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Voting Rights
October 11, 2018

On Thursday, several civil rights and voting advocacy groups sued Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp to halt enforcement of the state's "exact match" voting law.

Kemp is also Georgia's Republican nominee for governor, and the suit claims that he has put on hold 50,000 registration applications in order to depress minority turnout and boost his gubernatorial campaign. Under state law, information on voter applications, including names and driver's license numbers, must match exactly what is in state databases. If anything is missing, like a middle name or hyphen, that voter could wind up on the "pending" list. Reuters analyzed the list of people on the pending list between August 2013 and February 2018, and found more than two-thirds were black.

On Election Day, voters can go to the polls and cast ballots as long as they provide a state-issued ID, but critics of the exact match law say it is confusing and many people don't realize that they can vote with their ID.

Kemp is running against Democrat Stacey Abrams, who is hoping to become the state's first black governor. Her campaign has called on Kemp to step down from his role overseeing the election, with spokeswoman Abigail Collazo saying he is "maliciously wielding the power of his office to suppress the vote for political gain and silence the voices of thousands of eligible voters." The Kemp campaign in turn accused Abrams of "using fear to fundraise" and "faking outrage" over the situation. Catherine Garcia

October 10, 2018

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court upheld a North Dakota voter ID law that requires proof of residential address, among other forms of identification. The law had been challenged by members of North Dakota's sizable Native American population, many of whom use post office boxes and lack residential addresses. "The U.S. Postal Service does not provide residential delivery in these rural Indian communities," the Native American Rights Fund explains.

A federal judge had struck down much of the 2017 law in April, ruling that it discriminated against Native American voters, but the U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals stepped in last month and allowed the law to take effect. Judge Brett Kavanaugh did not participate in the Supreme Court's decision to affirm the appellate ruling, and Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan dissented. Ginsburg argued in the dissent that the court should have vacated the 8th Circuit Court's ruling because it was too close to the election, 70,000 North Dakota residents don't have the proper ID and 18,000 of them don't have supplemental documentation allowing them to vote, and "the risk of disfranchisement is large."

The ruling will hurt Sen. Heidi Heitkamp's (D-N.D.) already uphill re-election bid, Mother Jones suggests. "Heitkamp won her seat by less than 3,000 votes in 2012 with strong backing from Native Americans, and she is the only statewide elected Democrat. North Dakota Republicans began changing voting rules to make it harder to cast a ballot months after Heitkamp's victory six years ago." The North Dakota secretary of state's office advises Native Americans and other North Dakotans without a street address to call their county 911 coordinator to begin a "no charge" process of getting a street address and proof of address that should allow them to obtain a valid ID or use as supplemental documentation permitting them to vote in November. Peter Weber

January 10, 2018

The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on Wednesday in a case challenging Ohio's policy of purging infrequent voters from its registration rolls. The U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Ohio's policy of dropping voters who don't vote regularly but are otherwise eligible violates federal law, siding with the American Civil Liberties Union and Demos over Ohio's Republican government. The Obama administration had sided with the plaintiffs but the Trump administration changed sides and is backing Ohio in the case, Husted v. A. Philip Randolph Institute.

The Supreme Court is expected to hand down its ruling in late June, and if it sides with Ohio, other states would probably enact similar voter policies. Seventeen states, most of them led by Republicans, are backing Ohio in the case, while 12 mostly Democratic states want the justices to rule Ohio's law unconstitutional. A Reuters analysis in 2016 found that Ohio was purging about twice as many voters in Democratic-leaning neighborhoods versus GOP-leaning neighborhoods in Ohio's three largest counties, and if the Sixth Circuit appellate court hadn't intervened, more than 7,500 eligible voters wouldn't have been able to cast ballots in 2016.

The Supreme Court is also considering two other voting rights cases this term, gerrymandering cases in Wisconsin and Maryland. Peter Weber

October 20, 2017

In the 2016 election, President Trump won the state of Wisconsin by almost 23,000 votes. But a new report from Mother Jones published online Thursday found that statewide voter turnout in the Badger State was also the lowest it had been since 2000.

Perhaps not coincidentally, the 2016 election was also the first major contest in Wisconsin to require registered voters to bring a current, valid form of state or national identification to the polls — just one of 33 election changes passed under Gov. Scott Walker (R). Other restrictions reduced early voting hours and restricted early voting locations.

Such policies are ostensibly instituted to prevent or discourage voter fraud, but Mother Jones points out that black voters were about 50 percent less likely to have a form of current ID than white voters. And when it comes to trying to renew those IDs or get new ones altogether, 85 percent of people denied identification by the DMV were black or Latino.

Milwaukee's election director Neil Albrecht agreed that the new laws had a direct national impact: "It is very probable that between the photo ID law and the changes to voter registration, enough people were prevented from voting to have changed the outcome of the presidential election in Wisconsin." And discouraged, would-be voters in Wisconsin know it. "This particular election was very important to me," said Andrea Anthony, a Wisconsin woman whose license was expired at the time of voting last year. "I felt like the right to vote was being stripped away from me." Read the full report from Mother Jones here. The Week Staff

October 19, 2017

Last week, Maryland police arrested Ronald Williams II on charges of child pornography possession and distribution, The Washington Post reported, and a senior administration officials said that Williams, 37, had been a researcher on President Trump's Commission on Election Integrity until he was abruptly fired last week. The commission's two Democratic members said Tuesday they had no idea the commission had any staff at all, other than executive director Andrew Kossack.

The two Democrats — Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap and Alabama probate court Judge Alan King — told ProPublica on Tuesday they had never heard of Williams until they read of his arrest, and were concerned to learn that Williams had worked alongside fellow commissioner J. Christian Adams at the Justice Department in 2006, when Williams was an intern helping Adams prosecute a pioneering Voting Rights Act case to protect white voters. Dunlap sent the commission a letter on Tuesday expressing his frustration and requesting all communication involving commissioners dating back to February.

On Wednesday, 18 Democratic senators also sent the commission a letter demanding more information on its activities, and separately, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) sent a letter asking for a staff list and vetting criteria, noting, "If the commission's own members do not know who is working under its direction, how can the commission ensure accountability and transparency?" When the senators emailed their letters to the commission's public email address, ProPublica notes:

An automatic response email stated that the account no longer accepts public comments. Instead, commenters were directed to an "eRulmaking [sic] portal" or to submit written comments to "Mr. Ron Williams, Policy Advisor, Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity." [ProPublica]

Adams told ProPublica that Williams' "alleged behavior is appalling and incomprehensible," and "it would be hyper-partisan overreach to say that any grotesque behavior in his personal life is in any way a reflection of the vitally important work the commission is doing for the American people." Peter Weber

August 16, 2017

On Tuesday, a panel of three federal judges unanimously ruled that two Texas congressional districts violate the Constitution and federal Voting Rights Act.

In Congressional District 27, represented by Republican Blake Farenthold, Hispanic voters were "intentionally deprived of their opportunity to elect a candidate of their choice," the judges ruled, while District 35, represented by Democrat Lloyd Doggett, was an "impermissible racial gerrymander" due to lawmakers using race as the main factor in drawing it.

"Intentional discrimination is a bad habit for the Texas Legislature," State Rep. Rafael Anchia, a Democrat and chairman of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, told The Texas Tribune. "With the seventh ruling of intentional discrimination since 2011, a federal court confirmed today that Texas congressional maps remain unconstitutional." Lawmakers now need to redraw the districts in time for 2018 elections. Catherine Garcia

August 22, 2016

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) announced Monday that almost 13,000 former felons in the state have had their right to vote restored.

"Restoring the rights of Virginians who have served their time and live, work, and pay taxes in our communities is one of the pressing civil rights issues of our day," he said in a statement. "I have met these men and women and know how sincerely they want to contribute to our society as full citizens again." In Virginia, like the rest of the United States, the ex-felon population is disproportionately African-American.

After McAuliffe announced in April an executive order restoring voting rights to all 206,000 Virginians who had finished their prison sentences, parole, and probation, state Republicans sued, saying McAuliffe was trying to help his friend Hillary Clinton secure more votes. Last month, the state Supreme Court ruled that McAuliffe's order was unconstitutional, and he did not have the authority to issue a blanket rights restoration order, NBC News reports. McAuliffe then said he would restore rights individually to all eligible Virginians, and the first 13,000 are people who registered to vote after their rights were restored by the original order. Because of the Supreme Court ruling, the people re-enfranchised must register to vote for a second time, and McAuliffe said the state will notify those residents. Earlier this year, Maryland restored voting rights to all felons no longer in prison. Catherine Garcia

July 30, 2016

Courts in North Carolina, Wisconsin, and Kansas issued rulings Friday against Republican-backed rules for voting procedure.

A federal appeals court struck down North Carolina's photo identification law, holding in a unanimous decision that it was "passed with racially discriminatory intent." The decision also rejected other restrictions like a ban on same-day registration, and the resultant changes could substantially alter electoral outcomes in the swing state this fall.

In Wisconsin, a federal judge left a photo ID requirement intact but much modified while rejecting a host of other voting limitations. And in Kansas, a county judge ruled the state could not ignore the votes of those who failed to provide proof of U.S. citizenship while registering, a decision that will affect up to 50,000 votes in November. Bonnie Kristian

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