Voter Suppression Update for June 20, 2012

Over the past two weeks, Florida has taken center stage in the battle over purging voter rolls. The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) asked the state to cease its voter file purge program. Florida responded it would continue the program, prompting the DOJ to file a lawsuit to enjoin the program. Florida also filed a lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security for access to the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (SAVE) database for their use to match against its voter rolls and new voter registrations. Additionally, two separate lawsuits representing actual voters were filed challenging the program, one of which was filed by Fair Elections Legal Network along with other voting rights groups.

Outside of Florida, both Michigan and New Hampshire legislatures have sent to their governor legislation to make voting harder. Michigan’s law puts restrictions on voter registration drives, requires a photo ID to vote absentee, and requires voters to answer a citizenship question. New Hampshire passed a voter ID law that town and city clerks oppose and likely will be vetoed by the governor.

The Fair Elections Legal Network provides regular updates on election law and administration that will reduce access to voting. To receive these regular updates, please contact Josh Spaulding at jspaulding@fairelectionsnetwork.com.    

Alabama: A group of voting rights organizations sent a letter last week alleging Alabama is not following the requirements of the National Voter Registration Act because it is failing to provide voter registration materials to residents who seek government assistance.

California: This week, the Senate Elections and Constitutional Amendments Committee passed a bill that would allow same day voter registration beginning the year after a new statewide computerized database is operational. The system is not expected to be completed until 2015. The system will let elections officials check the status of all voters statewide. The bill has already passed the Assembly. It now heads to the Senate Public Safety Committee. 

Florida: This week, the Fair Elections Legal Network, along with Advancement Project, LatinoJustice PRLDEF, and Project Vote, filed a lawsuit challenging the legality of a voter list purging program because it violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination in voting. It is also in violation of the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA). Under Section 8 of the NVRA, programs that systematically remove voters must be completed 90 days before a federal election. Florida will hold congressional primaries on August 14, 2012; therefore, the 90 day period began on May 16, 2012. This lawsuit will protect eligible voters in every county in Florida from being purged from the rolls.

A Volusia County woman, Eileen Selis, who has voted in every election over the past 50 years, received a notice letter from the county elections supervisor that she was ineligible to vote because she is not a citizen. She sent elections officials a copy of her passport but she is still worried she won’t be able to vote in this year’s election.

Republican Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado came out in opposition to Governor Rick Scott’s voter purge program, saying there is not any evidence of widespread voter fraud involving non-citizens.

The voter purge program grew out of a five minute conversation Governor Rick Scott had with former Secretary of State Kurt Browning about possible non-citizens on the voter rolls.

Florida, last week, announced it will sue the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) over the use of the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (SAVE) database. Florida wants access to the database to match their voter list against SAVE to identify non-citizens on the rolls. DHS has been slow to respond because Florida has failed to provide DHS with the necessary information they need to grant Florida access, including whether Florida has or will be able to obtain the necessary numeric identifiers in immigration paperwork or underlying immigration documents in order to use the system. Additionally, the data may not be helpful because it does not contain information about most U.S. citizens. The data consists mostly of foreign-born U.S. citizens, naturalized citizens, and documented non-citizens in the U.S.

After receiving a letter sent by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) asking the state to cease their voter purge program that they will not discontinue the program, Florida responded they would continue the program. The DOJ then filed a lawsuit to stop the voter purge program. The Justice Department contends the Florida program improperly uses the information collected from old driver's license applications, saying the data could be outdated.

The ACLU and the Lawyers Committee on Civil Rights under Law filed a lawsuit against Florida’s voter purge program. The lawsuit claims that the program violates the Voting Rights Act because it has not been “pre-cleared” by the DOJ. Florida must have changes in voting procedures reviewed by the DOJ before they take effect in five Florida counties because of past history of discrimination.

Michigan: Last week, the House passed an amended package of Senate bills that will restrict voter registration drives, require a photo ID to vote absentee, and ask voters a citizenship question in order to vote. The amendments were approved by the Senate. The bills are now headed to the governor.

Minnesota: The Minnesota Supreme Court is allowing the legislature to intervene in support of the voter ID constitutional amendment in the lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union. Secretary of State Mark Ritchie has stated that he will not defend the amendment in court. A group supportive of the amendment, Minnesota Majority, filed a motion to intervene earlier this month. Oral arguments on the case will be heard on July 17.

Nevada: The NAACP and The National Council of La Raza has filed a lawsuit alleging Nevada is not following the requirements of the National Voter Registration Act by providing voter registration materials to residents who seek government assistance.

New Hampshire: The House and Senate passed a voter ID bill that is now headed to the governor. The legislation combines the Senate and House versions of the bill, with the more lenient Senate version serving as a 15-month transition period and the more restrictive House version in place after Sept. 1, 2013. Voters would be required to present a photo ID at the November general election or sign an affidavit. Additionally, the compromise is opposed by town and city clerks. They previously supported the original Senate plan. They oppose the amended bill because of the longer, more intrusive affidavit that all eligible voters would be required to sign – not just challenged voters as in the Senate bill. They fear this longer form will require several minutes to complete, creating long lines at the polls in an election that is likely to have a high turnout.

Pennsylvania: The Allegheny County election board voted this week to file a lawsuit challenging the state’s new voter ID law because it is too complicated and expensive to implement before the November election.

South Carolina: Two weeks ago, Judicial Watch sued the U.S. Department of Justice for not turning over public records related to its decision to block the state’s requirement that voters present government-issued photo IDs in order to vote.

Tennessee: State election officials have agreed to not purge anymore inactive voters until after the November election and a judge is appointing a special master to investigate the 11,000 voter files that have been purged from the rolls as part of an agreement in a lawsuit brought by former Congressman Lincoln Davis, who found he was purged from the voting rolls during last March’s presidential primary.

Texas: Last week, U.S. District Judge Gregg Costa held a two-day hearing on a case brought by Project Vote, challenging a new law that restricts the ability of groups to conduct voter registration drives. They challenge claims the law contains onerous provisions including training requirements and penalties for submitting incomplete registration application or submitting them more than 5 days. Ex. Governor Bill White, a former Texas secretary of state, testified that the law was unnecessary and would make it more difficult to register voters.

The lawsuit brought by Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott challenging the U.S. Department of Justice’s (DOJ) decision to block Texas’ voter ID law will be heard on July 9. As part of the lawsuit, Texas is challenging whether Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, the provision that gives authority to the DOJ to preclear voting laws in states and jurisdictions with a history of discrimination, is still necessary. 

Virginia: Earlier this month, the State Board of Elections approved a voter education program called “Are You Ready Election?” to educate voters about the new voter ID law.

Wisconsin: This week, Representatives Bob Ziegelbauer (I-Manitowoc) and Robin Vos (R-Burlington) withdrew their motion to intervene in the photo ID lawsuit after a complaint was filed with the Government Accountability Board because they were not disclosing who is funding their legal work. Both are supportive of the new voter ID law.