Voter Suppression Update for June 6, 2012

Recent Updates

This past week we saw good news out of Florida when a judge issued an injunction blocking parts of a voter registration law that he said “impose a harsh and impractical 48-hour deadline for an organization to deliver applications to a voter registration office and effectively prohibit an organization from mailing applications in.  And the statute and rule impose burdensome record-keeping and reporting requirements that serve little if any purpose, thus rendering them unconstitutional…” As a result of the injunction, the League of Women Voters and Rock the Vote will resume voter registration efforts in Florida.

It looks like voter suppression bills are moving forward in Michigan and New Hampshire. North Carolina may possibly negotiate a compromise voter ID bill that could withstand a veto. And Florida is continuing to pursue their voter purge program that could take away thousands of legal citizens’ right to vote.

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.    

The Good News

Florida: Last week, Federal District Judge Robert Hinkle issued a preliminary injunction in a challenge brought by the League of Women Voters of Florida, Florida Public Interest Research Group Education Fund, and Rock the Vote to a Florida law passed last year that places onerous restrictions on community and civic groups, as well as teachers, that conduct voter registration drives. The provisions that are blocked include requiring organizations to turn in completed voter registration forms in 48 hours. The previous requirement of turning in voter registration forms within 10 days is in effect. Also, the provision requiring registration agents to sign an affidavit detailing penalties of filing false registrations was blocked.

Following the injunction blocking the law, the League of Women Voters of Florida and Rock the Vote announced they would resume their voter registration efforts in the state. Last year, faced with the harsh penalties under the new voter registration law, both groups had suspended their voter registration programs.

Minnesota: The American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota, Common Cause, Jewish Community Action and the League of Women Voters filed a lawsuit last week challenging the proposed constitutional amendment requiring voters to present photo IDs to vote on this November’s ballot. They are challenging the language of the ballot question claiming it is unclear and misleading because it does not state that voters may have to show a government-issued ID or vote by provisional ballot or that the amendment could affect Election Day registration.

Pennsylvania: Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson rejected a petition to intervene in a lawsuit challenging Pennsylvania’s new voter ID law by a group of eight petitioners that claimed without the voter ID law, their votes would be diluted by fraudulent votes. The judge stated there was no proof to support their claims. A trial for the lawsuit is set for July 25.

The Pennsylvania House Democratic Caucus introduced legislation that would create an online voter registration system, waive the birth certificate fee for those that needed it for a voter ID, and use new technology and mobile outreach to help registered voters obtain the photo identification now needed to cast a ballot.

The Bad News

Florida: Two weeks ago, the Fair Elections Legal Network, Project Vote, Advancement Project, and other civil rights organizations, sent Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner a letter asking him to cease a voter purge program that threatens eligible voters’ right to vote and is illegal under the National Voter Registration Act. The state has until next week to respond. Additionally, the U.S. Department of Justice sent Florida a letter agreeing with the above letter that the voter purging program is impermissible under the National Voter Registration Act’s (NVRA) because the law bans systematic removal of voters for the voting rolls within 90 days of an election for federal office. Florida’s primary is scheduled for August 14, 2012. The DOJ also found that the program violates the Voting Rights Act because changes that affect voting laws must be submitted for review to the DOJ before they are enacted. It is expected that Florida will continue the voter purge program despite objections from the DOJ and voting and civil rights organizations.

The Florida Association of Supervisors of Election advised county election supervisors to “cease any further action until the issues raised by the Department of Justice are resolved between the parties or by a Court.'' Miami-Dade and Broward counties have both said that they will immediately stop the removal of any voters from the voter rolls.

Michigan: Three bills (SB 751, SB 754, and SB 803) that would require photo ID to vote absentee, restrict voter registration drives,  and require voters to affirm their U.S. citizenship before voting will likely be voted on by the full House next week. The bills have already passed the Senate.

New Hampshire: A compromise voter ID bill was reached between the House and the Senate last week. The Senate version would be in effect for this year. Voters would be asked to show one of eight acceptable ID’s, including student IDs, but if they do not have an ID they can still vote without filling out an affidavit or vote a provisional ballot. Next year, the House version will take effect. It will require voters to show a driver's license, a state-issued identification card, a military ID or a passport. Student and government IDs would be excluded. The bill will also require voters to announce their name and address, for election clerks to record out-of-state drivers' licenses on the checklist, and to photograph those without identification to be attached to affidavits swearing to their domicile. The Secretary of State's office would be required to purchase the photography equipment as well as prepare an education program for voters going to the polls informing them of the new requirements. The bill is to be voted on this week by both chambers and then heads to the governor for his signature. He has stated that he has serious concerns with this legislation and vetoed a voter photo ID bill last year.

North Carolina: House Speaker Tom Tillis is intent on working out a compromise voter ID bill that would garner enough votes to override a veto from the governor before the legislature adjourns at the end of the month. Last year, the North Carolina legislature sent a voter photo ID bill to Governor Bev Perdue which she vetoed. The House was unable to get the three-fifths vote needed to override her veto.

Texas: Texas Secretary of State is pursuing an aggressive program of purging voters from the voting lists that has resulted in 1 out of every 10 voter ending up having their voter registration suspended.  Between 2008 and 2010, more than 300,000 eligible voters were notified that they were being removed from the voter rolls. Many were mistaken for someone else or failed to receive or respond to generic form letters. More than 1.5 million could be removed from the voter rolls based off the state’s data-matching program if they fail to vote in the next two consecutive federal elections.

Wisconsin: In the recall election held this week in Wisconsin, there have been reports of robo-calls, mailings, and even canvassers providing misleading information to voters, including they did not have to vote if they signed a recall petition or they can’t vote unless they did in 2010. On Election Day, there were reports of confusion over the states new law that changes the residency requirement from 10 days to 28 days to register to vote. The League of Women Voters received complaints from over 100 students by mid-afternoon that poll workers turned them away because the poll workers misunderstood the residency requirement.