Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Voting News for Aug 21, 2012

Of all the developments in The Voting Wars since 2000, the lead story has to be the successful Republican effort to create an illusion of a voter fraud epidemic used to justify a host of laws, especially tough new state voter identification requirements, with the aim to suppress Democratic turnout and to excite the Republican base about “stolen” elections. Democrats sometimes have exaggerated the likely effects of such laws on turnout—we won’t see millions of voters disenfranchised by state voter id laws, for example. But in a very close presidential election, as we are likely to see in November, new voter id rules, voter purges in places like Colorado and Floridacutbacks in early voting in Ohio, and other technical changes have the potential to suppress Democratic turnout enough to swing the election from Obama to Romney. How did we get here? Our story begins with what Josh has aptly referred to as “bamboozlement” by a group of political operatives, “The Fraudulent Fraud Squad.Read More

This year, 32 states will be holding contested elections or retention votes for judges on their highest courts. An ideological battle inFlorida, an expensive and partisan one in North Carolina and others are providing uncomfortable lessons about why judges on the highest courts should be appointed rather than elected. Elections turn judges into politicians, and the need to raise money to finance ever more expensive campaigns makes the judiciary more vulnerable to improper influence by donors.Special interests, like the casino, energy and hospital industries and others, have been heavily involved and sometimes find their ways around disclosure rules and exert their influence through independent expenditures, reducing race after race into a contest of slogans. In six states where spending has been especially heavy — Alabama, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas — the harm to justice is well documented. Read More

The fight over early voting is escalating in Florida as Gov. Rick Scott seeks agreement among counties for eight days and Democrats demand 12 days. At issue is whether all 67 counties will operate under one early voting schedule, or five counties — including Monroe — will offer more days than all the others. Days after a federal court ruled that eight days of early voting could depress African-American turnout, Scott’s chief elections advisor tried to get five counties to agree to eight days of early voting anyway — for 12 hours a day. Court approval is critical. Because of past evidence of discrimination, election law changes need clearance from the federal government or federal courts before they taking effect in Monroe, Hillsborough, Collier, Hardee and Hendry counties. Because the judges rejected the shorter early voting schedule in those counties last week, the counties must provide up to 14 days of early voting under the old law. Read More

As was reported widely in the press, if not entirely accurately, last Thursday night a Washington, DC, panel of federal judges handed down a unanimous ruling that restrictions placed on early voting in Florida should continue not to be implemented in the five counties covered by Section 5 of the 1975 amendments to the 1965 Voting Rights Act.  Florida, said the judges, “has failed to satisfy its burden of proving that those changes will not have a retrogressive effect on minority voters.” With respect to early voting, House Bill 1355–which was passed on party line votes by the Florida legislature and signed into law by Republican Governor Rick Scott in May 2011–is likely to have a differential impact it is likely to have on racial and ethnic minority voters in the 2012 general election.  In addition to my testimony before the US Senate on the topic, I’ve co-authored with Professor Michael Herron of Dartmouth College a soon-to-be published article in Election Law Journal that reveals the heavy reliance of early voting by minorities in the 2008 general election.  We found that in the 10 Florida counties that offered voting on the final Sunday of early voting in 2008, there was a surge in turnout among minority voters, especially African Americans.  That final Sunday of voting was eliminated under HB1355. Since then, Florida voters have participated in two statewide primary elections in 2012 under a dual system of elections, which very well may violate state law. Read More

The state Office of Elections issued its report Thursday concerning how the County of Hawaii handled the Primary Election. In a six-page report, Scott Nago, head of the state election’s office, ripped into Jamae Kawauchi, who as County Clerk also serves as the Hawaii County election chief. Nago said he sent a state staff member to observe the election at the Hilo county building and found ” poor planning, implementation, and leadership by the County Clerk.” Nago, however, praised county staff and volunteers who “did their best under the circumstances and were able to get through the election.” He said while the public’s confidence had been undermine, but the problems did not meet the standards used to determine whether final results might have been impacted.

Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz on Friday provided the fullest explanation yet of his office’s search for ineligible voters and picked up bipartisan support for the effort. Schultz, a Republican, was joined by Democratic Attorney General Tom Miller at a news conference to announce the state’s formal response to a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and a Latino group challenging new administrative rules related to voter registration. Miller backed up Schultz’s actions and said the state would oppose the ACLU’s request to prevent the rules from taking effect.

The special election spurred by U.S. Rep. Geoff Davis’ resignation in July has left questions for election officials about how the ballots will be handled. Gov. Steve Beshear has set the special election to fill the vacancy for Geoff Davis’ Fourth Congressional District seat on the same day as the general election on Nov. 6. Some, however, fear the two elections–one for the general election and the other special election to fill out the final months of Davis’ term that expires at the end of the year–will cause confusion. Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes and county clerks await on a Franklin Circuit Court judge’s decision on how to proceed with absentee ballots. Grimes filed suit to move the Oct. 9 deadline for candidates to file for the special election up to Sept. 10, when the state certifies the names on the general election ballot. Grimes has said it must send out ballots 45 days prior to an election for people overseas, such as the military, to have time to fill out and send back the ballots. An Oct. 9 deadline only leaves 28 days. Read More

If Rep. Todd Akin (R) does drop his Missouri Senate bid within the next 24 hours, as the GOP establishment is pressuring him to do, at least his timing will be impeccable. Missouri state law allows a nominated candidate to withdraw his or her bid for office by 5 p.m. on the 11th Tuesday before the election which, as it turns out, is tomorrow. If Akin does drop his bid before tomorrow’s deadline, the state’s GOP central committee would pick his replacement. This statutory fact alone is why Republicans — from National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (Texas) to presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) — are coalescing around a 24-hour ultimatum. Read More

When New York added the ability for voters to register online earlier this month, officials hoped it would add a lot of citizens to the state’s voter rolls. According to the office of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, fewer than 64 percent of eligible New York residents are currently registered to vote, which ranks the state 47th in the country in voter registration. The addition of the new online registration capability was especially timely, given the Aug. 19 deadline for those wishing to participate in the state’s primary election, scheduled for Sept. 13. “At the DMV, or in their own homes, New Yorkers will now have a convenient and secure way to ensure they are able to register and exercise their right to vote,” said Cuomo in a statement. And New Yorkers seem to have gotten the message. Twitter activity on Friday suggested that an influx of would-be voters brought the new system to its knees. Read More

"Our vote is our passport to democracy and freedom," said Charles Holmes, a retired pastor from the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Dayton, Ohio. He was speaking this morning to a group of 180 protesters in front of the offices of Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted in downtown Columbus. "In Ohio and all across the nation, there is an effort to take away your vote, by tricks like photo ID and reducing the number of early voting hours," Reverend Holmes said. "This is reprehensible." As the November election nears, the controversy over voting rights and voter suppression has been heating up in Ohio and other key battleground states. On Friday, Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted suspended two Democrats on the Montgomery County Board of Elections for refusing to back down on a proposal to allow weekend early voting. Husted had issued a directive on Wednesday that all 88 Ohio counties would allow some weekday evening early voting hours, but no early voting on weekends. "Secretary Husted is wrong to punish Dennis Lieberman and Tom Ritchie for voting to extend weekend voting hours," Reverend Holmes said. "We owe these two men the debt of our gratitude for standing up for all voters, not just some. Jon Husted is supposed to be an impartial referee. But he's working in partisan ways to reduce the total vote count, just as his mentor, Ken Blackwell, did in 2004." Read More

The Corbett administration has responded to a federal review of the new voter ID requirement in a letter suggesting the U.S. Department of Justice has overstepped its authority because of political opposition to the law. The Department of Justice last month notified the state that it is examining whether the voter ID law discriminates against minorities. It requested extensive documentation, including databases of voters and driver licenses, to aid in that inquiry. In a letter Friday to the Justice Department's top civil rights lawyer, General Counsel James Schultz said the state would be willing to provide the federal agency with the same information it shared with the groups who challenged the law in state court, provided the department signs a confidentiality agreement. Read More

The Justice Department has signed off on Virginia’s new voter ID law, Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) said Monday night, in a decision that clears the way for the bitterly contested measure to take effect in time for Election Day. “The legislation I signed into law is a practical and reasonable step to make our elections more secure while also ensuring access to the ballot box for all qualified voters,” McDonnell said. “It is welcome news that DOJ has recognized the compliance of this legislation with the Voting Rights Act.” The Justice Department review was needed because Virginia has a history of voter discrimination. It is one of 16 states that must receive federal approval before changing voting laws. The states must prove to the federal government that any new statutes would not discriminate against minorities. Read More

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