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“The Ghost Of Section 5 Haunts Our Elections”: 2016 Is Proof We Needed The Voting Rights Act

Most political watchers awoke yesterday morning to the news that Eric and Ivanka Trump would be unable to vote for their father in the upcoming New York state primary because they didn’t file as members of the Republican Party by October. This little-known New York rule could have a huge impact on the candidacies of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, both of whom are drawing voters from outside the traditional party structure, since 27 percent of the state’s voters are registered outside the Republican and Democratic parties. If they didn’t declare a party affiliation by October 9, they won’t be voting in the state’s primary.

Much of the reaction to the plight of Trump’s children was reflections on the Trump campaign’s disastrous ground game, but that misses the point: vast numbers of voters will be forced to navigate purposefully arcane rules this election season, everything from restrictive voter ID laws to altered voting schedules to decreased numbers of polling places.

Why? The 2016 presidential elections will be the first since the 2013 decision by the Supreme Court to weaken Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.

Section 5 mandated that states and localities with a history of racial discrimination receive permission from the federal government before enacting any changes to their voting laws; states like Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia, and a variety of other townships and counties around the country.

While Section 5 initially applied to states that imposed restrictive measures such as literacy tests, Congress later expanded the law to jurisdictions with sizable minority populations that used English-only election materials. States were only removed from the pre-approval list after 10 years of by-the-book elections.

Today, the ghost of Section 5 haunts our elections.

In North Carolina, which has been under fire for a variety of issues over the past few years, Republican-backed legislation has “included a reduction in early-voting days and ended same-day registration and preregistration that added teenagers to voting rolls on their 18th birthday.”

Recently in North Carolina, an attempt to gerrymander black voters into large congressional districts (to minimize their overall influence) backfired when it was found in federal court to be discriminatory — five weeks before primary elections for the illegal districts took place. While a separate congressional primary will be held June 7, the mix-up will have a tangible impact on voter turnout, given that people sometimes have to take time off, wait in long lines, and meet registration deadlines to vote.

Another recent example can be found in Arizona, whose presidential primary was a complete disaster, with some voters waiting in line for over five hours. Some didn’t wait around long, leaving without casting a vote at all. In a measure to allegedly cut costs, “election officials in Phoenix’s Maricopa County, the largest in the state, reduced the number of polling places by 70 percent from 2012 to 2016, from 200 to just 60—one polling place per every 21,000 voters,” according to The Nation.

The situation was so dire in other parts of Arizona that people passed out from sunstroke, had their party affiliation allegedly changed from Democrat to Independent, and never received mail-in ballots. Maricopa County was previously one of the counties identified under Section 5 as requiring pre-approval, due to a history of discrimination. Minorities make up 40 percent of the county’s population. Before 2013, Arizona would have had to submit the closing of polling places for review, and likely would have been denied, given Section 5 had previously blocked 22 voting changes from taking effect in Arizona.

Finally, we can also look at the state of Texas, where the state legislature passed a stringent voter ID law following the invalidation of Section 5 that the federal government had previously blocked using the same law. As a result, over 600,000 voters in the state will likely have to go through a more onerous voting registration procedure because they lack one of the forms of ID eligible under that law, if they are able to vote at all. While a federal appeals court ruled in August that the voter ID law had a discriminatory impact, Texas is currently appealing its case to a full appeals court, in the hopes it will not need to change the implementation of the law, which will remain in place as-is while the appeals process continues.

It’s clear that we are missing key protections from Section 5 that would have ensured more reasonable and less discriminatory voting processes at the state and local level. Now that states and localities with a history of discriminatory voting practices don’t need pre-approval to enact changes in their laws, many of them have simply passed the very same laws they were prevented from enacting for decades, and more still have enacted new laws meant to suppress the vote. In 2016, we need the full force of the Voting Rights Act more than ever. In its absence, the integrity the democratic process is in question.

 

By: Benjamin Powers, The National Memo, April 12, 2016

April 13, 2016 Posted by | Election 2016, Voter Suppression, Voting Rights Act | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Arizona’s Voting Rights Fire Bell”: The Disenfranchisement Of Thousands Of Its Citizens

It’s bad enough that an outrage was perpetrated last week against the voters of Maricopa County, Ariz. It would be far worse if we ignore the warning that the disenfranchisement of thousands of its citizens offers our nation. In November, one of the most contentious campaigns in our history could end in a catastrophe for our democracy.

A major culprit would be the U.S. Supreme Court, and specifically the conservative majority that gutted the Voting Rights Act in 2013.

The facts of what happened in Arizona’s presidential primary are gradually penetrating the nation’s consciousness. In a move rationalized as an attempt to save money, officials of Maricopa County, the state’s most populous, cut the number of polling places by 70 percent, from 200 in the last presidential election to 60 this time around.

Maricopa includes Phoenix, the state’s largest city, which happens to have a non-white majority and is a Democratic island in an otherwise Republican county.

What did the cutbacks mean? As the Arizona Republic reported, the county’s move left one polling place for every 21,000 voters — compared with one polling place for every 2,500 voters in the rest of the state.

The results, entirely predictable, were endless lines akin to those that await the release of new iPhones. It’s an analogy worth thinking about, as there is no right to own an iPhone but there is a right to vote. Many people had to wait hours to cast a ballot, and some polling stations had to stay open long after the scheduled 7 p.m. closing time to accommodate those who had been waiting — and waiting. The Republic told the story of Aracely Calderon, a 56-year-old immigrant from Guatemala who waited five hours to cast her ballot. There were many voters like her.

Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton, whose government does not control election management, is furious about what was visited upon his city’s residents. The day after the primary, he wrote U.S. Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch asking her to open a Justice Department investigation into the fiasco. It was not just that there weren’t enough polling places, Stanton charged. Their allocation also was “far more favorable in predominantly Anglo communities.” There were fewer voting locations in “parts of the county with higher minority populations.”

In a telephone interview, Stanton made the essential point. Long lines are bad for everyone. But they particularly hurt the least advantaged, who usually have less flexibility in their schedules than more affluent people do. It is often quite literally true that poor voters can’t afford to wait.

“If you’re a single mother with two kids, you’re not going to wait for hours, you’re going to leave that line,” Stanton said. As a result, Stanton said, “tens of thousands of people were deprived of the right to vote.”

A Democrat, Stanton asked himself the obvious question: “Am I suggesting this was the intent of the people who run elections in Maricopa County?” His answer: “In voting rights terms, it doesn’t matter.” What matters, he said, is whether changes in practice “had a disparate impact on minority communities,” which they clearly did.

And there’s the rub. Before the Supreme Court undermined Voting Rights Act enforcement, radical changes in voting practices such as Maricopa’s drastic cut in the number of polling places would have been required to be cleared with the Justice Department because Arizona was one of the states the law covered. This time, county officials could blunder — let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that there was no discriminatory intent — without any supervision.

Now let’s look ahead to Election Day this fall. Michael Waldman, president of the Brennan Center for Justice, notes in his important new book, “The Fight to Vote,” that Republicans have “moved with strategic ferocity” to pass a variety of laws around the country to make it harder for people to cast ballots. The Brennan Center reports that 16 states “will have new voting restrictions in place for the first time in a presidential election.”

Imagine voting debacles like Arizona’s happening all across the country. Consider what the news reports would be like on the night of Nov. 8, 2016. Are we not divided enough already? Can we risk holding an election whose outcome would be rendered illegitimate in the eyes of a very large number of Americans who might be robbed of their franchise?

This is not idle fantasy. Arizona has shown us what could happen. We have seven months to prevent what really could be an electoral cataclysm.

 

By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, March 27, 2016

March 28, 2016 Posted by | Arizona, Democracy, Discrimination, Voter Suppression | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Wisconsin’s ‘War On Voting’ Leads To Real Consequences”: Thousands Of Wisconsin Voters Facing Disenfranchisement

Wisconsin’s April 5 primary is likely to be important for all kinds of electoral reasons, but the day will also be significant in terms of the voting process itself: it will be the first big test of the state’s ridiculous voter-ID law. Gov. Scott Walker (R) signed legislation to create the system in 2011, responding to a “voter fraud” scourge that did not exist, but following a series of legal disputes, this will be the first presidential election year in which the system is fully implemented.

For supporters of voting rights, this isn’t good news. A report from Pro Publica noted this week, for example, that the law requires Wisconsin’s Republican-run state government to run “a public-service campaign ‘in conjunction with the first regularly scheduled primary and election’ to educate voters on what forms of ID are acceptable.”

To date, it appears that public-service campaign has not happened and no money has been a set aside to educate the public. With literally hundreds of thousands of Wisconsin voters facing disenfranchisement, it’s a major problem officials are not even trying to fix.

It’s also not the only step backwards Wisconsin has taken on voting rights. MSNBC’s Zack Roth reported today:

A bill signed into law last week by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker could make it much harder for the poor and minorities to register to vote in the pivotal swing state just as the 2016 election approaches.

The Republican-backed measure allows Wisconsinites to register to vote online. But voting rights advocates say that step forward is massively outweighed by a provision in the bill whose effect will be to make it nearly impossible to conduct the kind of community voter registration drives that disproportionately help low-income and non-white Wisconsinites to register.

No other state, including states led entirely by Republican officials, has created a registration system that dismantled community-registration drives.

Project Vote noted this week, “Local and national group … joined together to show [Wisconsin] lawmakers that the proposed online registration system would not be available to all eligible electors, disproportionately impacting students, veterans, older individuals, low-income people and people of color. We explained that it is community registration drives that often register the very people unable to use online registration.”

The GOP-led legislature wasn’t willing to change the bill. Walker, naturally, signed it.

This won’t affect the state system in advance of the April 5 primary, but as Zack Roth’s report noted, the new policy “could well curtail voter registration ahead of the general election.”

In recent years, Wisconsin has been a competitive, battleground state for presidential candidates – President Obama won the state twice, even after Wisconsin’s Paul Ryan was added to the Republicans’ 2012 ticket – and will likely receive a lot of interest this fall, too. What’s more, the state is home to a key U.S. Senate race – incumbent Sen. Ron Johnson (R) is facing a rematch against former Sen. Russ Feingold (D) – and the outcome will help determine which party controls the chamber in the next Congress.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, March 25, 2016

March 26, 2016 Posted by | Scott Walker, Voter ID, Voter Registration, Voter Suppression, Wisconsin Legislature | , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Voter Fraud Is Rampant”: This Week In Republican Political Lies

Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas — last seen threatening the president of the United States with armed revolt — has turned his attention back to suppressing the vote in his home state.

On Monday, the governor took exception to comments President Obama made last week during an interview at the SXSW festival, to the effect that that Texas’s voter turnout is so abysmal in part because the state’s officials “aren’t interested in having more people participate” in elections. As an example, Mr. Obama pointed to Texas’s extremely strict voter-identification law, which lawmakers passed in 2011, but which was invalidated by a federal district judge in 2014.

Governor Abbott rejected Mr. Obama’s premise. “What I find is that leaders of the other party are against efforts to crack down on voter fraud,” he responded. “The fact is that voter fraud is rampant. In Texas, unlike some other states and unlike some other leaders, we are committed to cracking down on voter fraud.”

“Voter fraud is rampant” — it’s the hoariest claim of proponents of voter-ID laws, and the most untrue. As the evidence has shown over and over and over and over and over, there is no voter-impersonation fraud — the only type of fraud that such laws purport to combat.

In 2014, Justin Levitt, an election-law scholar at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, catalogued every instance of voter-impersonation fraud he could find in any election since 2000 — not just prosecutions, but even vaguely credible allegations. He found 31 — over a period in which Americans cast about 1 billion votes in federal, state and local elections.

Meanwhile, tens or hundreds of thousands of otherwise-eligible voters are either blocked from voting or deterred from trying because of these laws.

Back in 2007, a federal appeals court judge named Terence Evans saw this discrepancy plainly, calling voter-ID laws “a not-too-thinly-veiled attempt to discourage election-day turnout by certain folks believed to skew Democratic.” Noting the discrepancy between the alleged harm and the proposed solution, he asked, “Is it wise to use a sledgehammer to hit either a real or imaginary fly on a glass coffee table?”

Nine years later, the hammer still swings. On March 9, the full United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit voted to reconsider the district court’s decision striking down Texas’s voter-ID law.

Republican politicians, who appear more afraid every day of losing their tenuous grip on a changing electorate, could adjust their message to appeal to a broader swath of voters. Instead they are taking the path of least resistance and trying to silence those they’ve already written off.

 

By: Jesse Wegman, Editorial Pages, Editor’s Blog, The New York Times, March 17, 2016

March 21, 2016 Posted by | Greg Abbott, Voter Fraud, Voter Suppression | , , , , , | 1 Comment

“A Subject They’ve Avoided So Far”: Dear Anderson Cooper: Make The Candidates Talk About Voting Rights

Dear Anderson Cooper,

As you prepare to moderate the coming Republican town hall, there is one subject that has not been discussed in a single Republican debate—voting rights. You have an opportunity to be the FIRST debate moderator to seek their views on the future of the Voting Rights Act and the problem of voter suppression—critical issues in this election year.

First a bit of history. For decades, Republicans were proud to be known as “the party of Lincoln” and many played a key role in creating and then later defending the historic 1965 Voting Rights Act. The original act was written in the office of Republican Minority Leader Senator Everett Dirksen, who joined with President Lyndon Johnson’s lawyers to craft a bill that would win bipartisan support. They were successful: 92 percent of Senate Republicans supported the passage of the act, a number greater than Senate Democrats (73 percent, the disparity explained by Southern segregationists who were still Democrats).

When the act’s temporary provisions came up for renewal in 1970, 1975, 1982, and 2006, Republican Presidents Nixon, Ford, Reagan, and George W. Bush signed the bill into law, despite the fact that each now courted former Southern Democrats who had joined the Republican Party because of the 1960s Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts. The Voting Rights Act had liberated African Americans, especially in the South, from the legal constraints that had prevented them from voting, and members of the House and Senate, including Republicans, sought their votes. Congress overwhelmingly supported passage of the act each time it came up for a vote. In 2006, every member of the U.S. Senate voted for it.

The Voting Rights Act helped elect our first African-American president in 2008 and the minority coalition President Obama built persuaded Republicans that the only way they could win the presidency was through voter suppression. Following the Republican congressional victory in 2010 (Republicans now controlled both legislative bodies in 26 states, and 26 governorships), Republican legislatures passed and governors enacted a series of laws designed to make voting more difficult for Obama’s constituency—minorities, especially the growing Hispanic community; the poor; students; and the elderly or handicapped. These included the creation of voter photo ID laws, measures affecting registration and early voting, and, in Iowa and Florida, laws to prevent ex-felons from exercising their franchise. Democrats were stunned. “There has never been in my lifetime, since we got rid of the poll tax and all the Jim Crow burdens in voting, the determined effort to limit the franchise that we see today,” said former President Bill Clinton in July 2011. Then, in 2013, the Supreme Court’s conservative majority struck down a crucial provision of the Voting Rights Act, weakening it severely. Once again the voting rights of American minorities were in peril and they remain so today.

A bipartisan group in the House has drafted a new Voting Rights Act, but Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), chair of the House Judiciary Committee, believes the bill is unnecessary. House Speaker Paul Ryan, although a supporter of the legislation, refuses to force Goodlatte to hold hearings.

So much for history. How do today’s current Republican presidential contenders stand on the issue of voter suppression?

Donald Trump apparently has no position on the issue. He’s said nothing about it during the nine previous debates, although in fairness, not a single moderator has sought his views. His website—donaldjtrump.com—describes his positions on U.S.-China Trade reform; Veterans Administration reforms; tax reform; Second Amendment rights; and immigration reform. But it is silent on voting rights. You might ask him what he thinks.

Despite Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s pleasant demeanor, he is no friend of voting rights. As governor, he enacted the law that significantly limited opportunities for early voting and abolished same-day voter registration. Each had made it easier for all Ohioans to vote.

Jeb Bush has a questionable record on voting rights. In 2000 the then-governor of Florida helped to elect his brother president by purging 12,000 Floridians from the voting rolls when they were mistakenly designated felons and denied the right to vote. Later, authentic ex-felons had to seek the governor’s permission to again cast their votes and while almost 400,000 submitted applications during Bush’s governorship, only one-fifth won the right to vote again. When CNN’s Eugene Scott asked Bush in October 2015 if he supported a reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act, Bush replied that since “access to voting” had improved “dramatica[lly],” he would not support restoring the act.

The other Floridian in the race, Sen. Marco Rubio, believes that his constituents should not be allowed to vote in federal elections without first showing a government-issued voter ID, although evidence of voter fraud has been shown to be almost nonexistent. The senator has also opposed early voting and allowing nonviolent ex-felons to again have the right to vote.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s website (tedcruz.org) offers a litany of his achievements—protecting the Ten Commandments, the Cross, the Pledge of Allegiance, and the Second Amendment—and provides a chance to “Get Cruz Gear:” cups, glasses, cell phone covers, caps, and sweatshirts bearing the campaign logo. But the website is silent on voting rights. Nevertheless, Cruz’s various public statements make it clear that he is rabidly opposed to making it easier for Texans to vote. He is a fierce supporter of Texas’s voting rights programs, which The Nation’s Ari Berman calls “the strictest in the country.” They include an official photo ID (a concealed handgun license is acceptable but not a student ID). The ACLU’s Voting Right’s Project found that approximately 600,000 Texans, predominately minorities and the poor, lack the documents needed to vote, documents which are too expensive or time consuming to acquire. For many Texans, going to the polls is no longer a practical option and they have chosen not to vote. It is tragic that such programs are supported by a Canadian-born son of a Cuban immigrant.

Finally, there is retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson. He often urges us to visit his website, bencarson.com, where he promises to lay out his detailed proposals. A visit there finds his views on cyber security, education, energy, foreign policy/national defense, government reform, health care, immigration, and more. But nothing on voting rights. That’s a bit strange because he has publicly mentioned the Voting Rights Act. To CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, he said: “Of course I want the Voting Rights Act to be protected. Whether we still need it or not, or whether we’ve outgrown the need for it is questionable. Maybe we have, maybe we haven’t. But I wouldn’t jeopardize it.” He might be asked for a more definitive view.

Four of the candidates—Kasich, Bush, Rubio, and Cruz—clearly favor policies that make it harder, not easier, for African Americans, Hispanics, students, and the poor to vote. Trump is uncharacteristically silent while Carson is equivocal. Are Republicans still the party of Lincoln, or even Everett McKinley Dirksen? Forcing them to discuss their views on voting rights will be a first. Go for it!

Good luck.

 

By: Gary May, The Daily Beast, February 17, 2016

February 18, 2016 Posted by | GOP Primary Debates, Voter Suppression, Voting Rights Act | , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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