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Voting Rights
May 28, 2019

Texas Secretary of State David Whitley resigned on Monday, right before the Texas Senate gaveled out of session without confirming him. Confirming gubernatorial nominees is usually perfunctory, but the Senate's 12 Democrats banded together to block Whitley's confirmation after his office flagged about 98,000 potential non-citizen registered voters, many of whom were actually naturalized U.S. citizens. Gov. Greg Abbott (R) had appointed Whitley, a longtime aide, as secretary of state in mid-December, and he would have been immediately forced out of office when the Senate adjourned without confirming him.

Whitley's office quietly acknowledged within days that its list of 98,000 registered voters was flawed, with almost a quarter of the names included in error — including a Democratic senator's staffer. A federal judge halted the review in late February, and state officials ended the process in April as part of a legal settlement that cost Texas taxpayers $450,000 to cover costs and attorney fees for naturalized citizens threatened with expulsion from voter rolls. Abbott and the Senate's 19 Republican senators stood behind Whitley, but a two-thirds majority — 21 senators — was needed to confirm him.

"The blocking of Whitley's confirmation is a surprising show of strength from Senate Democrats, who have been on the losing side of a Republican supermajority in the chamber for several years and have been mocked by political observers as a doormat for the state's Republican leaders," The Dallas Morning News notes. Democrats flipped enough seats in November to end the GOP's supermajority.

"The reality is that Democrats showed solidarity on that issue because of Whitley's position of voter suppression," state Sen. Royce West (D) said Monday, after the Senate adjourned. "That was the issue. It was not that he was not a good person — he seemed like he was a great person — but not the secretary of state, especially concerning the issues the secretary of state has to deal with as it relates to voting." Peter Weber

March 6, 2019

House Oversight Committee Chair Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) on Wednesday sent letters to Georgia's Gov. Brian Kemp (R) and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R), requesting they hand over documents related to reports of voting irregularities in recent state elections.

Kemp and Raffensperger have until March 20, Axios reports, to submit documents concerning the closing and consolidation of more than 200 voting precincts since 2012. Cummings' letters also request information on tens of thousands of voter registration applications that are on hold and voting machines in several counties.

Kemp was elected last November in a very close race, narrowly defeating Democrat Stacey Abrams. While running for governor, Kemp was secretary of state, and Cummings has also asked for documents connected to an investigation Kemp launched right before the election into what he said was an attempt by the Democratic Party of Georgia to hack the state's voter registration system. During his time as secretary of state, Kemp was accused of suppressing the vote after purging hundreds of thousands of voters from the rolls. Catherine Garcia

February 28, 2019

On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Fred Biery in San Antonio ordered Texas to temporarily stop purging electoral rolls, siding with voting-rights groups after the Texas secretary of state issued an admittedly flawed list of about 98,000 voters it said might be illegally registered. "The evidence has shown in a hearing before this court that there is no widespread voter fraud," Biery wrote in his order. Texas Secretary of State David Whitley's effort to "ferret the infinitesimal needles out of the haystack" appears to be "a solution looking for a problem," he added.

At least 25,000 voters were flagged because they applied for driver's licenses before they became naturalized citizens, making them eligible to vote, the state has acknowledged, and that number will almost certainly grow as counties cross-reference names on Whitely's list, The Texas Tribune reports. “Notwithstanding good intentions, the road to a solution was inherently paved with flawed results, meaning perfectly legal naturalized Americans were burdened with what the court finds to be ham-handed and threatening correspondence from the state," Biery wrote. “No native born Americans were subjected to such treatment.”

Biery said counties can continue to investigate if people on the list are eligible to vote as litigation continues, but they are not allowed to contact those voters directly and cannot remove a voter from the rolls "without prior approval of the court with a conclusive showing that the person is ineligible to vote." Contacting a voter to demand proof of citizenship begins a process that can lead to the voter's name being purged. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, whose office has given conflicting accounts of whether it has started investigating any of the 98,000 flagged people for criminal fraud, criticized the decision, saying "there is no need for a federal court takeover of state activities" and "we are weighing our options to address this ruling." Peter Weber

January 29, 2019

The Texas secretary of state's office has quietly notified several counties that a list of 95,000 registered voters suspected of being non-citizens is flawed, The Texas Tribune reports.

The list was distributed to county elections officials so they could check to see if they are citizens. Officials in Harris, Travis, Fort Bend, Collin, and Williamson counties said they were told over the phone on Tuesday that the secretary of state's office erroneously listed voters who registered at Texas Department of Public Safety offices, and they need to be removed from the list.

There were 29,822 flagged voters from Harris County on the list, and special assistant county attorney Douglas Ray told the Tribune they are "going to proceed very carefully" as a "substantial number" are actually citizens. Dallas County Elections Administrator Toni Pippins-Poole told The Associated Press her office "received a call from the state saying we should put things on hold. Some of the data that they received was flawed. Some of the voters had already proved proof of citizenship." When asked by the Tribune, the secretary of state's office would not say how many people were incorrectly put on the list. Catherine Garcia

January 17, 2019

A federal judge on Thursday struck down early-voting restrictions passed by Wisconsin Republicans during a lame-duck legislative session in December.

The measure limited early voting in Wisconsin to no more than two weeks before an election. It was signed into law by former Gov. Scott Walker (R), just a few weeks before he left office and was replaced by Gov. Tony Evers (D). Judge James Peterson on Thursday afternoon blocked the law, saying it was nearly identical to early-voting restrictions he struck down in 2016. He also blocked other laws passed during the lame-duck session, including one that bans voters from using expired student IDs as identification at the polls.

Over the last several years, major cities, including the overwhelmingly Democratic Milwaukee and Madison, have offered several weeks of early voting, NPR reports. Republicans have said this isn't fair, as smaller, more conservative communities can't afford to offer weeks of early voting. Catherine Garcia

January 8, 2019

Floridians voted overwhelmingly in November for a state constitutional amendment restoring voting rights for ex-felons who have completed their sentences and were not convicted of murder or felony sexual offenses. And on Tuesday, the 1.4 million Floridians affected can officially register to vote.

But though elections offices will be accepting registrations, there may be trouble ahead over the exact legal definition of a completed sentence, said Paul Lux, elections supervisor in Okaloosa County and president of Florida's state association of elections supervisors. For example, would something like an outstanding court fee render an ex-felon voter ineligible to register?

"I haven't spoken to anyone who has plans to not register anyone," Lux told CNN, "but I wish we had better guidance."

However the details work out, Tuesday could mark the beginning of a new era for Florida's infamously messy elections — but the results may be less clearcut than some expect: A Vox analysis of the voting habits of Floridians with felony convictions who have had their electoral rights restored in the past found voter participation in this demographic probably would not swing a statewide election. Bonnie Kristian

November 1, 2018

A federal judge ruled on Thursday that Ford County, Kansas, Clerk Debbie Cox does not have to open a second polling site in Dodge City.

Cox moved the town's sole polling site from the Civic Center to the Expo Center, which is outside city limits, not accessible via sidewalk, and not regularly serviced by public transportation. In an attempt to get Cox to open a second polling location, a lawsuit was filed by first-time voter Alejandro Rangel-Lopez, 18, and the League of United Latin American Citizens.

U.S. District Court Judge Daniel Crabtree ruled that it is too close to the Nov. 6 election to do anything, because ordering the reopening of the Civic Center or the opening of a second location "likely would create more voter confusion than it might cure. The relief plaintiffs seek is not in the public's interest." Crabtree did say the court was troubled by a letter sent to Cox by the ACLU that she forwarded to a state official; the letter was asking her to publicize a voter's help line, and she added the comment "LOL."

Cox testified that she moved the voting site because she anticipated construction taking place at the Civic Center; there is no construction going on at this time. She also said there will be signs up at the Civic Center telling people where to go to vote, and that she called the city about providing rides to voters. When asked about the "LOL" comment, she said she took it "seriously," but she can't just put whatever people ask her to on her website. Catherine Garcia

October 26, 2018

Last week, Dodge City, Kansas — an iconic Wild West town (see: Gunsmoke) of 27,000 that is now 60 percent Latino — made national news because Ford County had moved the city's one polling location outside city limits, more than a mile from the nearest bus stop. Then on Thursday, Kansas election officials acknowledged that county officials had sent newly registered voters an official certificate directing them to the old polling location, a notification Kansas Director of Elections Bryan Caskey acknowledged was "confusing." Ford County Clerk Debbie Cox was instructed to try and clean up the mess before the Nov. 6 election.

"I didn't know this could get worse, and it did: 'Hey, let's move the site and not tell new registrants where they are supposed to go,'" Johnny Dunlap, chairman of the Ford County Democratic Party, told The Associated Press. Dodge City officials noted pointedly that moving the polling location out of town was a county decision, not a city one, James Fallows says at The Atlantic, and the city has organized free bus service to the polling location. (Lyft has also offered free rides.)

"Among city and county leaders there's concern many of the stories are missing some of those details, like the fact Dodge City has had only one polling location for decades," reports local ABC affiliate KAKE. "They say voters are used to the crowds running an expected 13,000 plus voters through one polling site will create." The city had multiple polling locations until 2002, AP reports, when the Americans With Disabilities Act imposed new accessibility requirements. Other polling locations in Kansas serve an average of 1,200 voters.

Since the Supreme Court weakened the Voting Rights Act in 2013, 868 polling places were closed nationwide, according to a 2016 report from the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. The top election official in Kansas, Republican Kris Kobach, is also running for governor this year; he is the nation's foremost proponent of restrictive voter ID laws. Peter Weber

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