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 Most importantly, it recognizes that we can’t fix long lines until we first fix our outdated voter registration system.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

Election Protection: Our Broken Voting System and How to Repair It

Desiline Victor, you are not alone.

A report released on February 12, 2013 by the Election Protection coalition, led by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, pledges to address the “endemic yet solvable problems [that] continue to plague our system of elections and prevent too many eligible voters from fully participating in our democracy.”

The Election Protection 2012 report begins with a brief overview of the national Election Protection program and how we mobilize to protect and assist voters around the country. Next, the report provides a summary of the voting battles fought around the country in 2011 and 2012 in the lead up to Election Day—including the coordinated effort to suppress voting and the national response by Election Protection and its partners. We then highlight the critical role voting rights litigation played in 2012 with courts striking down several restrictive state laws in places like Texas, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin. Then we present what actually transpired—as documented by Election Protection—on and before Election Day through the lens of the recurring issues that continue to plague our electoral process and prevent millions of eligible Americans from exercising their right to vote. Finally, we propose needed reforms to “fix that” as President Obama decreed in his acceptance speech on Election night and spotlighted in his Inaugural Address.

The numbers alone are astounding.

  • Over 37,000 calls on November 5 and nearly 90,000 calls on November 6 from all 50 states and the District of Columbia
  • Election Protection hosted 38 call centers across the country on Election Day
  • More than 5,300 trained legal volunteers and 2,300 grassroots volunteers in 22 states and over 80 voting jurisdictions

But so are the stories.

Problems and delays regarding absentee and early voting:

Astonishingly, in Auburn Hills, Michigan, over 800 absentee ballots were discovered to be lost in the mail before reaching the voters who requested them. Rather than reach out to the pool of affected voters, election officials waited for voters who did not receive their requested ballots to contact them before issuing a replacement ballot. Similarly, over 100 ballots sent to voters were lost in Roseville, Michigan. The lack of an affirmative effort to replace the lost ballots had a significant impact on the voters who did not receive them, particularly individuals with disabilities, military voters, and elderly voters for whom it may have been difficult or impossible to get to the polling place.

Polling place problems:

Even worse was a report from Blackstone, Virginia, where voters were turned away from the polling place at approximately 5 p.m. – two hours before polls closed. The voter who reported this was told that she would need to vote at the Municipal Building, but upon arrival, she was told that she needed to go to the Police Precinct polling location. Before leaving the Municipal Building, she overheard a conversation that the Police Precinct polling place was understaffed and turning away voters. She waited in line again and ultimately left (as did others) when it became clear that they were not admitting anyone else to vote. She did not get to vote in this election.

Lack of language assistance:

Another poll worker (at the Mary Queen of Vietnam Church polling place in New Orleans, Louisiana) was under the erroneous impression that only [Limited English Proficiency (LEP)] voters whose language was covered by Section 203 [of the Voting Rights Act (VRA)] would be able to obtain assistance in voting. Because Vietnamese was not “on the books,” the poll worker incorrectly informed the LEP voters that they were not entitled to assistance. The denial of assistance to these voters was a violation of Section 208 [of the VRA], which allows all LEP voters throughout the U.S. to obtain assistance in voting from a person of their choice (so long as this person is not the voter’s employer, or an agent of the employer or of the voter’s union), regardless of the voters’ language or the jurisdiction’s obligations under Section 203 [of the VRA].

As the report makes clear, these voters were not alone in the challenges they faced. Nor are they alone in the ensuing call to action. Election Protection recommends such solutions as voter registration modernization (addressing convenience and portability), same-day registration, early and absentee voting, uniform standards, and continuing to take a stand against deceptive practices and voter intimidation – advanced, at least in part, through state and federal legislation.

PFAW Foundation, a founding member of Election Protection, released its own voting rights reports in 2011 and 2012 and, with People For the American Way, continues to monitor voting rights issues nationwide.

PFAW Foundation

UPDATE: NVRA enforcement crucial for voter participation

UPDATE: On Wednesday two federal judges approved a settlement in a case brought by the Black Political Empowerment Projectand ACTION United against Pennsylvania public assistance agencies that failed to provide voter registration opportunities for their clients. Under the provisions of the settlement, they will now offer voter registration applications on their websites and will post signs with registration information at their offices. They will also implement additional training and oversight for their employees. And when assistance recipients update their claims, voting-related forms will be mailed to them automatically. ACTION United president Lucille Prater-Holliday: "Without full and robust compliance with the NVRA the disenfranchisement and disengagement of these citizens is only perpetuated. We are glad that the Commonwealth has bound itself to a meaningful implementation of the statute." Earlier we reported about a settlement in a suit over NVRA violations in Massachusetts.

With voting rights under attack nationwide, we must remember our democracy is only strongest when all citizens have the opportunity to participate – which is exactly why the enforcement of the National Voter Registration Act has grown increasingly paramount ahead of the November election, especially its provision affording public assistance recipients the opportunity to register to vote at public assistance agencies.

A coalition of voting rights advocates is working to hold states accountable. Litigation citing NVRA violations has been brought against nine states – most recently in Nevada against Secretary of State Ross Miller and Department of Health & Human Services Director Michael Willden. Litigation could soon follow in Alabama where Demos has joined the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and Project Vote in filing notice against Secretary of State Beth Chapman.

Sarah Brannon, Project Vote:

When done properly, public agency registration is one of the most effective means of ensuring that all citizens are offered the opportunity to participate in their government. It reaches people who are less likely to register to vote through other means, including low-income residents, minorities, the elderly, and the disabled.

Lonnie Feemster, Reno-Sparks NAACP:

To empower those without a voice is our most important work and we will continue to fight to allow those without great wealth to speak truth to power. Full participation in the electoral process empowers the poor and disadvantaged.

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

NVRA enforcement crucial for voter participation

With voting rights under attack nationwide, we must remember our democracy is only strongest when all citizens have the opportunity to participate – which is exactly why the enforcement of the National Voter Registration Act has grown increasingly paramount ahead of the November election, especially its provision affording public assistance recipients the opportunity to register to vote at public assistance agencies.

A coalition of voting rights advocates is working to hold states accountable. Litigation citing NVRA violations has been brought against nine states – most recently in Nevada against Secretary of State Ross Miller and Department of Health & Human Services Director Michael Willden. Litigation could soon follow in Alabama where Demos has joined the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and Project Vote in filing notice against Secretary of State Beth Chapman.

Sarah Brannon, Project Vote:

When done properly, public agency registration is one of the most effective means of ensuring that all citizens are offered the opportunity to participate in their government. It reaches people who are less likely to register to vote through other means, including low-income residents, minorities, the elderly, and the disabled.

Lonnie Feemster, Reno-Sparks NAACP:

To empower those without a voice is our most important work and we will continue to fight to allow those without great wealth to speak truth to power. Full participation in the electoral process empowers the poor and disadvantaged.

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

DOJ again rejects South Carolina voter ID

On June 29, the Department of Justice for the second time declined to approve South Carolina’s voter ID law, HB 3003, originally sponsored by ALEC member Alan Clemmons. State Attorney General Alan Wilson sued the federal government after DOJ first rejected the law last year. The trial has been set for September 24. With that late date, the law is unlikely to be in effect by November.

A new Brennan Center report details the extreme lengths to which HB 3003 would force many South Carolinians to go to in order to get required ID. Nearly 275,000 — 8 percent of eligible voters— live 10 miles or more from an ID office that is open more than two days per week. Of these, 7,000 do not have access to cars. Minorities are particularly hard hit, as they are less likely to already have an ID acceptable under these laws and more likely to live far away from an ID office.

The League of Women Voters of South Carolina, represented by the Brennan Center and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, has filed a motion to intervene in the Justice Department’s suit against South Carolina.

Brennan Center Senior Counsel Keesha Gaskins:

It is wrong to pass laws that block some Americans from voting, and to deny them the opportunity to participate equally in our democracy. We are glad the Justice Department stepped in to reject this law, and we urge the federal court to do the same at trial.

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

Supreme Court declines to issue stay in Arizona voter ID case

Back in 2004, Arizona voters passed Proposition 200, which required people in the state to produce proof of citizenship in order to vote and use public services. Two years later, PFAW Foundation joined voting rights supporters in filing suit against its voting-related provisions. In 2010, a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit struck down the law’s requirement that voters provide proof of citizenship, but upheld its voter ID provisions. In April of this year, the full Ninth Circuit ruled the same.

Last week, the US Supreme Court refused to continue a stay of the Ninth Circuit’s decision, which had previously been granted by Justice Kennedy at the request of Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne. Horne had sought to keep the citizenship provisions in place pending appeal.

Following the SCOTUS decision, Horne now contends that "Right now almost everybody uses the state form. We can’t ask for identification on the federal form, but we can on the state form." But Jon Greenbaum, Chief Counsel and Senior Deputy Director with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, says that the Ninth Circuit’s ruling means that the proof of citizenship requirement should no longer be applied, regardless of which registration form is used. He noted, "In a presidential election year it’s particularly significant."

Even if the Supreme Court eventually agrees to hear Arizona’s appeal, any decision on the merits of the case would come down after Election Day. So the Ninth Circuit’s opinion goes into effect, and proof of citizenship will not be required in Arizona for the November election.

Also known as the Taxpayer Citizen Protection Act, Proposition 200 remains the ALEC model for voter ID and proof of citizenship nationwide. Compared side-by-side, you can see that the two measures are virtually identical.

For more information on ALEC in Arizona, check out the November 2011 report and the April 2012 update, co-authored by PFAW Foundation, Common Cause, Center for Media and Democracy, and Progress Now.

For more information on voting rights, 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

Senate Judiciary Committee shines light on voter suppression

On June 26, 2012 the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the Deceptive Practices and Voter Intimidation Prevention Act (S. 1994). Sponsored by Senators Charles Schumer and Ben Cardin, the bill would amend federal criminal law to prohibit deceiving voters about when to vote and the qualifications for voting. It would also prescribe federal criminal penalties for doing so.

Senator Schumer:

Efforts to mislead and confuse eligible voters by distributing false and deceptive voting information and campaign literature is part of what seems to be a larger strategy to keep certain voters away from the polls. This bill will rightly make this shameful practice illegal and will impose strict penalties on those who lie to their fellow Americans through false communications to try to keep them from voting.

Senator Cardin:

All Americans deserve the right to choose a candidate based on relevant issues and the quality of the candidates, not based on underhanded efforts designed to undermine the integrity of our electoral process.

Project Vote testified in support of the legislation, providing a striking example of the dishonest behavior that the bill addresses: In 2006, a postcard mailing sent to African American neighborhoods in Dallas falsely claimed that being a victim of voter fraud "could result in jail time." This was clearly an effort to intimidate voters, and minority groups in particular, into staying home on Election Day.

Tanya Clay House of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law told the Judiciary Committee that the organization has received over a half million calls nationwide through its hotline complaining about election problems, including deceptive tactics. The group believes that the proposed law is an important step to take. House explained that "because [current laws] do not uniformly address these types of deceptive tactics, prosecutions are therefore rare. Ensuring that misinformation is immediately corrected and disseminated in a timely manner may often actually be the best remedy, especially when Election Day is near." Therefore the corrective power included in the bill is especially important.

Jenny Flanagan at Common Cause told the Committee that her group has also received numerous complaints about voter deception. She added that "most Americans are shocked and appalled to hear that these types of campaigns occur, but we know that they do, and cannot stand by and wait for it to get worse."

These are just a few of many organizations that submitted material in support of the bill.

PFAW

Purge sparks three lawsuits in Florida

Since Florida Governor Rick Scott and Secretary of State Ken Detzner refused to comply with a Department of Justice warning to stop their sweeping effort to purge voters from the rolls, the DOJ has filed a suit against the state, contending the purge violates the National Voter Registration Act.

Thomas Perez, Assistant Attorney General, DOJ:

The Department of Justice has a shared interest with all states in ensuring that all eligible citizens have the opportunity to register and vote. […] It appears that Florida has initiated a new program for systematic voter removal, which may ultimately target more than 180,000 registered voters. […] Your program has critical imperfections, which lead to errors that harm and confuse eligible voters.

The lawsuit comes on the heels of another complaint against the state – this one filed by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and the American Civil Liberties Union - denouncing the purge for unfairly targeting Hispanic voters, who make up 61% of the people identified on the list but only 14 % of registered Florida voters.

Bob Kengle, Co-director, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law:

Florida is flouting federal laws designed to protect voters from precisely this kind of action. The right of every citizen to have their voice heard at the ballot box is being threatened. The Lawyers’ Committee will continue to tirelessly fight any effort to make full-fledged Americans second-class citizens.

Howard Simon, Executive Director, ACLU of Florida:

It seems that Governor Scott and his Secretary of State cannot speak without hiding what they mean in political spin. They mislead Floridians by calling their illegal list purge ‘protecting citizen's voting rights.’ This is precisely why Congress has re-enacted, and why we continue to need, the Voting Rights Act – to prevent state officials from interfering with the constitutional rights of minorities. We now look to the courts to stop the Scott administration from assaulting democracy by denying American citizens the right to vote.

Many of the 67 Florida counties have since ceased the program, but Scott and Detzner aren’t backing down, filing their own suit against the Department of Homeland Security. Not only are they defending their efforts, but also claiming the federal agency is required to give access to its Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (SAVE) program records to identify ineligible voters.

Florida now joins Texas among states that are challenging the federal government over voting laws in court.

For more information, 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 (and more) by PFAW Foundation.

PFAW Foundation

Problems plague Wisconsin voters

Last May, Wisconsin Governor and ALEC Alum Scott Walker signed Act 23 (aka AB 7), a voter ID law that also counts ALEC affiliated legislators among its sponsors. Thanks to the NAACP/Voces and LWV court challenges, voters in Tuesday’s recall election were not legally required to produce ID in order to vote – but that doesn’t mean Election Day was problem free.

Still in force was a new requirement for 28 days of residency for new and updated voter registrations, as opposed to the previous 10-day requirement. While proof of duration isn’t required, many attempting to register and vote on Tuesday reported having been asked to provide such proof anyway. And students had a terrible time with the longer window.

The Nation:

College students were hampered by a new voter residency requirement that says a citizen must live in one location for twenty-eight days in order to register to vote. Before the 2011 law went into effect, the requirement was only ten days. Many students graduated in mid-May, went home from campuses to live with their families and thus were affected by the twenty-eight-day rule.

Between the residency requirement, erroneous requests for ID blocked by the court, True the Vote challengers, and a host of other incidents leading up to and on Election Day, the Election Protection Hotline received over 2,000 calls.

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