged from shock to resignation.”
The Court’s conservative majority struck down Section 4 of the law, which determines how states are covered under Section 5—the vital provision that requires states with the worst history of racial discrimination in voting, dating back to the 1960s and ’70s, to clear electoral changes with the federal government. Without Section 4, there’s no Section 5. The most effective provision of the country’s most important civil rights law is now a ghost unless Congress resurrects it.
“We have no power under the Constitution to invalidate this democratically adopted legislation,” Justice Antonin Scalia wrote in his dissent on the Defense of Marriage Act. Yet that reasoning didn’t stop Scalia and Chief Justice John Roberts from gutting the VRA, which has been overwhelmingly reauthorized four times by Congress (1970, 1975, 1982, 2006) and signed by four Republican presidents (Nixon, Ford, Reagan, Bush). “The Voting Rights Act became one of the most consequential, efficacious, and amply justified exercises of federal legislative power in our Nation’s history,” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote in her fiery dissent.
The Roberts majority struck down Section 4 for violating the “‘fundamental principle of equal sovereignty’ among the States,” an argument with roots in Southern segregationist opposition to Reconstruction. (In a biting rebuke, Judge Richard Posner, the pre-eminent legal theorist at the University of Chicago, wrote that “there is no such principle” of constitutional law and that “the opinion rests on air.”) The Roberts decision ignored 250 years of slavery in America, nearly 100 years of Jim Crow and fifty years of persistent attempts to subvert the VRA. The Justice Department blocked 1,116 discriminatory voting changes from taking effect under Section 5 from 1965 to 2004 and objected to thirty-seven electoral proposals after Congress reauthorized the law in 2006. “The Supreme Court didn’t recognize the degree to which voter suppression is still a problem around the country,” President Obama, visiting Senegal, said following the decision.
Freed from Section 5, the states of the Old Confederacy will dust off the pre-1965 playbook, passing onerous new voting restrictions that can be challenged only through a preliminary injunction or after years of lengthy litigation, often in hostile Southern courts, with the burden of proof now on those facing discrimination rather than on those who discriminate. “Without Section 5, all kinds of things will be passed to limit the right to vote,” says Sanders. “I can’t anticipate all the creativity we will run into.” Immediately after the decision, five Southern states—Alabama, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia—rushed to implement new voter-ID laws that disproportionately affect young and minority voters. Voting changes found to be discriminatory by a federal court last year—like the Texas voter-ID law—will go into effect. (“Eric Holder can no longer deny #VoterID in #Texas,” Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott tweeted the morning of the decision.) Beyond voter ID, states like North Carolina are close to drastically cutting early voting and eliminating same-day registration. According to the Advancement Project, a Washington civil rights organization, “Eleven out of the 15 states covered by Section 5 enacted, or are pursuing, restrictive voting laws this year.”
It remains to be seen whether a Congress that can scarcely do more than name post offices is capable of rewriting the country’s most important civil rights law. The chairs of the Senate and House Judiciary committees have pledged to hold hearings soon, and prominent Republicans like James Sensenbrenner, Eric Cantor and Chuck Grassley have expressed openness to a legislative fix. The GOP caucus is whiter, more conservative and more Southern than it was during the last reauthorization, although opposition to a new VRA could prove disastrous for a party now embarking, at least rhetorically, on a well-publicized “rebranding.” Nancy Pelosi has suggested a name for the new law, after the man who nearly died marching in Selma for voting rights: the John Lewis Voting Rights Act [see Berman, “John Lewis’s Long Fight for Voting Rights,” June 24/July 1].
The VRA decision could produce a significant backlash among minority voters, just as the voter suppression attempts of 2012 spurred black turnout, which surpassed white turnout for the first time in US history. In much the same way that the VRA’s passage in 1965 spurred counter-mobilization drives by the likes of George Wallace, which registered hundreds of thousands of conservative white voters in the 1960s, so too could the loss of Section 5 motivate a new wave of minority voting activism. “The election of 2012 put voting rights back on the map, because people saw the extent to which politicians would go to suppress the vote,” says Browne-Dianis. “This decision is going to take it to the next level. People now get that it’s not only these state legislatures, but it’s the courts that are rolling back voting rights. Many people feel like, ‘It’s not going to happen on our watch.’”
h/t: The Nation
North Carolina state Sen. Tom Apodaca, the Republican chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, is working on a package of election law changes that would curb — perhaps end — early voting, Sunday voting and same-day voter registration, the Los Angeles Times reported this weekend.
Before the Supreme Court’s ruling, 40 of North Carolina’s 100 counties needed to receive Justice Department pre-clearance before making changes to voting procedures. Without Section 4, which the Court said last week is unconstitutional, the state can now make many changes it wants without getting Washington’s approval.
Say what you will about any individual lawmaker’s motivations, there are undeniable political ramifications for curbing early voting. Research indicates that Democratic voters disproportionately use in-person early voting, while Republican voters are more likely to vote by absentee ballot, according to Chelsea Brossard at the Early Voting Information Center at Reed College.
And statistics from North Carolina back that research up: More than 1.2 million Democrats cast ballots during the 17 days of early voting in 2012, while about 800,000 Republicans did the same. African American voters were more likely to cast a ballot during the early period than they were on Election Day, according to statistics compiled by the United States Elections Project at George Mason University.
The numbers couldn’t be clearer: In 2012, blacks accounted for just 8.7 percent of absentee ballots cast in North Carolina, while whites accounted for 86.4 percent. Blacks accounted for 28.9 percent of all early votes cast; 65.8 percent of early votes were cast by white voters, according to Michael McDonald, who runs the U.S. Elections Project. Republicans made up half of all absentee voters and 30 percent of early voters; Democrats made up just over a quarter of absentee votes and 49.1 percent of early voters.
Republicans across the south prep voter ID bills and other voting restrictions in the aftermath of the Supreme Court ruling.
Across the South, Republicans are working to take advantage of a new political landscape after a divided U.S. Supreme Court freed all or part of 15 states, many of them in the old Confederacy, from having to ask Washington’s permission before changing election procedures in jurisdictions with histories of discrimination.
Conservatives all around the country now have the green light to push every effort to disenfranchise voters—from curtailing voting hours, to imposing draconian identification requirements, to the dilution of the voting power of communities of color via even more egregious gerrymandering.
Remember, conservatives are on the outs with the changing face of America. Mitt Romney won the white vote by 20 points, 59-39, those white voters were 72 percent of all voters, and Republicans still lost the election. Last year, more white people died than were born, for the first time perhaps ever. And of the 2.4 million new Americans last year, just seven percent were white—and all of those were immigrants (hence, our whites, not theirs).
So what’s left? Keep those brown, black, young, and Asian people from voting. Make it impossible for college students to cast ballots on campus. Limit the number of voting machines in urban precincts so Democratic base groups have to wait hours in line to vote (many will abandon their effort), while ensuring there are plenty of machines available in suburban Republican precincts. Keep felons off the voting rolls, even after they’ve paid their debt to society. Create voter ID laws so restrictive, that even drivers licenses aren’t good enough to vote.
In 2012, voter disenfranchisement efforts backfired on the GOP, as African Americans voted in record numbers—outpacing white turnout rates. But Republicans don’t have any other answers, so the partisan Supreme Court gave them a hefty assist. None of the five judges on the majority want a Democratic president naming their replacement. This is it, their final play for any semblance of long-term viability. If this fails, they, as a party, have failed.
Things are going to be ugly over the next few years, as the GOP’s war on voting gets amped to whole new levels. We on the left must remain vigilant, educate our voters about these efforts, make sure those disenfranchisement efforts continue to backfire.