Voter Suppression

Bogus Voting Commission Meets For Second Time

A few days before President Donald Trump’s “election integrity” commission meets in New Hampshire on Tuesday, its vice chair, Kris Kobach, published a column in Breitbart claiming “proof” that voter fraud in the state had tipped the election against Donald Trump and Republican Senate candidate Kelly Ayotte. Kobach cited numbers released by the state’s Republican House speaker showing that 6,540 people voted in New Hampshire on Election Day using out-of-state driver’s licenses as ID. “It seems that they never were bona fide residents of the State,” Kobach concluded. (This claim echoed one made in February by Trump, who told senators, with no evidence, that “thousands” were “brought in on buses” from Massachusetts to “illegally” vote in New Hampshire.)

But there’s a far simpler and less nefarious explanation for what happened: It’s legal to use an out-of-state driver’s license as ID at the polls in New Hampshire. Indeed, when the Washington Post put out a call for people to tell their stories of voting in New Hampshire after using an out-of-state license as ID, three college students stepped forward within an hour to explain that they had done so.

“Probably most of them [those who registered using an out-of-state license as ID] are college students, but it’s hard to tell how many,” Fergus Cullen, a former chair of the New Hampshire Republican Party in 2007-2008, told us in a phone interview.

“What Kobach and the commission are conflating is a state law they don’t like with massive fraud, and they are two different things,” Cullen said.

Cullen said he’s not a fan of same-day registration and domicile laws. In the past, he said, there have been instances of paid political campaign workers using the addresses of elected officials or campaign offices to vote — only to leave the state shortly after the election.

“We call it drive-by voting,” Cullen said, adding that those kinds of cases number in the dozens, not the thousands.

“You may find that distasteful — I do,” Cullen said, “But there’s nothing illegal about it.”

As the commission meets Tuesday for the second time to discuss potential changes to the way Americans vote, its members have been busy promoting falsehoods like these, exacerbating concerns that they’ll use any pretense to restrict access to the ballot under the guise of eliminating voter fraud. The witness list for the meeting—100 percent white men—includes people who have floated radical ideas like requiring background checks for voting.

Since the commission first met on July 19, its members and their work have been mired in controversy. Here’s what’s happened since then:

  • After being almost universally rebuffed on its first attempt, the commission made a second request to all 50 states to hand over data on every American voter. Kobach wrote that “statistical conclusions [will be] drawn from the data.” But the statistics Kobach uses to support his claims of widespread voter fraud are almost always wrong. More than 5,000 voters in Colorado canceled their registrations after the commission initially asked for their data in June. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, 8 states have declined to provide any data to the commission; 11 states have imposed conditions on the release of such data; 17 states have provided data that isn’t shielded by state law; and 15 states have not yet responded.
  • Legal filings revealed that commission members are using personal emails to conduct government work—the very transgression for which Republicans excoriated Hillary Clinton. According to the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which filed a lawsuit against the commission in July, this violates the Presidential Records Act of 1978, which mandates the preservation of all presidential records.
  • Kobach signed on as a paid columnist for Breitbart, which Steve Bannon once called “the platform for the alt-right.” Ethics lawyers said that if Kobach used his column to promote the commission’s work, it would likely violate federal conflict-of-interest laws because he would profit from his position as head of a government task force.
  • On August 30, a federal judge strongly criticized the commission for failing to release documents to the public ahead of its first meeting and operate in a transparent manner. “You didn’t completely live up to the government’s representations,” Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly told Justice Department lawyers, calling their argument for the lack of disclosure “incredible.”
  • Following the attacks by white supremacists in Charlottesville, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer called for the commission to be shut downand said he’d introduce legislation to defund it. “If the president wants to truly show that he rejects the discrimination agenda of the white supremacist movement, he will rescind the Executive Order that created this commission,” Schumer wrote. “And if the president does not act, the Congress should prohibit its operation through one of the must-pass legislative vehicles in September.”

Interesting Poll Numbers From North Carolina — Trump Underwater

From PPP:

PPP’s new North Carolina poll finds strong, bipartisan opposition to cuts the General Assembly has made to the budget of the North Carolina Department of Justice. Only 18% of voters support the 10 million dollars in cuts that have been made, to 60% who say they are opposed to them. This opposition is shared by independents (9/68), Democrats (18/65), and Republicans (26/48) alike. Concern about the cuts is fueled by a sense that they will have the effect of making the state less safe- 59% of voters believe that will be the outcome of cuts to funding for the DOJ, while only 12% say they think the cuts will make the state safer.

A plurality of voters- 46%- think the Republicans in the General Assembly made the cuts just because the Attorney General is a Democrat. Only 21% think they did it because it’s good for the state, and 33% aren’t sure one way or another. This is one of several issues driving the popularity of the General Assembly- and the Republicans in it in particular- into the ground. Only 18% of voters approve of the job the General Assembly is doing, to 58% who disapprove. While the Democrats in the body aren’t popular- a 37/46 favorability rating- they come out far better than the Republicans who just 32% of voters see positively, with 55% viewing them in a negative light.

Democrats have an early 46-40 lead on the generic legislative ballot for next year. That includes a double digit lead among independent voters, at 39/29. One thing that’s particularly good news for the party is that enthusiasm is on their side- 57% of Democrats say they’re ‘very excited’ to vote in the election next year, compared to only 47% of Republicans who say that. Among just voters who say they’re ‘very excited’ about turning out in 2018, the generic ballot lead for Democrats more than doubles to 13 points at 52/39.

There continues to be a strong bipartisan consensus in support of nonpartisan redistricting in North Carolina. Overall 56% of voters support it, to just 14% who are opposed. Majorities of independents (63/10), Republicans (55/15), and Democrats (53/17) alike are in favor of shifting to that model for drawing district lines.

Roy Cooper:

Roy Cooper is off to a much better start as Governor than his two immediate predecessors. 48% of voters approve of the job he’s doing, to 33% who disapprove. He’s on solid ground with independents at 45/26, and his -32 approval with Republicans at 22/54 is actually well ahead of the curve for a politician across party lines in these heavily polarized times.

Cooper’s numbers look particularly good when compared to what PPP found for Pat McCrory and Bev Perdue in August of their first terms. Cooper’s the only one of the trio who hadn’t become unpopular within 7 months of taking office. His net approval is 27 points better than McCrory’s was at the same time, and 40 points better than Perdue’s was at the same time.

Governor Approval Rating, August of First Year in Office Net Approval
Roy Cooper 48/33 +15
Pat McCrory 39/51 -12
Bev Perdue 27/52 -25

Speaking of McCrory, voters say by a 44/37 spread that they think Cooper has been a better Governor than he was. Voters are closely divided in their feelings both about McCrory, and whether he should run again in 2020. 40% of voters see him favorably, to 41% with an unfavorable opinion of him. 41% of voters think he should run again for Governor in 2020, to 44% who think he should sit it out. Notably, among Republican voters McCrory has a 66/15 favorability rating while Lieutenant Governor Dan Forest’s is just 29/14.

National Issues:

-Donald Trump is unpopular in North Carolina, although his numbers are at least better than they are nationally. 44% of voters approve of the job he’s doing, to 50% who disapprove. Only 37% of voters think Trump has succeeded in his signature promise to ‘Make America Great Again,’ with 52% saying they believe he has failed on that front. 49% of North Carolinians say they wish they could have Barack Obama back as President, to just 45% who are happier with Trump.

One issue that’s not helping his image- or that of Republican Senators- in the state is health care. 47% of North Carolinians now support the Affordable Care Act, to only 38% who opposed to it. Repeal efforts have made it more and more popular. By contrast just 29% of voters say they support the health care repeal bill recently considered in Congress, to 51% who express opposition to that. 55% think the best path forward on health care is to keep the Affordable Care Act and make changes to it as necessary, to just 37% who think the best thing to do is repeal the ACA.

The health care vote could have long term implications for Thom Tillis. He already has weak approval numbers, with just 28% of voters approving of the job he’s doing to 45% who disapprove. By a 16 point margin voters say they’re less likely to vote in the future for someone who supported the health care repeal bill in Congress- 46% say being on the record in support of that makes them less likely to vote for someone, to only 30% who say it makes them more likely to vote for someone. That could be a problem for Tillis in 2020, and more short term for some Republican House members up for reelection next year, especially when the anger over health care is combined with the enthusiasm advantage Democrats are currently enjoying.

Full results here

NC Legislature Still At It

Despite protests, widespread criticism and a threat by the governor-elect to challenge in court any moves that he believes would unconstitutionally limit his power, the Republican-controlled North Carolina legislature is pushing through reforms that would severely limit the incoming Democratic governor’s power.

It’s insane.  One such measure, which passed the House, was that the GOP and the Democratic Party would alternate the years in which they serve as the head of the Board of Electors in each county.  The catch? The GOP will chair all 100 county boards of elections in high-turnout even-numbered years (2018, 2020, 2022, etc.).

And get this…

How indeed?  Do they think we don’t see the inherent disadvantage that one party chairs the board of elections during even-numbered years?

Fortunately, there is pushback from the Dems about the LACK of bi-partisanship.

As I write this, there are citizen protest in the gallery.  They are trying to close the gallery now.

Other measures include the partisan election of NC Supreme Court judges.  The trend in America is to move AWAY from partisan elected judges (i.e., where judges indicate their political party).  But North Carolina is to become the first state since Pennsylvania in 1921 to move back to partisan Supreme Court judge elections.

LATE UPDATE:  SB4 passes and is signed by Gov. McCrory

SB4 would create a bipartisan commission merging the current State Board of Elections, State Ethics Commission and the lobbying functions of the Secretary of State’s office, although Democrats correctly say that there is nothing “bi-partisan” about it.

Democrats said it couldn’t be called bipartisan because they weren’t involved in creating the proposal. Republicans call it bipartisan because it would create a state board and county election boards comprised of members equally split between the parties. It would also deprive the incoming Democratic administration of control of those boards; currently, the administration can appoint three of the five state members and two of the three members on each county board.

Democrats also argued that the bill is far-reaching and should be discussed in more detail in the long session next year. Republican sponsors said the ideas in the bill have been discussed in the legislature for years, and that this is a good time to make the changes because there is no impending election.

The bill would also give Gov. Pat McCrory the authority to make a one-time appointment to fill a vacancy on the state Industrial Commission for a six-year term plus the unexpired portion of the commissioner’s term. Normally, a vacancy replacement only fills out the remainder of a term.

It would also identify state Supreme Court candidates by party in primary elections.

AND MORE:

Good way to phrase it.

Another bill nearing final legislative approval would force Cooper’s Cabinet choices to be subject to Senate confirmation.

Trump’s Lies About Voter Fraud Will Make Voting Harder

From The Nation, we get another aspect of how things are getting worse already:

Less than a month after Donald Trump unexpectedly carried Michigan by 10,000 votes, Republicans in the state legislature are already pushing to make it harder to vote. The presidential recount hasn’t even finished yet and Michigan Republicans are trying to pass a strict voter-ID law through the lame-duck legislative session before the end of this year.

Under current Michigan law, a voter who does not present photo ID at the polls can sign an affidavit confirming their identify, under penalty of perjury, and cast a regular ballot. Under the new bill, which passed the House Elections Commission on a 5-3 party-line vote on December 1, voters without strict ID would have to cast a provisional ballot and then return to their local clerk’s office within 10 days of the election with photo ID to have their votes counted.

This change to Michigan’s election laws could make a big difference in future elections: 18,339 people without strict photo ID used the affidavit option to vote in 2016—8,000 votes greater than Trump’s margin of victory. One-third of the affidavits came from Detroit, where Hillary Clinton won 67 percent of the vote in Wayne County.

Already, Trump’s discredited lie that “millions” voted illegally in 2016 seems to be impacting Republican actions. “A multitude of candidates have raised the concerns about the integrity of elections,” said GOP Representative Lisa Lyons, who sponsored the bill. “We need to respond to those questions. We are going to make sure that we’re protecting you—all voters—and the integrity of the election.”

***

This is happening in other states as well.

In New Hampshire, newly elected GOP Governor Chris Sununu has called for eliminating same-day registration, and Republicans in the legislature want to tighten residency requirements to vote.

In North Carolina, GOP Governor Pat McCrory spread bogus claims of voter fraud before finally conceding to Democrat Roy Cooper, while conservative groups are challenging same-day registration and the GOP legislature is considering packing the state Supreme Court in a special legislative session beginning December 13 to reassert Republican control after Democrats won a 4-3 majority on election night.

In Wisconsin, Republican leaders called for cutting early voting, again, after high early-voting turnout in Democratic cities like Madison and Milwaukee. “We’re probably going to have to look at it again to make sure that everybody in the state has the same chance to vote,” said House Speaker Robin Vos.

In Texas, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has called for reviving the state’s strict voter-ID law, which has repeatedly been struck down as discriminatory by federal courts, listing it as one of his top 10 priorities for the 2017 legislative sessions. “I know we’re going to do photo voter ID again,” he said.

North Carolina On Center Stage Of Voter Suppression Issues

BACKSTORY:  About a month ago, on July 29, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals struck down North Carolina’s anti-voter law.  The appeals court noted that the 2013 law suppressed African-American voter turnout “with almost surgical precision” and invalidated most of it.  The court’s scathing opinion said that “because of race, the legislature enacted one of the largest restrictions of the franchise in modern North Carolina history.” The law, passed by a Republican-dominated legislature, imposed strict voter-ID requirements, cut back early-voting hours and eliminated same-day registration, out-of-precinct voting and preregistration for those under 18.

The court restored the week of early voting that the law had slashed, but it left it to local election boards to set the number of polling places and voting hours.

WHAT HAS HAPPENED SINCE: Those local election boards, all of which are led by Republicans, have tried to cut voting hours below what they were for the 2012 election.  In fact, Dallas Woodhouse, the head of the North Carolina’s Republican Party, saw an opportunity and ran with it, writing in an August email to election officials that “Republicans can and should make party line changes to early voting.”

The New York TImes opinion page fills in more:

Election boards in 23 of the state’s 100 counties have now reduced early voting hours, in some cases to a small fraction of what they were in the 2012 presidential election, according to an analysis by The Raleigh News & Observer. Boards in nine counties voted to eliminate Sunday voting. Both early voting and Sunday voting are used disproportionately by black voters.

While boards in 70 counties voted to expand the number of early-voting hours, the counties that moved to cut hours back account for half of the state’s registered voters. In heavily Democratic Mecklenburg County — the state’s largest, with about one million residents — Republicanboard members voted to eliminate 238 early-voting hours despite near-unanimous appeals from the public to add more. In 2012, African-Americans in Mecklenburg used early voting at a far higher rate than whites.

The board’s chairwoman, Mary Potter Summa, said she was “not a fan of early voting,” which she claimed presented more opportunities for “violations,” even though there is no evidence that early voting, which is used by more than half of all North Carolinians, carries an increased risk of fraud.

The specter of fraud has been used to justify voter-suppression efforts across the country, even though there is virtually no evidence of fraud. In its ruling, the Fourth Circuit said that lawmakers “failed to identify even a single individual who has ever been charged with committing in-person voter fraud in North Carolina.”

What is far more dangerous to the integrity of American elections is the persistent efforts of lawmakers to disenfranchise large numbers of minority voters, rather than to work to win their votes with a party platform that treats them with respect.

WHAT IS HAPPENING TODAY: The North Carolina State Board of Elections is working through conflicts among local election officials unable to agree on early voting schedules.  There are contested plans covering 33 of the state’s 100 counties.  They are debating these issues before standing-room only crowd.

The NS State Board of Elections is comprised of three Republicans and two Democrats.

Whether to allow Sunday voting has been a contentious question, which the court left to the state’s discretion. African-American churches have traditionally driven members to vote in “souls to the polls” efforts on Sundays, benefiting Democratic candidates more than Republicans.

In two key counties — Rockingham, north of Greensboro; and Gaston, west of Charlotte — the GOP-led board approved Republican plans that keep early-voting sites closed on Sundays.

In Craven County, near the coast, however, the board’s three Republicans made a concession, agreeing to open a single early voting site for four hours on a Sunday. Democrats had wanted two Sundays of voting before Election Day.

Civil rights activists have accused some Republicans of seeking to undermine the appellate court ruling by proposing still more barriers to ballot access.

In apparent ignorance of the court ruling, GOP leaders have countered that it’s fair for Republicans to use rules to their advantage, and that Democrats need to stop whining and play the game.

News is slow to come out, but it appears that the GOP is willing to allow for more early voting hours, but no Sundays (they really hate the “souls to the polls” thing).

UPDATE:  There is a live blog of the proceedings here.  A televised livestream is here.

Breaking: Big Victory For Voter Rights — No Voter ID In Upcoming NC Elections

NC voter ID law will NOT be enforced in fall election after the U.S. Supreme Court denies stay request (in a 4-4 split — obviously, had Scalia lived, it would have been a loss for voting rights advocates, but he didn’t so……)

The stay was a request by Republican Gov. Pat McCrory and state officials to delay a permanent injunction blocking provisions in a 2013 voting law. The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down several parts of the law last month, saying they were approved by legislators with intentional bias against black voters more likely to support Democrats.

The Supreme Court decision means voters won’t have to show one of several qualifying photo IDs when casting ballots in the presidential battleground state. Early voting also reverts to 17 days.

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Voter ID Upheld In NC

The New York Times reports:

“North Carolina’s voter identification law requires people to display one of six credentials, such as a driver’s license or passport, before casting a ballot. Those who cannot may complete a “reasonable impediment declaration” and cast a provisional ballot.

“Although critics of the law said that the voter identification standard was a cloaked effort to disenfranchise black and Hispanic voters, Judge Schroeder, who presided over a highly technical trial that began in January, dismissed such arguments.

“‘Plaintiffs’ contention that North Carolina’s requirement is one of the strictest in the country ignores the reasonable impediment exception,’ Judge Schroeder, an appointee of President George W. Bush, wrote. ‘If North Carolina is an outlier, it is because it is one of only two states in the nation to accommodate voters who wish to vote in person but for whatever reason face an impediment to acquiring qualifying ID.'”

The Raleigh News & Observer reports civil rights organizations condemned the ruling:

“‘The sweeping barriers imposed by this law undermine voter participation and have an overwhelmingly discriminatory impact on African-Americans,’ Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, said in a statement. ‘This ruling does not change that reality. We are already examining an appeal.’

“An appeal is likely and many expect the U.S. Supreme Court to be the final arbiter of the constitutionality of a law that has been monitored by many.

“‘We’re confident that the voters in this state will eventually be vindicated,’ said Allison Riggs, a senior staff attorney at Southern Coalition for Social Justice, which represented challengers to the law.”

In a statement, North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory said the ruling affirms that requiring a photo ID to vote is “not only common-sense, it’s constitutional.”  He added: “Common practices like boarding an airplane and purchasing Sudafed require photo ID and thankfully a federal court has ensured our citizens will have the same protection for their basic right to vote.”

McCrory keeps intoning “common sense”, as he did with HB2.  Apparently, to him “common sense” means fixing a problem that doesn’t exist, like voter fraud (the court opinion even acknowledges that there hasn’t ever been any voter fraud in North Carolina), and like men pretending to be transsexuals in public restrooms.

I am not confident this will be overturned on appeal.  However, I think the minority community will mobilize to register and take it out against the Republicans who pass these kind of laws in the first place.

A net plus.

How Does A “Error” Like This Happen?

Answer… it doesn’t.  I’m talking about the Spanish-language voter guides from Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s office include two errors about registering to vote in the state, while the English guides do not include the same errors.

SCOTUS Strikes Down Texas Voting Suppression Attempt

They saw what you did there, Texas.

Since the 1960s — the case of Wesberry v. Sanders – to be specific — we have had a “one person, one vote” which says that state legislative districts must be drawn so they are equal in population.

But the Republican asshole legislature in Texas (of course) wanted legislative lines to be drawn based on eligible or registered voters instead of total population as measured by the US Census Bureau, thus not counting children, immigrants (documented and undocumented), prisoners, and other nonvoters. They claimed the current system, by including nonvoters, denies “eligible voters their fundamental right to an equal vote.”

Which is bullshit.  What they were really trying to do was a transparent attempt to dilute the vote of minorities in urban areas by not counting people, but counting registered voters instead.  Combined with conservative purges of voter roles, this would shift power to more rural areas. In other words, while the population of a city might have 1 million people, if only 200k were voters, the district would be apportioned to the voter rolls. This would shift power to more rural districts, and thus give conservatives an advantage, much like how the Senate inflates power in the hands low population states.

SCOTUS saw through this.  The Notorious RGB wrote the opinion, which was — believe it or not — UNANIMOUS.

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Short Takes

(1)  Trump likes to say that he is bringing enthusiasm to the GOP and people are voting in the Republican race in massive numbers, which means that Democrats should be worried about the general election.

Is he right?

He is not. As many have pointed out, voter turnout is an indication of the competitiveness of a primary contest, not of what will happen in the general election. The GOP presidential primary is more competitive than the Democratic race.  Historically, that has no bearing on the voter turnout, or the turnout of the parties, in the general election.

(2)  I get tired of journalists and pundits saying that “the people won’t understand” if Donald Trump goes into the GOP convention with the most votes, but doesn’t end up winning.   First of all, if that is true, then journalists and pundits need to explain the difference between a majority and a plurality, and that winning on the first vote requires a majority.  But more to the point, I think the people can understand the concept, and probably already do.  We need to stop being treated like we are idiots.  That’s how we GET candidates like Trump in the first place.

(3)  The attempt to suppress votes by Republicans in North Carolina seems to have worked.

(4)  I’m definitely the first to say this, but it is very very weird how Cruz has always been unpopular with Washington insiders, and he ran as being NOT a Washington insider, and now all the Washington insiders are trying to find a way to embrace him as the last resort to Trumpism.

(5) So if you are Hillary’s people, what is your attack point on Trump? Too conservative, or an unsteady unknown?  My sense is that you actually compliment Trump (say, in a debate) for a stance that conservatives hate (his kind words about Planned Parenthood, for example).  And then you bash him on his ignorance of the world, the Constitution, etc.  I don’t think you attack his temperament.  That seems to get people on his side.

(6) Some Republicans are caving on Mitch McConnell’s decision not to hold hearings:

Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL), one of just two Senate Republicans who have indicated an openness to even having a confirmation hearing for Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland, had a message for his GOP colleagues on Friday: give Garland a vote.

“We should go through the process the Constitution has already laid out. The president has already laid out a nominee who is from Chicagoland and for me, I’m open to see him, to talk to him, and ask him his views on the Constitution,” Kirk explained in a radio interview on WLS-AM’s Big John Howell Show.

 

How Conservatives Plan To Redistrict In Their Favor

There is a case before the Supreme Court right now called Evenwel v. Abbott, and it is the most important voting rights case since the Court’s conservative majority gutted the Voting Rights Act (VRA) in 2013.

The case deals with redistricting — how you draw the lines to determine who votes in what congressional district.  What the conservatives want to do is gerrymandering — the manipulation the boundaries of an electoral constituency so as to favor one the GOP.

Right now, districts are drawn based on the number of people in each district — each district needs to have the same number of people.  But if conservatives get their way, legislative lines will be drawn based on eligible or registered voters instead of total population, thus not counting children, immigrants (documented and undocumented), prisoners, and other nonvoters. If that happened, districts would become older, whiter, more rural and more conservative, with 55 percent of Latinos, 45 percent of Asian Americans and 30 percent of African Americans excluded from political representation. The same communities most harmed by the gutting of the VRA would see their political influence further diminished.

The arguments for and against this were heard yesterday in the Court. The court appeared divided on how to proceed. Chief Justice John Roberts, who authored the opinion dismantling a key part of the VRA, expressed sympathy with the plaintiff’s argument. “Well, it is called the one person, one vote,” Roberts said. “That seems to be designed to protect voters.”

On the other hand, Justice Sonia Sotomayor took the position that states have not just a “voting interest” but “also a representation interest.” She elaborated: “A state has to be able to say—I think just as the federal government did—the legislature is protecting not just voters; it’s protecting its citizens—or noncitizens. The people who live there.”

“What we actually want,” Justice Stephen Breyer said, “is the kind of democracy where people, whether they choose to vote or whether they don’t choose to vote, are going to receive a proportionate representation in Congress.”

The Notorious RGB wondered aloud if this means that states were wrong when, prior to 1920, they including women for districting purposes.  That, she correctly mused, seemed absurd, and if the framers didn’t want to include women (for districting purposes), they would have said so (or not counted them in the census).

The swing vote on so many of these cases, Justice Anthony Kennedy. He seemed to be searching for a middle ground between the plaintiff’s claim of “voter equality” and the longstanding principle of “population equality.”

Unlike the VRA case in 2013, the civil-rights groups defending “one person, one vote” sounded confident after the oral arguments. Nina Perales of the Mexican-American Legal Defense Fund said she was “very heartened” by the questions the justices asked.

But you can never tell.  Keep an eye out for this one.

 

Fifth Circuit Strikes Down Texas Voter ID Laws

Oh, well.  Nice try, Texas — trying to prevent minorities from voting.  Among other things, the State of Texas tried to impose Voter ID laws because (they said) illegal immigrants were voting.  Of course, there was no evidence of this.  Just the opppsite — illegal immigrants (as the Fifth Circuit noted) try to AVOID government officials since the last thing they want to do is get caught.  So they’re not going to show up at the ballot box.

Texas’ new voter ID law would have hurt poor people.  21.4% of people making under $20,000 did not have a valid ID to vote. The Justice Department had argued that the Texas law, considered one of the toughest voter ID measures in the country, would prevent as many as 600,000 voters from casting a ballot because they lacked one of seven forms of approved ID.

This is a remarkable case, because the U.S. Supreme Court actually raised the standard regarding voter ID laws.  To win, the Justice Department could not just show a “discriminatory effect”, but rather, a “discriminatory intent”.  And apparently, the DOJ succeeded here.

The full opinion is below the fold.

SCOTUS Round-up: Three More Five-To-Four Decisions Today

Today is the last day of the SCOTUS term, and so they issued the last of their opinions.  The two biggest cases — on Obamacare and sames-sex marriage — came out at the end of last week, so a lot fewer people were paying attention this morning.  Here’s what happened:

(1)  DEATH PENALTY – The 5-4 decision in Glossip v. Gross was a win for conservatives who support the death penalty and viewed the case’s technical dispute over one state’s lethal injection methods.  The Supreme Court ruled that Oklahoma’s “drug cocktail” is not cruel and unusual punishment, despite the fact that it has resulted in some botched execution.  Scalia was especially snarky in his concurrence, starting with “Welcome to Groundhog Day” as he noted repeated attempts to abolish the death penalty for good.  He also said that those who seek abolition of the death penalty “reject the Enlightenment”.  (Odd!)

(2)  ENVIRONMENT – The Supreme Court in Michigan v. Environmental Protection Agency ruled 5-4 against EPA regulations to limit mercury emissions and other pollutants at power plants.  Substituting its judgment for the EPA’s the Supreme Court said the EPA’s decision to impose the regulations was not reasonable or necessary since it did not take into account the costs to utilities to make these changes.  Happy breathing, everybody!

CIrTeTxWEAEYP2U(3)  GERRYMANDERING – In a win for liberals (Kennedy siding with the liberal four), The Supreme Court in Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission upheld Arizona congressional districts drawn by an independent commission and rejected a constitutional challenge from Republican lawmakers. The outcome preserves efforts in 13 states to limit partisan influence in redistricting. Most notably, California uses an independent commission to draw electoral boundaries for its largest-in-the-nation congressional delegation.

The Arizona case stemmed from voter approval of an independent commission in 2000. The legislature’s Republican leaders filed their lawsuit after the commission’s U.S. House map in 2012 produced four safe districts for Republicans, two for Democrats and made the other three seats competitive. Democrats won them all in 2012, but the Republicans recaptured one last year.

CIrN-hRWcAE46YlJustice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote for the court that there is “no constitutional barrier to a state’s empowerment of its people by embracing that form of lawmaking.” In dissent, Chief Justice John Roberts accused the majority of approving a “deliberate constitutional evasion.”  The justices have been unwilling to limit excessive partisanship in redistricting, known as gerrymandering. A gerrymander is a district that is intentionally drawn, and sometimes oddly shaped, to favor one political party.

Republicans employed an enormously successful strategy to take advantage of the 2010 census, first by winning state legislatures and then using that control to draw House districts to maximize their power. One measure of their success: In 2012, Republicans achieved a 33-seat majority in the House, even though GOP candidates as a group got 1.4 million fewer votes than their Democratic opponents.

Chief Justice got a little snippy by inserting “what chumps” into the opinion (see right).

UPDATE – LATE IN THE DAY 5-4 RULING is good for pro-choice advocates:

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed Monday afternoon to put a hold on court rulings that have reduced the number of abortion clinics in Texas.

Four of the court’s conservatives — Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito — dissented.

A state law passed in 2013 required clinics providing abortion services to meet the same standards as ambulatory surgical centers, and it required doctors providing the services to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals.

Women’s groups asked the Supreme Court to put an emergency hold on the effect of the law while they prepare an appeal to challenge its constitutionality. They say the law, which takes effect Wednesday, would force all but nine abortion clinics in the state to close.

“Overall, there would be a net reduction in abortion facilities of more than 75% in a two-year period,” they argue in their court filings. And the clinics that remain open would find it hard to expand their services.

So for now, enforcement of the Texas law is on hold and will remain so until the court decides whether to hear the full appeal.

UPDATE – EVEN LATER IN THE DAY 5-4 RULING is good for pro-choice advocates in North Carolina:

RALEIGH — A federal appeals court must reconsider whether North Carolina can issue “Choose Life” license plates.

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday ordered the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals to reconsider its ruling last year that the state could not issue a license plate with an anti-abortion slogan unless it also issued a plate with the opposite point of view.

The order to rehear the case came after the justices ruled 5-4 last week that Texas could refuse to issue Confederate battle flag plates. In that ruling, the Supreme Court said plates are government property and don’t have to offer both sides of the debate.

The American Civil Liberties Union sued when lawmakers voted to offer the “Choose Life” plates in 2011. The appeals court said governments must offer both sides of the debate.

The ACLU said it was disappointed in the Supreme Court’s ruling and again asked the North Carolina General Assembly to offer a plate with a message supporting abortion rights.

“This case has always been about more than specialty license plates; it asks whether the government should be allowed to provide a platform to one side of a controversial issue while silencing the other,” ACLU of North Carolina Legal Director Chris Brook said in a statement.

North Carolina GOP-Controlled Legislature Punishes NC Law School For Not Firing Professor

WRAL:

A last-minute amendment by Senate leaders Wednesday docked the University of North Carolina School of Law budget by $3 million. Democrats say it’s political payback for the school’s employment of legislative critic Gene Nichol.

Despite the fact that Republican Senate leaders have been working on the budget behind closed doors for nearly three weeks, Senate Rules Committee Chairmam Tom Apodaca apparently forgot until the end of Wednesday afternoon’s floor debate – after Democrats had loudly criticized the GOP-penned budget for hours – that he wanted to take $3 million from the law school in Chapel Hill and give it to the Mountain Area Health Education Center, or MAHEC, located in Asheville.

***

The UNC School of Law employs Professor Gene Nichol, a frequent and outspoken critic of Republican legislative leaders. Earlier this year, the GOP-appointed UNC Board of Governors ordered the closure of the think tank Nichol used to lead, the privately-funded Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity, but Nichol retains his tenure on the school’s faculty.

Sen. Terry Van Duyn, D-Buncombe, chastised Apodaca for the move.

“I have great respect for you, and you know how near and dear MAHEC is to me. But this, quite frankly, breaks my heart because it seems totally undeliberative and quite, in fact, punitive and just not worthy of this body, and it pains me to say that,” Van Duyn said. “This is not the way we should be making laws.”

Sen. Mike Woodard, D-Durham, questioned whether the “capricious” cut would force reductions in financial aid or public service programs at the school.

“This feels like the Gene Nichol transfer amendment,” Woodard added.

SCOTUS Sends NC Redistricting Map Back To NC

Yesterday, the Supreme Court rejected a Republican-drawn map of congressional districts in North Carolina.   The justices ordered the NC Supreme Court reconsider whether North Carolina lawmakers inappropriately redrew the electoral map to consign large populations of black voters, a Democratic constituency, to a disproportionately small number of districts, the effect of which gives Republicans a clear electoral advantage.

Doubling Down on NC Voter Suppression

ust hours after Gov. Pat McCrory (R) signed a broad bill to massively restrict voting rights in North Carolina, localities moved to make it harder for students to vote. The moves come on the heels of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 5-4 June ruling gutting the Voting Rights Act and destroying the provisions that had long required North Carolina and other states with a history of voter suppression to seek pre-clearance before making major changes to election laws.

After the Republican legislature and Republican governor passed the nation’s worst voter suppression bill, making it more difficult for traditionally-Democratic groups like racial minorities and young people to vote, local governments wasted no time in targeting one very large constituency of young people: students.

By a two-to-one vote, the Republican majority in the Watauga County Board of Elections voted Monday to get rid of the early voting site and election-day polling place at Appalachian State University, The State reported Wednesday. With more than 17,000 students, the university is one of the largest in the state. By combining three local precincts into one, the board will force about 9,300 residents to vote in a county building with just 35 parking spots. Republican Mitt Romney narrowly carried the competitive county in 2012 with50.1 percent of the vote; President Barack Obama had narrowly won it in 2008. State Sen. John Stein, a Democrat, noted that the board was “making it harder for students to vote” purely for partisan advantage.

Tuesday, the 2-1 Republican-majority on the Pasquotank County Board of Elections voted to disqualify Elizabeth City State University students who live in the country from running for local office. The board ruled that Montravias King, a student at the university who lives on campus, had not established permanent residency. The county’s Republican chairman had challenged King’s eligibility and vowed to challenge the residency of other students in Pasquotank County and around the state — a process made easier under McCrory’s new suppression law.

A lawyer representing King voted to appeal the ruling to the state elections board, noting, “under the equal protection principles of the Constitution, you can’t treat college students differently than other voters, and there isn’t this presumption that other voters have to prove they intend to stay in the community permanently, forever and ever.” But, because North Carolina elected a Republican governor last November, that panel too is controlled by a GOP majority.

It’s Official: NC Passes Worst Voter ID Law Ever

From The Nation:

Late last night, the North Carolina legislature passed the country’s worst voter suppression law after only three days of debate. Rick Hasen of Election Law Blog called it “the most sweeping anti-voter law in at least decades” The bill mandates strict voter ID to cast a ballot (no student IDs, no public employee IDs, etc), even though 318,000 registered voters lack the narrow forms of acceptable ID according to the state’s own numbers and there have been no recorded prosecutions of voter impersonation in the past decade. The bill cuts the number of early voting days by a week, even though 56 percent of North Carolinians voted early in 2012. The bill eliminates same-day voter registration during the early voting period, even though 96,000 people used it during the general election in 2012 and states that have adopted the convenient reform have the highest voter turnout in the country. African-Americans are 23 percent of registered voters in the state, but comprised 28 percent of early voters in 2012, 33 percent of those who used same-day registration and 34 percent of those without state-issued ID.

And that’s just the start of it. In short, the bill eliminates practically everything that encourages people to vote in North Carolina, replaced by unnecessary and burdensome new restrictions. At the same time, the bill expands the influence of unregulated corporate influence in state elections. Just what our democracy needs—more money and less voting!

“I want you to understand what this bill means to people,” said Rep. Mickey Michaux (D-Durham), the longest serving member of the North Carolina House and a veteran of the civil rights movement who grew up in the Jim Crow South. “We have fought for, died for and struggled for our right to vote. You can take these 57 pages of abomination and confine them to the streets of Hell for all eternity."  

Here are the details of everything bad about the ball, via North Carolina Policy Watch. It’s a very long list:

  The end of pre-registration for 16 & 17 year olds

  A ban on paid voter registration drives

  Elimination of same day voter registration

  A provision allowing voters to be challenged by any registered voter of the county in which they vote rather than just their precinct

  A week sliced off Early Voting

  Elimination of straight party ticket voting

  A provision making the state’s presidential primary date a function of the primary date in South Carolina

  A provision calling for a study (rather than a mandate) of electronic candidate filing

  An increase in the maximum campaign contribution to $5,000 (the limit will continue to increase every two years with the Consumer Price Index from the Bureau of Labor Statistics)

  A provision weakening disclosure requirements for ”independent expenditure” committees

  Authorization of vigilante poll observers, lots of them, with expanded range of interference

  An expansion of the scope of who may examine registration records and challenge voters

  A repeal of out-of-precinct voting

  A repeal of the current mandate for high-school registration drives

  Elimination of flexibility in opening early voting sites at different hours within a county

  A provision making it more difficult to add satellite polling sites for the elderly or voters with disabilities

  New limits on who can assist a voter adjudicated to be incompetent by court

  The repeal of three public financing programs

  The repeal of disclosure requirements under “candidate specific communications.”

“We will see long lines, many citizens turned away and not allowed to vote, more provisional ballots cast but many fewer counting, vigilante observers at the polling place and all disproportionately impacting black voters,” says Anita Earls, executive director of the Durham-based Southern Coalition for Social Justice and a former deputy assistant attorney general for civil rights in the Clinton administration. “This new law revives everything we have fought against for the past 10 years and eliminates everything we fought for.”

The legislation should be a wake-up call for Congress to get serious about resurrecting the Voting Rights Act and passing federal election reform. Six Southern states have passed or implemented new voting restrictions since the Supreme Court’s decision last month invalidating Section 4 of the VRA, which will go down in history as one of the worst rulings in the past century. Voting rights groups (and perhaps the federal government) will soon challenge at least some of the new restrictions through a preliminary injunction, others sections of the VRA, or the state constitution. But if Section 5 of the VRA was still operable, North Carolina would have to clear all of these changes with the federal government and prove they are not discriminatory—practically herculean task given the facts. The new law would’ve been blocked or tempered as a result. Instead, the North Carolina legislature interpreted the Court’s decision as a green light for voter suppression, which it was, and made the bill as draconian as possible.

Move aside Florida, North Carolina is now the new poster child for voter suppression. The Moral Monday movement in the state is now more important than ever. Maybe someday we’ll look back at this period as the turning point when the nation realized just how important the Voting Rights Act was and is.