Voter Suppression Update for August 16, 2012

An analysis of over 2,000 voter fraud cases found that in-person voter fraud – the type that voter ID laws are supposed to prevent – is virtually non-existent. The report found 10 cases of alleged in-person voter impersonation since 2000.

A survey found that as many as 90 million people that are eligible to vote this year say they may not because they are too busy, not excited by either candidate, or believe their vote doesn’t matter.

A study found that disabled voters face extra barriers to voting that causes turnout among the disabled community to be 11 percent lower than non-disabled. Following the 2008 election, only 27% of polling sites were found to have no obstacles for disabled voters. Highlighting that point, a disabled woman in Wisconsin this week could not access her polling site because of stairs and a faulty handicap lift so she was forced to vote at the bottom of the stairs without privacy.

While there appears to be strong public support for voter ID laws among the public, there is also very little awareness about these laws or the impact they could have on Election Day.

Five federal lawsuits filed by three states and two communities are challenging the constitutionality of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act in lawsuits defending restrictive laws recently passed that the U.S. Department of Justice blocked.

The Fair Elections Legal Network provides regular updates on election law and administration that will reduce access to voting. To receive these regular updates, please contact Josh Spaulding at jspaulding@fairelectionsnetwork.com.    

Arizona: The state is appealing a ruling that partially struck down Proposition 200, Arizona’s voter ID law. The ruling does not allow the state to require proof of citizenship for people who use a federal form to register to vote. In the appeal, the state will also challenge the constitutionally of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act that requires the state to get approval from the U.S. Department of Justice before it can make changes to its voting procedures.

Colorado: Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler issued a ruling that bars counties from mailing ballots to inactive voters. Previously, mailing ballots to inactive voters was at the discretion of the county clerk.

Florida: Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner said that he expects the purging of Florida’s voter rolls to resume now that the primary is over and the state is working out an agreement with the Department of Homeland Security to use its Systemic Alien Verification for Entitlement (SAVE) database to verify citizenship status of alleged non-citizens on the voter rolls. Florida’s voter purge list contained several U.S.-born citizens whose citizenship status the SAVE database could not verify because SAVE only contains those that are legal non-citizens and those that have been naturalized.

U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Corrigan agreed to hear a challenge to Florida’s new law that shortens the early voting period from 15 days to 10 days. The case will be heard on September 19, 2012.

Despite state law requiring a uniform election system, Governor Rick Scott’s administration said it won’t stop using a conflicting directive that requires old election laws to apply in the five counties that require Department of Justice preclearance of voting changes and new election laws to apply in the 62 counties that do not. The ACLU, National Council of La Raza and Tampa Sen. Arthenia Joyner are challenging the two-system directive because it did not go through the state’s rule-making process.

The U.S. Department of Justice, in its lawsuit against the state’s voter purge program, subpoenaed records from nine Florida counties related to the voter purge program. Florida recently released the list of over 180,000 voters that the state initially identified as possible non-citizens on the voter rolls.

Iowa: Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz issued emergency rules to enable his office to remove voters he suspects to be non-citizens. Under the new rules, voters tagged as ineligible will receive notice from local elections officials and face removal from the rolls if they do not challenge their disqualification within 14 days. The emergency rules also remove a requirement in Iowa law that the person filing a voter fraud complaint must file a sworn statement. The ACLU of Iowa and the League of United Latin American Citizens has filed a lawsuit claiming the secretary did not follow the normal procedure in adopting the new rules – including making them available for public comment. Democratic Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller said he will defend the Republican secretary of state in the lawsuit.

Iowa Senate President Jack Kibble criticized Secretary Schultz for issuing emergency rules to move forward with the voter purge program. He asked the secretary to appear before the legislature’s Administrative Rules Committee to discuss the changes and explain why he chose not to follow normal procedure for issuing new rules that allow for public comment. The secretary did not respond.

As part of the secretary of state’s initiative to purge the voter rolls, an Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation will be on loan full-time to the secretary of state’s office for a cost of $280,000 for two years to investigate allegations of voter fraud despite these investigations normally happening at the county level.

Secretary Schultz plans to release the list of alleged non-citizens in Scott County to Scott County Auditor Roxana Moritz. She requested the list to do her own investigation and the Scott County Commissioners voted this week to allow her to hire a temporary worker to help with investigating whether those on the list are eligible to vote or should be removed.

Michigan: There was confusion during Michigan’s primaries last week among poll workers whether a voter could receive a ballot if they did not check the citizenship checkbox that the Secretary of State Ruth Johnson is requiring on ballot applications. By mid-day, the secretary of state’s office provided clarification that voters that did not check the box should still be given a ballot but told only U.S. citizens are allowed to vote. Poll workers also appeared to be confused about the state’s ID requirement. It was reported that some poll workers were not going to let voters cast a ballot without showing ID when the law allows voters that do not show an ID to sign an affidavit affirming their identity in order to vote.

New Mexico: Secretary of State Dianna Duran recently sent out postcards to nearly 178,000 voters around the state who had been flagged by county clerks as “inactive” after election-related mail was returned as undeliverable. Those that do not respond or do not vote between now and the 2014 election will be removed from the voter rolls following the 2014 election. Some active voters have ended up on the inactive voter list including a state representative’s wife and a voting rights activist.  A state senator believes the postcards are illegal under state law because they state that the voter may be required to confirm their current address at the polls if the card is not returned.

Ohio: Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted issued a directive yesterday mandating uniform hours for early voting at county offices throughout the state. The directive forbids counties from offering a weekend option for early voting. Counties could previously determine their own early voting hours. The directive is the result of inconsistent early voting hours among Democratic-leaning and Republican-leaning counties. County boards of elections in Ohio consist of two Democrats and two Republicans. Democratic members of the boards have voted to expand early voting hours in both Democratic and Republican leaning counties. Republican members opposed expansion of early voting hours in the Democratic leaning counties of Cuyahoga, Franklin, and Summit but supported expansion in the Republican leaning counties of Butler and Warren. As a result, Republican counties were prepared to offer evening and weekend early voting hours while Democratic counties were deadlocked on what their hours would be. Husted initially broke the ties in deadlocked counties against expansion of early voting hours. The directive appears to be a mixed bag, according to the Dayton Daily News. It will expand voting hours in some counties – such as Miami and Clark – that had no extra hours planned beyond 4:00 or 4:30 on weekdays. However, the elimination of weekend voting will shrink early voting hours by between 10 and 17 hours in counties – such as Montgomery, Greene, Warren and Butler – that already voted for weekend hours.

In a bit of good news in Ohio, Secretary Husted announced last week that Ohio voters could now update their voter registration online, making updating voter registration more convenient, less costly, and reducing errors.

Pennsylvania: Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson decided against granting a preliminary injunction to halt Pennsylvania’s new voter ID law. The ruling was only on whether to grant an injunction and not on the full merits of the case. The ACLU plans to appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

The state updated the votesPA.com website to provide voter information on how to obtain a voter ID, registration, absentee voting and locating polling sites.

Advocates for the new voter ID law argue that the law isn’t burdensome partly because the state is providing voter IDs for free to those that need it. However, the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center (PBPC) released a report that showed that in many areas, receiving a free voter ID was difficult. Many offices did not have signage indicating voters could obtain a voter ID at that office, few staff offered that the voter ID is free, and the hours of operation were so limited that 20% of volunteers that assisted with the report had to return to the office a second time.

All 14 universities in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education will add expiration dates to their student IDs to make them acceptable, either by issuing a sticker with an expiration date or replacing current IDs with one that has an expiration date for those that need it.

South Carolina: U.S. District Judges Brett M. Kavanaugh, John D. Bates and Colleen Kollar-Kotelly will hear arguments over South Carolina’s voter ID law from August 27 to August 31. The judges ruled in a split preliminary decision that attorneys for the state could not invoke attorney-client privilege to shield material prepared by staff attorneys in the state Senate as the voter ID measure was being drafted.

Tennessee: Having failed to convince U.S. District Court Judge Aleta Trauger that the state should allow photo IDs issued by the Memphis public library to serve as a voter ID, the city of Memphis amended its lawsuit by challenging the constitutionally of the voter ID law passed last year. The amended lawsuit claims the voter photo ID requirement adds a new qualification for voting beyond the four listed in the Tennessee Constitution and infringes on the right to vote under the federal and state constitutions.

In Tennessee’s primary last week, 277 people cast provisional ballots because they did not show a valid photo ID. Only 115 of those ballots were counted after voters went to election offices in the required time and showed a proper photo ID. Over half did not have their votes counted.

Texas: U.S. District Judge Gregg Costa refused to lift a preliminary injunction that blocked Texas’ new requirements for voter registration drives from going into effect. He did however modify his order to require that deputy registrars indicate their county of appointment on the receipts they are required to give applicants.