The Right to Vote

New Report Reflects Persistence of Voting Rights Violations

While the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA) took a giant leap toward reducing voting discrimination, a wealth of evidence today shows that discrimination at the polls persists. A new report by the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights documents148 separate instances of voting violations since 2000, with each affecting hundreds to thousands of voters.

The report, The Persistent Challenge of Voting Discrimination, came just days before today’s one-year anniversary of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Shelby County v. Holder, which gutted a key provision of the VRA. The litany of voting rights violations detailed therein underscores the need for reform – now.

Key takeaways gleaned from recent examples:

• Racial discrimination in voting remains a significant problem in our democracy. Nearly 50 years after the enactment of the VRA, racial discrimination in voting remains a persistent problem in many places around the country…

• The problem of racial discrimination in voting is not limited to one region of the country. The examples outlined in this report document instances of voting discrimination from 30 states, representing every region of the country…

• Voting discrimination occurs most often in local elections… They often concern the election of city, county or other local elected officials, where many of the contests are nonpartisan.

• Discrimination in voting manifests itself in many ways, and new methods continue to emerge. Voting discrimination occurs today in both overt and subtle forms.

Here are just a handful of the cases in which systematic discrimination threatened to discourage or sideline voters:

• In 2008, the state of Alaska requested preclearance of a plan to remove polling places in multiple Native villages. The state intended to consolidate predominately Alaska Native voting precincts with those of other communities, creating new polling places that were geographically remote and inaccessible by road. Instead of complying with a “More Information Request” by the Department of Justice regarding the proposed changes, Alaska withdrew their submission.

• Between 2004 and 2011, DOJ alleged that five counties and four cities in California had been in violation of Section 203 of the VRA, citing failures to implement bilingual election programs for language-minority voters, as well as failures to translate election-related materials for precincts with large language-minority populations.

• Between 2002 and 2011, multiple school districts and localities in Louisiana proposed redistricting plans that would have eliminated districts in which an African American majority was able to elect the candidate of their choice. 

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights notes that because the study was only able to take into account reported cases, the statistics are likely a conservative estimate of the real magnitude of the problem.

Sadly, discrimination in the electoral process still happens. Moving forward on legislation to update and modernize the VRA would help return a voting voice to Americans who are too often, even today, marginalized.

PFAW

Scott Walker Signs Restrictive Voting Measures, Promptly Jets Off to Kiss Sheldon Adelson’s Ring

Despite vocal opposition from voters across Wisconsin, Republican state legislators last week passed several new voting restrictions at the end of the legislative session.

The measures restrict early absentee voting hours to Mon-Fri 8am-7pm and eliminate weekend voting, restrict voting options for people living in residential nursing care and assisted living facilities, and expand the times when lobbyists can contribute to political campaigns. A Marquette Law School Poll released Wednesday found that 66 percent of Wisconsinites prefer expanding or maintaining current early voting hours, while only 32 percent favor a reduction.

Not to be outdone, on Thursday Republican Governor Scott Walker signed the new voting restrictions into law, part of 31 bills he signed behind closed doors in Milwaukee.  Walker previously told reporters the bills weren’t on his radar, but he signed the elections and campaign finance bills with minor line-item vetoes to the 45-hour weekly limit on total early voting hours and appropriations, enacting egregious early absentee voting restrictions with the stroke of his gubernatorial pen.

At a Madison press conference following the news that Governor Walker had signed the measures, Wisconsin State Rep. Chris Taylor (D-Madison) noted the measures’ impact:

"One in six of Wisconsin voters votes absentee, almost 17 percent of our electorate votes in person absentee. We should be doing more to encourage people to vote, not less. If people in this building care about voting rights they would set a floor, not a ceiling."

Taylor went on to say that the measures, combined with the expansion of corporate money in politics, amount to no less than an attempt to silence the people’s voice in elections. She noted that the combined measures will disproportionately affect people with disabilities, minorities, senior citizens, and students, making it harder for everyday people to vote while making it easier for lobbyists to influence elections.

To add insult to injury, Walker — who is running again for governor in 2014, and entertaining a presidential bid in 2016 -- then boarded a jet to Las Vegas to attend a private conference with billionaire GOP kingmaker Sheldon Adelson, a casino mogul who poured millions of dollars into the 2012 elections.

Walker is one of several GOP presidential hopefuls convening in Las Vegas to “audition” for support from Adelson and other wealthy GOP donors. So while voters back home in Wisconsin try to figure out how they’ll get to the polls, the governor and other presidential aspirants are gathering to “kiss the ring” of Adelson and his millionaire buddies.

VIDEO: PRESS CONFERENCE: Voting Rights Activists React to WI SB324 Signed Into Law ; 03-27-3024

PFAW

Judge Strikes Down PA Voter ID Law

In 2012, over the protests of thousands of Pennsylvanians, forty five organizations, and every Democrat in the state legislature, Governor Tom Corbett signed into law one of the strictest voter ID requirements in the country. The Speaker of the Pennsylvania House acknowledged that he pushed the law to help Mitt Romney win the state.

This morning the two-year-old law was ruled unconstitutional. Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court Judge Bernard McGinley wrote that law was a “substantial threat” and that it would hinder the ability of many to vote freely.

In the ruling, Judge McGinley stated

“Voting laws are designed to assure a free and fair election; the Voter ID Law does not further this goal.”

People For the American Way Foundation’s African American Ministers Leadership Council said of the law last year:

“The purpose of this law has been clear from the beginning. It was meant to keep African Americans, students, and other traditionally suppressed communities from  exercising our hard-won right to vote. Even the law’s supporters have admitted that there is absolutely no evidence of in-person voter fraud in Pennsylvania. Instead, this law is a purely political attempt to disenfranchise citizens who have every right to vote. I am dismayed at today’s decision and hope that as this case moves through the courts, our judges recognize the ugly intent and real consequences of voter ID.”


 

PFAW Foundation

Helping Voters Exercise Their Right Must Be Fraud

A report in the Wall Street Journal detailing the Obama campaign’s plan to help eligible voters navigate the onslaught of voter suppression measures being implemented in states around the country can only mean one thing to Fox guest Chris Plante: helping eligible voters actually cast a ballot is the same thing as seeking to commit voter fraud.

“They want to engage in voter fraud, of course. What other possible answer could there be?...This is about corruption, plain and simple.”

If the GOP’s war on voting needs a spokesman, Chris Plante is up to the task.

[HT Media Matters]

PFAW

Florida Students Get Lesson in Voter Suppression

The abhorrent new Florida election-law has snared its first public victim: A high school teacher who’s being fined a thousand dollars for failing to turn in voter registration forms she collected from her civics class within 48 hours.

Earlier this year, Governor Rick Scott and his Republican legislative allies amended the state’s election law to make it more difficult to both register voters and for citizens exercise their right to vote in upcoming elections. Recently, Secretary of State Kurt Browning, a Rick Scott appointee, wrote a letter to Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi that asked her to impose the fine on Dawn Quarles, a high school government teacher.

Before the law was amended, people running registration drives were given 10 days to send their applications to election officials. Now, they have only 48 hours. The law isn’t just affecting civics teachers--thanks to the strict requirements imposed by the legislation the Florida League of Women Voters has ceased to conduct voter registration drives.

Additionally, the law decreases the number of early voting days, which were seen as aiding democratic-leaning constituencies during the 2008 election. Florida Republicans are trying to shape the electorate to their advantage by disenfranchising Florida voters, and whatever your political leanings, the new election law isn’t the American way.

PFAW