The poll tax is looking pretty tempting in the rear-view mirror. It was $1.50 in 1964, when the 24th Amendment outlawed it as a requirement for voting in federal elections. Adjusted for inflation, the tax would be less than $12 today. That makes it a lot cheaper — and infinitely easier — than getting hold of exactly the right documentation to cast a ballot under some state laws.
The recent wave of rulings and opinions on voter ID laws makes for depressing, at times infuriating, reading. There is the parade of “practical obstacles” summarized by U.S. District Judge Lynn Adelman, writing on the Wisconsin law. Trying to learn what you need, collecting the documents, getting to and standing on line at one or more state offices that are open only during business hours, and perhaps having to deal with multiple other state and federal agencies to address discrepancies — just skimming the list will make your stomach clench and your head ache. It’s a major undertaking for a high-income, highly educated person with flexible work hours and access to public officials. It’s prohibitive in multiple ways for others.
There are the calculated choices majority Republicans made in Texas about what kinds of ID to accept and reject. They said yes to gun permits and military IDs and didn’t mess with absentee ballots — all ways to “broaden Anglo voting,” U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos wrote. They rejected student IDs, state government employee IDs and federal IDs, all “disproportionately held by African-Americans and Hispanics.”
There is the barrier of cost, addressed in an opinion on the Wisconsin law by Judge Richard Posner, a conservative named by Ronald Reagan to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. He cited a Harvard Law School report that found the cost of documentation, travel and waiting time to get an ID to be $75 to $175. That’s 50 to 100 times more than that $1.50 poll tax, and all you’d have to do is pay at the polling station before voting.
The poll tax, in many cases applied selectively and used to discriminate, had no place in a democracy. Yet how different was it from the hurdles placed in the path of so many voters today?
These burdens, and possibly even the outcome of a close race or two, hang in the balance as the courts whipsaw back and forth in the weeks before the Nov. 4 election. Ramos blocked the Texas law last week, she was reversed by a three-judge appeals panel this week, and the next day the Supreme Court was asked to again block the law from taking effect. The Wisconsin law went through a similar judicial rollercoaster before the Supreme Court last week said it could not go forward this year.
Posner’s dissent in the Wisconsin case is memorable for personal asides that inject bracing reminders of the real world, and an overall scathing tone. His 11-page appendix, for instance, is called “Scrounging for your birth certificate in Wisconsin.” All 11 pages are required forms and instructions on how to fill them out.
“Scrounge” was the Seventh Circuit panel’s verb of choice in its short-lived ruling to let the law take effect. The panel referred disapprovingly to people “unwilling to invest the necessary time” to “scrounge up a birth certificate and stand in line at the office that issues driver’s licenses.” To which Posner responded that “the author of this dissenting opinion” — that would be him — “has never seen his birth certificate and does not know how he would go about ‘scrounging’ it up. Nor does he enjoy waiting in line at motor vehicle bureaus.”
Posner wrote that since voter-impersonation fraud is virtually non-existent, the only motivation for such requirements is “to discourage voting by persons likely to vote against the party responsible for imposing the burdens.” He uses charts to show that of the nine states with the strictest ID requirements, eight laws were passed by all-GOP legislatures and seven of the eight also had GOP governors.
The morality of all this is bad enough — we’re talking about voting, for Pete’s sake, the bedrock of the republic, a right people died to win. But the voter ID fad also reveals flawed political strategy. It courts backlash, in the form of higher minority turnout. And it will make it harder to repair relations with the affected groups when demographic reality takes hold and the GOP needs their votes.
If the Supreme Court decides to rule on the merits of voter ID laws, let’s hope it acts with more dispatch than it did on poll taxes. The taxes were declared constitutional in 1937. It was not until 1966, two years after the 24th Amendment banning them in federal elections, that the high court ruled them unconstitutional in all elections. We don’t need 29 years to know that voter suppression is wrong.
By: Jill Lawrence, The National Memo, October 16, 2014
“A Much More Difficult Response”: Should The Democrats Abandon Hope Of Getting Relief From Voter Suppression In The Courts?
Yesterday there were two rulings on voting rights cases, both of which were decided in favor of the liberal side of the argument. But don’t get too excited. I hate to be an eternal pessimist on this issue, but neither case is likely to turn out the way liberals and Democrats want. In fact, we’re almost at the point where — until the current makeup of the Supreme Court changes — liberals should keep themselves from ever thinking the courts are going to stop Republican efforts at voter suppression.
I’ll get to the consequences of that in a moment, but first let’s look at the two cases yesterday. The first was in Texas, where a federal judge struck down the state’s voter ID law. In refreshingly blunt language, the judge called the law an “unconstitutional poll tax,” and said that the legislators who passed it “were motivated, at the very least in part, because of and not merely in spite of the voter ID law’s detrimental effects on the African-American and Hispanic electorate.” Which is absolutely true, but that doesn’t mean the ruling is going to be upheld by a Supreme Court that has made it clear that they have little problem with almost any restrictions on voting rights.
But what about the Wisconsin case? There, the Supreme Court halted the implementation of a voter ID law yesterday, so doesn’t that mean they’re open to striking down voter ID laws? Not really. Ian Millhiser explains:
Although the Supreme Court’s order does not explain why the Court halted the law, a short dissenting opinion by Justice Samuel Alito provides a window into the Court’s reasoning. Alito begins his dissent by admitting that “[t]here is a colorable basis for the Court’s decision due to the proximity of the upcoming general election.” In a 2006 case called Purcell v. Gonzalez, the Supreme Court explained that judges should be reluctant to issue orders affecting a state’s election law as an election approaches. “Court orders affecting elections,” according to Purcell, “can themselves result in voter confusion and consequent incentive to remain away from the polls. As an election draws closer, that risk will increase.” It is likely that the six justices who agreed to halt the Wisconsin law relied on Purcell in reaching this decision.
Just the other day, the Court allowed a North Carolina voter suppression law to go forward, but in that case the law had already been implemented. And that’s why we shouldn’t be encouraged by the Wisconsin ruling: it doesn’t imply that the Court believes these restrictions are unconstitutional, only that it would be a mess to have them take effect just a few weeks before the election. It’s a narrow question of election procedure.
It would be going too far to say that Democrats should just abandon all court challenges to these voting laws. You never know what might happen—by the time the next major case reaches the Supreme Court, one of the five conservatives could have retired. But the only real response is the much more difficult one: a sustained, state-by-state campaign to counter voting suppression laws by registering as many people as possible, helping them acquire the ID the state is demanding, and getting them to the polls. That’s incredibly hard, time-consuming, and resource-intensive work—much more so than filing lawsuits. But Democrats don’t have much choice.
By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, October 10, 2014
On September 12, Wisconsin voting-rights groups began to scramble when the Seventh Circuit Court upheld the state’s voter ID law, one of the strictest in the country. By the end of September, the same court had narrowly declined to re-hear the case en banc—giving voters and election officials mere weeks before the state’s upcoming gubernatorial election to grapple with the law. Unless the Supreme Court overturns the decision in response to an emergency appeal filed Thursday by the ACLU, Wisconsin voters will have to show identification from a list of approved types at the November election. It’s hard to say how many people might be disenfranchised by the law, but in such a tight election, where Republican incumbent Scott Walker is neck-and-neck with Democrat Mary Burke, it doesn’t take many votes to swing the results.
In April, when District court judge Lynn Adelman issued an injunction against the law, he estimated that 300,000 registered voters across the state lack the IDs they need to vote. The judge arrived at that estimate by comparing the testimony of two witnesses, a statistical marketing consultant, Leland Beatty, and a professor at the University of Georgia, M.V. Hood III. Beatty and Hood both crunched through the DMV records with registered voter files to determine how many registered voters in the state lack either a driver’s license or state ID card, the two most common forms of identification. Using different methodologies, the two men produced different estimates. Hood said between 4.9 percent (167,351) and 10.9 percent (368,824) of registered voters lacked ID, while Beatty estimated 9.4 percent (317,735).
Even Hood’s low-end estimate of 167,351 disenfranchised voters is enough voters to swing a tight election. Walker won in 2010 by only 124,638 votes. According to the Huffington Post Pollster, Walker is currently leading Burke 48.3 to 46.3.
Walker’s supporters are more likely than Burke’s to show up at the polls in the first place. According to Marquette University’s latest polls, Walker leads by a five-point margin among those who say they are certain to vote. But, among those who aren’t as certain they’ll make it to the polls, Burke leads by an eleven-point margin. This gap is common in midterm elections, since Republican voters—usually white, wealthy, and older—have more time and resources to make it to polling stations for the elections that get less hype. The voter ID law might deepen this disparity, since it creates one more barrier to vote for those already on the fence.
The clock is ticking for voting rights groups to organize in response to the law. Mike Wilder from Wisconsin Voices said that his group began educating voters and helping them procure identification a few days after the law was upheld in mid-September. But it’s not just the voters without identification in need of education. The majority of voters who have the necessary ID need to be reminded to bring it to the polls. A recent Marquette University poll found that 20 percent of voters didn’t know they needed their IDs to vote.
By: Claire Groden, The New Republic, October 6, 2014
“Blatant And Immediate”: The Supreme Court That Made It Easier To Buy Elections Just Made It Harder For People To Vote In Them
In case there was any remaining confusion with regard to the precise political intentions of the US Supreme Court’s activist majority, things were clarified Monday. The same majority that has made it easier for corporations to buy elections (with the Citizens United v. FEC decision) and for billionaires to become the dominant players in elections across the country (with the McCutcheon v. FEC decision) decided to make it harder for people in Ohio to vote.
Yes, this Court has messed with voting rights before, frequently and in damaging ways. It has barely been a year since the majority struck down key elements of the Voting Rights Act.
But Monday’s decision by the majority was especially blatant—and immediate. One day before early voting was set to begin in Ohio on Tuesday, the Supreme Court delayed the start of the process with a decision that will reduce the early voting period from thirty-five days to twenty-eight days.
Assaults on early voting are particularly troublesome, as the changes limit the time available for working people to cast ballots and increase the likelihood of long lines on Election Day. And changes of this kind are doubly troublesome when they come in close proximity to high-stakes elections, as they create confusion about when and how to vote.
American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio Executive Director Freda Levenson decried the ruling, calling it “a real loss for Ohio voters, especially those who must use evenings, weekends and same-day voter registration to cast their ballot.”
The ACLU fought the legal battle for extended early voting on behalf of the National Association of Colored People and the League of Women Voters, among others.
“To make (the Supreme Court ruling) even worse,” Levenson told the Cleveland Plain Dealer, “this last-minute decision will cause tremendous confusion among Ohioans about when and how they can vote.”
Ohio Republicans had no complaints. They have made no secret of their disdain for extended early voting, which has been allowed for a number of years and which has become a standard part of the political process in urban areas where voters seek to avoid the long lines that have plagued Ohio on past Election Days.
Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, a top Republican, has taken the lead in efforts to restrict voting. In June, he established a restricted voting schedule. Husted’s scheme was upset by lower-court rulings. In particular, the courts sought to preserve early voting in the evening and on Sundays, which is especially important for working people.
Fully aware of that reality, the Supreme Court scrambled to issue a 5-4 decision that “temporarily” allows the limits on early voting to be restored. Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, Antonin Scalia and Anthony M. Kennedy voted to allow Husted to limit voting, while Justices Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan opposed the ruling.
Monday’s ruling was not a final decision; the Court could revisit the matter. But that won’t happen in time to restore full early voting before his year’s November 4 election.
The Court is sending a single of at least tacit approval of controversial moves by officials in other states—such as Wisconsin and North Carolina– to curtail early voting and access to the polls. Legal wrangling also continues over the implementation of restrictive Voter ID rules in those states and others—with special concern regarding Wisconsin, where a September federal appeals court ruling has officials scrambling to implement a Voter ID law that had been blocked by a lower-court judge.
Expressing disappointment that a narrow majority on the Supreme Court has permitted “changes that could make it harder for tens of thousands of Ohioans to vote,” Wendy Weiser, the director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at the NYU School of Law, said, “Courts should serve as a bulwark against rollbacks to voting rights and prevent politicians from disenfranchising voters for political reasons.”
Weiser is right.
Unfortunately, the High Court is focused on expanding the influence of billionaires, not voters.
By: John Nichols, The Nation, September 29, 2014
“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