Voter Suppression Update for May 9, 2012
On Monday, Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Dick Durbin (D-IL) held an official hearing of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Human Rights in Cleveland to examine new laws – including a new law passed in Ohio last year – that will make it harder for eligible voters to cast a ballot in the November election.
Several states are wrapping up their legislative sessions with the possibly of pushing through more restrictive laws, including New Hampshire and Kansas. However, good news came out of Connecticut and Hawaii as Connecticut approved a bill that will allow Election Day registration and Hawaii – if the governor approves – will join several other states in allowing Hawaiians to register to vote online.
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The Good News
Connecticut: Last week, the House and Senate voted to join 11 other states by approving Election Day registration and online registration in Connecticut. The Election Day registration provision, supported by Governor Malloy, will be in effect for the fall 2013 municipal elections.
Hawaii: The Hawaii legislature passed a bill to set up an online voter registration system. A similar bill was passed last year but vetoed by the governor because the legislature did not provide funding to implement the law. The law this year provides $500,000 for implementation and would require the system be in place by 2016.
Louisiana: Last week, a U.S. District Judge ruled that Louisiana public assistance agencies must provide applicants with voter registration forms regardless of whether the transaction related to applying for or receiving public assistance is done in person or by mail, telephone or online. The lawsuit, brought by the Louisiana chapter of the NAACP, claimed public assistance agencies routinely failed to provide voter registration for those seeking public assistance. The state argued they didn’t have to meet that obligation for “remote” transactions. The judge, however, did not rule on whether the agencies violated the National Voter Registration Act.
Nebraska: Investigators from the U.S. Justice Department are looking into the closing of over half of Douglas County’s poll locations.
Pennsylvania: The ACLU and NAACP filed a lawsuit last week challenging Pennsylvania’s new voter photo ID law arguing the law will lead to the disenfranchisement of tens of thousands of voters because IDs are not free. Underlying documentation needed to get an ID will cost voters money. More information about the case and videos of the plaintiffs can be found here.
Wisconsin: A decision on either of the two voter ID lawsuits will not likely happen before the June 5 recall election. As a result, injunctions blocking the ID laws until the cases are decided will stay in place and, therefore, voters will not have to show a photo ID to vote.
The Bad News
Kansas: In an effort to force a vote in the Senate on a measure to move the date when voters would be required to show proof of citizenship to register to vote from January 1, 2013 to June 15, 2012, the House attached the proposal to a Senate bill to force a floor vote in the Senate. The Senate previously stalled the bill in committee because of concerns that the computer system would not be ready by June 15. According to Secretary of State Kris Kobach, the system won’t be ready until August. A workaround was included in the proposal heading to the Senate that would allow the DMV to certify that new registrants have produced the proper documents. The actual copies would be provided to the secretary of state later when the new computer system is up and running.
New Hampshire: The House held a committee hearing this week on a proposed voter ID bill that passed the Senate last month. The focus of the hearing was a proposed amendment that would put more restrictions on the types of photo ID that would be allowed. The amendment would limit acceptable identification to a driver's license, a state-issued identification card, a military ID or a passport. Student and government IDs would be excluded. It would also implement the law for this year’s primary and general election. The Senate bill would implement it in 2013. The amendment would also require voters to announce their name and address, for election clerks to record out-of-state drivers' licenses on the checklist, and to photograph those without identification to be attached to affidavits swearing to their domicile. The Secretary of State's office would be required to purchase the photography equipment as well as prepare an education program for voters going to the polls informing them of the new requirements. The bill could be up for a House vote by next week. The governor vetoed a voter ID bill last year.
The Senate could still consider a House-passed bill that would make it difficult for out-of-state college students to vote in their college towns in New Hampshire. The bill would require voters to have a New Hampshire driver’s license and register their vehicle in New Hampshire in order to vote in New Hampshire elections. The Senate Public and Municipal Affairs Committee is recommending that the Senate kill the bill.
Ohio: The House passed a bill to repeal a law passed last year that would reduce the absentee and early voting period before an election, remove the requirement for poll workers to direct voters to the correct precinct when they go to the wrong precinct, and forbid counties from mailing unsolicited absentee-ballot applications to voters. The repeal comes after several organizations worked to get a referendum to repeal the original law on the November ballot. Even though the bill sponsors consider it a “clean” repeal bill, it does not reinstate early voting the weekend before the election, when a disproportionate number of African Americans tend to vote. The bill heads to the governor for his signature. There is some confusion whether the secretary of state can remove the referendum from the ballot or if it requires approval from the petition committee that organized the referendum.
Pennsylvania: Secretary of State Carole Aichele introduced new IDs that would be acceptable for voters living in nursing facilities. The ID will include the name of the facility, the picture, the person’s name and an expiration date. The facility will then send the Department of State a copy of names on the IDs.
Texas: A three-judge panel threatened Texas in its lawsuit over its photo ID law that it would impose monetary sanctions against the state, postpone the trial, or keep the trial date and impose evidentiary sanctions if the state continued to violate court orders over exchange of evidence with the U.S. Department of Justice.
Virginia: Governor Bob McDonnell still has not decided whether or not he will sign the voter ID law passed by the legislature into law. He has until May 18 to approve or veto the bill.