Voting Rights – We Can Win

The New York Times and NPR recently shared somewhat different takes on where voting rights stand now and what the picture might look like come Election Day 2014.

It is true, as suggested by The Times:

Pivotal swing states under Republican control are embracing . . . bills, laws and administrative rules — some of them tried before — [that] shake up fundamental components of state election systems, including the days and times polls are open and the locations where people vote.

It's also true, as quoted by NPR from its interview with the Brennan Center's Myrna Pérez:

We've seen a lot of real momentum in 2014, thus far, towards improving our elections both at the states and nationally[.]

PFAW thought it would be good to take a step back and look at what has gone right at the state level in 2014 – and why we can and should keep fighting the challenges that lay before us.

Florida has an especially troublesome history with voter purges, but now the trouble is headed back toward the chief architects. On April 1, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit found that Gov. Rick Scott’s voter purge of suspected non-citizens in 2012 violated the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA), because systematic removal programs are barred within 90 days of a federal election. This came just days after Secretary of State Ken Detzner did an about-face and called off his 2014 plans.

In the final hours of its legislative session, thanks to a flaw in the bill language, Georgia looked poised to take the early voting days for municipal elections down to ZERO. Because staunch advocates like the League of Women Voters closely monitored the bill and sprang into action when that fatal flaw was discovered, the session adjourned on March 20 with early voting intact. As the League's Kelli Persons noted:

The message here is that it's very important . . . to pay attention to what's happening at the local level[.]

Even in North Carolina, where the Moral Mondays movement began and challenges to voting reach far and wide, there's been a victory of sorts. On March 27, US Magistrate Judge Joi Elizabeth Peake ruled that lawmakers must release correspondence related to the formation of the state's new voter ID law, saying that though some records might be shielded, many are considered public. We need transparency as this case moves forward.

There is much more work to be done to enact needed reforms and to step up and counter threats when the right to vote is under attack – but we can win, and let's not forget that.

Check out PFAW’s website for more voting rights updates.

PFAW

Florida Puts Hold on Voter Purge, North Carolina Lifts the Veil on Voter ID Law

When we last checked in with the controversial Florida voter purge, advocates and media alike were speculating over what route Governor Rick Scott and Secretary of State Ken Detzner would take in 2014, with Detzner's office considering comparing its voter records with the US Department of Homeland Security's federal citizenship database known as Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (SAVE).

Now we know: the purge is off for 2014.

The about-face on Thursday by Secretary of State Ken Detzner resolves a standoff with county elections supervisors, who resisted the purge and were suspicious of its timing. It also had given rise to Democratic charges of voter suppression aimed at minorities, including Hispanics crucial to Scott’s reelection hopes.

Detzner told supervisors in a memo that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is redesigning its SAVE database, and it won’t be finished until 2015, so purging efforts, known as Project Integrity, should not proceed.

“I have decided to postpone implementing Project Integrity until the federal SAVE program Phase Two is completed,” Detzner wrote.

As the Brennan Center reported in 2008, election officials across the country are routinely striking millions of voters from the rolls through a process that is shrouded in secrecy, prone to error, and vulnerable to manipulation.

Florida has an especially troublesome history with this practice, so voting rights advocates will have to keep a close eye on what shape it takes next year.

Also this week, in North Carolina US Magistrate Judge Joi Elizabeth Peake ruled that lawmakers must release correspondence related to the formation of the state's new voter ID law, saying that though some records might be shielded, many are considered public.

Dale Ho of the ACLU's Voting Rights Project:

North Carolinians have a right to know what motivated their lawmakers to make it harder for them to vote. Legislators should not be shrouding their intentions in secrecy.

Allison Riggs of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice:

Defendants have resisted at every turn disclosing information about their reasons for enacting this discriminatory law. Today's ruling will help ensure the court has a fuller picture of why the voting changes at stake are so bad for North Carolina voters.

In other voting rights news, Colorado considers recall election changes, Pennsylvania ID remains in legal limbo, and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker approves (mostly) of the state's new voter suppression law.

Check out even more news from our friends at Fair Elections Legal Network.

PFAW

Presidential Commission Issues Report on Election Administration

In his 2013 State of the Union address, President Obama announced the formation of a nonpartisan commission focused on improving our country’s system of voting. Yesterday, nearly a year later, the Presidential Commission on Election Administration (PCEA) issued its report.

As Ryan J. Reilly of The Huffington Post summarizes, the PCEA covered online voter registration and early voting, voter registration modernization, polling place resources and accessibility, poll workers, and more.

The PCEA recommendations are indeed a welcome addition to the voting rights debate, helping us move closer to the day when every eligible voter can register to vote and cast a ballot that counts.

Jon Greenbaum, Chief Counsel, Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law:

We are encouraged by the recommendations in this report. If fully implemented, practical commonsense measures like early voting and voter registration modernization will improve voter participation and satisfaction.

Michael Waldman, President, Brennan Center for Justice:

The Commission’s report marks a significant advance in the way we think about voting. Too often voting issues have been marked by partisan discord. The Commission makes clear that there are achievable, bipartisan reforms that can be implemented now to transform voting in America. Most importantly, it recognizes that we can’t fix long lines until we first fix our outdated voter registration system.

Robert Brandon, President, Fair Elections Legal Network:

The bipartisan recommendations released from the Presidential Commission on Election Administration are a compilation of the good reforms advocates have been fighting for across the country. As the Commission points out, some of the reforms like online voter registration, expanded early voting, and increased poll worker training are already in place in various jurisdictions. But for real change to be made and access to voting improved, these reforms need to be broadly implemented in many more states. The responsibility now lies with election officials, and state and local elected officials to improve how elections are run in their communities as soon as possible. We will continue our work to promote these reforms and use the Commission’s work as support for these much needed changes.

In fact, much of what the PCEA recommends, and much of what these and other allies have long recommended, is covered by PFAW in Money Out, Voters In: A Guide to Democratic Reform. Released last fall, the toolkit is founded on our belief in a democratic system where all Americans have equal access to the voting booth and where all Americans, regardless of wealth, can express their views to one another and their government on a level playing field.

PFAW looks forward to using the PCEA recommendations as we continue to realize a 'Voters In' vision.

We must keep in mind, though, that the PCEA isn't the last word on American electoral reform. There is much more work to be done to enact needed reforms and to step up and counter threats when the right to vote is under attack.

Nor does the PCEA replace what the Voting Rights Act lost after the Supreme Court ruling in Shelby County v. Holder. PFAW and African American Ministers in Action welcomed last week's introduction of the Voting Rights Amendments Act, and we look forward to working with the House and Senate as they take up this vital legislation. It is imperative that this year, as soon as possible, the President sign into law a strengthened VRA. Please join the fight.

PFAW

PFAW Releases New Toolkit on Getting Money Out and Voters In to Our Democracy

Americans today face twin threats to the integrity of our elections. The threats are multifaceted and formidable, involving all branches of government at the local, state and federal level – from legislative bodies, to governorships, to courthouses. The aims are clear:

  • Manipulate the campaign finance system to get "the right people" elected.
  • Manipulate the balloting process to make it harder for "the wrong people" to vote.

These measures must be confronted. But we also need long-term proactive and pro-democracy strategies of our own.

The “Money Out, Voters In” campaign embodies this long-term vision premised on the concept of political equality, of one person = one vote.

We believe in a democratic system where all Americans have equal access to the voting booth and where all Americans, regardless of wealth, can express their views to one another and their government on a level playing field.

Through A Guide to Democratic Reform, a new toolkit released today by People For the American Way, we provide the structural framework for enacting this vision. We do not have all the answers, nor could we. We must embrace an evolution of ideas, tactics, and legislative language to achieve our goals. Yet, as the local, state, and federal initiatives cited herein show, much of that work is already well-underway.

Click here for information about critical allies and other resources.

PFAW

UPDATE: Making voter registration easier in New York

UPDATE: New York is continuing to take positive steps toward voter registration reform, as Governor Andrew Cuomo just announced an initiative that will allow voter registration applications, as well as party and address changes, to be completed online through the state DMV website. Every DMV office will be equipped with computerized data entry devices where voters will be able to register themselves. Driver License applications—which include voter registration applications—will be made available in more languages. While DMV reforms are just one among many types needed, they promise to make voter registration easier, cheaper, and more efficient across the state. Click here for more information and here for the reactions of election officials and voting rights supporters.

The Right to Vote under Attack: The Campaign to Keep Millions of Americans from the Ballot Box, a Right Wing Watch: In Focus report by PFAW Foundation, details the worst of the worst of the Right’s fight to suppress the vote. Many states have indeed taken up this fight with voter ID, proof of citizenship, and other suppressive legislation.

It was refreshing to see New York buck that trend. On June 7, State Senator Mike Gianaris and Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh introduced the Voter Empowerment Act.

Senator Gianaris:

As election season approaches, government bureaucracy continues to impede too many people from voting. […] Our proposal would remove these obstacles and maximize voter turnout while saving the state and its counties hundreds of thousands of dollars per election, thus preventing disenfranchisement and enabling better record keeping.

Assemblymember Kavanagh:

When voters try to register, or change their address, or change their party, they often find that the rules prevent them from making the change in a timely way or, worse, that the change doesn’t take and they are excluded from voting. […] By modernizing the way we collect, process, and store voter information, we can make registration virtually universal among New Yorkers who are eligible to vote.

Wendy Weiser, Director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center:

We applaud Senator Gianaris and Assemblymember Kavanagh for taking this much needed step to bring New York’s outdated and error-prone voter registration system into 21st century. Through this effort, New York will lead the country in having a voter registration system that is accurate, complete, and works for all voters.

The bill would make the voter registration process more efficient and accessible in several ways. Consenting citizens would be automatically registered at designated government agencies. Pre-registry would be introduced for 16 and 17-year-olds. Residents who move within the state would have their registration automatically updated. Registration information would be put online and the process would be computerized. Registration and party identification changes would be allowed to continue later in the election cycle.

All of these provisions have been included with the intent of correcting New York’s recent underperformance in voter registration. In 2010, the state’s registration rate ranked third worst in the nation.

PFAW Foundation

UPDATE: Right-wing Florida officials win fight for citizenship data

UPDATE: Secretary of State Ken Detzner says that Florida, which expects imminent access to the SAVE database, will resume the purge and complete it prior to the November election. The Department of Justice is moving forward with its legal challenge.

8/3/2012: New developments continue to shed light on the purge and its far-reaching impact. An article in the Atlantic details the possibility that it could lead to a 2000-style fiasco. A woman who is most certainly alivewas removed from the rolls twice because the state thinks she is dead. The Guardian has profiled several other voters who are battling to preserve their rights. Thankfully, there is some good news, as despite being granted access to the SAVE database, it now looks like county election supervisors won’t be removing more voters from the rolls before the August 14 primary. Officials are being encouraged to proceed cautiously since the state may not be able to settle its ongoing disagreement with the federal government over the purge. In other news, Congresswoman Corrine Brown has filed a lawsuit to try to stop early voting cutbacks.

The federal government has granted Governor Rick Scott and Secretary of State Ken Detzner access to the Department of Homeland Security’s Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (SAVE) database, further fanning the flame under their voter suppression fire. The move followed last month's ruling that the purge did not violate the National Voter Registration Act.

Voting rights supporters remain concerned about the disenfranchisement of thousands of voters – and rightfully so.

Jonathan Brater, Brennan Center for Justice:

No matter what database Florida has access to, purging voters from the rolls using faulty criteria on the eve of an election could prevent thousands of eligible voters from exercising their rights. Florida must use a more transparent and accurate process, and must leave enough time for voters targeted for removal to be notified and correct errors.

Ion Sancho, Leon County Supervisor of Elections:

[T]hose who have been here in 2000 and 2004 realize that if you produce a list that’s highly inaccurate, in all probability what you’re going to do is disenfranchise legal voters.

Further litigation is expected and also remains underway regarding HB 1355, the Florida law commonly referred to by voting rights supporters as the Voter Suppression Act. Last week, Judge Hinkle’s injunction blocking most of its worst provisions was appealed. HB 1355 was originally sponsored by Representative Dennis Baxley, who has ties to ALEC.

Click here and here for more information, and be sure to check out The Right to Vote under Attack: The Campaign to Keep Millions of Americans from the Ballot Box , a Right Wing Watch: In Focus report by PFAW Foundation.

PFAW Foundation

Fighting student voter suppression

As the Right ramps up its efforts to put up barriers to voting, from voter ID requirements to restrictions on third-party voter registration, it is becoming more urgent to empower students and defend their voting rights. That’s why People For the American Way Foundation’s Young People For (YP4) program wants to empower young progressives with tools to get out the vote among people their age in their communities. With the help of YP4, they will coordinate activities on their campuses, including rallies, phone banks, shuttles to the polls, and student housing canvassing. They will lead the charge to combat political attacks on student voting.

We are among many great organizations working to mobilize and protect the student vote.

The Brennan Center Student Voting Guide is a go-to source for all the information that students in all 50 states will need about how to register and vote.

Our Time runs a voter registration and information campaign in tandem with its support of business endeavors started by young people. They want to maximize the influence of Americans under 30 so that politicians and businesses will better represent their needs. They offer voting FAQs and registration guidance helpful for students.

Rock the Vote is continuing its work to bring young people into the political process—registering more than 5 million of them to vote so far—using pop culture, grassroots organizing and new technologies.

The Campus Vote Project of the Fair Elections Legal Network was started this year as an effort to help college students work with administrators and local election officials to make the process of voting easier and overcome barriers like residency laws, registration deadlines, and strict voter ID requirements. Their Student Voting Guide for 2012 has information to address the typical needs of student voters, including FAQs about voting out of state, absentee voting and registration deadlines. They’ve also produced an Activate Your Campus! Toolkit.

As part of Project Vote's efforts to promote voting in historically underrepresented communities they provide information about the state of the youth vote and recommendations and tools for increasing the participation of young Americans in the electoral process.

PFAW Foundation

Keeping an eye on Kansas

With Kansas set for its August 7 primary, voting rights supporters are waiting with bated breath to see how severe the suppressive effects of voter ID (sponsored by Representative Lance Kinzer, an ALEC member) will be. KanVote will have volunteers at the polls.

A recent Brennan Center report highlighted our concerns, including Wichita’s lone ID office that must serve 160,700 eligible voters. And 7,373 eligible voters in Kansas have no car and live more than 10 miles from offices where they can get free state-issued IDs.

Brennan Center President Michael Waldman:

This report conclusively demonstrates that this promise of free voter ID is a mirage. In the real world, poor voters find shuttered offices, long drives without cars, and with spotty or no bus service, and sometimes prohibitive costs. For these Americans, the promise of our democracy is tangibly distant. It can be measured in miles.

For more information, check out The Right to Vote under Attack: The Campaign to Keep Millions of Americans from the Ballot Box, a Right Wing Watch: In Focus report by PFAW Foundation.

PFAW Foundation

UPDATE: Right-wing Florida officials win fight for citizenship data

UPDATE: New developments continue to shed light on the purge and its far-reaching impact. An article in the Atlantic details the possibility that it could lead to a 2000-style fiasco. A woman who is most certainly alivewas removed from the rolls twice because the state thinks she is dead. The Guardian has profiled several other voters who are battling to preserve their rights. Thankfully, there is some good news, as despite being granted access to the SAVE database, it now looks like county election supervisors won’t be removing more voters from the rolls before the August 14 primary. Officials are being encouraged to proceed cautiously since the state may not be able to settle its ongoing disagreement with the federal government over the purge. In other news, Congresswoman Corrine Brown has filed a lawsuit to try to stop early voting cutbacks.

The federal government has granted Governor Rick Scott and Secretary of State Ken Detzner access to the Department of Homeland Security’s Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (SAVE) database, further fanning the flame under their voter suppression fire. The move followed last month's ruling that the purge did not violate the National Voter Registration Act.

Voting rights supporters remain concerned about the disenfranchisement of thousands of voters – and rightfully so.

Jonathan Brater, Brennan Center for Justice:

No matter what database Florida has access to, purging voters from the rolls using faulty criteria on the eve of an election could prevent thousands of eligible voters from exercising their rights. Florida must use a more transparent and accurate process, and must leave enough time for voters targeted for removal to be notified and correct errors.

Ion Sancho, Leon County Supervisor of Elections:

[T]hose who have been here in 2000 and 2004 realize that if you produce a list that’s highly inaccurate, in all probability what you’re going to do is disenfranchise legal voters.

Further litigation is expected and also remains underway regarding HB 1355, the Florida law commonly referred to by voting rights supporters as the Voter Suppression Act. Last week, Judge Hinkle’s injunction blocking most of its worst provisions was appealed. HB 1355 was originally sponsored by Representative Dennis Baxley, who has ties to ALEC.

Click here and here for more information, and be sure to check out The Right to Vote under Attack: The Campaign to Keep Millions of Americans from the Ballot Box , a Right Wing Watch: In Focus report by PFAW Foundation.

PFAW Foundation

UPDATE: Voter ID trial begins in Pennsylvania

UPDATE: In her testimony, Pennsylvania Secretary of State Carol Aichele conceded,"I don’t know what the law says," and could not support her claim that 99 percent of voters have an acceptable ID, while plaintiffs demonstrated that they have not been able to get it. Closing arguments were heard this morning. A ruling should come in the next few weeks. Mayor Michael Nutter of Philadelphia – where up to 43 percent of voters may lack valid IDhas harshly criticized the law, calling it "a bad solution looking for a problem." Click here for more from ACLUBrennan Center, and  League of Women Voters.

All eyes are on Pennsylvania now that a lawsuit challenging HB 934, the state’s ALEC-tied voter ID law, has gone to trial. Like other unnecessary voter ID laws, this one is expected to disenfranchise thousands if allowed to go into effect, and even state elections officials admit that it would affect more Pennsylvanians than previously estimated. They also concede that there "have been no investigations or prosecutions of in-person voter fraud in Pennsylvania."

PBS NewsHour:

Watch Without a Photo ID, Some PA Voters Won't Count in November on PBS. See more from PBS NewsHour.

Opposition remains strong:

The trial is expected to last a week and will be decided on the basis of the Pennsylvania constitution. But, a federal lawsuit could very well be looming, as well. The Department of Justice has announced that it will investigate whether HB 934 discriminates against minorities, requesting from the state all data used to determine its statistics.

For more information, click here and here, watch this video, and be sure to check out The Right to Vote under Attack: The Campaign to Keep Millions of Americans from the Ballot Box, a Right Wing Watch: In Focus report by PFAW Foundation.

PFAW Foundation