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US Civil Liberties

Election, Voting Laws and Issues

Project: US Civil Liberties
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The Republican National Committee (RNC) requires supporters to sign a “loyalty oath” to President Bush before distributing tickets to a rally in Albuquerque, New Mexico, featuring Vice President Dick Cheney. The rally takes place on July 31. Anyone who is not a verifiable Republican contributor or volunteer must sign the following oath before receiving their tickets: “I, [full name]… do herby (sic) endorse George W. Bush for reelection of the United States.” The form warns that signers “are consenting to use and release of your name by Bush-Cheney as an endorser of President Bush.” The RNC says the “loyalty oaths” are designed to keep “hecklers” out of the rally, and a local official says a “Democrat operative group” was trying to infiltrate the limited-seating event. The Washington Post later reports that the local GOP refused to give tickets to even uncommitted voters who wanted to hear Cheney speak. The presidential campaign of John Kerry (D-MA) has long charged that the Bush campaign routinely screens attendees of Bush’s speeches. A spokesman for the Kerry campaign says Democrats would not impose any sort of loyalty requirements on people attending their nominees’ speeches. The Post notes that at a recent Kerry appearance in New Mexico, a group of young men in the crowd began chanting “Viva Bush!” during Kerry’s speech. (Milbank 8/1/2004)

The conservative lobbying and advocacy group Citizens United (CU) releases a documentary intended as a refutation of the popular documentary, Fahrenheit 9/11 (see June 25, 2004), a film by liberal documentarian Michael Moore that savaged the Bush administration’s handling of the 9/11 attacks. The CU film is entitled Celsius 41.11—The Temperature at Which the Brain Begins to Die. CU spent six weeks making the film, and is releasing it in small venues around the nation after the Federal Election Commission (FEC) denied the organization permission to broadcast it on television (see September 8, 2004). (In August, the FEC dismissed a complaint against Moore over Fahrenheit 9/11 filed by CU—see August 6, 2004.) The slogan for the movie is “The Truth Behind the Lies of Fahrenheit 9/11!” The movie was written and produced by Lionel Chetwynd, who has written and produced a number of Hollywood feature films and documentaries. Chetwynd, a vocal conservative, produced the September 2003 “docudrama” 9/11: Time of Crisis, which portrayed President Bush as a near-action hero during and after the 9/11 attacks, and took significant liberties with the actual events (see September 7, 2003). Of this film, Chetwynd says: “We could have gone wall to wall with red meat on this, but we purposely didn’t. The cheap shots may be entertaining in Moore’s film, but we wanted to make the intellectual case and go beyond lecturing to the converted.” New York Times reporter John Tierney describes the movie as overtly intellectual, sometimes appearing more as a PowerPoint presentation than a film made to appeal to a wider audience. It features a point-by-point defense of Bush’s actions during the 9/11 attacks, and features “politicians, journalists, and scholars discoursing on the legality of the Florida recount in 2000, the Clinton administration’s record on fighting terrorism, and the theory of American exceptionalism.” There are a few “red meat” moments, Tierney notes, including the juxtaposition of the Twin Towers burning as Moore says in a voiceover, “There is no terrorist threat.” It also includes a few slaps against Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry (D-MA), mostly in the form of a country song where the singer Larry Gatlin sings, “John boy, please tell us which way the wind’s blowing,” a reference to the Bush campaign’s attempt to portray Kerry as a “flip-flopper” who goes back and forth in his views on various issues. The Georgetown premiere of the movie attracts some 300 viewers, almost all Republicans, according to Tierney. The audience, according to Tierney, views the film as more “thoughtful and accurate” than Moore’s film, and unlikely to make anywhere near the profits the earlier film garnered. Chetwynd says he resisted the temptation to launch an all-out assault on Kerry “the way that Moore did with Bush.” Filmgoer Jerome Corsi, who has written a bestselling book attacking Kerry’s Vietnam record, praises the film, as does Debra Burlingame, whose brother was the pilot of the airplane that was flown into the Pentagon on the morning of September 11, 2001 (see 8:51 a.m.-8:54 a.m. September 11, 2001). Burlingame, a founder of a group of 9/11 victim relatives that supports Bush, says: “Michael Moore actually used footage of the Pentagon in flames as a sight gag. It was really hard to sit there in the theater listening to people laugh at that scene knowing my brother was on that plane. I wish more people would see this film instead.” (Tierney 9/30/2004) In October, the Washington Post’s Philip Kennicott will dismiss the film as “generat[ing] heat but no new light,” calling it “sad in a sad sort of way… dull, lazy, and inconsistent,” and suffused with an “unabashed idolatry of the Great Leader (in this case, George W. Bush)” in the same way that Nazi propagandist Leni Riefenstahl made her documentaries (he wonders, “Has the conservative worldview really been reduced to a slavish worship of authority?”). Kennicott will ask if the film is an attempt to refute Moore’s documentary or an “overlong attack ad on John Kerry,” and concludes that the film is little more than a combination of “dreadful political advertisements and dreadful political talk shows.” (Kennicott 10/22/2004) TV Guide’s Maitland McDonagh will call the film a “shrill, repetitive screed” obviously released just in time to influence the 2004 presidential election, and bearing “all the hallmarks of having been thrown together in a heated rush.” (McDonagh 10/2004)

The Republican Party provides Ohio election officials with lists of the people they have recruited to work as “challengers” on election day. According to a 1953 Ohio state law—which critics says is rooted in a blatantly racist 1886 statute that emerged after the Civil War—“challengers” are permitted to challenge the qualifications of voters who they suspect are not eligible to vote. (Moss 10/23/2004; Andrews 11/1/2004) Before a challenger can ask a poll worker to question a voter, it must first be shown that there is “reasonable” justification for doubting a voter’s qualifications. All eligible voters must be citizens, at least 18, a resident of the county and must have lived in Ohio for the previous 30 days. The Republicans’ list includes 3,600 challengers, many of whom will be working in the heavily Democratic urban neighborhoods of Cleveland, Dayton and other cities. For example 1,436 of the Republican challengers will be stationed in Cuyahoga County, which includes Cleveland, a Democratic stronghold. The Republicans claim that using challengers is necessary because the Democrats may have fraudulently registered thousands of ineligible voters. The Democrats enlist more than 2,000 recruits as challengers who they hope will protect legitimate voters from being denied their rights by their Republican counterparts. But in some of the most critical counties the Democrats will be grossly outnumbered. For Cuyahoga County, the Democrats will only have 300 challengers. (Moss 10/23/2004) Election officials are concerned about the huge number of challenges that are expected at the polls. “I’m not sure how we’re going to accomplish this,” says John Williams, deputy elections director in Hamilton County. “We’ve never had anything like this before.” Some fear that the challengers intend to reduce voter turnout. “Some observers worry the parties will indiscriminately challenge voters in heavily Democratic or Republican precincts as a strategy to discourage people from voting,” The Columbus Dispatch reports. (Niquette 10/23/2004)

In Akron, Ohio, the Summit County Democratic Party goes to the federal district court in an attempt to block the Republicans’ plan to station some 3,500 “challengers” at voting sites in 65 different Ohio counties (see 4:00 p.m., October 22, 2004). They say that the 1953 vote-challenge law—which critics say is rooted in a blatantly racist 1886 statute that emerged from the Civil War—jeopardizes people’s fundamental right to vote. The law allows citizens to be denied the right without an opportunity to be represented by an attorney or rebut evidence. The case will be decided Monday morning (see Early Morning, November 1, 2004) (Andrews 11/1/2004; Niquette 11/1/2004; Weinstein 11/2/2004)

Following Judge Susan Dlott’s ruling (see Afternoon, October 29, 2004), Ohio Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell instructs Ohio Attorney General Jim Petro to recommend to federal judges that all challengers be barred from polling locations. (Niquette 10/31/2004; Andrews 11/1/2004) He reasons that poll workers hired and paid by the local election boards and supplied by the parties should be able to protect against voter fraud. He also says the challengers could generate confusion. (Dao 10/29/2004; Sloat 10/31/2004) But Petro refuses, saying that to do so would be a violation of Ohio law. “Neither the secretary of state nor I can negotiate away the legal rights of Ohio’s citizens,” Petro says in a statement. “Thus, I cannot submit to the federal courts the secretary’s unlawful proposal to ban all challengers for all parties, candidates or issues on Election Day.” Both officials are Republicans. (Sloat 10/31/2004; Niquette 10/31/2004; Andrews 11/1/2004)

In a fax to US District Judge Susan Dlott, Assistant Attorney General R. Alexander Acosta, offers the Justice Department’s unsolicited opinion on a pre-election lawsuit that has been filed by Donald and Marian Spencer (see October 29, 2004), elderly African American civil rights activists, who claim that Republican plans to deploy thousands of partisan challengers to Ohio polls on election day violates the US Constitution and the 1965 Voting Rights because it targets black neighborhoods in Hamilton County. Copies of the fax are sent to Al Gerhardstein, who is representing the Spencers, and Ohio Attorney General Jim Petro. (Dyer 10/31/2004; Sloat 10/31/2004) Acosta writes in his letter that civil rights lawyers for the Bush administration’s Justice Department see no reason why the plan would be illegal. “[N]othing in the Voting Rights Act facially condemns challenge statutes,” the letter claims. Bush’s Justice Department also argues that “[r]estricting the ability of citizens to make challenges when they have such information would undermine the ability of election officials to enforce their own state laws that govern the eligibility for voting.” (Sloat 10/31/2004; Dyer 10/31/2004; Weinstein 11/1/2004) Gerhardstein says he believes the Justice Department may have breached legal rules by contacting the judge directly. “It is totally unusual, it is unprecedented for the Justice Department to offer its opinions on the merits of a case like that,” he tells the Cleveland Plain Dealer. “This is the civil rights division saying it is OK for voters to be ambushed when they reach for a ballot.” (Sloat 10/31/2004) Similarly, he tells the Los Angeles Times: “The Justice Department is not a party to the case. They have not filed a motion to intervene in the case or filed an amicus brief. They volunteered information that goes beyond any federal interest.” (Weinstein 11/1/2004)

In Cincinnati, US District Judge Susan J. Dlott rules on a case brought by Donald and Marian Spencer (see Evening, October 31, 2004), in which the couple challenged the GOP’s plan to deploy challengers to polling sites in Hamilton County (see 4:00 p.m., October 22, 2004). Dlott, appointed by Clinton in 1994, rules against the Republican plan, noting that there is no need to have challengers since Ohio already requires the presence of election judges at precincts in order to avoid voter fraud. “Under Ohio law, each polling place is staffed by four election judges, no more than two of whom can be from a single party,” the Los Angeles Times explains. “One of the four is appointed by each county election board to be the presiding judge, who can rule on challenges to a voter’s qualifications.” Dlott warns in her 18-page decision that the Republican plan, if permitted, could cause “chaos, delay, intimidation and pandemonium inside the polls and in the lines outside the door.” She notes “that 14 percent of new voters in a majority white location will face a challenger… but 97 percent of new voters in a majority African American voting location will see such a challenger.” Dlott says also that the law permitting challengers does not sufficiently protect citizens’ fundamental right to vote. (Andrews 11/1/2004; Niquette 11/1/2004; Weinstein 11/2/2004; Wilkinson and Andrews 11/2/2004) Dlott ruling is very similar to another one that is delivered a few hours later in a similar case in Akron (see Early Morning, November 1, 2004). Commenting on the two rulings, two election law experts, professor Edward Foley of Ohio State University Law School in Columbus and Richard L. Hasen of Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, both tell the Los Angeles Times that they consider it significant that the two judges have provided similar rationales for their rulings. “It is quite striking that the reasoning of both judges is the same and they echo one another,” Foley says. (Weinstein 11/2/2004)

In Akron, Ohio, US District Judge John R. Adams rules on a case brought by local residents (see Late October 2004), challenging the Republicans’ plan to station challengers at polling sites in 65 Ohio counties (see 4:00 p.m., October 22, 2004). Adams, appointed by Bush in 2002, rules against the GOP plan. In his decision he notes that Ohio already requires the presence of election judges at precincts in order to avoid voter fraud and that there is therefore no need to place challengers at the polls. “Under Ohio law, each polling place is staffed by four election judges, no more than two of whom can be from a single party,” the Los Angeles Times explains. “One of the four is appointed by each county election board to be the presiding judge, who can rule on challenges to a voter’s qualifications.” Judge Adams also expresses concern that “random challenges or challenges without cause advanced by members of any political party… could result in retaliatory ‘tit for tat’ challenges at the polling places.” Furthermore, he argues, “If challenges are made with any frequency, the resultant distraction and delay could give rise to chaos and a level of voter frustration that would turn qualified electors away from the polls” Finally, Adams also says that the law permitting challengers does not adequately protect a citizen’s fundamental right to vote. (Weinstein 11/2/2004) Adams ruling is very similar to another one that was delivered just a few hours ago in a similar case in Cleveland (see 1:24 a.m., November 1, 2004). Commenting on the two rulings, two election law experts, professor Edward Foley of Ohio State University Law School in Columbus and Richard L. Hasen of Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, both tell the Los Angeles Times that they consider it significant that the two judges have provided similar rationales for their rulings. “It is quite striking that the reasoning of both judges is the same and they echo one another,” Foley says. (Weinstein 11/2/2004)

Christine Gregoire and Dino Rossi.Christine Gregoire and Dino Rossi. [Source: Associated Press / KomoNews]State Attorney General Christine Gregoire (D-WA) is apparently defeated in the Washington State gubernatorial race in the closest such race in US history, losing to former state senator and current real-estate mogul Dino Rossi (R-WA) by 261 votes. The percentage vote is split evenly, 49-49, with 2 percent of the vote going to Libertarian Ruth Bennett. Democrats John Kerry (D-MA) and Patty Murray (D-WA) won the state’s presidential and Senate races, respectively. Both Gregoire and Rossi attempted to run as relatively moderate members of their parties, though their stance on health care, in particular, showed striking differences between them: Rossi ran on a platform of limiting lawsuit awards and drastically cutting state spending on Medicare and other expenditures, while Gregoire promised to expand coverage by finding ways to cut spending in other areas. Both candidates attacked the other relentlessly on the health care issue. On the evening of the election, November 2, Gregoire leads by some 7,000 votes, but as absentee votes are counted over the next few days, her lead dwindles and vanishes. By November 17, when all 39 counties complete their vote tallies, Rossi leads by 261 votes. State law mandates a machine recount, and the recount cuts Rossi’s lead to 42 votes. On November 30, Secretary of State Sam Reed certifies Rossi as the winner. Gregoire requests an additional recount, to be paid for by the Washington Democratic Party, and also files suit asking that ballots rejected in the first count be reconsidered, citing what the suit calls “[p]rior errors and inconsistencies in the initial canvassing and machine recount of ballots.” State Democratic Party chair Paul Berendt says: “I’ve never stopped believing Chris Gregoire was elected governor. It would be easy to demand a recount in a few counties, but she wanted every vote or no vote, and that’s what we’re going to do.” Rossi campaign spokesperson Mary Lane retorts: “As far as we’re concerned, it’s trying to overturn the legitimate result of this election by any means necessary, ethical or not. Christine Gregoire cares more about her own political ambition than what the voters actually think.” Republican Party Chairman Chris Vance calls the lawsuit to reconsider rejected votes “a nuclear bomb. It will blow up our election system in Washington state.” The suit is filed on behalf of four voters who claim they were denied the opportunity to vote. One of those voters, Ronald Taro Suyematsu of King County, says he never received his absentee ballot in the mail. He voted on Election Day using a provisional ballot, but he was not listed as a registered voter and his vote was discarded. Democrats allege that many ballots were inappropriately challenged by Republican observers, that county canvassing board rejected qualified ballots, and voters were denied meaningful notice of challenges. The lawsuit also says counties used varying standards “regarding signature-matching for absentee and provisional ballots.” The suit does not allege deliberate manipulation by county officials. “In some respects, the problems might not be more frequent than in a typical election, but the narrow margin between the candidates means that, unlike the typical election, they are not harmless,” the suit alleges. (Galloway 10/20/2004; 2004 General Election - First Recount > Statewide Offices > Results 11/17/2004; Garber and Postman 12/3/2004; HistoryLink (.org) 6/7/2005)

Christine Gregoire (D-WA), declared the loser in her gubernatorial race against Dino Rossi (R-WA) by a mere 42 votes (see November 2-30, 2004), is shown to be the winner after a full recount. On December 23, 2004, Gregoire is certified to have gained 919 votes in the recount, and Rossi gained 748, giving Gregoire a 129-vote lead. The State Legislature certifies the vote, and Gregoire is sworn in as governor on January 12, 2005. (Washington Secretary of State 12/23/2004; Thomas 12/30/2004; HistoryLink (.org) 6/7/2005) 1,555 votes in Democratic stronghold King County were initially not counted, 573 of them because their signatures had not been entered into the computer database. It is certain that these 573 votes were improperly rejected, and perhaps many of the others as well, the King County Elections Board determines. The error comes to light when Larry Phillips, chairman of the Metropolitan King County Council, discovers that his vote was disqualified. His request to find out why he was disqualified leads to the discovery of the 573 uncounted votes. Republican Party chairman Chris Vance says of the findings that he and his fellow Republicans are now “absolutely convinced that King County is trying to steal this election.… There are Republicans urging us to organize mass protests, to take to the streets. At some point people’s patience just runs out.” He adds: “It’s either gross incompetence or vote fraud. I guess we should just keep expecting King County to find votes until they find enough.” Republicans accuse state Democrats of attempting to rewrite Washington’s election laws to ensure Gregoire is named the victor. (Postman 12/14/2004; Seattle Times 12/14/2004) As many as 162 absentee ballots in King County were “misplaced” and not counted. King County Elections Director Dean Logan said before the recount was complete that “we knew as fact” those voters were improperly disenfranchised. (Seattle Times 12/17/2004) King County Republican Dan Satterberg, a member of the King County Canvassing Board, says: “We’re determining the validity of votes and ballots one at a time.… It reminds me of when I would umpire Little League games. You never want the umpire’s call to make the decision in the game.” Satterberg attempts to block the counting of disputed absentee ballots, but is outvoted by the canvassing board’s two Democratic members. The State Supreme Court reverses a lower court ruling and allows the absentee ballots to be counted in the larger totals. On December 21, just before the vote totals are announced and Gregoire is named the winner, some 350 protesters gathered in front of the Supreme Court building, demanding that Rossi be named the winner, accusing the Gregoire campaign of orchestrating a systematic voter fraud effort, and comparing Washington State to Ukraine, a nation whose recent elections were marred by massive voter fraud. The rally was sponsored by a conservative talk radio station. (Associated Press 12/22/2004; Gilmore 12/23/2004) Washington State Republicans file a lawsuit challenging the recount and demanding that Rossi be sworn in as governor, citing as evidence their claims that hundreds of convicted felons voted without going through the procedure to have their civil rights restored. They also claim a raft of other irregularities benefited Gregoire, particularly in the Democratic stronghold of King County, and will challenge 1,678 votes cast as “illegal” and “fraudulent.” (HistoryLink (.org) 6/7/2005) Rossi will demand a new election (see December 29-30, 2004), a demand that will not be honored (see February 4, 2005).

Real-estate mogul Dino Rossi (R-WA), who was declared the loser in the 2004 Washington State gubernatorial race by a mere 129 votes (see December 23, 2004 - January 12, 2005), demands that the entire result be thrown out and a new election held. “Quite frankly, folks, this election has been a total mess,” he says. Secretary of State Sam Reed (R-WA), who certified Christine Gregoire (D-WA) as the legitimate governor, responds, “I do not feel like this has been a botched election.” He says the election process had been fair, but adds, “I would not say I think somebody ought to be conceding at this point.” Rossi can contest the election, Reed says. Rossi says if a court finds in his favor, he would argue for an entirely new election as opposed to the court or the legislature deciding the outcome. “The people have a right to decide who their next chief executive officer is for the state of Washington, if we end up with an election set aside,” he says. Rossi urges Gregoire to join him in calling for a new election in the interest of comity and voter confidence. If she takes the position after the recounts, Rossi says, her tenure will be “shrouded in suspicion.” To head that off, he says, “[a] revote would be the best solution for the people of our state and would give us a legitimate governorship.” Gregoire’s spokesperson Morton Brilliant says Gregoire is not considering such an action. “This ain’t golf,” he says. “No mulligans allowed here, folks.” Washington Democrats call Rossi’s request “ridiculous” and “hypocritical.” Kirsten Brost of the Washington Democratic Party says: “In the same breath, Dino Rossi says a drawn-out process would hurt Washington state and then he asks for another election. He wants to spend $4 million of taxpayer money for a new election because he doesn’t like the results.” State law does not allow for a revote, but Reed says it could happen if a court or the state legislature orders one. Rossi says that if his and Gregoire’s positions were reversed, he would welcome a new election. “I would not want to enter office with so many people viewing my governorship as illegitimate,” he says. Former Secretary of State Ralph Munro (R-WA) originally called for a revote, saying the current election count had been bungled so badly no one had confidence the votes were counted accurately. Munro is the chairman of Votehere Inc., a company that manufactures a “safe and secure” voter tallying system. Munro denies trying to drum up business for his firm, and says that if such a revote were held, he would not care who won. (Thomas 12/30/2004)

A five-member team in the Justice Department’s civil rights division reviews a new Georgia law requiring voters to present a photo ID or buy one for $20. Four of the five members say the law will disproportionately suppress minority votes because minorities are less likely to have a driver’s license or passport. Division supervisors—Bush administration political appointees—approve the law in spite of the team’s conclusion. A judge later throws the law out, comparing it to a Jim Crow-era poll tax (see September 19, 2006). The single member of the division team who favored the law is a recent political hire, a graduate of the University of Mississippi Law School, and a member of the Federalist Society and the Christian Legal Society (see Fall 2002 and After). (Savage 2007, pp. 297)

Washington State Republicans file a lawsuit challenging the results of an election recount that gave Christine Gregoire (D-WA) the victory in a close race for the governorship against Dino Rossi (R-WA—see December 23, 2004 - January 12, 2005). Rossi’s recent demand for an entirely new election was not heeded (see December 29-30, 2004). Rossi announces the lawsuit, challenging the validity of the recounts that eventually gave Gregoire the victory. He says that if the court finds in his favor, he would again ask for a new election: “It’s clear that this election is a mess. A re-vote is the only way I think we can go.” The suit is being filed in Chelan County Superior Court, an eastern county. Republicans say they prefer this venue to a court in Western Washington, which they say is more liberal. Kirsten Brost of the Washington Democratic Party says that regardless of what the court may say, there is no provision in state law for a new election. “If they are going to have another election, they would have to amend the state Constitution,” she says. Rossi and state Republicans are claiming that voter fraud gave Gregoire the victory. “We’ve found people who are felons that have voted, we’ve found people who have voted more than once,” Rossi says. “We’ve also found people who have remained politically active after they are dead.” (Sanders 1/7/2005)
Reports of Dead People Casting Votes - The Seattle press recently reported that a Seattle resident had cast a vote on behalf of his wife who had died shortly before the election. The man said his wife wanted him to cast her vote for Rossi, and he did so. “A dead person cannot vote, not even for me,” Rossi says. Seattle prosecutors are investigating the charge, along with evidence that at least seven other ballots for dead voters were cast. One of the eight cases uncovered by the Seattle press was due to an administrative error that inaccurately listed a living voter as having died. Another vote cast by a woman who died in August was challenged by the woman’s husband, who insists that he destroyed the absentee ballot mailed to their residence after she died. A third case involves a woman using her deceased husband’s absentee ballot instead of the one mailed in her name. Another was cast by a man who filled out his absentee ballot, then died before he mailed it. His wife mailed the ballot on his behalf. “These are not indications of fraud,” says Bill Huennekens, King County’s elections supervisor. “Fraud is a concerted effort to change an election.” (Le and Nicolosi 1/6/2005; Sanders 1/7/2005)
Hundreds of Provisional Ballots Causing Controversy - More to the point are the hundreds of provisional ballots which may have been improperly counted. Republicans say that King County, the state’s largest county and a reliable Democratic stronghold, counted many provisional votes without determining that the people who cast them were registered voters. King County officials recently admitted that 348 provisional ballots were mistakenly counted. Gregoire was certified the winner by 129 votes, though it is unlikely that all 348 provisional ballots were cast for Gregoire.
Minor Mistakes Being Used to Challenge Election? - Brost says that Republicans are pointing at a small number of routine tallying errors and trying to use them to reverse a legitimate outcome. “In order to throw out this election,” she says, “they would have to prove that the mistakes made resulted in the wrong person winning. It’s not sufficient to just say there’s mistakes.” Secretary of State Sam Reed (R-WA) says he approves of the lawsuit. “A court of law is the proper forum to provide a judicious and objective answer to legitimate questions raised about the elections and its results,” he says. (Sanders 1/7/2005)

Washington State Republicans claim they have found 489 felons who illegally voted in the November 2004 election, and 300 or more votes that they allege were cast illegally. They are challenging the results of a recount that gave Christine Gregoire (D-WA) the governorship of Washington over Republican challenger Dino Rossi (R-WA—see January 7, 2005). Four hundred and twenty-four of those alleged felons are in King County, Washington’s largest county and a heavily Democratic stronghold. Seattle is in King County. Fourteen alleged felons are in Pierce County, which includes the large urban area of Tacoma. A Seattle Times investigation has found 129 felons in King and Pierce counties who voted without having their rights restored. Both the Times and the Washington GOP are using criminal records databases to make their determinations, and public voting records from the Office of the Secretary of State. It is not recorded which candidates these alleged felons voted for. Washington Republicans say that they have found more than enough evidence of improper voting to justify a new election (see December 29-30, 2004), but Washington Democratic Party official Kirsten Brost says, “There’s no proof that Dino Rossi won the election, and that’s what you need to show.” (Postman 1/27/2005; Postman 1/29/2005)

Superior Court Judge John Bridges rules that Washington State will not have a new election to determine who is governor of the state. Bridges is presiding over a lawsuit filed by Washington Republicans that asks him to throw out the recount that determined Christine Gregoire (D-WA) defeated Dino Rossi (R-WA) in the November 2004 election (see January 7, 2005). Gregoire was sworn in as governor on January 12, 2005 (see December 23, 2004 - January 12, 2005). Bridges rules that even if Republicans prove their contention that the election was so fundamentally flawed that the results are in doubt (see January 24-28, 2005), state law does not allow for a revote. “The court doesn’t have the authority,” Bridges rules. Bridges also throws out a Democratic request to have the case thrown out entirely. Republicans call the ruling a minor victory for Democrats that means little in the larger context, but Democrats call the ruling the beginning of the end for Republican hopes of having Gregoire’s victory vacated. Rossi’s campaign calls the ruling “a crushing day for Democrats.” A lawyer for the Washington Democratic Party, Russell Speidel, calls the ruling “a huge decision for Christine Gregoire.” Speidel says that under Bridges’s rulings, Republicans “now have to specifically prove that Mr. Rossi won the election,” an extremely difficult legal goal to meet. Speidel says that in essence, Republicans would have to march hundreds of people through the court to admit that they cast illegal votes for Gregoire. Republicans say that Speidel’s assessment is flawed. (Kamb 2/4/2005)

The Nebraska legislature overturns the state’s lifetime ban on voting by convicted felons, replacing it with a two-year post-sentence ban. Governor Dave Heineman (R-NE) vetoes the bill, but is overridden by the legislature. (American Civil Liberties Union 2008; ProCon 10/19/2010)

Lawyers for the Washington Democratic Party celebrate after the court ruling certifying Christine Gregoire as governor.Lawyers for the Washington Democratic Party celebrate after the court ruling certifying Christine Gregoire as governor. [Source: Seattle Post-Intelligencer]State Attorney General Christine Gregoire (D-WA) is certified the winner of the Washington State governor’s race against challenger Dino Rossi (R-WA). Rossi was initially declared the winner (see November 2-30, 2004), but the race was so close that Gregoire asked for a recount, as was her right under the law (see December 23, 2004 - January 12, 2005). Republicans challenged the recount in court, citing 1,678 votes as “illegal” (see January 7, 2005 and January 24-28, 2005). Superior Court Judge John Bridges rules against the Republican plaintiffs. He finds that although some voting irregularities did occur in the largely Democratic King County, they were not the result of deliberate voter fraud or manipulation. “No evidence has been placed before the court to suggest fraud or intentional misconduct,” he says. “Elections officials attempted to perform their responsibilities in a fair and impartial manner.” In only five instances—five votes—was evidence presented that showed the intent of the voter in the 1,678 “illegal” votes cast. For the other 1,673, officials were unable to determine which candidate the voters in question selected on Election Day. None of those five votes were for Gregoire: Democrats presented evidence that four convicted felons had illegally voted for Rossi and a fifth for a third-party candidate. Bridges deducts those five votes from the final tally, giving Gregoire the final and official 133-vote margin of victory. Bridges refused Republicans’ demands to subtract what they called “invalid votes” from the statistical totals of vote tallies, and to statistically refigure the votes. Such an action would constitute the worst kind of judicial activism, Bridges says. As a result, “The court concludes that the election contest petition should be dismissed and the certification of Miss Gregoire as governor confirmed.” State Democratic Chairman Paul Berendt says: “It’s a huge victory. But the centerpiece was that the Republicans never had a case. They need to drop their case so the state can get on with its important business. They have shown that they will spend anything, they will say anything, and they will do anything to tear down Christine, and it’s time for that to stop.” Later in the day, Rossi says he will not appeal the ruling to the Washington Supreme Court: “With today’s decision, and because of the political makeup of the Washington State Supreme Court, which makes it almost impossible to overturn this ruling, I am ending the election contest,” he says. Bridges says that if the election process is flawed, it is up to the state legislature to fix it, not the courts. (Roberts 6/5/2005; Borders et al. v. King County et al. 6/6/2005; Argetsinger 6/7/2005; HistoryLink (.org) 6/7/2005)

Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack (D-IA) announces that he will sign an order on July 4 that restores voting rights for all Iowa felons who have completed their prison sentences. Since 1846, Iowa has had what voting rights advocates call one of the most restrictive disenfranchisement laws in the nation (see 1802-1857). Felons should “re-engage” with society, Vilsack says, and restoring their right to vote will help in that process. Some 80,000 Iowans will be affected by the order. Voting rights advocates say that since Iowa and Nebraska (see March 2005) have moved to reinstate voting rights by convicted felons, other states should make similar efforts. Some 4.7 million Americans are ineligible to vote because of criminal convictions, including a half-million war veterans. 1.4 million of these ineligible voters are African-American males. Iowa was one of five states, including Alabama, Florida, Kentucky, and Virginia, that deny the vote to any citizen convicted of a felony or an aggravated misdemeanor. Previously, Iowa required convicted felons who wanted their right to vote reinstated to petition the governor’s office, which would then forward the application to the State Division of Criminal Investigation, which would in turn send the application to the parole board for a recommendation. The process could take up to six months to complete. About 600 ex-felons petitioned for restoration in 2004. After he signs the order, Vilsack says, about 600 felons will be restored to the voting rolls each month. The Iowa Department of Corrections must submit monthly lists of eligible ex-felons to Vilsack’s office. While blacks make up only 2 percent of Iowa’s population, 19 percent of those denied the vote are black, prompting many to say that the law is discriminatory. Catherine Weiss of the Brennan Center for Justice says, “This is a huge victory for voting rights and for civil rights.” Iowa was under tremendous pressure to overturn its ban after Nebraska ended its ban. Weiss says that Nebraska and Iowa were the only two states outside the former Confederate South to maintain such restrictive bans. Ryan King of the Sentencing Project, an organization working to reinstate the right to vote for felons across the nation, says: “The governor’s choice of doing this on July 4 is very symbolic. It’s a celebration of democracy.” Debra Breuklander, a former felon who joins Vilsack at the press conference, says the order goes beyond politics. Breuklander was convicted of conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine and was released from prison in June 2003. She now works as a nurse at a drug treatment center. “I have children that are still in school; I have a grandson that will be going to school,” she says. “Not even to be able to have a say-so in what goes on in the schools was driving me crazy.… If nobody hires you and you don’t feel like you’re a part of anything, all you will do is feel like you may as well go back to what you know, which is the drugs.” (Zernike 6/18/2005; American Civil Liberties Union 2008; ProCon 10/19/2010)

John Tanner, the head of the civil rights division’s Voting Rights Section (VRS) in the Justice Department, writes a four-page letter to Nick A. Soulas, a civil prosecutor in Franklin County, Ohio. The letter is a notification that Tanner is ordering the closure of a VRS investigation into the unbalanced distribution of voting machines in Franklin County, which contains the large urban area of Columbus. Complaints had been filed alleging that districts with a predominance of white voters received a disparately larger number of voting machines than districts with a predominance of African-American voters. Although that disparity has been proven, Tanner writes that the disparity does not violate the Voting Rights Act (see August 6, 1965). The letter essentially defends the disparity, arguing that the use of such disparate numbers of machines is acceptable. It also praises the Franklin County Board of Elections for buying approximately 2,100 new voting machines. Sources, including a VRS staffer who left the section in late 2004, will later tell the citizen journalism project ePluribus Media (ePM) that many inside and outside the VRS found the letter “repugnant.” Moreover, they will tell the ePM researchers that the DOJ almost never writes such a letter: when it finishes an investigation it deems unworthy of pursuing, it merely sends a letter informing the involved parties that it is closing the investigation. For Tanner to write and send such a letter is highly unusual. And, Tanner’s is the only signature on the letter. No staff attorneys sign off on the letter. Sources will tell ePM that the lone signature apparently indicates that Tanner was the only person working the investigation. Section chiefs such as Tanner almost never handle investigations. ePM will say that the letter presents what it calls “convoluted excuses for why black voters didn’t have enough machines and white voters did.” (US Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division 6/29/2005 pdf file; ePluribus Media 5/7/2007)

Congressional Republicans jump-start the process to renew the 1965 Voting Rights Act (VRA—see August 6, 1965 and June 29, 1989) in what media and political observers believe is an effort to outflank Democrats, who are traditionally the most staunch supporters of the bill. Key portions of the bill are set to expire in 2007, including Section 5, which requires that states, districts, and other locales with a history of racial discrimination in their electoral processes get Justice Department approval before making any changes to voting procedures. Section 5 is intended to ensure that minorities are not disenfranchised due to their race. Observers believe Republicans want to avoid a showdown over the bill in light of the upcoming midterm elections in 2006. In 1982, the Reagan administration fought Congressional Democrats over an expansion of the law, and Republicans want to make sure that scenario does not play itself out again as the midterm elections approach. Republicans also want to reach out to African-American voters, traditionally a strong Democratic voting bloc. Representative John Lewis (D-GA), a veteran of the civil rights struggle, says, “I’m not surprised at all” that Republicans want to renew the VRA and reach out to black voters. “The Republicans are reaching out to the African-American voters.… They want to make a dent with the black electorate, take some of those voters away from the Democratic side.” Lewis intends to insert language into the renewal bill that would invalidate a recent Georgia law requiring photo identification for prospective voters, a requirement he and many others say would discriminate against the poor and the elderly. Representative James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) broke with recent Republican tradition by calling on Congress to renew Section 5 and other portions of the VRA at the NAACP’s annual convention in July. “I am here to tell you publicly what I have told others privately, including the head of the Congressional Black Caucus, Rep. Mel Watt,” Sensenbrenner told the assemblage. “During this Congress we are going to extend the Voting Rights Act. We cannot let discriminatory practices of the past resurface to threaten future gains. The Voting Rights Act must continue to exist—and exist in its current form.” Sensenbrenner said at the convention that House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) considers renewal of the VRA “high on his list of issues the House will address this Congress.” A representative for Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) says Frist is “fired up” over renewal of Section 5. Only a few months ago, Bush appeals court nominee William Pryor, a Republican from Alabama, called Section 5 “an affront to federalism and an expensive burden that has far outlived its usefulness,” a controversial characterization that Senator Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) and other Republicans defended. In May, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales suggested that the Bush administration is not fully behind reauthorization of Section 5. Political observers say that Democrats intend to use any further Republican opposition to the VRA to claim that Republicans are insensitive to black voters, even as senior Republican strategists like Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman say they want the party to appeal to that demographic. Mehlman told the NAACP convention in July that Republican leaders had tried over the past 40 years “to benefit politically from racial polarization.” He then said, “We were wrong” to do so. (Curry 10/4/2005)

Bradley Schlozman, the head of the voting rights section of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division (CRD), writes an op-ed published in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution alleging that the newspaper is guilty of “confus[ing] and misrepresent[ing]” the facts surrounding his office’s approval of a controversial Georgia voter identification statute (see 2005). The voter ID law has been criticized as being discriminatory against minorities and being designed to suppress minority voting. Schlozman says that the newspaper’s publication of a leaked internal memorandum from his office was unfair, as it “was merely a draft that did not incorporate the analytical work and extensive research conducted by all the attorneys assigned to the matter.” He goes on to accuse the paper of failing to report that the memo “did not represent the recommendation of the veteran career chief of the Civil Rights Division’s voting section, to whom preclearance approval decisions are expressly delegated by federal regulation.” Schlozman says that the voter ID law is “clearly not racially retrogressive within the limited scope of the Voting Rights Act,” and denies that demanding a number of identification papers from minority voters has ever been shown to have “any adverse impact on minority voters.” Data in the leaked memo showed that a significant proportion of African-American voters would be prevented from voting by the voter ID law; Schlozman writes that “corrected data… not incorporated in the leaked memo… indicate that African-American citizens are actually slightly more likely than white citizens to possess one of the necessary forms of identification.” He concludes: “Attorneys of the voting section have worked diligently to enforce voting laws and have achieved concrete, measurable advances for a record number of minority voters. We are enormously proud of this accomplishment.” (Schlozman 11/25/2005) The Georgia voter identification law will be overturned by a federal court as illegal and discriminatory (see September 19, 2006).

The Washington Post reports that the controversial Texas congressional redistricting plan headed by Representative Tom DeLay (R-TX—see 2002-2004) was found to be illegal by Justice Department lawyers, but their judgment was overruled by senior political appointees at the Department of Justice (DOJ) who approved the plan. The information comes from a previously undisclosed memo written in December 2003 (see December 12, 2003) and provided to the Post by, the Post writes, “a person connected to the case who is critical of the adopted redistricting map.” Six lawyers and two analysts at the DOJ found that the DeLay plan violated the Voting Rights Act (VRA—see August 6, 1965, 1970, 1975, April 22, 1980, and June 29, 1989) by illegally diluting African-American and Hispanic voting power in two Congressional districts. Texas Republicans knew the plan would likely be found to be discriminatory, the lawyers wrote in the memo, but went ahead with the plan anyway because it would maximize the number of Republicans the state would send to Congress. In the 2004 federal elections, Texas sent five additional Republicans to the US House, helping to solidify GOP control of that body. A lawyer for the Texas Democrats and minority groups who are challenging the redistricting in court, J. Gerald Hebert, says of the DOJ memo: “We always felt that the process… wouldn’t be corrupt, but it was.… The staff didn’t see this as a close call or a mixed bag or anything like that. This should have been a very clear-cut case.” DOJ spokesman Eric W. Holland, defending the decision by senior DOJ officials to approve the plan, points to a lower-court decision in the case that affirmed the plan’s legality. “The court ruled that, in fact, the new congressional plan created a sufficient number of safe minority districts given the demographics of the state and the requirements of the law,” he says, and notes that Texas now has three African-Americans in Congress whereas in the years before redistricting, it had only two. Hebert says the DOJ’s approval of the redistricting plan was a critical factor in the court’s decision to affirm the plan. DeLay spokesman Kevin Madden accuses Hebert of engaging in what he calls “nonsensical political babble,” and says the DOJ is correct to have found that the plan has no discriminatory effects. Under both the older plan (see 2000-2002) and the DeLay plan, minority-led districts number 11, but under the DeLay plan, Texas gained two more Congressional districts, both represented by Republicans. Recently, a similar case was reported in which DOJ lawyers found a Georgia redistricting plan to be illegal, but senior political appointees overruled the legal judgment and approved the plan. A court later found the plan to be illegal. (Eggen 12/2/2005)

Mark Posner, a law professor at American University who served in the civil rights division of the US Department of Justice (DOJ) for 23 years and supervised the DOJ’s “Section 5” reviews under the Voting Rights Act (VRA—see August 6, 1965, 1970, 1975, April 22, 1980, and June 29, 1989) for 10 years, writes an article for the prestigious legal information Web site FindLaw that says the DOJ found the controversial Texas redistricting plan (see 2002-2004) legal for purely partisan political reasons. Posner’s article is spurred by the recent revelation of a 2003 DOJ memo (see December 12, 2003 and December 2, 2005) that found the redistricting plan to be illegal, and the Washington Post’s finding that the memo was rejected by political appointees at the DOJ, who saw to it that the plan was approved by the civil rights division. Posner is more specific than the Post article, writing: “A Republican appointee overrode the staff recommendation and granted approval, allowing the plan to go into effect for the 2004 Congressional elections. In so doing, the official sided with his political party and with one of the most powerful Republicans in Washington.” Posner notes that the Bush administration has defended the decision, claiming that it was merely the result of what he calls “an honest disagreement between the career and political staff about how to apply the law to a complex set of facts.” In spite of the defense, including a statement by the attorney general, Posner writes that “this is not a case of an honest disagreement between lawyers. Rather, there is strong objective evidence that politics prevailed over the requirements of the Voting Rights Act.” The civil rights division of the DOJ is required under the VRA to “pre-clear,” or approve, any redistricting plan that might result in the unwarranted dilution of minority voting strength in particular districts. Texas, as a state with a history of discriminating against its minority citizens, is one of a number of states required to obtain DOJ approval for new redistricting plans. The DOJ has examined some 435,000 election changes since 1965, Posner writes, and thusly must “follow procedures which… ensure that preclearance decisions are based on the law and the facts, and not on extraneous factors. Among other things, these procedures must guard against the temptation that some political appointees can have to decide matters based on what would benefit their political party.” The DOJ career staff play a key role in such procedures, though the assistant attorney general (AAG) for civil rights makes the final decision. Until the Texas redistricting plan, Posner writes, AAGs have generally relied on the opinions and findings of their staff to help them craft a final decision. “When the career staff unanimously recommends that preclearance be denied, the AAG almost never overrides that recommendation and approves the change. On the flip side, the staff’s unanimous preclearance recommendation always results in the change being approved.” But the Texas redistricting approval upended the usual procedure. Despite the unanimous recommendation from the staff that the DOJ block Texas from implementing the plan due to its discriminatory effect, the AAG granted approval to the plan. “The influence of politics is evident,” Posner concludes. The DOJ “significantly and substantially deviated from the decisional practice which, for nearly four decades, has served the department well in enforcing Section 5 in a fair and nonpartisan manner.… [T]he evidence points to a single conclusion: the Justice Department did not serve the interests of minority citizens in this case, but, instead, served the political interests of the Republican Party.” (Posner 12/6/2005)

The Washington Post learns that the Justice Department has barred staff attorneys from offering recommendations in major Voting Rights Act (VRA—see August 6, 1965) cases, a drastic change from the earlier policy, which was designed to insulate such decision from political considerations. The decision comes amid what the Post calls “growing public criticism of Justice Department decisions to approve Republican-engineered plans in Texas (see December 12, 2003, December 2, 2005, and December 5, 2005) and Georgia (see 2005, November 25, 2005, and September 19, 2006) that were found to hurt minority voters by career staff attorneys who analyzed the plans. Political appointees overruled staff findings in both cases.” In the Georgia redistricting case, a staff memo advised rejecting the Georgia plan because it required voters to show photo ID at the polls, a policy that the memo said would disenfranchise some African-American voters. Under the new policy, that recommendation was removed from the memo and was not forwarded to higher officials in the civil rights division (CRD). The DOJ has claimed the August 25 memo was “an early draft,” even though the DOJ gave “preclearance” for the Georgia plan to be adopted on August 26. A federal judge blocked the law’s implementation, calling it a return to Jim Crow-era policies. The policy was adopted by John Tanner, the head of the CRD’s voting rights section (VRS). DOJ spokesperson Eric Holland says, “The opinions and expertise of the career lawyers are valued and respected and continue to be an integral part of the internal deliberation process upon which the department heavily relies when making litigation decisions.” Tanner has recently lambasted the quality of work by the VRS staff, some of whom have been in the section for decades. Some of the staff members boycotted the staff Christmas party because they were too angry to attend, sources within the section say. Experts like Jon Greenbaum, a VRS veteran who now directs the Voting Rights Project at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, says that stopping staff members from making such recommendations is a significant departure and runs the risk of making the process appear more political. “It’s an attempt by the political hierarchy to insulate themselves from any accountability by essentially leaving it up to a chief, who’s there at their whim,” he says. “To me, it shows a fear of dealing with the legal issues in these cases.” Congressional Democrats are critical of the new policy and are joined by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-PA), who is considering holding hearings on the Texas redistricting case. Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) says, “America deserves better than a civil rights division that puts the political agenda of those in power over the interests of the people its serves.” Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and other DOJ officials have disagreed with the criticism, and asserted that politics play no role in civil rights decisions. Assistant Attorney General William Moschella has recently written to Specter, criticizing the Post’s coverage and claiming that the department is aggressively enforcing a range of civil rights laws. “From fair housing opportunities, equal access to the ballot box, and criminal civil rights prosecutions to desegregation in America’s schools and protection of the rights of the disabled, the division continues its noble mission with vigor,” he wrote. (Eggen 12/10/2005)

The Senate learns that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) collected information on the political party affiliations of taxpayers in 20 states during extensive investigations into tax dodgers. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), a member of an appropriations subcommittee that oversees the IRS, calls the practice “an outrageous violation of the public trust.” The IRS blames the information collection on a third-party vendor who has been told to screen out the information, and claims that it never used the party information it did collect. IRS spokesman John Lipold says, “The bottom line is that we have never used this information. There are strict laws in place that forbid it.” Murray says she learned of the practice from the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU). The IRS is part of the US Treasury Department. Colleen Kelly of the NTEU says that several IRS employees had complained to the NTEU about the collection of party identification, but that the IRS officials she informed about the practice claimed not to know anything about it. Deputy IRS Commissioner John Dalrymple told Kelly that the party identification information was automatically collected through a “database platform” supplied by an outside contractor that used voter registration rolls, among other information sources, to find tax dodgers. “This information is appropriately used to locate information on taxpayers whose accounts are delinquent,” Dalrymple claimed. But Murray and Kelly are skeptical. “This agency should not have that type of information,” Murray says. “No one should question whether they are being audited because of party affiliation.” Kelly worries that such improper information collection will continue, especially in light of the fact that the IRS will soon begin using private collection agencies to go after US citizens delinquent on their tax bills. “We think Congress should suspend IRS plans to use private collections agencies until these questions have been resolved,” Kelly says. Murray says that the twenty states in which the IRS collected party affiliation information were Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, and Wisconsin. (Tacoma NewsTribune 1/6/2006)

US District Court Judge William C. O’Kelley finds that Georgia Secretary of State Cathy Cox, a Democrat currently running for governor, violated voter rights by unlawfully working to block voter registration drives. Cox is also facing criticism of her handling of the state’s electronic voting contract with voting machine manufacturer Diebold. O’Kelley finds that Cox’s “rejection of voter registration applications on the ground that they were submitted in a bundle, or by someone who was not a registrar or deputy registrar, violated the NVRA [National Voter Registration Act, often called the Motor Voter law—see May 20, 1993].” Senate Minority Leader Gloria Butler, a fellow Democrat who has been critical of Cox’s actions, has introduced legislation that would codify the rights of private groups to conduct voter registration in Georgia, even though private groups already have that right. Butler recently told reporters, “These volunteers drive our voter registration in this state and we should make it easier, not harder, on them to help Georgia citizens complete the voter registration process.” She tells another reporter, “Strong voter registration rolls are the very foundation of our democracy and I will continue to fight for the rights of registered Georgians throughout the state.” Many critics say that Cox’s efforts to impede voter registration may have had what the Atlanta Progressive News calls “a disproportionate impact on outreach efforts to low-income individuals, working families, and the homeless, who often need advice about, and assistance with, registering to vote.” Cox was sued by the Wesley Foundation, the nonprofit charitable affiliate of a local chapter of the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, an African-American fraternal organization that ran a voter registration drive on June 12, 2004. Cox rejected all 63 voter registration applications submitted to her office from the fraternity, claiming that the fraternity representatives failed to follow proper procedures, including obtaining pre-clearance from her office to conduct the drive. Under the NVRA, the fraternity and other private organizations have the right to conduct voter registration drives without the presence or permission of state or local election officials. O’Kelley’s ruling requires Cox to notify all 159 of Georgia’s county boards of registrars that they are not authorized to reject applications submitted by private voter registration organizers in the future for reasons previously delineated by Cox, and for her to acknowledge to the plaintiffs that they did not engage in improper conduct. (Epting 3/10/2006)

Lynn Westmoreland (R-GA).Lynn Westmoreland (R-GA). [Source: That's My Congress (.com)]The House Republican leadership cancels a vote to renew the 1965 Voting Rights Act (VRA—see August 6, 1965 and June 29, 1989) after a number of House Republicans declare their opposition to renewing key portions of the legislation concerning the requirement of bilingual ballots and continued federal oversight of voting practices in some Southern states. Eight months ago, Congressional Republicans announced they intended to take the lead in renewing the VRA (see October 4, 2005). The press reports that House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) was taken off-guard by the vehemence of the opposition within his party; he and other senior House Republicans believed that renewal of the VRA was on track. President Bush has said he supports renewing the VRA. In early May, House Republicans and Democrats joined on the steps of the Capitol to announce bipartisan support for the renewal of the law. However, some Southern Republicans argue that the law has served its purpose and is no longer necessary. They are now joined by Republicans from other states who resist providing ballots in languages other than English. Hastert says the Republican leadership “is committed to passing the Voting Rights Act legislation as soon as possible,” while some House Republicans say it is unclear whether the issue will be resolved before the Independence Day recess. Hastert and other House Republican leaders apparently did not anticipate the surge of anti-immigrant sentiment among their colleagues, which fuels the opposition to bilingual ballots. A previous attempt by Senate Republicans to include a provision in the VRA proclaiming English the “national language” failed. Seventy-nine House Republicans, led by Steve King (R-IA), an outspoken opponent of immigration, signed a letter written by King objecting to the VRA’s provision for bilingual ballots in precincts with large Hispanic and Asian populations. The requirement is costly and unnecessary, King wrote, adding, “The multilingual ballot mandate encourages the linguistic division of our nation and contradicts the ‘Melting Pot’ ideal that has made us the most successful multi-ethnic nation on earth.” Lynn Westmoreland (R-GA) says: “A lot of it looks as if these are some old boys from the South who are trying to do away with it. But these old boys are trying to make it constitutional enough that it will withstand the scrutiny of the Supreme Court.” King said in committee, “There is no need to print ballots in any language other than English.” When King’s provision to end multilingual requirements was removed in committee, King and his fellow anti-immigration Republicans publicly withdrew their support for the VRA. Charles Whitlow Norwood (R-GA) says flatly: “What people are really upset about is bilingual ballots. The American people want this to be an English-speaking nation.” House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) says: “Clearly, there are some on the Republican side who object to this legislation, and they forced the leadership’s hand today. House Democrats stand in virtual unanimous support for this important bill.” Mel Watt (D-NC), the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, says, “We fear that pulling the bill could send the wrong message about whether the bill enjoys broad bipartisan support and that delaying consideration until after the July 4 recess could give those with partisan intentions space and time to politicize the issue.” Wade Henderson of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights says in a statement, “We are extremely disappointed that the House did not vote today to renew and restore the Voting Rights Act because a small band of miscreants, at the last moment, hijacked this bipartisan, bicameral bill.” Henderson’s colleague Nancy Zirkin agrees, saying: “The fact of the matter is that you have a small group of members who have hijacked this bill, and many of these individuals represent states that have been in violation for a long time. We believe these individuals do not want the Voting Rights Act reauthorized.” (King 1/28/2006; Hulse 6/22/2006; Washington Post 6/22/2006)
Opposition Letter Written by Far-Right Anti-Immigration Advocate? - Citizen investigators later demonstrate that many portions of the King letter may not have been written by King or his staffers, but by a representative of two far-right anti-immigration groups, NumbersUSA and ProEnglish. Both organizations belong to a network of groups operated by anti-immigration leader John Tanton (see February 2009). The provisions in the King letter were apparently written by K.C. McAlpin, a member of NumbersUSA and the executive director of ProEnglish. The latter group proclaims itself “the nation’s leading advocate of official English,” working “through the courts and in the court of public opinion to defend English’s historic role as the common, unifying language of the United States of America, and to persuade lawmakers to adopt English as the official language at all levels of government.” The investigators will be unable to prove McAlpin’s authorship beyond dispute, but through comparison of the King letter with McAlpin’s written testimony to Congress in November 2005, they find significant conceptual and linguistic similarities. The investigators will posit: “Given that the King letter posted at [the US House Web site, before being removed] was authored by McAlpin on software registered to NumbersUSA, coupled with its striking similarities to McAlpin’s testimony, only one of two possible causes seem plausible. Either King copied his letter from ProEnglish literature almost word for word, and then asked McAlpin, or someone using his computer, to type up a copy to post at the House of Representatives Web site, or McAlpin authored the letter himself. Either way, the letter that 79 Representatives signed to force the cancellation of the renewal of the VRA came from ProEnglish.” (King 1/28/2006; Duke Falconer 7/12/2006)

The Supreme Court upholds most of Texas’s far-reaching redistricting plan as engineered by former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX—see 2002-2004). The case is League of United Latin American Citizens et al v. Perry et al. The Court rejects one element of the plan, saying that some of the new boundaries fail to protect minority voting rights. Some district boundaries will need to be redrawn, particularly one “oddly shaped” district, District 23, in the Associated Press’s description, that saw the shift of 100,000 Hispanics out of a district represented by a Republican incumbent and into the unusually crafted district. Critics called District 23 the result of illegal gerrymandering, and said it violates the Voting Rights Act (VRA—see August 6, 1965, 1970, 1975, April 22, 1980, and June 29, 1989). Justice Anthony Kennedy, author of the majority opinion, says that under the plan, Hispanics have no chance to elect a candidate of their choosing. Democrats and minority groups have accused Republicans of unconstitutionally redrawing Texas’s electoral districts to ensure that the state’s legislature is controlled by Republicans. In the 2004 elections, the first with the new districts, Republicans took control of Texas’s legislature and four Democratic incumbents lost their seats. The Court upholds the contention that states can redraw district maps when they choose, not just once a decade as claimed by Texas Democrats. In essence, this means that any time a political party takes power in a state legislature, it can redraw maps to suit its purposes. The Constitution mandates the redrawing of state congressional district boundaries once a decade to account for population shifts; the Court says such redrawings can be more frequent if desired. The 2003-2004 redrawing of the Texas district map cost DeLay his position; he has resigned from Congress in the face of money laundering charges in relation to his fundraising activities for legislative candidates. While two other states, Colorado and Georgia, have undertaken similar redistricting efforts, law professor Richard Hasen says he does not believe many more states will move in the same direction. “Some people are predicting a rash of mid-decade redistricting. I am skeptical,” he says. “It would be seen as a power grab in a lot of places.” The 5-4 Court majority is not along ideological lines. While Kennedy, who usually joins the other conservatives, writes the majority opinion, the four liberals of the Court—Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, John Paul Stevens, and David Souter—write their own concurrences in conjunction with his opinion. Chief Justice John Roberts dissents, and Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas join his dissent. Justice Antonin Scalia writes his own dissent. (Associated Press 6/28/2006; FindLaw 6/28/2006; Oyez (.org) 2012)

A Washington State district court dismisses the case of Farrakhan v. Gregoire, a 2003 lawsuit which contended that Washington’s felon disenfranchisement laws and restoration policies were discriminatory against racial minorities and thusly violated the Voting Rights Act (VRA—see August 6, 1965, 1970, 1975, April 22, 1980, and June 29, 1989). The court writes that it is “compelled to find that there is discrimination in Washington’s criminal justice system on account of race,” and that such discrimination “clearly hinders the ability of racial minorities to participate effectively in the political process.” Even in the face of its own finding, the court dismisses the case, citing a “remarkable absence of any history of official discrimination” in the state’s electoral procedures and felon disenfranchisement policies. “Washington’s history, or lack thereof, of racial bias in its electoral process and in its decision to enact the felon disenfranchisement provisions, counterbalance the contemporary discriminatory effects that result from the day-to-day functioning of Washington’s criminal justice system,” the court finds. The case will continue in the court system, and the district court’s findings will ultimately be upheld by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which will cite the state’s lack of “intentional discrimination” (see October 7, 2010). (Brennan Center for Justice 1/5/2010; Kamisugi 10/14/2010; ProCon 10/19/2010)

The US House of Representatives overcomes challenges by conservative Republicans and votes overwhelmingly in favor of renewing the 1965 Voting Rights Act (VRA—see August 6, 1965 and June 29, 1989). Congressional Republicans originally voiced strong support for renewing the landmark voting rights legislation (see October 4, 2005) but some 80 House Republicans have worked for weeks to block renewal of the bill over objections to providing bilingual ballots in some areas, and over continued oversight by the Justice Department in areas with a history of racial disenfranchisement and discrimination at the voting booth (see June 22, 2006). The renewal bill, officially entitled the “Fannie Lou Hamer, Rosa Parks, and Coretta Scott King Voting Rights Act Reauthorization and Amendments Act” after a number of prominent civil rights figures, passes the House on a 390-33 vote. Representative John Lewis (D-GA), an African-American veteran who was beaten by white police officers during the civil rights struggle, gives an impassioned speech on the House floor before the vote is cast. Lewis reminds the House that “I gave blood” to ensure that blacks and other minorities had the right to vote without discrimination. “Some of my colleagues gave their very lives. Yes, we’ve made some progress; we have come a distance. The sad truth is, discrimination still exists. That’s why we still need the Voting Rights Act, and we must not go back to the dark past.” Lewis and other supporters took part in over a dozen House hearings where, according to Lewis, proof of voter discrimination was highlighted. Some conservative lawmakers have argued that such discrimination is a thing of the past, and therefore the VRA is obsolete and need not be renewed. Phil Gingrey (R-GA) is one of those making that argument, telling the House: “A lot has changed in 40-plus years. We should have a law that fits the world in 2006.” Lynn Westmoreland (R-GA) agrees: “Congress is declaring from on high that states with voting problems 40 years ago can simply never be forgiven. That Georgians must eternally wear the scarlet letter because of the actions of their grandparents and great-grandparents.… We have repented and we have reformed.” Westmoreland says many people are “prejudiced” against Southern states. David Scott (D-GA) accuses House Republicans such as Gingrey and Westmoreland of working “to kill the Voting Rights Act” both through opposition and through the attempted addition of a number of unpalatable amendments that would strongly water down the law, such as an amendment by Steve King (R-IA) that would have removed the provision for bilingual ballots and forced naturalized citizens to prove their fluency in English before being allowed to vote. The bill moves to the Senate, where Democrats are urging quick passage and accusing House Republicans of unjustly delaying the bill’s passage. “For two months, we have wasted precious time as the Republican leadership played to its conservative base,” says Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV). “There are only 21 legislative days left in this Congress, and the time to act is now.” (Hernandez 7/13/2006; Kellman 7/14/2006)

The US Senate votes 98-0 to reauthorize the 1965 Voting Rights Act (VRA—see August 6, 1965 and June 29, 1989). Many Republicans in the House have attempted to thwart the law’s renewal, citing their opposition to providing bilingual ballots in some areas, and over continued oversight by the Justice Department in areas with a history of racial disenfranchisement and discrimination at the voting booth (see June 22, 2006). However, that opposition was overcome by a bipartisan effort when the House voted to reauthorize the law (see July 13, 2006). Democrats and Republicans alike acknowledge that racial discrimination and efforts to disenfranchise minority voters still exist: “Despite the progress [some] states have made in upholding the right to vote, it is clear the problems still exist,” says Senator Barack Obama (D-IL). On the same day that the Senate votes to approve the bill, President Bush, on a visit to the annual NAACP convention, promises to sign the bill into law. One senator voicing his objection to the bill is Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), who says: “Other states with much less impressive minority progress and less impressive minority participation are not covered, while Georgia still is. This seems both unfair as well as unwise.” Chambliss is not joined in his opposition by fellow Republican Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), whose home state of South Carolina is, like Georgia, subject to Justice Department oversight for any changes to its voting procedures. “South Carolinians, you have come a long way,” he says. But we, just like every other part of this country, still have a long way to go.” (Hulse 7/21/2006)

President Bush signs the Voting Rights Act (VRA—see August 6, 1965 and June 29, 1989) reauthorization into law. The extension, called the “Fannie Lou Hamer, Rosa Parks, and Coretta Scott King Voting Rights Act Reauthorization and Amendments Act,” makes the VRA the law until 2031. It also overturns the decision rendered in Reno v. Bossier Parish School Board (see May 12, 1997) by outlawing electoral redistricting for discriminatory purposes, and invalidates the decision rendered in Georgia v. Ashcroft by declaring that Section 5 protects the ability of minorities “to elect their preferred candidates of choice.” (Curry 10/4/2005; White House 6/27/2006; American Civil Liberties Union 2012) In October 2005, Congressional Republicans declared that they intended to lead the way towards renewing the VRA, particularly Section 5 (see October 4, 2005). But in June 2006, House Republicans balked at renewing Section 5 and another provision mandating bilingual ballots in many areas (see June 22, 2006). The bill survived a number of attempts to derail or weaken it by those House Republicans (see July 13, 2006), and was upheld 98-0 in the Senate (see July 20, 2006).

Georgia’s controversial state voter identification law, which was touted by Bradley J. Schlozman, the Justice Department’s head of the voting rights section, as not being discriminatory towards minority voters (see November 25, 2005), is declared unconstitutional by Fulton County Superior Court Judge T. Jackson Bedford Jr., who said this law “cannot be.” The law, pushed through the Georgia legislature by Governor Sonny Perdue (R-GA) and state Republicans in order to fight what they call persistent voter fraud (see 2005), says that forcing citizens to pay money for a state voter identification card disenfranchises citizens who are otherwise qualified to vote. The state voter ID would require what the law calls “proof of citizenship.” Many poor and minority voters lack birth certificates, some because they lack the financial means to obtain them and others because they were born in a time and area in which birth certificates were not routinely issued. Rosalind Lake, an elderly and visually disabled voter, brought a lawsuit against the state because she says she is unable to drive and would not easily be able to obtain such an ID. Even though the state offered to deliver an ID to Lake’s home, her lawyer, former Governor Roy Barnes (D-GA), says others in her position would not be given such an offer. “We have a low voter participation,” he says. “We’re going to make it more difficult?” Under earlier law, Georgia voters could submit any of 17 types of identification to prove their identity. The new law poses one voter ID that would require a birth certificate. Perdue and others have cited information showing that 5,000 dead people “voted” in the eight elections preceding the 2000 elections, but Barnes notes that those votes were all cast by absentee ballots, which would not be affected by the new law. Barnes says, “This is the most sinister scheme I’ve ever seen, and it’s going on nationwide.” The law was already rejected by US District Judge Harold L. Murphy, who likened it to Jim Crow-era legal restrictions designed to stop African-Americans from voting. The Georgia General Assembly rewrote the law to remove the $20 fee for its acquisition, but Murphy refused to lift his injunction against the law. Bedford rules that the law places an unwarranted burden of proof on voters. “Any attempt by the legislature to require more than what is required by the express language of our Constitution cannot withstand judicial scrutiny,” he says. (Fears and Weisman 9/20/2006)

Florida Governor Charlie Crist (R-FL) announces that he is amending the state’s Rules of Executive Clemency, in concert with the Florida Board of Executive Clemency, to permit convicted felons who have lost their right to vote to have their votes automatically restored once they have completed their full sentences and subsequent sentencing requirements such as parole, probation, and/or restitution. Previously, the law required that a convicted felon must demonstrate five “crime-free” years after release before such restoration could take place. The new law applies mainly to non-violent offenders; some citizens convicted of violent crimes must still submit to a hearing before the Clemency Board before reinstatement can take place. (American Civil Liberties Union 2008; ProCon 10/19/2010)

The Maryland legislature repeals the state’s lifetime voting ban for convicted criminals, including the three-year waiting period that ensues after completion of sentence for some offenders. The new policy automatically restores voting rights for all convicted criminals when their sentences are complete. (American Civil Liberties Union 2008; ProCon 10/19/2010)

Brennan Center for Justice logo.Brennan Center for Justice logo. [Source: Red Alert Politics (,com)]A coalition of civil rights groups files a lawsuit in federal court alleging that Florida’s new voting registration law blocks tens of thousands of legitimate would-be voters. The Voter Registration Verification Law, passed in 2005, is sometimes called the “No Match, No Vote” law because it forces first-time voters to provide identification numbers—driver’s license, official state ID, or Social Security numbers—to match those on their voter ID cards. If the numbers do not match, the citizens are not allowed to vote. Justin Levitt of the Brennan Center for Justice, one of the groups filing the lawsuit, says of the law, “Any number of things can go wrong in that process, and the fact that they do is why we’re in court.” The Brennan Center for Justice is joined in the lawsuit by the Florida branch of the NAACP and the Haitian-American Grassroots Coalition. Levitt says Florida’s State Department has provided files showing some 20,000 voter registration cards were rejected in 2006 because of the law. The lawsuit shows evidence that after California passed a similar law, rejection rates reached as high as 44 percent. Florida Secretary of State Kurt Browning says in a statement, “While it is not my policy to comment on pending litigation, I will reiterate that it is the intention of the Department of State to make sure that every eligible voter in the state of Florida has the means and the opportunity to register to vote and to cast a ballot.” The law merely works to comply with federal verification requirements, Browning says, and is “supported” by the US Department of Justice, which is reviewing Florida’s amended registration laws. The Brennan Center for Justice is also involved in another lawsuit challenging state rules which make it more difficult for independent organizations such as the League of Women Voters to register new voters. Levitt says the new law will only exacerbate an already-difficult situation for voters in 2008. “Given the way that registration picks up heavily in an election year, we really fear it’s going to pick up in 2008. As forms flood in before the deadline, there will be less time to deal with them,” Levitt says. (John 9/17/2007; Fortis 10/22/2010) The lawsuit will not succeed. (Bousquet 10/28/2008) In 2008, the law will effectively disenfranchise almost 8,000 voters, the majority of whom are African-Americans and Hispanics, and over three-quarters of whom are registered Democrats. (Fortis 10/22/2010)

In a 6-3 decision, the US Supreme Court upholds a 2005 Indiana law requiring voters to show photo identification before voting, despite concerns that it will effectively disenfranchise thousands of voters who have no such ID. Writing for the majority of judges, Justice John Paul Stevens wrote, “The state interests identified as justifications for [the law] are both neutral and sufficiently strong to require us to reject” the lawsuit challenging the law. In a dissenting opinion, Justice David Souter wrote “Indiana has made no such justification” for the law. Indiana Secretary of State Todd Rokita concedes that the state did not present a case of voter impersonation, which the law was designed to safeguard against. (Mears 4/28/2008; American Civil Liberties Union 2012)

Republican National Committee communications director Danny Diaz says in a press teleconference that ACORN’s hiring of former felons will put Wisconsin voters at risk of identity theft: “This is a group that hires convicted criminals, delinquents, puts them on the street so that they can obtain personal information about voters. We have seen certainly numerous instances where that information is misused and, you know, citizens are negatively impacted and affected.” However, pressed to substantiate this claim on the same call, Diaz admits, “No, I can’t tell you an instance of identity theft.” (Bellows 10/2/2008)

As the November 4 elections approach, data shows that 12,165 first-time Florida voters are on a list that may bar them from voting. The list has swelled from over 8,000 names on a list released on October 16. The so-called “no match” list contains names of first-time voters whose identification numbers—driver’s license numbers, Social Security numbers, and official state ID cards—apparently do not match their numbers as listed on their voter identification cards. The so-called “no match no vote” law (see September 17, 2007) is considered by many to be deeply flawed and prejudicial towards minority voters. If the individual voter cannot resolve the discrepancy, he will be forced to cast provisional ballots, which are likely not to be counted. The list, as did its earlier iteration, contains a disproportionate number of African-American, Hispanic, and Democratic voters, and South Florida residents. Fifty-five percent of the previous list was made up of African-Americans and Hispanics, and three-quarters of the people on the list were registered Democrats. Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark says her staff is trying to rectify mismatched voter information by calling people at night and sending up to three letters. “We don’t want to have them in pending status when they show up to vote,” she says. Some of the forms show invalid phone numbers, she adds. Republican Secretary of State Kurt Browning says the “no match” lists are necessary to ensure the integrity of the voter rolls. Adam Skaggs of the Brennan Center for Justice, whose group tried and failed to challenge the law in court (see September 17, 2007), says the figure is far too high, and the law “places an unacceptable burden on thousands of voters.” The voters having trouble matching the numbers are those without drivers’ licenses. Many of those people do not have state-issued ID cards, and they often do not carry their Social Security cards in public. He also notes that a number of newly enrolled Alachua County voters who are University of Florida students are on the “no match” list. (Bousquet 10/28/2008)

The recount process to determine the winner of the US Senate race in Minnesota begins. Incumbent Senator Norm Coleman (R-MN) has a narrow lead over challenger Al Franken (D-MN), who requested the recount as permitted in Minnesota law when the results of a race are so close. The state Canvassing Board met on November 18 to certify the unofficial results, thus allowing the recounts to begin at almost 100 county and city election offices throughout the state. The procedure entails an appointed recount auditor examining each ballot by hand to determine the voter’s intent, monitored by representatives from each candidate’s campaign. Auditors will sort each ballot into the appropriate stacks. According to the 2008 Recount Guide issued by Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, “a ballot or vote must not be rejected for a technicality if it is possible to decide what the voter intended, even though the voter may have made a mistake or the ballot is damaged.” Ballots that are in dispute will be sent to the five-member Canvassing Board, which includes Ritchie, two state Supreme Court justices, and two Ramsey County district court judges, who will make final decisions as to the validity of disputed ballots. KARE-TV has reported that as many as 6,000 ballots may have been missed by the optical-scan machines because of improper markings. Ramsey County elections head Joe Mansky says that around 2 percent of ballots are mismarked in each election. If the intention of the voter is clear, he says, those votes will be counted. Law professor David Schultz says the process reminds the observer of the election debacle in Florida during the 2000 presidential election (see 9:54 p.m. December 12, 2000), and notes that Minnesota has a long tradition of not penalizing voters for failing to fill out ballots properly if their intent can be determined. (Duchschere, Brown, and Louwagie 11/6/2008) The Canvassing Board says it will not make a decision just yet on whether to count disputed absentee ballots. Minnesota Supreme Court Justice G. Barry Anderson, one of the five members of the board, says of the decision to table the absentee ballot issue: “I reference particularly the blizzard of paperwork that we have seen and whether or not there might be some additional time necessary to consider all of it. Is there anything about an additional period of time that will impact the rights of the parties to make election challenges or take other steps under the law?” Franken wants the absentee ballots in dispute to be counted; Franken’s lawyer David Lillehaug tells the board: “These people are real people who did everything right. They wanted to participate in our democracy. They wanted to vote and have their vote counted. Can’t we all agree that they shouldn’t have to start a lawsuit, or have somebody else start a lawsuit before their votes are counted?” Coleman’s attorney Fritz Knaak calls Lillehaug’s arguments “bothersome,” and says the board should not consider and count rejected absentee ballots. (Scheck 11/18/2008)

By a 5-4 vote, the US Supreme Court narrows the provisions of the Voting Rights Act (VRA—see August 6, 1965 and July 27, 2006), ruling in Bartlett v. Strickland that the VRA does not require state governments to draw electoral districts favorable to minority candidates in places where minorities make up less than half the population. The Court rules that race must be considered only in drawing boundaries where a “geographically compact group of minority voters” make up at least 50 percent of a single-member district. Law professor Richard Hasen says that because of the Court’s ruling, 50 percent is now a “magic number.” The decision makes it more difficult for minorities to challenge redistricting efforts that they believe may dilute voting rights after the upcoming 2010 census. Writing for the plurality opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy writes: “There is an underlying principle of fundamental importance: We must be most cautious before interpreting a statute to require courts to make inquiries based on racial classifications and race-based predictions.” Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito join with Kennedy’s opinion; Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas file a concurring opinion that claims no minorities should ever be able to go to court with complaints about minority vote dilution. The four moderate/liberal justices on the Court dissent. Hasen says that Kennedy’s opinion makes it likely that he will join the Court’s right wing to further limit the VRA in upcoming cases: Hasen says Kennedy seems open to interpreting the VRA “in ever stingier ways.” However, Kennedy also writes: “Racial discrimination and racially polarized voting are not ancient history. Much remains to be done to ensure that citizens of all races have equal opportunity to share and participate in our democratic processes and traditions.” The case hinges on a decision by the North Carolina legislature to enhance minority representation by creating a voting district that crosses county lines; the Court strikes down the district and rejects arguments that the district is needed for North Carolina to comply with the VRA. Instead, Kennedy writes, only districts where minorities made up more than 50 percent are protected under the VRA. Justice David Souter, writing the four-justice dissent, says that such “crossover districts” are sometimes needed to fulfill the goals of the VRA, and that the Court’s finding will “force the states to perpetuate racially concentrated districts, the quintessential manifestations of race consciousness in American politics.” It will require states “to pack black voters” into districts in which minorities make up the majority, Souter writes, “contracting the number of districts where racial minorities are having success in transcending racial divisions.” (Liptak 3/9/2009; Barnes 3/10/2009)

In an 8-1 decision, the US Supreme Court refuses to rule against one of the main components of the 1965 Voting Rights Act (VRA—see August 6, 1965 and June 29, 1989). Many conservatives had seen the case as an opportunity for the Court conservatives to either drastically narrow or entirely gut the VRA, and were hopeful of that outcome in light of a recent Court decision narrowing the VRA’s effect on districting (see March 9, 2009). Instead, the Court chooses not to rule on the central tenet of the case of Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District No. 1 v. Holder, which is that the VRA is largely unconstitutional. The case was brought by a Texas utility district that claimed in arguments that the VRA was unconstitutional and unnecessary in a time when the nation has elected a black president. The plaintiff argued that districts and other governmental entities should be allowed to “bail out” from being covered by the VRA. (Liptak 6/22/2009; Cave 6/22/2009) Many observers were concerned that the conservative wing of the Court would use the case to overturn large portions of the VRA, especially in earlier questioning, when Justice Anthony Kennedy said: “Congress has made a finding that the sovereignty of Georgia is less than the sovereign dignity of Ohio. The sovereignty of Alabama is less than the sovereign dignity of Michigan. And the governments in one are to be trusted less than the governments in the other.… No one questions the validity, the urgency, the essentiality of the Voting Rights Act. The question is whether or not it should be continued with this differentiation between the states. And that is for Congress to show.” (Liptak 4/29/2009) Chief Justice John Roberts, writing the majority opinion, says that the Court should avoid tackling large constitutional questions when it can. “We are now a very different nation” than the one that first passed the Voting Rights Act, he writes. “Whether conditions continue to justify such legislation is a difficult constitutional question we do not answer today.” Roberts’s opinion says that “a broader reading” of the VRA’s bailout provision should be implemented. Moreover, he writes, the federal oversight of states and areas with a history of discrimination may have served its purpose and may need to be phased out, a position supported by the lone dissenter, Justice Clarence Thomas, who writes that the oversight provision of Section 5 of the VRA should be overturned entirely. It is possible that others will take advantage of the Court’s hesitation to file other “opt out” or “bailout” challenges to the VRA. Some legal experts found the basis of the case to be lacking. Ellen Katz, a law professor at the University of Michigan, calls the Court’s ruling “improbable,” and Richard Hasen of Loyola Law School says “virtually no lawyer” sees the Court’s interpretation as reasonable. NAACP lawyer Debo P. Adegbile says that regardless of questions surrounding the Court’s verdict, the ruling is one to celebrate: “This case was brought to tear the heart out of the Voting Rights Act, and today that effort failed.” (Liptak 6/22/2009)

A heated battle is brewing in Florida over state constitutional Amendments 5 and 6, which if voted into effect in November, would create stricter rules for Florida legislators to follow while redrawing state districts. Proponents say that Florida’s electoral districts are gerrymandered to create a few districts “packed” with African-American voters, and large numbers of districts dominated by white voters. As a result, the white voters, who tend to vote Republican, are able to vote in majorities of Republican lawmakers to the Florida legislature, and the US Congress, year after year. The amendments would ban the practice of drawing political districts to favor or disfavor an incumbent or political party. Amendment 5 pertains to legislative districts, while Amendment 6 deals with congressional districts. The political action committee (PAC) Protect Your Vote (PYV) is one of the most powerful and well-financed groups opposing the new amendments; the amendments are being pushed by groups such as Fair Districts Now, which proposed the amendments and secured enough backing for them to get them on November’s ballots. PYV, which portrays itself as nonpartisan, argues that Amendments 5 and 6 would make redistricting a long, expensive process and would in the long run result in a decrease in minority representation in Congress and the Florida legislature. However, an investigation by the Florida Independent turns up information that may call PYV’s motives into question. The head of the group is former Florida Secretary of State Kurt Browning, a Republican who left the position after state laws governing retirement changed. Browning retired before the new laws could take effect, that would have prevented him from retiring and then returning to his old job and essentially drawing two salaries at once. Browning was a strong advocate for the controversial 2005 Voter Registration Verification Law, the so-called “No Match, No Vote” law that forced new voters to submit identifying numbers to the state before they are allowed to vote (see September 17, 2007). The law effectively disenfranchised almost 8,000 voters, the majority of whom were African-Americans and Hispanics, and over three-quarters of whom were registered Democrats. PYV’s honorary chairman is Representative Corrine Brown (D-Jacksonville), believed by critics to be against the amendments “solely to keep the large majority she enjoys in her district in order to keep her seat safe from challengers,” according to a report by Sunshine State News. Critics say Brown gives PYV a veneer of bipartisanship, but the organization is funded almost entirely by Republican donors and the steering committee is made up of three Democrats and 12 Republicans. Two-thirds of the organization’s funding—some $1.2 million—comes from the Florida Republican Party. The listed address of the organization, in Tampa, is an accounting firm, Robert Watkins & Company; Robert Watkins’s wife Nancy Watkins is a veteran Republican political operative. (Levey-Baker 10/6/2010; Fortis 10/22/2010)

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals rules 11-0 that Washington State’s felon disenfranchisement law does not violate the Voting Rights Act (VRA—see August 6, 1965, 1970, 1975, April 22, 1980, and June 29, 1989). The case, Farrakhan v. Gregoire, has been in the court system for seven years (see July 7, 2006), and an appeals court panel found by a 2-1 vote that the felon disenfranchisement law did indeed violate the VRA by racially discriminating against voters. The appeals court finds that Washington committed no “intentional disenfranchisement” in its denial of the right to vote to convicted felons, and writes: “Because plaintiffs presented no evidence of intentional discrimination in the operation of Washington’s criminal justice system and argue no other theory under which a section 2 challenge might be sustained, we conclude that they didn’t meet their burden of showing a violation of the VRA. Accordingly, the district court didn’t err when it granted summary judgment against them.” (Brennan Center for Justice 1/5/2010; Kamisugi 10/14/2010; ProCon 10/19/2010)

In a somewhat sarcastic column, conservative author Ann Coulter advocates the repeal of the 26th Amendment, which gave 18-year-olds the right to vote (see July 5, 1971), apparently in an effort to make it more difficult to re-elect President Obama. Coulter writes: “[T]he argument for allowing children to vote was that 18-year-olds could drink and be conscripted into the military, so they ought to be allowed to vote. But 18-year-olds aren’t allowed to drink anymore. We no longer have a draft. In fact, while repealing the 26th Amendment, we ought to add a separate right to vote for members of the military, irrespective of age.… Eighteen- to 26-year-olds don’t have property, spouses, children, or massive tax bills. Most of them don’t even have jobs because the president they felt so good about themselves for supporting wrecked the economy.” (Coulter is referring to Obama and the fact that young voters turned out in record-breaking numbers to vote for him in 2008.) Coulter cites research showing that human brains “are not fully developed until age 25 and are particularly deficient in their frontal lobes, which control decision-making, rational thinking, judgment, the ability to plan ahead and to resist impulses. Unfortunately, we didn’t know that in 1971. Those of you who have made it to age 26 without dying in a stupid drinking game—and I think congratulations are in order, by the way—understand how insane it is to allow young people to vote. It would almost be tolerable if everyone under the age of 30 just admitted they voted for Obama because someone said to them: ‘C’mon, it’s really cool! Everyone’s doing it!’ We trusted them, and now we know it was a mistake.” Except for 1980, when young voters voted for Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter in almost equal amounts, young voters have, Coulter writes, “consistently embarrassed themselves,” presumably by voting for Democrats. The 2008 results, Coulter writes, prove that “[t]oday’s youth are the infantilized, pampered, bicycle-helmeted children of the Worst Generation. They foisted this jug-eared, European socialist on us and now they must be punished. Voters aged 18 to 29 years old comprised nearly a fifth of the voting population in 2008 and they voted overwhelmingly for Obama, 66 percent to 31 percent. And it only took 12 to 14 years of North Korean-style brainwashing to make them do it! At least their teachers haven’t brainwashed them into burning books or ratting out their parents to the Stasi yet. (Of course, before teaching them book-burning, at least their professors would be forced to teach them what a book is.) It would make more sense to give public school teachers and college professors 20 votes apiece than to allow their impressionable students to vote.… Young people voted for Obama as a fashion statement.… Liberals fight tooth-and-nail to create an electorate disposed to vote Democratic by, for example, demanding that felons and illegal aliens be given the vote. But it’s at least possible that illegal aliens and criminals pay taxes or have fully functioning frontal lobes. Republicans ought to fight for their own electorate, which at a minimum ought to mean voters with fully functioning brains and the possibility of a tax bill. Not old enough to buy your own health insurance, not old enough to vote.” (Coulter 11/10/2010)

Governor Rick Scott (R-FL) withdraws a request to have the federal government approve two new Florida redistricting amendments. Under the Voting Rights Act (VRA—see August 6, 1965 and June 29, 1989), the Justice Department (DOJ) must approve any redistricting changes made by Florida to make sure they do not diminish minority voting access. Amendments 5 and 6 were approved by 63 percent of Florida voters in November 2010, the same election that awarded Scott the governorship. The amendments impose new standards for legislators to follow for redistricting in 2012. Then-acting Secretary of State Dawn Roberts submitted the new standards to the DOJ for approval. Scott does not explain his withdrawal, but media reports speculate that he is working with Florida Republicans, who have challenged the new amendments in court. Scott replaced Roberts with former Secretary of State Kurt Browning, the head of Protect Your Vote, an organization which led the opposition to Amendments 5 and 6. Scott only says: “One of the things that we’re looking at is the amendments that were passed, how they’re going to be implemented. We want to make sure that with regard to redistricting, it’s fair, it’s the right way of doing it. So it’s something I’m clearly focused on.” Of Browning, he says, “My agents will do everything we can to make sure it’s fairly done.” The Florida Department of State denies any involvement by Browning in the decision to withdraw the request. Scott’s spokesman Brian Hughes says, “This withdrawal in no way impedes the process of redrawing Florida’s legislative and Congressional districts.” Florida Democrats say Scott is attempting to delay or block implementation of the amendments. Fair Districts Now, the organization that proposed the amendments, issues a statement accusing Scott of trying to subvert the will of the people. It says: “Within its first days in power, the new administration of Governor Rick Scott, through its Department of State, took extraordinary steps to thwart the will of the overwhelming majority of Florida voters who voted for redistricting reform in Florida. On, November 2, 63 percent of Florida voters amended the Florida Constitution to include new non-partisan redistricting standards. When new laws affect voting as these do, the Voting Rights Act requires that the standards be reviewed and ‘pre-cleared’ by the Justice Department (DOJ). It is the duty of the state to request DOJ pre-clearance. Governor Crist ordered that a formal request for pre-clearance be filed. The Florida secretary of state’s office filed that request on December 10, 2010. On January 7, 2011, as one of its first acts, the new administration of Governor Rick Scott, through its Department of State, in an apparent attempt to thwart the will of the voters, wrote to DOJ withdrawing the amendments from review.” Fair Districts Now may sue Florida to have the new standards reviewed by the DOJ. Senate Democratic Leader Nan Rich says Scott should follow the “will of the voters,” and adds: “The governor got elected with 48 percent and he calls that a mandate. I think that the amendment passing with 63 percent is definitely a mandate.” NAACP board member Leon Russell, who supports the two amendments, says Scott is abusing his power “to prevent implementation of these needed reforms.” Regardless of what is and is not done, the redistricting plans will have to receive “pre-clearance” under the VRA before being implemented. Scott does not inform the media of his withdrawal, and reporters do not learn of it until almost the end of January. Scott makes the withdrawal three days after being sworn in as governor. (Bender and Bousquet 1/25/2011; Fineout 1/25/2011; Levey-Baker 1/25/2011)

Iowa State Senator Kent Sorenson (R-IA) introduces a bill, SB 368, that would require candidates for president or vice president to file a certified copy of their birth certificate along with their affidavit of candidacy in order to be eligible to be included on the Iowa election ballot. Sorenson has long identified himself as a believer in the “birther” conspiracy theory that alleges President Obama is not a US citizen (see July 20, 2008, August 15, 2008, October 8-10, 2008, October 16, 2008 and After, November 10, 2008, December 3, 2008, August 1-4, 2009, May 7, 2010, Shortly Before June 28, 2010, and Around June 28, 2010). The bill reads in part: “A candidate for president or vice president shall attach to and file with the affidavit of candidacy a copy of the candidate’s birth certificate certified by the appropriate official in the candidate’s state of birth. The certified copy shall be made part of the affidavit of candidacy and shall be made available for public inspection in the same manner as the affidavit of candidacy.… A candidate for president or vice president who does not comply with the requirements of this section shall not be eligible for placement on the ballot as a candidate for president or vice president anywhere in the state.” The bill does not clear a deadline for submission, but may be reintroduced in the next session. Sorenson previously introduced a bill that would recognize only silver and gold as legal tender in Iowa. He recently told an Iowa reporter that his constituents elected him to the Iowa Senate to “burn this place down. They want me to do battle. And I understand that.” (WorldNetDaily 3/6/2011; Murphy 3/25/2011)

Donald Trump, the billionaire entrepeneur and television show host who, it is rumored, may run for the Republican nomination for president in 2012, announces that he intends to meet with tea party organizers and an Arizona legislator to discuss an Arizona bill that would require candidates for president to prove that they are natural born citizens (see April 13-15, 2011). Trump has repeatedly expressed his doubts that President Obama is a US citizen (see February 10, 2011, March 17, 2011, March 23, 2011, March 23, 2011, March 28, 2011, March 28-29, 2011, March 30, 2011, April 1, 2011, April 1, 2011, April 1-8, 2011, April 7, 2011, April 7, 2011, and April 7-10, 2011). Trump intends to meet with Arizona Representative Carl Seel (R-AZ), who sponsored the bill. Seel says, “I’m honored to get the ability to meet with him and discuss it, and I want to thank him for being such a supporter of this issue.” Also at the meeting will be Kelly Townsend, who co-founded the Greater Phoenix Tea Party. Townsend says of Seel’s proposal: “It’s not a birther bill. It’s not about Mr. Obama. It’s about preventing any questions from coming up in the future, putting something in place so no one could question it.” However, Seel’s office issues a press release stating that Trump “has brought the issue of President Barack Obama failing to provide a birth certificate front and center recently.” (Zernike 4/7/2011)

Governor Jan Brewer (R-AZ) vetoes a controversial “birther bill” that would require presidential candidates to submit proof of citizenship to the Arizona secretary of state. The bill passed both houses of the Arizona legislature on party-line votes (see April 13-15, 2011). Brewer also vetoes another Republican-backed bill that would have allowed citizens to bring guns onto college campuses. The “birther” bill would have required such documents as the so-called “long form” birth certificate (see July 1, 2009) and/or other acceptable forms of proof of US citizenship, including for Jewish candidates a proof of circumcision. “I never imagined being presented with a bill that could require candidates for president of the greatest and most powerful nation on earth to submit their ‘early baptism or circumcision certificates,’” Brewer says. “This is a bridge too far. This measure creates significant new problems while failing to do anything constructive for Arizona.” Brewer, a former Arizona secretary of state, says she does not support designating one person as “gatekeeper to the ballot for a candidate,” as it “could lead to arbitrary or politically motivated decisions.” Many believe the “birther” bill is an attempt to join in the “birther” controversy that has called into question President Obama’s citizenship. Billionaire television host and entrepeneur Donald Trump (see February 10, 2011, March 17, 2011, March 23, 2011, March 23, 2011, March 28, 2011, March 28-29, 2011, March 30, 2011, April 1, 2011, April 1, 2011, April 1-8, 2011, April 7, 2011, April 7, 2011, April 7-10, 2011, April 7, 2011, April 7, 2011, April 10, 2011, and April 21, 2011) recently met with the bill’s House sponsor, Representative Carl Seel (R-AZ), and area tea party organizers to discuss the bill and other political items of interest (see April 7, 2011). Many believe that Trump’s interest in the “birther” controversy helped usher the bill through the Arizona legislature. Arizona Senator Steve Gallardo (D-AZ) says Brewer vetoed the bills because they damaged Arizona’s image. “All they do is put us in the national spotlight and make us look silly,” Gallardo says. “She’s saying she doesn’t want that to happen any longer.… At the end of the day, it was the right thing for Arizona.” However, State Senator Steve Smith (R-AZ) says the bill would have settled questions about Obama’s citizenship. (KSAZ-TV 4/18/2011; Arizona Republic 4/18/2011; Reuters 4/19/2011) Bills similar to the “birther” legislation have been defeated in Arkansas, Connecticut, Maine, and Montana. (KSAZ-TV 4/18/2011) It is possible that the Arizona House can override Brewer’s veto, but observers, including House Speaker Kirk Adams (R-AZ) believe that will not happen. Seel says such an attempt would appear to be an attempt to override Brewer’s judgment. “Overrides are a real difficult monster,” he says. (Arizona Republic 4/18/2011)

The Missouri House of Representatives passes a bill requiring anyone who wishes to run for president in Missouri to provide evidence of his or her citizenship. The bill reads in part, “When certifying presidential and vice presidential nominees and requesting that such nominees be placed on the ballot, the state committees of each political party shall provide verifiable evidence of identity and proof of natural born citizenship.” The bill does not require “long form” certificates; apparently, the birth certificate provided by President Obama in 2008 (see June 13, 2008) would satisfy the requirements of the bill. The sponsor of the bill, House Republican Lyle Rowland, has denied being a “birther,” telling a reporter: “You know when I first started, reporters and other people were getting after me because I did this because of President Obama. And as I told all the other reporters, it’s not about President Obama. I believe the man is president of the United States and has met the qualifications for the presidency.” Rowland told another reporter: “We have problems with illegal immigrants. And if something were to happen where one of them became popular with the people, we need documents proving if they are a citizen.” The bill, part of a larger package that includes a restrictive voter identification requirement, still must pass the Missouri Senate and be signed into law by Governor Jay Nixon (R-MO); observers believe its chance of passage is slim. (Murphy 5/5/2010; Politico 4/26/2011)

Ohio Governor John Kasich (R-OH) signs a sweeping election measure that may, if it goes into effect, prevent hundreds of thousands of Ohio citizens from voting in November. Parts of the law are being challenged in court, and an effort to repeal it via a voter referendum is underway. The law shortens Ohio’s early voting period, bans in-person early voting on Sunday (a measure many believe is designed to thwart the historic “Souls to the Polls” activities often used by African-American churches to help their congregations vote), and prohibits boards of election from mailing absentee ballot requests to voters. Democrats in the Ohio legislature fought against the bill, but were outvoted in the final votes in both chambers. Former Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner (D-OH) says the law places undue barriers on voters and must be repealed. “It’s an accumulation of small procedural changes that add up to be the potential for long lines, dissatisfied voters, and less certainty on election results,” she says. Many of the law’s provisions came from current Secretary of State Jon Husted (R-OH). He has argued that Ohio’s 88 counties need uniform voter procedures. He claims the law has no political aspects nor any political ramifications. Brunner and other critics admit that parts of the bill are positive, particularly language that brings Ohio’s elections laws in line with federal court decisions, and they do not intend to challenge the law’s moving the state’s presidential primary from March to May. Provisions being challenged include:
bullet reducing the early-voting window from the current 35 days before Election Day to 21 days for voting by mail and 17 days for voting in person, eliminating the so-called “golden week” when people could register and vote on the same day;
bullet limiting Saturday in-person, early voting from 8 a.m. to noon and banning Sunday voting outright;
bullet prohibiting in-person early voting the weekend before Election Day;
bullet banning local boards of elections from mailing unsolicited absentee ballot requests to voters and prohibiting the boards from paying the return postage on the applications or ballots; and
bullet specifying that poll workers may—but are not required—to tell voters they are in the wrong precinct. (American Civil Liberties Union 2011; Associated Press 7/15/2011; Siegel 7/29/2011)
The law does not contain a controversial voter ID provision, but House Republicans want the Senate to pass a separate photo ID requirement later in July. The Senate seems to be leaning towards allowing a voter ID provision, but giving voters without the “proper” identification the alternative of casting a provisional ballot, a measure supported by Husted. Representative Lou Blessing (R-OH) says, “It’s almost ludicrous to think anyone is being suppressed” by the bill. (Siegel 7/29/2011) Many critics find the provision that allows poll workers to refuse to help voters to be particularly onerous. State Senator Nina Turner (D-OH) notes, “Voting in the wrong precinct led to over 14,000 registered voters statewide [losing] their vote in 2008,” a statement rated “true” by the nonpartisan fact-checking organization PolitiFact. Most of those votes were cast in what the Cleveland Plain Dealer called “urban and impoverished areas of the state,” which traditionally lean Democratic. Turner says of state Republicans, “I guess the loss of votes for some doesn’t matter.” (Somanander 7/5/2011) Overall, the Columbus Dispatch will conclude that some 234,000 voters in Columbus alone who successfully cast their ballots in 2008 would find themselves either entirely disenfranchised by the new law or facing new hurdles to casting their votes. Representative Marcia Fudge (D-OH) says the law overturns many of the reform measures passed after the 2004 elections, when many critics believe voter restrictions had a huge impact on the outcome in the presidential election in Ohio. “The only reason to limit these requirements is to limit voting and to strip targeted populations of their right to vote,” she says. “Anyone who values our democracy can understand why it is necessary to make voting easier for citizens, not more difficult.” Ohio Board of Elections chairman Doug Preisse, who chairs the Franklin County Republican Party, is also concerned about the new bill. “I could quibble with a few aspects because I’m looking at it from the challenge of running elections in a big county,” he says. “Did they get it right this time? I’m not sure.” (Somanander 7/25/2011)

Rolling Stone reporter Ari Berman writes that Republican lawmakers across the nation have launched “an unprecedented, centrally coordinated campaign to suppress the elements of the Democratic vote that helped elect Barack Obama in 2008. Just as Dixiecrats once used poll taxes and literacy tests to bar black Southerners from voting, a new crop of GOP governors and state legislators has passed a series of seemingly disconnected measures that could prevent millions of students, minorities, immigrants, ex-convicts and the elderly from casting ballots.” The initiative is ostensibly to counter the “epidemic” of “voter fraud” that Republicans insist is not only plaguing the nation, but affecting the outcome of elections. (In 2007, the Brennan Center released a report that found the instance of voter fraud vanishingly small, and concluded that more people die by lightning strikes than commit voter fraud—see 2007). Judith Browne-Dianis of the Advancement Project tells Berman, “What has happened this year is the most significant setback to voting rights in this country in a century.” As far back as 1980, powerful Republican operative Paul Weyrich told evangelical leaders: “I don’t want everybody to vote. As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.” In 2010, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a group founded by Weyrich and funded in part by the billionaire Koch brothers (see 1977-Present, 1979-1980, 1981-2010, 1984 and After, Late 2004, May 6, 2006, April 15, 2009, May 29, 2009, December 6, 2009, November 2009, July 3-4, 2010, August 28, 2010, August 30, 2010, September 24, 2010, January 5, 2011, October 4, 2011, and February 14, 2011), began working to disenfranchise hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of legitimate voters, almost of all identified as being part of ethnic or gender groups that are more likely to vote Democratic. Thirty-eight states have submitted legislation designed to impede voting “at almost every step of the electoral process.”
Requiring Proof of Citizenship - Kansas and Alabama now require would-be voters to show proof of US citizenship before being allowed to vote.
Impeding Voter Registration - Florida and Texas have passed legislation making it more difficult for groups like the League of Women Voters, an organization widely considered to lean Democratic, to register new voters. Maine repealed same-day registration, which had been in effect since 1973 and had worked to significantly increase voter participation. The Florida legislature passed a law requiring groups to hand in voter registration forms within 48 hours of collection, and imposed what Berman calls “a barrage of onerous, bureaucratic requirements” and serious criminal penalties for those who fail to comply. As a result, many people who once volunteered to help register voters are afraid to do so again. The League of Women Voters says it will no longer operate in Florida, and called Florida’s efforts “good old-fashioned voter suppression.” The Florida statute took effect one day after its passage, under an emergency statute designed for “an immediate danger to the public health, safety or welfare.” Since 2009, Florida has arrested a total of three people for suspected voter fraud. Republican state senator Mike Fasano, one of the few in his party to oppose the restrictions on registrations, says, “No one could give me an example of all this fraud they speak about.”
Curbing Early Voting - Florida, Georgia, Ohio, Tennessee, and West Virginia have cut short early-voting periods. Six states have moved to impose new restrictions on voter registration drives. In 2004, then-Florida governor Jeb Bush (R-FL) said he thought early voting was “great.… It’s another reform we added that has helped provide access to the polls and provide a convenience. And we’re going to have a high voter turnout here, and I think that’s wonderful.” However, his successor Rick Scott (R-FL) does not agree, and neither do most Republicans. After analysis showed what a benefit early voting was for Obama’s numbers, early voting became a key target. Florida has cut early voting days from 14 to 8 days. Ohio, where early voting numbers gave Obama a narrow victory in 2008, has cut its early voting days from 35 to 11, with only limited hours on weekends. Both states have banned voting on the Sunday before elections, when many black churches historically mobilize their constituents. The Early Voting Information Center at Reed College states, “There is no evidence that any form of convenience voting has led to higher levels of fraud.”
Denying Convicted Felons the Right to Vote - Florida and Iowa have passed laws denying convicted felons the right to vote, disenfranchising thousands of previously eligible voters even if they have already served their sentences and have returned to society. Former Florida Governor Charlie Crist (R-FL) restored the voting rights of 154,000 felons convicted of non-violent crimes. In March 2011, after 30 minutes of public debate, Governor Scott overturned that decision, instantly disenfranchising almost 98,000 citizens and prohibiting another 1.1 million convicts from being allowed to vote after they are released from prison. Former President Bill Clinton asked in July: “Why should we disenfranchise people forever once they’ve paid their price? Because most of them in Florida were African-Americans and Hispanics and would tend to vote for Democrats—that’s why.” Iowa Governor Terry Branstad (R-IA) recently took a similar action, overturning his predecessor’s decision to restore voting rights to some 100,000 ex-felons. Until recent years, Iowa saw up to five percent of its residents ineligible to vote, including 33 percent of its African-American residents. Florida, Iowa, Kentucky, and Virginia require former felons to apply for the right to vote to be restored.
Voter Identification - Six states—Alabama, Kansas, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Wisconsin, all controlled by Republican governors and legislatures—have passed laws requiring an official government ID to cast a ballot. Berman notes that some 10 percent of US citizens lack such identification, and the number of young and black voters, groups that traditionally lean Democratic, are much higher. The turn towards voter ID requirements began in 2008, when the US Supreme Court upheld an Indiana photo-ID requirement even though state lawyers could not produce a single instance of the kind of voter fraud that photo ID laws are designed to prevent. After the ruling, ALEC orchestrated a nationwide move towards photo ID requirements. ALEC wrote draft legislation for Republican legislators based on Indiana’s ID requirement. Five of the states that passed those laws had their legislation submitted by legislators who belong to ALEC. Heather Smith, president of the voter-registration group Rock the Vote, says: “We’re seeing the same legislation being proposed state by state by state. And they’re not being shy in any of these places about clearly and blatantly targeting specific demographic groups, including students.” In Texas, the Republican-dominated legislature passed “emergency” legislation that was signed into law by Governor Rick Perry saying that a concealed-weapons permit is acceptable ID, but a college ID is not. Republicans in Wisconsin effectively disenfranchised every college student by requiring that acceptable IDs contain information that no colleges put on their IDs. Dane County board supervisor Analiese Eicher says, “It’s like creating a second class of citizens in terms of who gets to vote.” In Wisconsin, for example, about half of African- and Hispanic-American citizens do not have a driver’s license, and the state has an extremely small number of Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) offices—some of which are only open one day a month. Governor Scott Walker (R-WI) attempted to close 16 DMV offices, all in heavily Democratic-voting areas. Berman notes, “Walker planned to close a DMV in Fort Atkinson, a liberal stronghold, while opening a new office 30 minutes away in the conservative district of Watertown.” Democratic governors in five states—Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, and North Carolina—have all vetoed ID laws. Voters in Mississippi and Montana are considering ballot initiatives requiring voter IDs. Legislation is currently pending in Pennsylvania. Perhaps the most restrictive law was signed into effect by South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley (R-SC). Voters must have a free state ID to vote—but they must pay for a passport or birth certificate. Brown-Dianis says, “It’s the stepsister of the poll tax.” Many elderly black residents who were born at home in the segregated South and were never issued birth certificates can no longer vote unless they go to family court to prove their identity.
Significant Impact on 2012 Voting - Berman writes that when these measures are taken in the aggregate, the turnout of Democrats to the 2012 votes will be significantly smaller, perhaps enough to throw races to Republican candidates. In July, Clinton told a group of student activists: “One of the most pervasive political movements going on outside Washington today is the disciplined, passionate, determined effort of Republican governors and legislators to keep most of you from voting next time. Why is all of this going on? This is not rocket science. They are trying to make the 2012 electorate look more like the 2010 electorate than the 2008 electorate.” Clinton was referring to the 2010 elections, widely considered a Republican “wave” election in part because of far smaller turnouts among young and minority voters than in 2008, and because of a large number of “tea party” voters. Clinton added, “There has never been in my lifetime, since we got rid of the poll tax and all the Jim Crow burdens on voting, the determined effort to limit the franchise that we see today.”
Cracking Down on Voter Fraud? - Republicans insist that voter fraud is rampant in America. Since George W. Bush took office in 2001 after losing the popular vote (see 9:54 p.m. December 12, 2000), his administration made “voter fraud” a top priority for Justice Department prosecutors. In 2006, the DOJ fired two US Attorneys who refused to prosecute patently fraudulent voter fraud allegations. Bush advisor Karl Rove called voter fraud “an enormous and growing problem.” He told the Republican National Lawyers Association that America is “beginning to look like we have elections like those run in countries where the guys in charge are colonels in mirrored sunglasses.” The Republicans successfully destroyed the community activism group ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) after false allegations were made that it was, as Berman writes, “actively recruiting armies of fake voters to misrepresent themselves at the polls and cast illegal ballots for the Democrats.” A massive DOJ probe in 2006 and 2007 failed to prosecute a single person for intentionally impersonating another person at the polls, an action that the DOJ claimed was at the heart of the voter fraud investigation. Eighty-six cases of voter fraud did win convictions, but most of those were immigrants and former felons who did not intentionally cast illegal votes. An enormous investigation in Wisconsin resulted in 0.0007 percent of the electorate being prosecuted for voter fraud. And the Brennan Center report found the instance of voter fraud in America extraordinarily small (see 2007).
Voter Fraud Allegations Dog Obama Victory - Republican lawmakers and activists made a raft of allegations after the November 2008 elections that placed the White House in the hands of Barack Obama (D-IL). The 29 states that register voter affiliation showed a roughly 2-1 increase in new Democratic voters over Republicans for 2008, and Obama won almost 70 percent of those votes. Election reform expert Tova Wang says flatly, “This latest flood of attacks on voting rights is a direct shot at the communities that came out in historic numbers for the first time in 2008 and put Obama over the top.” Berman cites Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach as emblematic of the Republican pushback against the Obama victory. Kobach is a former Bush-era Justice Department advisor who helped push through his state’s requirement that every voter prove his or her citizenship, ignoring the fact that Kansas has prosecuted exactly one case of voter fraud since 2006. Kobach used fear of illegal immigrants to help push his requirement through, stating without evidence, “In Kansas, the illegal registration of alien voters has become pervasive.” He also stated that many people were casting ballots in the name of dead voters, and cited the example of Alfred K. Brewer as a dead voter who mysteriously voted in 2008. However, as the Wichita Eagle showed, Brewer is very much alive. “I don’t think this is heaven,” Brewer told the Eagle, “[n]ot when I’m raking leaves.” Representative John Lewis (D-AL), a civil rights crusader who was brutally beaten during the 1960s effort to win voting rights for African-Americans, says bluntly, “Voting rights are under attack in America.” On the House floor in July, Lewis told the assemblage, “There’s a deliberate and systematic attempt to prevent millions of elderly voters, young voters, students, minority and low-income voters from exercising their constitutional right to engage in the democratic process.”
Fighting Voter Disenfranchisement - Voting-rights organizations are fighting back as best they can. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is challenging several of the new voter-restriction laws in court. Congressional Democrats are pushing the Department of Justice to block or weaken laws that impede minority voters from exercising their rights. Lewis says, “The Justice Department should be much more aggressive in areas covered by the Voting Rights Act.” Meanwhile, many voting-rights experts predict chaos at the polls in November 2012, as voters react with confusion, frustration, and anger at being barred from voting. “Our democracy is supposed to be a government by, of, and for the people,” says Browne-Dianis. “It doesn’t matter how much money you have, what race you are, or where you live in the country—we all get to have the same amount of power by going into the voting booth on Election Day. But those who passed these laws believe that only some people should participate. The restrictions undermine democracy by cutting off the voices of the people.” (Berman 8/30/2011)

The Virginia Republican Party will require voters to sign a loyalty oath in order to participate in the March 6 presidential primary. In order to vote in the primary, Virginians will have to sign a form at the polling place pledging to support the eventual Republican nominee for president. Any voter who refuses to sign the oath would not be allowed to vote. The State Board of Elections voted 3-0 to approve the forms as requested by the Virginia GOP. The oath is legal under Section 24.2-545 of the Code of Virginia. The oath reads, “I, the undersigned, pledge that I intend to support the nominee of the Republican Party for president.” The voter must then sign the form and print his or her name. Only two candidates, Mitt Romney (R-MA) and Ron Paul (R-TX), will be on the ballot; other Republican candidates either did not garner enough signatures to qualify or did not seek to be placed on the ballot. Virginia has “open” primaries, which means that voters from any party, or unaffiliated voters, may vote in any party’s primary, although voters must only vote in one primary of their choosing. In the 2000 GOP presidential primary, voters were required to sign a pledge reading, “I, the undersigned, state that I do not intend to participate in the nomination process of any other party than the Republican Party.” Virginia did not hold a GOP primary election in 2004 because President Bush was running uncontested for re-election. For the 2008 elections, the Virginia GOP chose not to require a loyalty oath, partially because Democrats were voting in their own primary election. In 2012, there will be no Virginia Democratic primary because President Obama will be the only Democrat on the ballot. GOP State Delegate Robert Marshall says he disagrees with the idea of a loyalty oath, and that such a thing does not fit in with the philosophy espoused by the Republican Party. “Ironically, requiring a loyalty oath will bar even former US House Speaker Newt Gingrich [another presidential candidate who is not on the ballot] from voting in the primary because he already has said unequivocally that he will not vote for Ron Paul for president if he’s the Republican nominee,” Marshall says. “Virginia’s Republican leadership wants to mandate a loyalty oath when Virginia’s Republican officials are in court fighting the Obamacare mandate? This sends the wrong message.” (Cain 12/29/2011; Walker 12/29/2011)

Rolling Stone magazine reports that despite no evidence of voter fraud except in extremely isolated incidents, Republicans in over a dozen states are passing laws that disenfranchise voters under the guise of “protecting the vote” (see August 30, 2011). The voters most affected by these laws, the magazine reports, are more likely to vote Democratic in national and state elections. Governor Rick Scott (R-FL), who is fighting the Justice Department to allow him to purge hundreds of thousands of voters from the state electoral rolls, has said: “We need to have fair elections. When you go out to vote, you want to make sure that the other individuals that are voting have a right to vote.” However, a 2007 study by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law shows that almost every allegation of voter fraud is false. The chance of a vote being fraudulent, according to the study, is 0.0004 percent (see 2007).
Double Voting - Many claim that “double voting,” or a single voter casting a vote twice or more, is a rampant issue. In reality, it almost never occurs. The allegations that are made almost always result from different people with similar or even identical names casting separate votes, or simple clerical errors, such as voters being counted as having cast their ballots when in reality they did not. In Missouri in 2000 and again in 2002, hundreds of “double votes” were alleged to have been cast, with some allegations saying that the same voter cast their votes in Kansas and Missouri. When reporters and other investigators looked into the claims, only four cases were shown to have been actual double voting, for a documented fraud rate of 0.0003 percent.
Dead Voters - These are allegations that living people cast ballots using the names of dead voters. Almost every allegation of this nature has proven to stem from flawed matches of death records and voter rolls. In the 2000 Georgia elections, allegations of 5,412 “dead voter” votes were made over the last 20 years. All but one of those allegations turned out to be an incorrect match between death records and voter rolls. One example: “Alan J. Mandel,” who died in 1997, apparently cast a vote in 1998. In reality, voter Alan J. Mandell—two Ls—cast a legitimate vote. Election workers checked the wrong name off their list.
Voting with Fraudulent Addresses - The allegation is that people use fraudulent addresses to register to vote. Such allegations usually stem from mail coming back from the given address marked undeliverable. In almost every instance, the person in question has moved, the individual piece of mail was misdelivered or misaddressed, or the address is recorded incorrectly. In one instance, New Hampshire election officials became concerned when 88 voters had registered to vote using similar addresses from property belonging to Daniel Webster College. The addressees were legitimate: all 88 voters were students at that school who lived on college property.
Voting by Convicted Felons - This is a favorite allegation: that convicted felons stripped of their right to vote have voted anyway. It happens more often than some other forms of alleged voter fraud, but in almost every case, the felon in question was unaware that his or her right to vote had been taken away, a misapprehension often reinforced by misinformed election officials. Even then, almost every instance of “felon voters” turns out to be a case of clerical error: someone was convicted of a crime that does not result in their right to vote being removed, typographical errors, voters with names similar to that of convicted felons, and so forth. In the 2000 Florida elections, the state claimed that 5,643 ineligible felons had cast illegal votes. The list provided by the state was almost completely populated by eligible voters who were misidentified as ineligible felons.
Voting by Noncitizens - Allegations that US elections are being “thrown” by huge numbers of illegal immigrants casting their votes are widespread. In reality, there is not one case of an illegal immigrant intentionally casting an illicit vote. For example, Washington state officials investigated the citizenship of 1,668 registered voters in 2005, after allegations that they were illegal aliens were raised based on their “foreign-sounding names.” Every one of the voters on the list was legitimate.
Registration Fraud - On occasion, fraudulent registration forms do get submitted. However, the number of cases where a person submitted a form in someone else’s name in order to impersonate that person is extremely small. Some people fill out the forms with deliberately ridiculous information (such as claiming their name to be “Mickey Mouse”), while others make honest mistakes filling out the forms. In a few cases, voter registration workers working on commission have committed fraud in order to make more money. The Brennan Center report found: “Most reports of registration fraud do not actually claim that the fraud happens so that ineligible people can vote at the polls. Indeed, we are aware of no recent substantiated case in which registration fraud has resulted in fraudulent votes being cast.”
Voting by Dogs - The Brennan Center found nine instances of people registering their dogs to vote. Six of those were from people trying to prove a point: that they could register their dogs to vote. (The penalty for registering a dog to vote is up to 30 years in federal prison.) The Brennan report documented two cases of someone casting a vote in the name of a dog. One was submitted in Venice, California, with the word “VOID” and a paw print drawn on the ballot, and another, also cast in Venice, California, was submitted under the name of “Raku Bowman.”
Vote Buying - Rolling Stone notes that this does happen on rare occasions, with campaign officials or others convincing voters to vote for a particular candidate in return for money, food, or cigarettes. But, the magazine notes, this is vote buying, not voter fraud. It, too, is illegal, and will not be curbed by voter ID laws and the like.
Fraud by Election Officials - Like vote buying, this happens on rare occasions, but is not voter fraud per se. Rolling Stone writes, “If election officials are willing to break the law, rules designed to restrict voting won’t stop them.” (Rolling Stone 6/12/2012)

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