Voter Suppression Update for October 10, 2012

In a report released last week, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) cannot document any in-person voter fraud over the past 10 years. They did document a substantial increase in voting requirements over the past 10 years, including stricter voter ID requirements.

The good news to report is that Michigan voters will not face possible confusion and delays at the polls on Election Day because a judge ordered a citizenship checkbox be removed from ballot applications. Pennsylvania and South Carolina voters won’t have to show photo ID in order to vote this year, but they may have to show ID starting next year. In Pennsylvania, voters will be asked to show an ID in November but can still vote a regular ballot if they are unable to produce one. Finally, in Ohio, a federal judge ruled that the state must allow counties to hold early voting hours the last three days before Election Day.

While we’ve mostly seen good news these past two weeks, Florida is still allowed to continue its voter purge program despite Election Day being less than 4 weeks away and there are reports of groups in New Mexico associated with the tea party holding trainings for poll challengers that give false information on photo ID requirements and provisional ballots that could lead to voter suppression.

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.    

Colorado: Voters that answered a letter from the Colorado Secretary of State’s office regarding their citizenship status received a letter thanking them for responding and informing them that their voter status was verified. The effort turned up very few non-citizens on the voter rolls.

Florida: A Lee County Supervisor of Elections refuses to restore the voter registration of 11 voters she removed earlier this year even though the state now only alleges one of them is a non-citizen.

A federal judge in Florida ruled last week that Florida can move forward with its voter purge program that targets a list of 198 people on the voter rolls the state alleges are non-citizens.

Kansas: Secretary of State Kris Kobach has determined that only student IDs issued by public high schools, not private schools, will be accepted as IDs for voting purposes.

Michigan:  U.S. District Judge Paul D. Borman last week ruled against Secretary of State Ruth Johnson and ordered that ballot applications not include a citizenship checkbox because it is unnecessary and can cause confusion and delays at the polls.

Mississippi: The U.S. Department of Justice is still reviewing Mississippi’s new voter ID law, ensuring that the law will not be in place for the November election. The DOJ has requested more information, including information about the racial identity of registered voters in the state.

New Mexico: A poll challenger training held by tea party activists in the Albuquerque area gave incorrect and misleading information to potential poll challengers. At the training they said photo ID is required if a member of both parties request to see the voter’s ID and those that received a mailing from the Secretary of State’s office asking for confirmation about the registration status would need to vote by provisional ballot – neither of which is true. The state allows political parties to appoint challengers at polling locations to observe and raise objections to voters for certain reasons. The New Mexico Attorney General’s office is launching an investigation.

New Hampshire: The New Hampshire Supreme Court denied an emergency motion by the Attorney General to stay a lower court’s decision to block New Hampshire’s new law that redefines voting domicile. The new law would make it difficult for out-of-state college students to vote in New Hampshire. It requires those that register to vote in New Hampshire to also register their vehicle and get a New Hampshire drivers’ license. A Strafford County Superior Court judge ruled that the wording on voter registration forms was at odds with state law and would discourage out-of-state college students from registering to vote. The Supreme Court decided not schedule its own hearings on the issue until there is a final ruling from the Superior Court. The new law will likely not be in effect for the November 6 election.

Voters that appear on the voter checklist of registered voters but do not have an acceptable ID for the election can now pick up a voucher for a free voter ID at city or town clerk’s office. Once they retrieve their voucher, they then will have to take it to a motor vehicles office to receive their free voter ID card.

Ohio: Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted will appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court last week’s ruling by the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit that the state must allow early voting the final three days before the election. The judges ruled that it should be left up to the counties whether or not to hold early voting on the final three days before the election.

In Cleveland’s predominantly African-American east side neighborhoods, a private family foundation has purchased billboards that warn that voter fraud is punishable by a 3 ½ year sentence and a $10,000 fine. Many believe these signs are an attempt to scare and intimidate minorities in those neighborhoods from voting.

Pennsylvania: Last week, Commonwealth Court Judge Roger Simpson blocked Pennsylvania’s voter ID law from going into effect for the November 2012 election, citing that some voters may be disenfranchised because they are unable to get the ID they need before the election. The ruling does allow for voter education about the new photo ID requirements to continue as well as allow poll workers to ask for a photo ID. However, if a voter is unable to show a photo ID, they still may vote a regular ballot. The voter ID requirement could still go into effect beginning next year.

South Carolina: A federal three-judge panel decided this week that there is not enough time for a new South Carolina voter ID law to go in effect for the election this year, however, it can go into effect starting in 2013. The judges ruled that the law is necessary to curb voter fraud, and “is significantly more friendly to voters that don’t have a photo IDs than several other contemporary state laws that have passed legal muster.”

Tennessee: Officials with the city of Memphis filed an emergency appeal last week with the Tennessee Court of Appeals after Davidson County Chancery Court Judge Carol McCoy upheld the constitutionality of Tennessee’s new voter ID law.

Texas: The Houston Chronicle found that prominently African-American neighborhoods in Harris County received a disproportionate number of letters that advised them that their voter registration was going to be canceled because they are presumed dead. The voter purge list is full of errors. So far, at least 32 percent of voters on the purge list have confirmed they are alive. Only 7 percent have been confirmed dead.

Wisconsin: Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen may ask the Wisconsin Supreme Court to reconsider his request that they set aside two lower court injunctions blocking Wisconsin’s voter ID law when briefs in the voter ID case are due in mid-October.