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

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

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

Push for citizenship data goes viral

After granting Florida access to its Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (SAVE) database, the Department of Homeland Security has begun discussions with a growing number of states who’ve requested the same.

State election chiefs, including Texas Secretary of State Esperanza Andrade and New Mexico Secretary of State Dianna Duran, claim the SAVE database will help identify noncitizens, but it is not a complete list of citizens, and therefore not entirely reliable. Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler has even acknowledged that he doesn’t have any confirmed cases of voter fraud, yet has pressed DHS for data, and recently filed open-records requests with jails for lists of anyone held on an immigration detainer since 2010 and ran them against the state’s voter registration database.

The growing push for such information has left voting rights advocates worried that more Florida-like purges are on the horizon – a threat that could potentially leave thousands of eligible voters disenfranchised for November’s general election.

Elena Nuñez, Colorado Common Cause, Executive Director:

Particularly in Colorado, as a swing state in a hotly contested election, we should all be doing everything we can to encourage all eligible voters to register and participate. To have the chief elections officer putting out a message that he thinks that some people shouldn't be on the rolls creates this atmosphere that's unwelcoming.

Carlos Duarte, Mi Familia Vota Texas, Director:

This is happening so close to the election that the actual effect is going to be disenfranchising people who otherwise should be eligible to vote.

Viki Harrison, Common Cause New Mexico, Executive Director:

I think the real crisis in voting is that 50 percent of New Mexicans who are eligible to vote are not registered. And we’re worried about things like this?

For more information, click here, here, and here, 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 Focusreport by PFAW Foundation.

PFAW Foundation

Right-wing Florida officials win fight for citizenship data

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

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