Voter Suppression/Redistricting Update for July 13, 2012

This week, to make up for the holiday last Wednesday, this update will include both an update on voter suppression and redistricting.

Nationally, the Associated Press this week reported that in Indiana and Georgia, two of the first states to enact strict voter ID laws, more than 1,200 such votes were tossed during the 2008 general election because voters failed to show a valid photo ID. Additionally, hundreds of ballots were blocked in Indiana, Georgia, and Tennessee primaries this year due to voter ID laws. The report highlights that thousands of legitimate voters could not have their votes counted this November.

Attorney General Eric Holder spoke this week at the NAACP conference in Houston about protecting the right to vote against laws that are aimed at suppressing turnout. Representative Steny Hoyer launched an online app that provides information on where to vote and how to register.

Over the past three weeks, there has been a lot of movement on voter suppression legislation in the states. This week, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia is hearing arguments in the case over Texas’ voter ID law passed last year. Last week, Michigan Republican Governor Rick Snyder vetoed legislation that would make voter registration and absentee voting more difficult. In New Hampshire, the legislature voted to override Democratic Governor John Lynch’s veto of a voter ID bill.

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.    

VOTER SUPPRESSION NEWS

Colorado: Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler sent a letter to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) asking for help in verifying a list of over 5,000 registered voters he believes may be non-citizens. His letter was joined by 11 other election officials from other states. The letter asks for a response by July 20. Colorado’s Attorney General John Suthers sent DHS a separate letter stating that DHS is required under federal law to provide the information, and that the U.S. Supreme Court reiterated that requirement in its recent decision on Arizona's immigration law.

Florida: The state of Florida will finally release the list of 180,000 registered voters it has compiled that they suspect may contain non-citizens. The state’s attorney general ruled that the list was a matter of public record and must be released.

U.S. District Court Judge Robert Hinkle denied the U.S. Department of Justice’s request that Florida stop its voter purge program but only after receiving assurance from the state that it was no longer actively pursuing the initiative.

Michigan: Governor Rick Snyder vetoed three bills that would have made registering and voting more difficult in Michigan. The bills would have imposed tighter photo ID and citizenship requirements and put new restrictions on voter registration drives. The governor said that the “legislation could create voter confusion among absentee voters." In his veto message, the governor included the parts of the legislation he was concerned about, including the citizenship checkbox on absentee applications. He stated an “alternative would be to simply include U.S. citizen in the voters’ opening declaration statement in the application.” He also had concerns that the legislation did not provide details about trainings voter registration groups were to receive. The House may consider amendments to the legislation to address the governor’s concerns or craft a new bill.

Minnesota: Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie renamed the voter ID constitutional amendment from "Photo Identification Required for Voting" that was preferred by its legislative sponsors to "Changes to In-Person & Absentee Voting & Voter Registration; Provisional Ballots.” Minnesota statute requires the secretary of state to name titles of constitutional amendments with the approval of the attorney general.

In the legal challenge over the constitutional amendment ballot language, Ritchie asked the Minnesota Supreme Court for a decision by August 27 in order for county auditors to proceed with printing ballots.

Two weeks ago, U.S. District Court Judge Donovan Frank heard arguments in a challenge to Minnesota’s Election Day registration. The plaintiffs argued that voters that register on Election Day cannot be properly verified as eligible voters before their vote is counted. They propose either doing rigorous database searches at the polling place or holding off on counting ballots of same-day registrants until they can be thoroughly vetted. The judge will rule within the next two months.

Mississippi: Voters without a valid ID for voting in Mississippi could have a problem getting one. While the new law allows voters to obtain a voter ID for free, they must show a birth certificate. However, Mississippi law requires residents to show a valid photo ID to receive a copy of their birth certificate.  No birth certificate, no ID. No ID, no birth certificate.

New Hampshire: The New Hampshire legislature was able to override a veto from Governor John Lynch to allow a voter ID bill to become law. For this year, the voter ID law will require voters to show one of the following IDs to cast a ballot: a driver's license, a New Hampshire non-driver ID card, military ID, U.S. passport, a valid student ID card, or any other valid photo identification issued by federal, state, county, or municipal government. Voters that do not present an acceptable photo ID can fill out a voter affidavit and then cast a ballot.

Beginning in September 2013, student IDs and the category of "other" IDs issued by federal, state, county, or municipal governments will no longer be accepted. All IDs will have to either be valid or, if expired, list an expiration date within the last five years. Voters will be required 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. Those with religious objections to being photographed will be exempted from having their picture taken. New Hampshire will provide free non-driver ID's to those that do not have acceptable ID to vote. 

The legislature was also able to override a veto of a bill that requires anyone who registers to vote in New Hampshire to follow the laws that apply to all residents of New Hampshire, including applying for a New Hampshire drivers license and registering their motor vehicle within 60 days.

Both laws must now be approved by the U.S. Department of Justice under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act before taking effect.

North Carolina: Before the end of the legislative session, the House Speaker was unable to negotiate a bipartisan compromise to pass a voter ID bill that could receive enough votes to override Governor Bev Perdue’s veto.

Ohio: U.S. District Court Judge Algenoon Marbley ruled against Secretary of State John Husted’s challenge to a 2010 federal consent decree on how to count provisional ballots. He argued that it was inconsistent with state law. The judge did not find it inconsistent. The consent decree allows provisional ballots cast in the wrong precinct because of a poll worker error to be counted.

Pennsylvania: Despite Secretary of the Commonwealth Carol Aichele’s claim that 99 percent of Pennsylvanians have a valid ID for voting this November, data released this week by state election officials showed that over 758,000 registered voters (9.2 percent of registered voters) in Pennsylvania lack a PennDOT issued ID.

House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, at a state Republican Party meeting, stated that the new voter ID bill will help Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney win Pennsylvania in November.

The 14 schools in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education are exploring ways to update student IDs to comply with the new voter ID law, either by issuing new IDs with expiration dates, or providing stickers with expiration dates for IDs.

The Department of State announced two weeks ago it will launch a $5 million campaign to educate Pennsylvania voters about the new voter ID law.

Tennessee: Last week, the city of Memphis unveiled new library cards that contain a photo ID that, the mayor claimed, can be used as ID for voting. However, the Tennessee election officials said that the library cards will not be acceptable. Additionally, Shelby County Election Commissioners announced that the photo library cards will not be recognized as voter identification when early voting starts on Friday. It appears the city of Memphis may bring a legal challenge to the voter ID law.

Texas: This week, the U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia is hearing arguments over Texas’ voter ID law that was blocked by the U.S Department of Justice. The state of Texas plans on challenging the federal government’s authority to block legislation under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Already, Texas’ election official Brian Ingram testified the law was necessary because of fraud. However, he admitted the cases of fraud he mentioned could be due to a clerical error and have not been sent to the attorney general for investigation. A couple of democratic lawmakers also testified on Tuesday that the bill was rushed through. A San Antonio teen took the stand that she would be disenfranchised if the law went into effect because she lacks the proper ID and transportation to obtain one.

REDISTRICTING NEWS

Alabama:  Alabama House Democrats are filing a challenge in U.S. District Court in DC rather than in the state to the new redistricting plan passed by the legislature. Democrats argue the maps split counties between too many districts and diminished the influence of black voters.

Alaska:  The U.S. Department of Justice approved Alaska’s new redistricting plan. The new maps still face a lawsuit brought by Native Alaskans.

Maryland:  Opponents of Maryland’s new congressional maps gathered enough signatures to put Maryland’s new congressional maps up for a vote on the November ballot. As of Tuesday, 53,566 signatures have been verified out of 55,736 signatures needed to place the referendum on the ballot. Opponents to the map believe that the new maps are gerrymandered towards Democrats.

North Carolina:  The North Carolina Supreme Court heard arguments on Tuesday about whether correspondence between outside attorneys and Republican legislative leaders on drawing new legislative boundaries should be made public in the legal challenge brought against General Assembly and congressional maps. The disclosure question must be settled before lawsuits challenging the maps approved by the Legislature in 2011 can be tried.

Ohio:  A coalition of voter groups are submitting signatures they have collected to get a constitutional amendment on the ballot changing the way Ohio’s legislative districts are redrawn every decade. Currently, legislative districts are drawn by the legislature. The proposal would create a 12 member citizens’ commission that would draw the boundaries for state House and Senate districts as well as congressional districts. Politicians, lobbyists and political donors wouldn’t be permitted to serve on that panel. 

Pennsylvania: Latino Lines, a voter advocacy group, appealed the maps that were issued last month by the Legislative Reapportionment Committee because the districts are gerrymandered. At least 10 appeals have been filed to the maps arguing they are unconstitutional. The Senate Democrats also are challenging the maps. They argue Republicans had not adequately justified reasons for splitting counties or shifting new territory into different districts. These appeals will be heard before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in September.

The new maps will not be used until 2014. Until then, districts will be based on the maps drawn in 2001 using 2000 census data.

Wyoming:  Before the challenge to the new legislative maps can be heard before the Wyoming Supreme Court, Wyoming Attorney General Greg Phillips has asked for another conference in a lower court because the parties have failed to agree on the questions that could be sent to the Supreme Court to decide. The lawsuit challenges the constitutionality of the maps because it ignores the requirement that House and Senate districts be drawn as much as practical along county lines. The question the state wants decided is whether the constitution requires minimizing the number of times legislative boundaries cross county lines statewide or minimizing the number of people from different counties being housed in the same House or Senate district.