Voter Suppression Update for April 25, 2012
Last week, a report was released highlighting that over 25,000 transgender Americans may be disenfranchised due to new voter ID laws. Also last week, the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution held a hearing on new voter ID laws. Supporters of voter ID outweighed opponents on the panel.
The D.C. woman whose name was used in a James O’Keefe video on voter ID responds to his “voter fraud” fraud by coming out against voter ID laws.
New laws that curb voter registration drives and early voting periods could have a big impact on this year’s presidential election.
The Good News
Connecticut: Last week, the state Senate approved a constitutional amendment that would allow the legislature to pass no-excuse absentee and early voting. Since the bill was not able to pass with 75% of the vote in the House, the amendment must be voted on again in the next legislature before it can go before voters in 2014.
Nebraska: Some polling places previously closed by the Douglas County election commissioner will be reopened for the general election. An advisory committee will be put together to determine which polling places will be reopened. This came after several protests to the election commissioner closing over half of the polling sites in Douglas County, many in minority and low-income parts of Omaha.
Wisconsin: Last week, the Wisconsin Supreme Court decided that it will not hear challenges to two lower court rulings that stopped enforcement of the state’s strict voter ID law. The lower courts held that the law violated Wisconsin citizens’ right to vote.
Also, a trial began over one of the lawsuits challenging the voter ID law. During the hearing, 34 affidavits and 18 deposition transcripts of voters were admitted into evidence which detailed the burdens and costs faced by ordinary voters attempting to comply with the law. The case opened with a 50 minute video deposition of 83 year-old Ruth Frank of Brokaw, Wisconsin, who explained in detail the bureaucratic quagmire she encountered when attempting to correct her birth certificate to obtain a photo ID to vote. The judge left the temporary injunction in place and asked for written briefs by mid-June. The judge will make a decision soon after.
The Bad News
California: The Escondido City Council is considering a bill that would require voters to show a photo ID in city elections. It would be the first city in California to require a photo ID to vote.
Michigan: The House Redistricting and Elections Committee held a second hearing on a series of bills that would make it harder for groups to register voters, require photo ID to register to vote, and have voters swear under oath they are U.S. citizens every time they vote. Students at Michigan State University stated that the laws would make it harder to register students to vote because they would have to “deputize” volunteers. The bills had a first hearing in the same committee last week.
Mississippi: Legislation to enact the photo ID constitutional amendment that passed last year was approved by the state Senate two weeks ago. If the bill passes, it must go to the U.S. Department of Justice for approval under Section V of the Voting Rights Act. Some believe that means the law won’t be in effect for the November election.
Missouri: Two weeks ago, the Missouri House passed a resolution that would rewrite the ballot summary language on a constitutional amendment that would allow the legislature to pass a voter photo ID requirement. The Fair Elections Legal Network was part of the legal team that helped strike the original ballot language because it was “insufficient and unfair.” The language now goes to the Senate for approval.
Ohio: A bill to repeal a law passed last year that shortens the early voting period and removes the requirement that poll workers direct voters to the correct precinct when they are at the wrong precinct passed a House committee on Tuesday. The bill is in response to a ballot initiative that currently will be on the November ballot that would repeal the law. Supporters claim that the bill is a clean repeal of the suppression legislation they passed last year, but it does not appear to reinstate early voting during the last three days before the election. In addition, the repeal is an attempt to circumvent the right of Ohioans to use a “people’s veto” referendum against voter suppression legislation.
GOP lawmakers are suing over the handling of provisional ballots, claiming that the Republican secretary of state is violating the state constitution by requiring county election officials to follow a federal consent decree from a 2006 lawsuit brought by advocates for the homeless. The former secretary of state agreed to the consent decree in 2010 that allows provisional ballots to be counted if cast in the wrong precinct because of a poll workers mistake.
Pennsylvania: PennPIRG found that only 15 of 110 Pennsylvania colleges and universities it surveyed provided students with a student ID that met the requirements to be used as voter ID under a recently-passed law. A student ID must have an expiration date showing that it is still valid in order to be used to vote. Temple University and Penn State subsequently announced that they would update their student IDs so they could be used for voting.
Virginia: The General Assembly rejected an amendment Gov. Bob McDonnell made to the voter ID law that would have changed the process of handling provisional ballots for voters that show up without the an acceptable ID. The amendment would have required election officials to match the signature on the ballot with the signature on file for the ballot to count. The bill still allows voters six days following the election to show election officials an acceptable ID to have their ballot counted. However, the General Assembly did accept the governor’s change to the list of acceptable IDs to include IDs from ANY Virginia higher education institution, which includes two year colleges. The bill was sent back to the governor for his signature.
Arizona: A U.S. Appeals Court ruled that Arizona can require voters to show an ID to vote but ruled that it cannot require voters to show a proof of citizenship in order to register to vote.
Florida: Last week, a three-judge federal panel reviewing Florida’s new voting laws set July 9 as the date to submit final briefs in the case. This may require Florida to run its August 14 primary under two sets of laws. Five counties in Florida require federal preclearance for any changes to voting laws under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.
In the wake of the new voting law that places restrictions on groups holding voter registration drives, supervisors of elections are getting more active than in previous years by holding registration events.
North Carolina: Republican lawmakers are encouraging voters to bring a photo ID with them to the polls in support of voter ID laws. The legislature passed a photo ID bill last year but it was vetoed by the governor. Republican candidate Pat McCrory stated he supports showing photo ID at the polls and is encouraging his supporters to show an ID when they vote. Democratic gubernatorial candidates are all opposed to voter photo ID legislation.
Opponents of voter ID laws held a protest outside the state capitol and delivered over 4,000 petitions to legislative leaders in opposition to the proposed legislation.
Six of the 8 city council members in Winston-Salem signed a letter opposing a proposed photo ID law.
Pennsylvania: Yesterday, Pennsylvania held a “test run” on its new voter ID law for the primary election. Voters were asked for a photo ID but were not required to show one in order to vote. In one small town, many voters thought the law was “stupid” and a waste of money. It was reported that in Cumberland County, a sign was posted outside a polling location reading “ID Required to Vote”. After a complaint was reported, the sign was taken down. However, similar signs remained inside the polling location. Another polling place outside a Harrisburg polling location displayed a sign that read “Be Prepared to Show Photo Identification".
The Borough Council president in Doylestown complained about the new photo ID law at a Bucks County Board of Commissioners meeting last week. When his 91 year-old mother with a 70 year voting history attempted to get a photo ID, she was denied because documents she presented were in her married name and her marriage license showing her maiden name was in Hebrew which the DMV staffer could not read. The state worker suggested she take legal action to change the deed on her house from her married name to her maiden name. That way she would be able to get the ID she needs to vote.
State Senator Mike Brubaker is raising concerns about the process of getting a non-photo ID for his constituents with religious objections to having their photos taken. He feels the questionnaire to request a non-photo ID is intrusive and requires more detail than most people would be able to give. He is in talks with PennDot and hopes changes will be made before November.
Pennsylvania Secretary of the Commonwealth Carol Aichele announced last week that seniors with expired licenses can go to a PennDot office and only need to give their name in order to receive a new, free non-driver photo ID to vote. Some licenses that expired prior to 1990 may not be in the system. Seniors can find out if they are in the system to obtain their ID by calling a hotline before heading to the PennDot office.
Rhode Island: Yesterday was the first statewide election under the new voter ID law that was passed last year. Voters can show approved photo and non-photo IDs until 2014. Starting in 2014, the ID must contain a photo. The secretary of state reported that a survey of polling sites in 25 cities and towns found fewer than 25 voters lacked the necessary ID and voted by provisional ballot. Those ballots will be counted if the signature on the ballot matches the signature on file.
Texas: The U.S. Department of Justice is asking a three-judge federal panel to delay the trial over Texas’s voter ID law because DOJ claims that the Texas attorney general is stalling DOJ requests for information and opposing efforts to require Republican lawmakers to testify. The trial is currently scheduled for July 9.