Nel's New Day

August 3, 2016

Voting Rights Gain Ground

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 9:04 PM

Slowly but surely courts are overturning discriminatory voting laws that restrict the rights of women, minorities, and the poor. The most recent came this week when U.S. District Judge Daniel Hovland blocked North Dakota’s voter ID law challenged by a group of Native Americans. Hovland agreed that the state’s “ill-advised” repeal of the 2013 “fail-safe” provisions placed an undue burden on Native Americans attempting to vote.

In the past ten days, North Dakota joined four other states—Kansas, North Carolina, Texas, and Wisconsin—where new voting restrictions were struck down. All the judges used racial bias as the reason for striking down the laws.

The most egregious voting laws may have been in North Carolina where the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals found that mandatory photo ID, scaled-back early voting, elimination of out-of-precinct voting, and Election Day registration targeted blacks “with almost surgical precision.” Voters weren’t allowed to use IDs common to many of them such as student and municipal government IDs. All the eliminated voting reforms came into effect in 2000 when the state was 37th in voter turnout. By 2012, the voter turnout moved the state to twelfth, and black registration and turnout increased over white registration and turnout in 2008 and 2012. Republicans decided that the blacks had to be stopped from exercising their constitutional rights. Ari Berman, author of Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America, said:

“The Legislature knew what had increased political participation, they knew what had increased black turnout, and those were the very voting methods that the Legislature decided to eliminate.”

Berman called this “the biggest victory for voting rights since the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act in 2013 … significant because North Carolina passed the country’s worst voting restrictions.” He added that the court determined elimination of Sunday voting “was the closest thing to a smoking gun that you will ever find in modern times.”

In Wisconsin, U.S. District Judge James Peterson wrote that the objective of the law passed by the GOP legislature and Gov. Scott Walker was to “suppress the reliably Democratic vote of Milwaukee’s African Americans.” Berman said:

“Wisconsin, like North Carolina, didn’t just pass a voter ID law, they passed a bunch of other under-the-radar voting restrictions. For example, they eliminated early voting on nights and weekends, when it’s most convenient to be able to vote. They made it harder to register to vote. They made it harder to cast an absentee ballot.”

A second Wisconsin ruling allows people without photo IDs to vote by filing affidavits swearing to their identity and explaining why they couldn’t obtain ID. U.S. District Judge Lynn Adelman’s doesn’t overturn the state law but instead provides an end-run and creates what the judge calls a “safety net.” Plaintiffs included a women who could not afford the fees for replacement of her lost birth certificate and who registered using her adoptive surname which did not match the birth certificate.

The two Wisconsin decisions will be appealed to the 7th Circuit where a three-panel judge could go either way, depending on which judges are selected to decide the cases.

The nation’s most restrictive voter ID law, the one in Texas, was struck down by the full conservative 5th Circuit Court in a 9-6 ruling that the law has “a discriminatory effect on minorities’ voting rights.” For example, people could use a gun permit but not a student ID. The law was left in place but people without IDs, about five percent of voters, could still vote. The lower district court has agreed with the Circuit Court, and Texas must pay $2.5 million in outreach to teach people about the new policy.

Although people talk about the ease of getting the appropriate ID, Elizabeth Gholar is an example of how this is not true. Berman said:

“Elizabeth Gholar is … an elderly woman who was born in Jim Crow North Carolina, and then she moved to Texas. She had a Louisiana driver’s license, which was not accepted as valid voter ID in Texas. And her birth certificate was not accepted as a valid form of ID to be able to get a government-issued ID in Texas. And because she was born at home to a midwife, she basically had to retain a lawyer to be able to get all her documentation in Louisiana. And this was incredibly emotional. She testified in federal court and basically said, ‘I was born in Jim Crow before African Americans were able to vote in Louisiana, and now I can’t vote again. For the first time in 60 years, I am not able to vote in the state of Texas, and this breaks my heart.’”

In Kansas, Secretary of State Kris Kobach failed to disenfranchise 17,000 people in the state’s primary who had been denied from voting for federal candidates although Kobach could prevent them from selecting state and local candidates because they didn’t show proof of citizenship with a U.S. passport or birth certificate. The ruling means that about 50,000 voters could gain the right to vote for president and congressional candidates in the November election.

Last May, a federal district court ruled that the Ohio law eliminating the week when voters could both register and vote is unconstitutional. The GOP Secretary of State, Jon Husted, appealed, but the so-called “Golden Week” remains for the November election. A district court judge ruled against Michigan’s elimination of straight-ticket voting in which a person can pull the lever once for all candidates in one party instead of voting for individuals.

One loss in the past ten days occurred in Virginia where the governor’s restoration of voting rights to 200,000 ex-felons no longer on parole or probation was ruled unconstitutional. Terry McAuliffe’s order put the state in line with many others, but conservatives were offended with the idea of prisoner rehabilitation. McAuliffe, however, has a solution: he will sign all individual requests, starting with the almost 13,000 now available, until the rights of all the 200,000 Virginians have been restored.

Less than 100 days away from a presidential election, voting rights are still in limbo in some parts of the nation. In November, the first election without the protection of the Voting Rights Act passed a half century ago, 17 states have new restrictions. In some states, these are on appeal after being struck down as in North Carolina. With Justice Antonin Scalia gone from the Supreme Court, however, the high court is much less likely stay the overturning of these laws.

To create equal voting rights across the entire country, lawmakers have introduced the Automatic Voter Registration Act of 2016 to cut costs and improve the accuracy and security of the nation’s voter rolls. The plan, which would add 50 million people to the voter rolls, would automatically sign up all people who interact with a government agency—driver’s licenses, public university registration, gun license, etc. People would be permitted to decline the voter registration. Five states already have automatic registration through the DMVs, initiated by my home state of Oregon.

People who want to suppress the vote keep talking about voter fraud because they have the “feeling” that thousands of people who aren’t eligible to vote are casting ballots. In actual “fact world,” investigators who examined elections starting with 2000 found 35 cases of voter impersonation in almost one billion votes.

Eight years ago, the Supreme Court permitted Indiana’s restrictive laws on the vague possibility that it might happen, a decision that retired Justice John Paul Stevens, author of the lead opinion, now regrets. By now, however, research shows that the laws’ purpose  is to stop voters who are presumed to vote Democratic. One study determined that “Democratic turnout drops by an estimated 8.8 percentage points in general elections when strict photo identification laws are in place,” compared to 3.6 percentage points for Republicans. More conservative estimates still indicate that voter ID can add more than a full percentage point to the GOP’s margin over Democrats. By now, too, it is obvious that these restrictive laws target minority voters.

Mark Joseph Stern has an idea about why courts are striking down unreasonable laws. He claims that judges are growing tired of the lies that GOP legislators try to feed them. Now the courts need to prevent intimidation of black voters. For example, the Hancock County Board of Elections and Registration is sending deputies to the 180 black voters in Sparta (GA) “with summonses commanding them to appear in person to prove their residence or lose their voting rights.” This is three years after the Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts said that the Voting Rights Act of 1965 is no longer necessary. He may get his chance to rule on this: the ACLU is suing, alleging that the policy is to elect white candidates in the town.

Trump Watch: GOP leaders deny that they are trying to get rid of Donald Trump, but they have grown extremely distraught because Trump won’t endorse House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) although Ryan continues to support Trump. This is more of a problem to GOP leadership than Trump’s attack on the father of a fallen soldier.


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