Voter Suppression Update for May 23, 2012

Recent Updates

A bit of good news! Last week the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia rejected Shelby County, Alabama’s constitutional challenge to Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, upholding federal approval of election-related changes in all or part of 16 states with a history of racial discrimination. Texas is also challenging the constitutionality of Section 5 in a separate case

Also, House Democrats introduced legislation last week, the Voter Empowerment Act that would make registration and voting more convenient. Read FELN’s statement of support.

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

Missouri:  The Missouri legislature failed to replace the language of a ballot measure for this November that would amend the state constitution to allow legislation to require voters to present a government-issued photo ID to vote, effectively killing the ballot initiative for this year. In March, Cole County Circuit Court Judge Patricia S. Joyce ruled in a lawsuit brought by the Fair Elections Legal Network and other voting rights organizations, that the ballot language originally drafted by the legislature was misleading and invalidated the proposed ballot title. Read FELN’s press release regarding the victory.

Kansas: Kansas will not move up the date from January 1, 2013 to June 15, 2012 when it will require a proof of citizenship to register to vote. The bill was killed in the Senate.

Pennsylvania: The Philadelphia delegation of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives released a voter identification guide to educate voters on the type of IDs that will be accepted at the polls and how to obtain an ID if they do not already have one. Also, the Berks County Bar Association is helping voters figure out how to get the documentation they need to get an acceptable ID to vote.

Pennsylvania Secretary of the Commonwealth Carole Aichele announced a new system for Pennsylvanian-born voters to get a voter ID card. The new system will certify the birth records of Pennsylvania natives without the need for them to purchase a duplicate birth certificate with a raised seal. The process is free and will take 10 days. However, the voter must visit the PennDOT office twice – once to fill out the paperwork for the ID and a second time when to pick up their ID.

Texas: Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has dropped his opposition to the U.S. Department of Justice’s request to take depositions from 12 state lawmakers in the legal battle over the voter photo ID law that was passed last year in Texas. Texas is suing to allow the law to be implemented. The DOJ ruled earlier this year that the law violates the Voting Rights Act citing that the law will discriminate against Hispanic voters. The trial is scheduled for July 9.

The Bad News

Florida: At the request of Governor Rick Scott, the Florida Division of Elections sent county supervisors of elections a list of nearly 2,700 voters that they flagged as possible non-citizens by comparing voter lists with the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (DHSMV) database, even though citizenship documentation is not required to obtain a driver’s license. State officials were also using jury excusal forms for comparing voter lists and may also use a federal immigration database after many supervisors of elections voiced concern over the program.  The list targets mostly Hispanic voters.

Between January and April, the state has purged almost 7,000 voters from the state’s voter rolls due to recent felony convictions. The system of regaining voting rights in Florida is so lengthy and strict that many will never have their voting rights restored.

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 passed out of the House Redistricting and Elections committee. These bills now move to the full House for a vote. The bills have already passed the Senate.

Mississippi: Governor Phil Bryant signed into law a voter photo ID law last week. The law was passed following a constitutional amendment that was approved by voters last year to require a photo ID to cast a ballot. If the voter does not show an acceptable ID, they may vote by provisional ballot that will be counted if the voter shows an acceptable ID to the county circuit clerk within 5 days after the election. The law must be approved by the U.S. Department of Justice under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. The NAACP is asking the DOJ to block the new law. The law also requires the state to provide a free photo ID card to voters that need one. However, lawmakers did not set aside money for the program.

New Hampshire: The House passed a voter photo ID bill last week that amended the Senate-passed photo ID bill. The amendments would put more restrictions on the types of photo ID, excluding student and government IDs, and moves up the date of implementation sooner than the Senate-passed bill. The bill heads back to the Senate where it does not look like it will pass. The Senate has requested a conference with the House to negotiate differences between the bills.

Ohio: Last week, Governor John Kasich signed a repeal of legislation passed last year that would reduce the time period for early and absentee voting and remove the requirement for poll workers to direct voters to the correct precinct when they go to the wrong precinct. The repeal was in response to a referendum on the law that is scheduled for the November ballot. The repeal still shortens the early voting period because it does not restore early voting the weekend before Election Day. At this time, it is unclear if the referendum will still appear on the ballot in November.

Pennsylvania: Eight Pennsylvanians that are supportive of voter photo ID laws have asked to intervene in the case brought by the ACLU and NAACP challenging the Pennsylvania’s new photo ID law.  

Virginia: Governor Bob McDonnell signed SB 1 and HB 9 into law last week. The laws will require voters to present one of several acceptable IDs to vote. If a voter does not have an acceptable ID they may vote by provisional ballot which will be counted if they present the election board an acceptable ID by noon the Friday after the election. Governor McDonnell also signed an Executive Order requiring the state to issue all registered voters a voter ID card, at a cost to the state of about $1.36 million. The law must be approved by the U.S. Department of Justice under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.

Wisconsin: Governor Scott Walker, stoking fears of widespread voter fraud, made wild accusations in an interview with the Weekly Standard this past week that he thought voter fraud accounted for as much as two percent of the vote in an election, despite only 20 instances of fraud – none of which involved in-person voter fraud – was found in the 2008 election.