Rights Advocates Raise Alarm Over Voter Suppression

 

The nation faces an unprecedented threat to voter turnout in this fall’s elections according to civil rights advocates speaking at a National Press Club News Conference May 13 in Washington, DC.

“This is the first presidential election cycle to be conducted without the full protection of the Voting Rights Act of 1965,” said Kristen Clarke, president of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “The heart of it [the law] is preclearance for voting rights changes in states with a long history of voter suppression.”

The news conference was part of an ongoing series by the press club's Newsmakers Committee of about two topics a month regarded as especially important. 

Clarke (shown in a photo by Noel St. John) and others alleged that the Supreme Court’s 2013 party-line 5-4 decision in Shelby County v. Holder voiding the law has made it possible for partisan election officials to reduce voting by likely opponents.

In a suit by Alabama Shelby County officials, the high court’s Republican majority overturned as unconstitutional congressional requirements that the Justice Department preclear major changes in voting law by localities with a history of bias.

The court said preclearance could be legal if Congress renews its data. But GOP majorities have shown scant support for hearings and otherwise updating the law.

The stakes are high said Leadership Conference on Civil Rights President/CEO Wade Henderson. “In the United States, voting is the language of democracy,” he said. “If you don’t vote you don’t count.”

He and Clarke agreed that new requirements for photo identifications “are Public Enemy Number One” to those who would like to see the nation’s voting turnout rise from its current position of 31st in a global survey of 34 advanced industrial nations.

Wade Henderson National Press Club May 13, 2016 Photo by Noel St. JohnCivil rights advocate Wade Henderson makes a point at the National Press Club. Watching from the left are: American Postal Workers Union President Mark Dimondstein, Maryland State. Rep. Cory McCray, Moderator James Horwitz, with Kristen Clarke at right. (May 13, 2016 Photo by Noel St. John.)

Racial minorities are twice as likely as whites to lack proper photo IDs required under a new Texas law, said Clark.

Overall, she said 17 states have imposed new voting restrictions that tend to reduce voting among traditionally Democratic locales and voters.

Some voters in the heavily minority Maricopa County in Arizona had to wait up to five hours to vote in this spring’s primaries because authorities had reduced the number of polling places to 60 compared to 400 previously for the more than one million eligible voters.

McCray, a Democrat, said a new Maryland law easing voting restrictions on those who have completed their parole and probation has enabling 40,000 new voters this year.  

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) issued an executive order this spring enabling an estimated 200,000 ex-offenders to vote. But opponents vow to restore the restrictions before this fall’s elections.

“Here we are today in the era of the new ‘Jim Crow’ aimed at minorities, the disabled and the elderly,” said Dimondstein of the postal workers union. Such laws blocked voting and other civil rights of blacks primarily in the South until the 1960s civil rights era.

As reform, he urged expanded voting by mail. He said 27 states permit mailed ballots in part, and Oregon, Washington and Colorado conduct all their voting by mail. Oregon, he said, has prosecuted just one case of fraud so far. Mailed voting, he concluded, is more convenient for voters and cheaper for taxpayers.

As moderator, the Newsmaker Committee chairman Horwitz asked panelists to predict trouble spots during this fall’s elections and invited them back this fall to check their accuracy.

 
 
 
 
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Supreme Court Decision: Shelby County v. Holder

133 S.Ct. 2612 (2013)
SHELBY COUNTY, ALABAMA, Petitioner
v.
Eric H. HOLDER, Jr., Attorney General, et al.
No. 12-96.

Supreme Court of United States.
Argued February 27, 2013.
Decided June 25, 2013.

Chief Justice ROBERTS (shown in an official photo) delivered the opinion of the Court (citations omitted).

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 employed extraordinary measures to address an extraordinary problem. Section 5 of the Act required States to obtain federal permission before enacting any law related to voting John Roberts— a drastic departure from basic principles of federalism. And § 4 of the Act applied that requirement only to some States — an equally dramatic departure from the principle that all States enjoy equal sovereignty. This was strong medicine, but Congress determined it was needed to address entrenched racial discrimination in voting, "an insidious and pervasive evil which had been perpetuated in certain parts of our country through unremitting and ingenious defiance of the Constitution." Reflecting the unprecedented nature of these measures, they were scheduled to expire after five years. See Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Nearly 50 years later, they are still in effect; indeed, they have been made more stringent, and are now scheduled to last until 2031. There is no denying, however, that the conditions that originally justified these measures no longer characterize voting in the covered jurisdictions. By 2009, "the racial gap in voter registration and turnout [was] lower in the States originally covered by § 5 than it [was] nationwide." Since that time, Census Bureau data indicate that African-American voter turnout has come to exceed white voter turnout in five of the six States originally covered by § 5, with a gap in the sixth State of less than one half of one percent.

At the same time, voting discrimination still exists; no one doubts that. The question is whether the Act's extraordinary measures, including its disparate treatment of the States, continue to satisfy constitutional requirements. As we put it a short time ago, "the Act imposes current burdens and must be justified by current needs."

Wikipedia, Shelby County v. Holder, 570 U.S. ___ (2013), is a landmark United States Supreme Court case regarding the constitutionality of two provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965: Section 5, which requires certain states and local governments to obtain federal preclearance before implementing any changes to their voting laws or practices; and Section 4(b), which contains the coverage formula that determines which jurisdictions are subjected to preclearance based on their histories of discrimination in voting.

On June 25, 2013, the Court ruled by a 5-to-4 vote that Section 4(b) is unconstitutional because the coverage formula is based on data over 40 years old, making it no longer responsive to current needs and therefore an impermissible burden on the constitutional principles of federalism and equal sovereignty of the states. The Court did not strike down Section 5, but without Section 4(b), no jurisdiction will be subject to Section 5 preclearance unless Congress enacts a new coverage formula.

Related News Coverage

AP via Washington Post, Judge: Law trimming early voting in Ohio is unconstitutional, Ann Sanner, May 24, 2016. A law trimming early voting in Ohio is unconstitutional and cannot be enforced, a federal judge ruled Tuesday in a case involving a series Republican-backed voting changes in the presidential battleground state.

Washington Post, The race-infused history of why felons aren’t allowed to vote in a dozen states, Janell Ross, May 24, 2016. Republicans in Virginia are suing to keep their state's law on the books.

WhoWhatWhy, Arizona Voters Outraged by Barriers to Voting in 2016 Primary, Ben Huang, April 23, 2016 (with video). Primaries throughout the U.S. continue to be marred by election problems. Here is a Michele Reagan, Arizona Secretary of Statecloser look at what happened in Arizona. In this eye-opening video, Secretary of State Michele Reagan (shown in a photo) faces angry voters and unhappy lawmakers for two hours. She vows to find out what went wrong. But does that promise ring hollow in light of the shameful record of Arizona election officials so far?

Gothamist, New York Voters Sue The State, Claiming Mass Voter Roll Purges, Nathan Tempey, April 18, 2016. Dozens of New York voters are suing the state, saying that their voter registration changed without their input, costing them the ability to vote in Tuesday's primary. The lawsuit, filed this afternoon in Long Island federal court by the group Election Justice USA, argues that the voters' alleged registration changes deny them equal protection under the constitution, and demands a blanket order allowing "tens of thousands" of potential plaintiffs to vote in tomorrow's presidential primary.

"Plaintiffs are in imminent harm of losing their right to vote," the suit reads. "They have beseeched the various Boards of Elections without result. Nothing can save their right to vote save an order from this Court." New York's primaries are closed, meaning only members of a given party can vote in that party's primary, and the deadline to change parties is more than six months before Primary Day, the earliest in the country. Those who signed onto the lawsuit say that their paperwork was in order, and in many cases they had voted repeatedly in Democratic primaries from the same address, but that recent checks of their voter registrations revealed that their party had been changed or could not be found at all. The accounts echo online reports of other spurned would-be voters.

"We were seeing an alarming number of voter affiliations changed without people's knowledge or consent, people who were registered listed as not registered," said Shyla Nelson, a spokeswoman for Election Justice USA. As the primary neared and the group solicited accounts of irregularities, reports poured in, she said: "What started as a trickle is now a river."

Arizona Republic, Gov. Doug Ducey ripped election officials for their handling of hours-long lines during Tuesday's presidential preference election, saying the problems were "unacceptable," Mary Jo Pitzl and Yvonne Wingett Sanchez, March 23, 2016. Anger in Arizona builds over long voter waits. Maricopa County voters woke up with an election hangover Wednesday morning, and it wasn't pretty. Complaints about waits in lines that topped five hours in some locations, a shortage of ballots and inadequate staffing at the county's 60 polling locations stoked anger and drew condemnation from Gov. Doug Ducey {a RArizona Gov. Doug Duceyepubilcan shown in a file photo], lawmakers and national groups. Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton asked U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch to launch an investigation into what he called "a fiasco."

A petition asking the Obama administration to order the U.S. Justice Department to investigate "voter fraud" in Tuesday's election was 73 percent toward its goal of 100,000 signatures by late Wednesday. U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz., urged people to contact his office with their complaints, which he said he will use to propose legislation to fix voting irregularities.

The chairman of the state House Elections Committee has set a 10 a.m. hearing for Monday to explore why Maricopa County provided only 60 polling places, leading to such long lines. And average voters — or would-be voters — took to social media to express their anger and dismay.

Barnett Lotstein, now retired from the Maricopa County Attorney's Office, called the whole episode voter suppression. Count him and wife among the suppressed: They gave up on voting after driving to two polling places in Phoenix in late afternoon, where they were told to expect a three-hour wait.

That wouldn't work for Lotstein, 74, who has a heart condition. "I couldn't stand for three hours," he said. "I was deprived of my vote by the people who put this together. "If you make it hard to vote at the polls, that's voter suppression." Sure, he said, he could have asked for a mail-in ballot, but it's not for elections officials to tell him how to cast his ballot. Besides, he likes the whole in-person voting experience.

Arizona Republic, Arizona primary: Maricopa County had one polling site for every 21,000 voters, Anne Ryman, Rob O'Dell and Ricardo Cano, March 23, 2016. Maricopa County had one polling site for every 21,000 voters. Maricopa County voters faced long lines, and some people had to wait hours to vote. Most counties surveyed by The Arizona Republic had enough polling places to average 2,500 or fewer eligible voters per polling site, Maricopa County had only one site per every 21,000 voters. Apache County had 41 polling locations for nearly 35,000 eligible voters. Navajo County had 38 polling locations for roughly 42,000 eligible voters. Maricopa County: 60 locations for 1.25 million voters. Here’s the list of the counties with eligible voters in this election and the number of polling places.

Justice Integrity Project, Shedding Light On DC Elites, Democracy Disruptors, Reformers, Andrew Kreig, April 26, 2016. Police state tactics, propaganda, and election fraud were several of the democracy disruption scandals that reformers studied last week in separate meetings that the Justice Integrity Project attended.

Congressional Democrats held a briefing April 21 on the threat of voter suppression across the United States. Thirteen members of Congress attended the briefing in the House Rayburn office building, , John Conyersincluding Rep. John Conyers of Michigan (shown in an official photo), the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee.

Organizers said:

The evisceration of provisions of the Voting Rights Act by the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in the Shelby case has allowed states to brazenly restrict voting rights. This includes, but is not limited to, proof of citizenship laws, strict photo identification requirements, early voting cutbacks, and practices that create extreme waiting lines in predominately democratic precincts where there is a large presence of African Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans and university students.

Recent studies reveal that new state voter suppression could stop approximately 1.3 million from voting in competitive states.

At the briefing, top national experts described how massive numbers of Americans are being denied the right to vote in states that have passed onerous voting laws. "In Texas alone," organizers said, "half a million people lack the photo identification required to vote. Thirty-two states have promulgated new Jim Crow laws to combat the largely mythical 'voter fraud.' Sixteen of these states will see their plans go into effect for the first time in the crucial 2016 elections."
 
Bob FitrakisRobert J. Fitrakis

Additionally, speakers described how aging voting machines and insecure vote-counting technology pose "serious questions about vulnerability and accuracy." The briefing was organized by The briefing is being sponsored by the Transformative Justice Coalition (TJC) and the National Election Defense Coalition (NEDC). Speakers included:

  • The Rev. William Barber, Executive Director, N.C. NAACP,Leader, Moral Monday/Forward Together Movement
  • Barbara R. Arnwine, President, Transformative Justice Coalition, Former Executive Director, Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights Under Law
  • Robert J. Fitrakis, Ph.D. and J.D., Professor, Columbus State College, Election Defense Expert on Vote-Counting Security and Election Fraud (Shown above)
  • Ari Berman, Ph.D., Senior Contributing Writer for the Nation Magazine, Voter Rights expert, and author of Give Us the Ballot
  • Lindsey Nielson, Ph.D., Bucknell University, Visiting Professor and author of recent University of California at San Diego Report on How Voter Suppression Laws Are Restricting the Vote in Communities of Color
  • Alejandra Gomez, Executive Director, Living United for Change in Arizona.
  • Bernard H. Simelton Sr., President, Alabama State Conference, NAACP

OpEdNews, How Voter Suppression Efforts Are Threatening Our Democracy, Marta Steele, April 22, 2016. "It is democracy time!" were words that led into this historic congressional briefing, "How Voter Suppression Efforts Are Threatening Our Democracy." Sponsors were the National Election Defense Coalition and Transformative Justice Coalition. What does the dismal handling of the primaries and caucuses held so far bode for the U.S. Congress?

National Press Club, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of Voting in the 2016 Election, Jamie Horwitz, May 13, 2016. A 2016 election season of unprecedented surprises on the campaign trail will be no less confusing in ballot boxes across the country as states start implementing a dizzying array of voting rule changes. The National Press Club on Friday, May 13, at 10 a.m., will hold a Newsmaker news conference looking at the changes to voting across the country and likely problems voters, and especially minority voters, will face this November.

In 2016, states such as Texas and North Carolina are making it harder for citizens to vote by imposing new identification requirements at the polls. Other states, like Florida, are disenfranchising thousands of former felons, while in Maryland and Virginia former felons are gaining the right to vote. Some Arizona voters stood in line for hours at polling places in the March primary, while in Oregon, voters this month will cast their ballots by mail.

Catching Our Eye On Other Election Fairness, Honesty Issues

Washington Post, Liberal allies turning on Bernie Sanders after Nevada ruckus, James Hohmann, May 18, 2016. Sanders is quickly becoming a figure every bit as divisive and polarizing among Senate Democrats as Hillary Clinton ButtonTed Cruz is in the eyes of his Republican colleagues, and there are growing fears that the July convention in Philadelphia could be chaotic, perhaps even violent. Note: See, by contrast, Common Dreams: When the System Feels Rigged, How Surprising is Convention Mayhem?

Washington Post, More than 30 states offer online voting, but experts warn it isn’t secure, Sari Horwitz, May 17, 2016. In Alaska, for example, all voters can submit an absentee elections ballot online from computers in their own homes. There were no states with online voting in 2000. Now, there are 32 states with some form of electronic transmission of ballots over the Internet.

Center for Public Integrity, Death threats directed at elections regulator, Dave Levinthal, May 17, 2106. FEC Commissioner Ann Ravel targeted for views on Internet regulation In October 2014, then-Federal Election Commission Vice Chairwoman Ann Ravel did what she often does: speak her mind about political campaign issues. “A re-examination of the Commission's approach to the Internet and other emerging technologies is long overdue,” Ravel, a Democrat, wrote in lamenting a deadlocked commission vote over whether an Ohio-based business group must include disclaimers on political ads it posted for free on YouTube.com.

Ravel’s recent vote to sanction conservative filmmaker Joel Gilbert for alleged violations of federal election laws — the FEC deadlocked on the matter — have prompted a new round of hate mailers to, in recent weeks, call her a “communist c---sucking b----” and wish her “the worst for you and yours.”

Such vitriol and vulgarity, while commonplace for high-profile politicians such as Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, were previously unknown to federal election regulators who many congressional representatives — to say nothing of average Americans — couldn’t identify by name or face.

While FEC commissioners of late often clash along ideological lines and bicker among themselves, several current and former FEC commissioners interviewed said they’ve never once experienced hate-filled communications of the sort Ravel has received.

National Press Club, Lawmakers to discuss proposal to overhaul campaign finance laws at Monday Newsmaker, Jamie Horwitz, May 12, 2016. U.S. Reps. David Jolly (R-Fla.) and Rick Nolan (D-Minn.) will discuss what they said were the long hours they needed to spend making fundraising phone calls and their proposals to change the practice at a Newsmaker at 10 a.m.