“Judge Slams Voter Suppression Law”: ‘Why Does The State Of North Carolina Not Want People To Vote?’
Voting rights advocates in North Carolina caught a lucky break on Thursday, where it was revealed that the panel of three judges who would consider that state’s comprehensive voter suppression law included one Clinton appointee, Judge Diana Gribbon Motz, and two Obama appointees, Judges James Wynn and Henry Floyd. Last month, a George W. Bush appointee to a federal trial bench in North Carolina allowed the law to go into effect during the 2014 election, the panel of three judges from the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit are now considering whether to affirm or reverse that decision. They heard oral arguments in the case on Thursday.
Several provisions are at issue in this case that all make it more difficult for residents of North Carolina to cast a vote. One provision cuts a week of early voting days. Another restricts voter registration drives. A third implements a strict voter ID law, although that provision does not take effect until 2016, so it would be reasonable for the court to decide not to suspend it during the 2014 election.
One provision that received a great deal of attention from the judges during Thursday’s oral arguments in this case is a change to the state law that causes ballots to be tossed out if a voter shows up in the wrong precinct. For the last decade, voters who showed up at the wrong precinct would still have their votes counted in races that were not specific to that precinct, so long as they voted in the correct county. The new law prohibits these ballots from being counted at all. According to the Associated Press, that means thousands of ballots will be thrown out each election year.
Judge Wynn, the only member of the panel who lives in North Carolina, appeared baffled by this provision. Explaining that he lives very close to a precinct that is not his assigned polling place, he asked the state to justify why his vote should be thrown out if he did not travel to a precinct that is further away from his home. At one point, his questions grew quite pointed — “Why does the state of North Carolina not want people to vote?” Wynn asked. At another point, he described a hypothetical grandmother who has always voted at the same place. Why not “let her just vote in that precinct?” he wondered?
An attorney defending the North Carolina law spent a great deal of his time at the podium arguing that it would be too disruptive for a court to suspend parts of North Carolina’s election law this close to the November elections. As a legal matter, this is a strong argument. In a 2006 case called Purcell v. Gonzalez, the justices reinstated a voter ID law that had been halted by a lower court. They explained that “[c]ourt orders affecting elections, especially conflicting orders, can themselves result in voter confusion and consequent incentive to remain away from the polls. As an election draws closer, that risk will increase.”
Yet the judges seemed skeptical of this argument as well, questioning what evidence the state could show that voters would actually be confused. When an attorney argued that restoring lost voting rights could be logistically challenging for the state, Judge Floyd asked whether “an administrative burden [can] trump a constitutional right?”
The argument that judges should heed Purcell‘s warning and be cautious about changing voting law close to an election also did not convince a much more conservative panel considering another voter suppression law in Wisconsin. Earlier this month, a panel of three Republican judges reinstated a voter ID in a single page order issued the same day that they heard oral arguments in the case. At the time, election law expert Rick Hasen criticized this order as a “very bad idea,” in part because of the reasons stated in Purcell. There are already early signs that Hasen was correct.
The Wisconsin case is already making its way to the Supreme Court, and the North Carolina case is likely to wind up there as well, especially if the Fourth Circuit rules against the state’s law. Should both cases come before the justices, that means that they will be confronted with one case where a court changed a state’s election law in a way that Democrats generally approve of, and another case where a court changed the state’s election law in a way that Republicans generally approve of. Both of these changes, moreover, would be made close to an election.
If the conservative Roberts Court really meant what it said in Purcell, then it is likely to allow the North Carolina law to go into effect while suspending the Wisconsin law. Should it allow both laws to take effect, however, that would raise serious concerns about whether the justices are willing to apply the same rule to every case, regardless of whether the rule benefits Democrats or Republicans.
By: Ian Millhiser, Think Progress, September 29, 2014
Forty years ago, at a point when Americans were profoundly concerned about declining voter participation, democracy advocates proposed a fix: “instant voting.”
To remove barriers and increase participation in elections, the argument went, officials should make it possible for citizens to show up at a polling place, register to vote and then cast a ballot.
Instead of jumping through registration and participation hoops over a period of weeks, even months, people could just vote.
A handful of states—Maine, Minnesota and Wisconsin—began to implement the idea and something exciting happened: turnout soared.
But the approach was controversial.
In my home state of Wisconsin, then-Governor Pat Lucey implemented the reform.
Lucey, who died last week at age 96, was a remarkable figure. He helped build the modern Democratic Party of Wisconsin, ushering an an era of two-party competition for a state where in the mid-1950s virtually every top official was a Republican. He was close to the Kennedys, playing especially important roles in the John Kennedy’s 1960 presidential run and Bobby Kennedys 1968 race. He bid for the vice presidency in 1980 as the running mate of liberal Republican John Anderson on a “national unity” ticket. As a prominent realtor in Wisconsin, he championed open housing as a part of a broad commitment to civil rights. As governor, he forged a strong university system, established fair and equitable funding for public schools, reformed criminal justice and the courts, fostered labor-management cooperation and economic growth, and appointed the first woman to the state Supreme Court.
But some of Lucey’s greatest accomplishments were as a political reformer, who championed open government and campaign finance reform—and who fought to make it easy to vote.
Pat Lucey believed in high-turnout elections. And Lucey was enough of a structural reformer to recognize that policies could contribute to making lofty rhetoric about popular democracy into an Election Day reality. Indeed, his support for Election Day voter registration was so significant that it helped to make this particular reform central to a national debate about how to expand the electorate.
In the mid-1970s, Lucey and his legislative allies moved to enact what the national media referred to as “instant voting”—a new set of rules designed to allow citizens to simply show up at a polling place, register and cast a ballot. This was a radical change from the restrictive rules that were in place in much of the country, many of which had their roots in the machinations of big-city bosses and Southern segregationists who were disinclined toward expanding the electorate.
When Wisconsin enacted rule changes to remove barriers to voting, it was national news. The New York Times highlighted Wisconsin’s 1975 plan for “easy and instant voting.” Critics screamed that this was a recipe for fraud, expressing particular concern about language that allowed for registration with a Wisconsin driver’s license, a student ID or fee card “or any other ID judged to be acceptable by local election officials.” There were demands for monitoring of elections by the US attorney’s office in Milwaukee and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. But after a review of the 1976 election, officials confirmed that the FBI “found no evidence of fraud or voter theft.”
What was found was high turnout. In November 1976, 210,000 Wisconsinites—11 percent of the total electorate—registered at the polls. The Times reported that “in Milwaukee, for example, registration in 1974 was at the comparatively high level of 65 percent. After Wisconsin adopted Election-Day registration in 1976, registration jumped to 86 percent.” Hailing the Wisconsin accomplishment, along with more modest advances in Minnesota (which also embraced Election Day registration), the paper argued that all America should “trust democracy by enlarging it.”
President Jimmy Carter agreed. He tried to take the Wisconsin model national, with a proposal for universal Election Day registration. It never quite happened. This country continues to have a patchwork of different registration rules, some of them absurdly restrictive. And there have been efforts in a number of states, including Wisconsin, to eliminate Election Day registration and limit related reforms such as those allowing for early voting.
These are moves in the wrong direction. So wrong that they have frequently been blocked by responsible legislators and the courts. But Maine Governor Paul LePage and his allies actually did eliminate Election Day registration in that state in 2011—only to have it restored by a 60-40 popular vote in November of the same year. Former American Civil Liberties Union of Maine Director Shenna Bellows, who helped get the issue on the ballot and who now is a US Senate candidate, said at the time, “Maine voters sent a clear message: No one will be denied a right to vote.”
Voters like Election Day registration, and for good reason—Election Day registration works.
As Demos notes:
Voting rights advocates have long argued that no voter should lose their access to the ballot just because they missed a registration deadline, or because a paperwork error left them off the rolls. Any number of studies have found that turnout will get a boost if people can register on Election Day, and that argument is backed up by the (data analyzed Nonprofit VOTE, a nonpartisan group that encourages nonprofits to engage voters).
Among states that allow residents to establish or update their registration the same day they vote, turnout was 71.3 percent on average—far above the 58.8 percent for the remaining states. Five of the Same Day Registration states appear in the top 10.
This effect can’t be explained away by other factors. For example, one useful predictor of voters’ inclination to participate was the margin in the presidential race—turnout was highest in the 10 swing states where the Obama and Romney campaigns battled most intensely. But even among these 10 swing states, the three that allow Same Day Registration easily beat out the others in turnout, with Colorado the only exception.
Unfortunately, Election Day registration is not universal, as Pat Lucey, Jimmy Carter and the reformers of the 1970s hoped it would be.
According to the Brennan Center for Justice, less than a third of US states “currently offer, or have enacted laws which provide for Election Day registration, allowing eligible citizens to register or update their records on Election Day.” Several states have moved recently to create the option, including California, Maryland and Hawaii. But most Americans, especially those in Southern states with historically low turnout patterns, don’t have it.
So Congressman Keith Ellison, D-Minnesota, has proposed a Same Day Registration Act, which would amend the Help America Vote Act of 2002 to require states with a voter registration requirement to make same-day voter registration—or revision of an individual’s voter registration information—available at the polling place on the date of election itself. The Ellison proposal would also make those options available during early voting periods. The congressman says the United States can and must “ensure [that] our nation lives up to its ideals and protects the most fundamental right in our democracy.”
That was what Pat Lucey did almost four decades ago with his push for “instant voting.” History has proven Lucey and the voting advocates of the 1970s right. They recognized, as we all should, that the promise of democracy is made real when voting is easy and turnout is high.
By: John Nichols, The Nation, May 16, 2014
“Why Wisconsin’s Voter ID Decision Is A Very Big Deal”: Put Simply, Voter Impersonation Is A Fake Problem That Doesn’t Need A Solution
Some precautions are necessary—wearing a helmet when you ride a bike, using a seatbelt when you’re in a car—and others seem optional, like grabbing an umbrella on a cloudy day or wearing an apron when you make dinner. Others are dumb. You wouldn’t get snow tires if you lived in Miami, and there’s never a need for volcano insurance (unless you live in the shadow of Mount Etna, or something).
You can add one more item to the list of useless precautions: voter identification laws. In an opinion striking down Wisconsin’s voter ID law—signed in March by Gov. Scott Walker—Judge Lynn Adelman looks at the supposed menace of in-person voter fraud—the GOP’s reason for ID requirements—and finds nothing.
The state’s argument is straightforward: The voter ID law will “deter or prevent fraud by making it harder to impersonate a voter and cast a ballot in his or her name without detection.” To that end, it requires Wisconsin voters to produce an accepted, nonexpired form of state-issued ID to cast a ballot. If a voter lacks an ID, she can apply for one at the Wisconsin Department of Motor Vehicles, provided she has the right documents. And if she lacks a proper ID at the polls, she can cast a provisional ballot, and confirm her identity in-person on the Friday after the election.
Opponents say this unfairly burdens older and low-income people, and minorities in particular. It’s not that nonwhites can’t get identification, but that they are most likely to face circumstances—poverty, geographic isolation, etc.—that make it hard to obtain one. Further, they argue, voter identification isn’t necessary and harms more than it helps. It’s for that reason that the plaintiffs—the League of United Latin American Citizens of Wisconsin—say the law is an unjustified burden on the right to vote.
Judge Adelman agrees, and supports his stance with a treasure trove of evidence. Citing research on the incidence of in-person voter fraud in American elections, Adelman notes that, in eight years of Wisconsin elections—2004, 2008, 2010, and 2012—researchers could identify only “one case of voter-impersonation fraud.” And in that case, it was a man who “applied for and cast his recently deceased wife’s absentee ballot.” Likewise, after “comparing a database of deceased registered voters to a database of persons who had cast ballots in a recent election,” in Georgia, another researcher found “no evidence of ballots being illegally cast in the name of deceased voters.”
Adelman even notes the sheer difficulty of committing in-person voter fraud, throwing water on the claim that this could ever be common. “To commit voter-impersonation fraud,” he says, “a person would need to know the name of another person who is registered at a particular polling place, know the address of that person, know that the person has not yet voted, and also know that no one at the polls will realize that the impersonator is not the individual being impersonated.” He ends with a note that sounds like sarcasm, “Given that a person would have to be insane to commit voter-impersonation fraud, [the law] cannot be deemed a reasonable response to a potential problem.”
He also makes a key point about public perception: Insofar that anyone believes that in-person voter fraud is a problem, it’s because elected officials—almost all of them Republican—treat it as such, as they push for these laws. Put simply, voter impersonation is a fake problem that doesn’t need a solution.
As for the burdens of voter identification? Adelman makes two important points. First, that a substantial number of registered Wisconsin voters—300,000, or 9 percent of the total—lack a qualifying ID. Of these voters, a substantial portion live at or below the poverty line. In practical terms, what this is means is that they lack the time or resources needed to get a valid ID. If you work a low-wage job, odds are good that you can’t take time off to go to the DMV, and even if you could, you would need the cash to obtain the documents you need to prove your identity, like a birth certificate or a passport.
It’s at this point that, in my experience, voter ID proponents scoff at the idea that someone would lack these documents. But it’s more common than you think. According to a 2006 survey from the Brennan Center for Justice, as many as 13 million Americans lack ready access to citizenship documents, which overlaps with the 21 million who lack photo identification. Moreover, millions have inconsistent documents—a passport that doesn’t reflect their current name (a problem for many married women) or a photo ID that doesn’t have their current address. Under the Wisconsin law, both groups would be barred from casting a normal ballot if they went to the polls.
Adelman’s second point elaborates on the burden. If you drive, you receive a daily benefit from the act of gathering one’s documents and getting a license. If the voter ID requirement does anything, it offers the benefit of voting at “no additional cost.” By contrast, he notes, a “person whose daily life did not require possession of a photo ID prior to the imposition of the photo ID requirement is unlikely to derive any benefit” from owning one. At most, they can keep voting. Or, put another way, they have to pay the same costs without the same benefits. It’s unfair.
By the end of Adelman’s opinion, there are no pieces to pick up, and there is no legislative recourse for defenders of voter ID. Adelman ethered the rationale for voter identification, and struck down the law. Now, Republicans and Democrats will fight the upcoming elections on more even ground.
This ruling is significant for more than what it means for Wisconsin. As Ari Berman notes for The Nation, it’s part of a larger trend of courts striking down voter identification laws. In the last year, four other states—Arkansas, Pennsylvania, Missouri, and Texas—have had their requirements reversed by federal courts.
What’s more, the Wisconsin decision marks the first time a voter ID law has been invalidated under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, as opposed to a state constitution. In turn, this gives fuel to the Justice Department’s present suits against voter ID laws in North Carolina and Texas—also filed under Section 2.
The real question looking forward is whether Section 2 will survive. The Supreme Court has already destroyed the “pre-clearance” section of the Voting Rights Act, and conservatives are gunning for Section 2 in their drive to end race-conscious policymaking. If successful, they would end the government’s ability to fight voting discrimination, and leave us with a country where states—like Wisconsin—are free to burden the fundamental rights of our most vulnerable citizens.
By: Jamelle Bouie, Slate, April 30, 2014
Even as the US Supreme Court attempts to expand the scope and reach of the already dangerous dominance of our politics by billionaires and their willing servants, Americans are voting in overwhelming numbers against the new politics of dollarocracy.
The headline of the week with regard to the campaign-finance debate comes from Washington, where a 5-4 court majority has—with its McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission decision—freed elite donors such as the politically-ambitious Koch Brothers to steer dramatically more money into the accounts of favored candidates, parties and political action committees. The decision makes it clear that the high court’s activist majority will stop at nothing in their drive to renew the old Tory principle that those with wealth ought to decide the direction of federal, state and local government.
But the five errand boys for the oligarchs who make up that majority are more thoroughly at odds with the sentiments of the American people than at any time in the modern history of this country’s judiciary.
We know this because the people are having their say with regard to the question of whether money is speech, whether corporations have the same rights as human beings and whether billionaires should be able to buy elections.
In every part of the country, in every sort of political jurisdiction, citizens are casting ballots for referendum proposals supporting a Constitutional amendment to overturn US Supreme Court rulings that have tipped the balance toward big money.
In so doing, these citizens are taking the essential first step in restoring democracy.
On Tuesday, thirteen Wisconsin communities, urban and rural, liberal and conservative, Democratic-leaning and Republican-leaning answered the call of constitutional reform. Even as groups associated with billionaire donors Charles and David Koch were meddling in local elections in the state, voters were demanding, by overwhelming margins, that the right to organize fair and open elections be restored.
It even happened in Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s hometown of Delavan, where voters faced the question:
Shall the City of Delavan adopt the following resolution:
RESOLVED, the City of Delavan, Wisconsin, calls for reclaiming democracy from the corrupting effects of undue corporate influence by amending the United States Constitution to establish that:
1. Only human beings, not corporations, unions, nonprofit organizations nor similar associations are entitled to constitutional rights, and
2. Money is not speech, and therefore regulating political contributions and spending is not equivalent to limiting political speech.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that we hereby instruct our state and federal representatives to enact resolutions and legislation to advance this effort.
76 percent of the Delavan residents who went to the polls voted “Yes!”
They were not alone. A dozen other Wisconsin communities faced referendums on the same day. Every town, village and city that was offered a choice voted to call on state and federal officials to move to amend the US Constitution so that citizens will again be able to organize elections in which votes matter more than dollars.
The Wisconsin votes provided the latest indication of a remarkable upsurge in support for bold action to renew the promise of American democracy. Since the Supreme Court began dismantling the last barriers to elite dominance of American politics, with its 2010 Citizens United decision, sixteen states and more than 500 communities have formally requested that federal officials begin the process of amending the constitution so that the court’s wrongheaded rulings can be reversed.
Last fall, John Bonifaz, the co-founder and executive director of the reform group Free Speech For People, calculated that “In just three years since the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling, we have come one third of the way to amending the US Constitution to reclaim our democracy and to ensure that people, not corporations, shall govern in America.”
Since the start of 2014, however, the movement has seen a dramatic acceleration in the grassroots pressure for action. During the first weeks of March, forty-seven town meetings called for a constitutional amendment—in a move that put renewed pressure on the New Hampshire legislature to act on the issue.
It is the experience of big-money politics that has inspired renewed activism for reform.
Wisconsin has had more experience than most states with the warping of democracy by out-of-state billionaires, “independent” expenditures and SuperPAC interventions. Governor Walker’s campaigns have reaped funds from top conservative donors, including the Koch Brothers. And a Koch Brothers-funded group, Americans for Prosperity waded into contests this spring for the local board of supervisors in northern Iron County, where mining and environmental issues are at stake; and in the city of Kenosha, where school board elections revolved around questions of whether to bargain fairly with unions representing teachers. In other parts of the state, business interests poured money into school board contests and local races Tuesday, providing a glimpse of the role corporate cash is likely to play in local, state and national elections in the months and years to come.
The Koch Brothers had mixed success Tuesday. Three Iron County Board candidates who were attacked by Americans for Prosperity mailings and on-the-ground “field” efforts in the county won their elections—beating incumbents who were promoted by the outside group. But in Kenosha, two school board contenders who were seen as anti-union zealots won.
There were, however, no mixed results when voters were given a clear choice between dollarocracy and democracy.
The signal from Wisconsin is that grassroots politics can and does still win.
In fact, it wins big.
Encouraged by groups such as United Wisconsin and Move to Amend, activists went door to door in the depths of winter to place amendment questions on local ballots in towns, villages and cities across the state. Many of the communities were in heavily Republican regions of Wisconsin. Yet, the pattern of support was strikingly consistent; in no community did an amendment proposal win less than 60 percent of the vote, and in several the support was over 85 percent.
“Citizens United opened the floodgates to unlimited corporate spending in our elections. Now, Wisconsin voters are standing up to the corrupting influence the flood of special interest money has had on our elections and in our state and national capitols where laws are made,” says Lisa Subeck, the director of United Wisconsin. “Tuesday’s victories send a clear message to our elected officials in Madison and in Washington that we demand action to overturn Citizens United and restore our democracy.”
Whether all those elected representatives will get the message remains to be seen. Several of the communities that voted Tuesday are in the district of Congressman Mark Pocan, D-Madison, who has already introduced an amendment proposal and has been an ardent backer of reform. But many other communities are represented by recipients of the big-money largesse of Wall Street traders, hedge-fund managers, casino moguls and billionaires looking to cover their bets.
Communities in the home district of House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, voted by margins as high as three to one to support an amendment strategy. The results were similar in conservative Waukesha County, which has historically been a Republican stronghold; in the city of Waukesha, for instance, 69 percent of the electorate called for action to amend the constitution. In Wauwatosa, the Milwaukee suburb where Governor Walker now maintains his voting residence, the vote for an amendment was 64 percent.
Wisconsin has several legislative proposals to put the state on record in support of a constitutional amendment. But they face uphill climbs in the current Republican-controlled legislature. And Walker shows no enthusiasm for reforming the system that has so richly rewarded his campaigns. Yet, grassroots activists like Ellen Holly, who helped organize the amendment vote in Walworth County—the heart of Paul Ryan’s district and Walker’s old home turf—is not blinking. She says it’s essential for the Move to Amend campaign to take the fight into even the most conservative areas and to deliver messages to politicians like Ryan.
The widespread support for overturning Citizens United, especially from rural and Republican-leaning areas offers a reminder that the reform impulse is bipartisan and widespread. The same goes from the broad coalitions that have developed. Among the loudest voices on behalf of the referendum campaign in rural Wisconsin was the Wisconsin Farmers Union, which hailed Tuesday’s voting as “a clear message that we the people are ready to take back our democracy.”
“Citizens United has allowed big money to drown out the voices of ordinary people and created an environment where, too often, our elected officials are sold to the highest bidder,” says Subeck, a Madison city council member who this year is running for the legislature on a promise to focus on campaign-finance issues. “To fully restore public trust in our democracy, we must return control of our elections to the people through common sense campaign finance reform, starting with the reversal of Citizens United.”
By: John Nichols, The Nation, April 3, 2014
There’s been a fair amount of attention lately on Gov. Scott Walker’s (R) newly imposed voting restrictions in Wisconsin, and for good reason. The governor’s latest measures appear to have only one purpose: making it more difficult for his constituents to participate in their democracy.
But last week’s new restrictions weren’t the end of Walker’s efforts. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports:
Election observers could stand a few feet from voters and poll workers, under one of a series of election bills Gov. Scott Walker signed in private Wednesday.
The law would allow observers to stand 3 to 8 feet from the table where voters announce their names and addresses and are issued voter numbers, or from the table where people register to vote.
Consider a hypothetical scenario. A college student in Madison stops by a table to register to vote, and as she goes through the process, an elections “observer” stands 36 inches away, just to ensure the rules are being followed to his satisfaction. Months later, when she goes to her local voting precinct, another “observer” – again standing just 36 inches away – will oversee the process as she picks up her ballot.
This scenario will now be legal in Wisconsin.
Why in the world would GOP policymakers in Wisconsin consider this a good idea? According to the article, “Walker’s office said that the law will safeguard the fairness of elections by ensuring observers can see how they are being conducted.”
Just think, Wisconsin not only held generations of fair elections without “observers” hovering around voters, but has enjoyed one of the highest voter-participation rates in the country. Little did state residents know how flawed their system was.
Democratic opponents of the proposal warned of intimidation, voter harassment, and according to one state senator, observers “breathing down the necks of poll workers.”
They did not, however, have the votes to stop the measure.
All of this is the latest in a series of election-related policies approved by Wisconsin Republicans. In 2011, for example, they curtailed early voting statewide.
Last week, Walker went further, curtailing early voting even further, eliminating weekend voting and ending evening voting after 7 p.m.
There was no reason to impose these new voter-suppression policies and the rationales proponents came up with were easily discredited.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, April 3, 2014