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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

“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

“Republicans’ Coup de Grace On Voting Rights?”: Putting The Interests Of The Republican Party Over The Interests Of Voters

Last week the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a case called Evenwel v. Abbott. The case involves an issue of increasing importance to American politics: congressional districting. It got to the Supreme Court because conservative litigators with a successful track record of fighting against the right to vote are trying to turn the logic of pro-voter rights decisions on their head. And it’s very possible that they may succeed again.

This most recent battle in the voting rights war involves two of the Warren Court’s most important decisions. One of the tactics that state legislatures used to disenfranchise African-Americans was to draw district lines (or refuse to revise them) in ways that left minority voters massively underrepresented. In Alabama in 1964, for example, some counties included 40 times more people than others. In Baker v. Carr and Reynolds v. Sims, the Supreme Court held that such schemes were illegal. States were required to adhere to a “one person, one vote” standard when apportioning their legislatures. Combined with robust enforcement of the Voting Rights Act, these landmark cases helped to end Jim Crow disenfranchisement schemes.

Perversely, this lawsuit hopes to use these decisions to turn back the clock and dilute the representation of minority voters. The theory of the lawsuit is that Texas violated the Equal Protection Clause when it drew its district lines based on total population rather than on the population of voters. The state, according to the theory, should only be able to conduct apportionment according to the number of eligible voters.

If adopted, the theory presents an obvious practical problem. Total population is measured with reasonable reliability by the Census. Eligible voters are much harder to measure, not least because the numbers change every election. (What should be counted — presidential election years? Off years? State elections? Some combination?) The discretion the measure would leave to legislators leaves the process open to more of the kind of manipulation that Reynolds v. Sims tried to minimize. Plus, it just seems illogical for a state’s representation in Congress to be based on total population, but its districts drawn by eligible voters.

Which brings us to the even bigger problem with the theory: In most cases, the effect of the rule change would be to overrepresent white voters and underrepresent minority voters. As Slate‘s Dahlia Lithwick puts it, “if the plaintiffs win this appeal, power will shift markedly from urban voters to rural voters and to white and Republican districts over minority and Democratic ones.” To read the Equal Protection Clause to not merely permit but require the under representation of minority voters is, to say the least, perverse.

That the argument should be indefensible doesn’t mean that it can’t win. The group bringing this lawsuit scored a major anti-voting rights victory with the 2013 case Shelby County v. Holder. In that case, a bare majority of the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act. Even worse, it did so by arguing that the explicit powers given to Congress to enforce the 15th Amendment were trumped by an alleged “equal state sovereignty” principle, an idea without support in the text of the Constitution or Supreme Court precedents not written by John Roberts, save for the infamous Dred Scott v. Sanford. If the Roberts Court is willing to cut the heart out of the most important civil rights statute since Reconstruction based on arguments that feeble, it’s hard to imagine why they wouldn’t put the interests of the Republican Party over the interests of voters in Evenwel v. Abbott.

That said, oral argument did not clearly indicate how the case will come out. The Court’s Democratic nominees were predictably hostile. Anthony Kennedy, the likely swing vote, appeared curious but non-committal to the plaintiff’s novel theory. Even if the Court doesn’t buy the argument that the Constitution requires the states to use voters rather than total population, if it signals that this kind of districting is permitted the consequences could be dire.

This case has to be seen as part of a larger political struggle. The Republican Party faces a problem: Demographic changes are making its overwhelmingly white voter base a smaller part of the population. This year, their presidential primary, in which the major candidates try to out-xenophobe one another, will make this problem worse rather than better. To combat this, Republican states have adopted various measures to suppress minority voters — if you can’t attract their votes, keep ‘em from the ballot box or try to make their votes count less through gerrymandering. Their allies in the Supreme Court might well use this case to assist in this vote-suppression effort once again.

 

By: Scott Lemieux, The Week, December 15, 2015

 

 

December 16, 2015 Posted by | Gerrymandering, Republicans, U. S. Supreme Court, Voting Rights Act | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Right That Is Fundamental To Our Democracy”: Two States, Two Competing Futures For Voting Rights In America

“The Voting Rights Act has been an effective tool in protecting a right that is fundamental to our democracy,” declared a rising congressional leader in 2006, “and renewing this landmark law will ensure that each and every citizen can continue to exercise their right to vote without the threat of intimidation or harassment.”

Incredibly, that statement of unequivocal support for voting rights came not from a Democrat, but from then-House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio). Of course, while it’s easy to forget now, Boehner was hardly taking a courageous stand; despite a long history of right-wing opposition to the Voting Rights Act, Boehner was merely endorsing a bipartisan reauthorization bill that passed 390 to 33 in the House and unanimously in the Senate. Upon signing it, President George W. Bush said, “My administration will vigorously enforce the provisions of this law, and we will defend it in court.” Nearly a decade later, the political landscape for voting rights has changed dramatically. We are now witnessing a clash between two radically opposing visions of American democracy.

One vision is on display in Alabama, where, half a century after civil rights activists marched on Selma, state officials are systematically undermining the right to vote. Following the implementation of a strict voter ID law, Alabama recently announced the shuttering of 31 driver’s-license offices across the state. The closures will make it more difficult to obtain the identification required to vote and will disproportionately affect the state’s black population. Indeed, as the Birmingham News’s John Archibald wrote , “Every single county in which blacks make up more than 75 percent of registered voters will see their driver license office closed.”

The other vision is on display in California, where Gov. Jerry Brown (D) recently signed automatic voter registration into law, making California the second state to approve such a measure, after Oregon did so earlier this year. Under the new law, eligible Californians will be automatically registered when they apply for a new driver’s license or renew an existing one unless they opt out. The hope is that automatic registration will raise low voter turnout, which fell to 42 percent in the 2014 election. The law could affect an estimated 6.6 million voting-age Californians who are not registered. “We do not have to opt-in to other rights, such as free speech or due process,” said California Secretary State Alex Padilla. “The right to vote should be no different.”

In short, while the Alabama vision seeks to restrict participation in our democracy, the California vision aims to maximize it. As my Nation colleague Ari Berman, author of “ Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America,” put it, “Unlike Alabama, California is using the power of the government to bring millions of new voters into the political process — treating the vote as a fundamental right, rather than a special privilege.”

The unfortunate reality, however, is that Alabama is not alone. Today, the Republican Party appears to view legitimate voting rights as a threat to its survival. In fact, limiting the number of people who decide our elections has become a central part of the Republican Party’s mission.

Just consider the record. Over the past five years, Republican state legislators have aggressively pushed voter ID bills and other policies that make it harder to vote, especially for Democratic-leaning minority groups, successfully passing laws in 21 states. In 2013, the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act, which Republican leaders vocally praised a decade ago, in a controversial 5-to-4 ruling split along party lines. And in Congress, a Democratic bill designed to restore the law has just one Republican supporter in either chamber.

The competing visions are also apparent in the 2016 presidential race. This month, Republican contender Jeb Bush explained that he does not support restoring the Voting Rights Act because “There’s been dramatic improvement in access to voting,” making it unnecessary to impose protections “as though we’re living in 1960.” In contrast, Hillary Clinton issued a bold call for automatic voter registration in June, and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) introduced an automatic voter registration bill in August. “Today Republicans are systematically and deliberately trying to stop millions of American citizens from voting,” Clinton declared. “What part of democracy are they afraid of?”

It’s no secret why Republicans would rather prevent some people from voting. While they run up big margins in midterm elections with low turnout, Republicans have won the national popular vote just once in the past six presidential elections. Moreover, instead of answering to the American public, Republican candidates are increasingly beholden to the privileged few who fund their campaigns. In the 2016 election cycle, nearly half of the contributions to presidential candidates so far have come from just 158 families. As the New York Times reports, “They are overwhelmingly white, rich, older and male.” They are also overwhelmingly backing Republicans, of course, thereby “serving as a kind of financial check on demographic forces that have been nudging the electorate toward support for the Democratic Party and its economic policies.” It’s a strategy of delay, of buying time, of staving off the inevitable.

But change is coming whether Republican politicians and their billionaire backers like it or not. They have disgraced our democracy with their voter suppression strategy, but they are not powerful enough to stop it. They will eventually have to reckon with a country that is more diverse, more compassionate and more progressive. The Alabama vision will not prevail.

 

By: Katrina vanden Heuvel, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, October 20, 2015

October 26, 2015 Posted by | Democracy, Voting Rights Act | , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Jeb Bush Balks At Voting Rights Push”: The More Salient Question Is Whether Voting Rights Have Improved Since 2008

In March, President Obama delivered a powerful speech in Selma, Alabama, where he, among other things, called for Congress to restore the Voting Rights Act. Former President George W. Bush was on hand for the event, and to his credit, the Republican president who last reauthorized the VRA stood and applauded Obama’s call.

If we’re looking for areas in which Jeb Bush disagrees with his brother, we appear to have a new addition to the short list.

The former Florida governor appeared yesterday in Iowa and was asked by an audience member about the Voting Rights Act. Jeb Bush responded:

“I think if that it’s to reauthorize it to continue to provide regulations on top of states, as though we were living in 1960, because those were basically when many of those rules were put in place, I don’t believe that we should do that. There’s been dramatic improvement in access to voting – I mean exponentially better improvement.

 “And I don’t think there’s a role for the federal government to play in most places – could be some, but in most places – where they did have a constructive role in the ‘60s. So I don’t support reauthorizing it as is.”

It’s safe to say that’s not quite what voting-rights advocates hoped to hear from the Republican presidential hopeful.

Bush’s answer, at a certain level, was confusing, though it wasn’t entirely his fault. He was responding to a questioner who specifically asked about “reauthorizing” the VRA, though that’s not what’s on the table – George W. Bush already reauthorized the VRA through 2031. When Jeb said he doesn’t support “reauthorizing it as is,” that didn’t really make substantive sense.

What is on the table is a bipartisan bill to help restore some of the provisions of the Voting Rights Act that were gutted by conservative Supreme Court justices. We can’t say with certainty what Bush thinks about the legislation – that’s not what he was asked – though in context it was obvious that Jeb is comfortable with the high court’s ruling from two years ago.

MSNBC’s Zach Roth tried to flesh out the implications of Bush’s position.

[Bush argued] that he doesn’t see a role for the federal government on voting issues in most places. That seems to suggest that he opposes the parts of the VRA left in tact by the Supreme Court – most prominently, the provision that continues to bar racial discrimination in voting and applies nationwide. It would also mean that Bush opposes other important federal voting laws, like the National Voter Registration Act, also known as the “Motor Voter” law, which requires states to offer voter registration opportunities at the DMV and public assistance agencies.

 That’s a position that some on the right hold. The platform of the Texas Republican Party, for instance, calls for repeal of the VRA and Motor Voter, and calls another important federal voting law, the Help America Vote Act of 2002, unconstitutional. But it would put Bush way out of the mainstream on the issue, even among most conservatives, who accept that there’s still a role for the federal government to play in protecting access to the ballot.

As for Jeb’s assertion that access to the polls has improved over the last 65 years, there’s no denying the accuracy of the claim. Perhaps the more salient question, however, isn’t whether or not conditions are better than they were in 1960, but rather, whether voting rights have improved since 2008.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, October 9, 2015

October 12, 2015 Posted by | Jeb Bush, Voter Suppression, Voting Rights Act | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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