Battle over Georgia voting rights escalates in federal court

From today’s Atlanta Journal Constitution:

A lawsuit alleging widespread voting problems in Georgia is pursuing an ambitious solution: restoration of the Voting Rights Act and federal oversight of elections.

After notching an initial court victory last month, allies of Stacey Abrams will now attempt to prove through their lawsuit that Georgia’s election was so flawed that it prevented thousands of voters from being counted, especially African Americans.

The lawsuit links civil rights and voting rights with the aim of showing that elections are unfair in Georgia because racial minorities suffered most from voter registration cancellationsprecinct closureslong linesmalfunctioning voting equipment and disqualified ballots. More than 50,000 phone calls poured into a hotline set up by the Democratic Party of Georgia to report hurdles voters faced at the polls.

If successful, the case has the potential to regain voting protections that were lost because of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2013 ruling in a case involving the Voting Rights Act, the landmark legislation approved in 1965. The court decided that several states with a history of discriminatory practices, including Georgia, no longer had to obtain federal clearance before making changes to elections.

Bringing Georgia back under the Voting Rights Act will be tough because the lawsuit would have to prove intentional discrimination in the state’s election laws and practices. But the plaintiffs see an opportunity to try to make that case.ADVERTISING

Free from federal supervision, voter suppression has been on the rise in Georgia, said Allegra Lawrence-Hardy, an attorney for the plaintiffs, which include Fair Fight Action, an advocacy group founded by Abrams, along with Ebenezer Baptist Church and other churches.

“This is modern-day Jim Crow,” Lawrence-Hardy said. “Minority voters simply have a harder time voting and having their vote counted in the state of Georgia than other voters. That’s just factual, and that’s part of the information we’ll be submitting to the court.”

Read the complete article here.

Deceased G.O.P. Strategist’s Hard Drives Reveal New Details on the Census Citizenship Question

From today’s New York Times:

Thomas B. Hofeller achieved near-mythic status in the Republican Party as the Michelangelo of gerrymandering, the architect of partisan political maps that cemented the party’s dominance across the country.

But after he died last summer, his estranged daughter discovered hard drives in her father’s home that revealed something else: Mr. Hofeller had played a crucial role in the Trump administration’s decision to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census.

Files on those drives showed that he wrote a study in 2015 concluding that adding a citizenship question to the census would allow Republicans to draft even more extreme gerrymandered maps to stymie Democrats. And months after urging President Trump’s transition team to tack the question onto the census, he wrote the key portion of a draft Justice Department letter claiming the question was needed to enforce the 1965 Voting Rights Act — the rationale the administration later used to justify its decision.

Those documents, cited in a federal court filing Thursday by opponents seeking to block the citizenship question, have emerged only weeks before the Supreme Court is expected to rule on the legality of the citizenship question. Critics say adding the question would deter many immigrants from being counted and shift political power to Republican areas.

Read the complete article here.

Abrams: We Cannot Resign Ourselves to Dismay and Disenfranchisement

From today’s New York Times:

In the mid-1960s, when my father was a teenager, he was arrested. His crime? Registering black voters in Mississippi. He and my mother had joined the civil rights movement well before they were even old enough to vote themselves.

They braved this dangerous work, which all too often created martyrs of marchers. In doing so, my parents ingrained in their six children a deep and permanent reverence for the franchise. We were taught that the right to vote undergirds all other rights, that free and fair elections are necessary for social progress.

That is why I am determined to end voter suppression and empower all people to participate in our democracy.

True voter access means that every person has the right to register, cast a ballot and have that ballot counted — without undue hardship. Unfortunately, the forces my parents battled 50 years ago continue to stifle democracy.

My home state, Georgia, for example, suffered a vicious blend of electoral malfeasance, misfeasance and mismanagement during my race for governor last fall. But Georgia is not alone.

Local and state officials across the country, emboldened by the Supreme Court effectively neutering the Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder in 2013, are shamelessly weakening voter registration, ballot access and ballot-counting procedures.

Read the complete article here.

Amendment 4 restored voting rights to felons In FL–Now that’s back in doubt

From today’s NBC News Online:

Desmond Meade thinks he may have talked to more Floridians about felon voting rights than anyone else. Since 2009, he has put thousands of miles on his car each year, driving to every corner of the state talking to people about felon disenfranchisement.

By the time a formal campaign to amend the Florida Constitution and restore felon voting rights ended in 2018, it was clear to him which arguments worked with the largest share of people. Among them: second chances and redemption are moral and national values that Americans have a collective duty to uphold, and making way for redemption is the right thing to do.

Eventually, Meade, who is black, and Neil Volz, a white man convicted of felonies in connection with the former lobbyist Jack Abramoff, connected with a bipartisan funding and support network. It included the Koch brothers. And the redemption narrative — one that pushed the racist origins and racially disparate impact of felon disenfranchisement laws just beyond the spotlight — won a whopping 64 percent of deeply purple Florida’s votes in the November referendum on Amendment 4.

“The messaging was totally organic, totally grassroots,” said Meade, a convicted felon who after his release from prison earned a law degree. “It wasn’t a black or white thing, a conservative or liberal thing. It was a real people thing, people understood.”

But just as the campaign settled into victory, both the politics and the policy of felon voting have become unsettled again.

On Thursday, a committee of the Florida House of Representatives voted along party lines to advance a bill that could bar from the ballot box many of the estimated 1.5 million convicted felons who just regained the franchise.

Now the issue of voting rights for ex-felons is back in doubt. It looks as if the limited talk about race and partisanship during the Amendment 4 campaign created space for opponents to engage in debates about the bill’s language without attending to the racial impact of any legislative tweaks.

Read the complete article here.

Georgia Set To Remain A Battleground For Voting Rights Ahead Of 2020

From today’s NPR News:

When Democrat Stacey Abrams ended her bid last week to become governor of Georgia and the first black woman ever elected governor of any state, she issued a stinging indictment of Georgia’s voting system, a system overseen by her Republican opponent Brian Kemp, who was the state’s top election official during the 2018 midterms.

“Democracy failed Georgia,” said Abrams in a speech acknowledging Kemp would be the state’s next governor.

“Make no mistake, the former secretary of state was deliberate and intentional in his actions,” Abrams said. “I know that eight years of systemic disenfranchisement, disinvestment and incompetence had its desired effect on the electoral process in Georgia.”

In an interview this week with NPR, Abrams spoke about how she was nearly denied the chance to vote in person this year due to a clerical error.

Abrams said she’s preparing to sue the state of Georgia for “the gross mismanagement” of the 2018 election, and announced the launch of “Fair Fight Georgia,” an initiative to “pursue accountability in Georgia’s elections and integrity in the process of maintaining our voting rolls.”

For months, Kemp resisted calls from Democrats and civil rights groups for him to step aside from his role as the state’s top election official. He was also criticized for policies making voting more difficult for people of color, in order to gain a political advantage.

Read the complete article here.

Native Americans fighting back against North Dakota voter ID law

From today’s NBC News:

For more than a year, Tiffany Hunts Along has lived in a cherrywood mobile home high on a ridge in western North Dakota, where she knows every jagged hilltop and every flat field. But when asked last week about her street address, she was stumped.

“Hold on,” said Hunts Along, 40, after reaching for her newly issued tribal identification card. “That’s right — I live on Medicine Otter Loop.”

When she, her husband and their young children — Native Americans belonging to the Three Affiliated Tribes, also known as the M.H.A. Nation — moved into the White Oak Park community, there was no street signage and no direct postal service to the home. She fetches the family’s mail from the nearest post office on the other side of town; her old tribal ID had listed her address as a post office box.

She never bothered to learn her street’s name — until now.

Hunts Along plans to cast a ballot in Tuesday’s midterm election, but a change made by North Dakota lawmakers has forced her and an estimated 5,000 tribal citizens who may have IDs with a post office box address to obtain either a new state-issued or tribal identification showing their street address in order to vote. The requirement — meant to prevent voter fraud, state officials say — went into effect in early October.

Nowhere in North Dakota is the registration process more complex — and urgent — than on reservations. Voter rights groups are scrambling to ensure residents understand why they might be turned away at the polls when they present an ID. Absentee ballots must list a home address as well, not a post office box.

The 11th-hour push comes amid a competitive U.S. Senate race in solidly red North Dakota, where the stakes are high: Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, a Democrat, won by fewer than 3,000 votes in 2012. Native Americans, who largely vote Democratic, helped to tip that race in her favor, and she earned more than 80 percent of the vote in the state’s majority-Native counties. Recent polls, however, have given her GOP challenger, Rep. Kevin Cramer, a double-digit lead. His victory would boost the Republican Party’s chances of holding on to their slim majority in the Senate.

Read the complete article here.

GA election fight shows that southern tradition of voter suppression flourishes

From today’s PBS Newshour:

Georgia’s Republican Secretary of State Brian Kemp has been sued for suppressing minority votes after an Associated Press investigation revealed a month before November’s midterm election that his office has not approved 53,000 voter registrations – most of them filed by African-Americans.

Kemp, who is running for governor against Democrat Stacey Abrams, says his actions comply with a 2017 state law that requires voter registration information to match exactly with data from the Department of Motor Vehicles or Social Security Administration.

The law disproportionately affects black and Latino voters, say the civil rights groups who brought the lawsuit.

As a scholar of African-American history, I recognize an old story in this new electoral controversy.

Georgia, like many southern states, has suppressed black voters ever since the 15th Amendment gave African-American men the right to vote in 1870.

The tactics have simply changed over time.

Read the complete article here.

In Georgia, claims of voter suppression as GOP candidate abuses Voter ID law

From today’s Washington Post:

Stacey Abrams, the Democrat vying for the governorship of Georgia, is ratcheting up her assertion that Republican rival Brian Kemp is effectively suppressing minority and women voters in his role as secretary of state.

The Kemp campaign is returning fire with charges of a “manufactured … crisis” and a “publicity stunt” as early voting ramps up before one of the premier matchups nationally in the Nov. 6 midterm elections.

Abrams told CNN on Sunday that Kemp is “eroding the public trust” because his office has held up 53,000 new voter registration applications, questioning their legality under Georgia law. She’s called for Kemp to resign as chief elections officer.

“This is simply a redux of a failed system that is both designed to scare people out of voting and … for those who are willing to push through, make it harder for them to vote,” Abrams told CNN’s Jake Tapper.

Kemp counters that he’s following Georgia voting laws that require due diligence in registering voters and that will still allow any the disputed voters to cast ballots.

“They are faking outrage to drive voters to the polls in Georgia,” Kemp spokesman Ryan Mahoney said Sunday. “The 53,000 ‘pending’ voters can cast a ballot just like any other Georgia voter,” he added, noting the state’s voter identification requirement that applies even for established voters who never miss an election.

Tapper said on the air that Kemp declined an invitation to appear on his show.

Read the complete article here.

North Dakota voter ID law upheld by Supreme Court could affect Senate race

From CBS News Online:

The Supreme Court ruled this week to uphold a North Dakota voter identification law which requires that voters present an ID which includes a residential address in order to vote, potentially restricting the rights of Native Americans in the state who do not have residential addresses.

The law, signed by Republican Gov. Doug Burgum in 2017, had been blocked by a U.S. District Court which found it to be discriminatory towards the state’s Native American population. The Eighth Circuit overturned that ruling, and the Supreme Court upheld the circuit court’s decision, with only Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan dissenting. The two noted in their dissent that this ruling was confusing because voters who used their identification to vote in the primaries could now find that same identification insufficient, because “the injunction against requiring residential-address identification was in force during the primary election and because the secretary of state’s website announced for months the ID requirements as they existed under that injunction.”

Native Americans living on reservations often do not have residential addresses, but have IDs which feature P.O. boxes. Native Americans are North Dakota’s largest minority population, comprising over 5 percent of the state’s population.

This Supreme Court ruling could significantly affect the re-election chances of Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, who is trailing Republican opponent Kevin Cramer in polling. Heitkamp won her seat by just under 3,000 votes in 2012, with the help of Native American voters. If a few thousand Native American voters lack the necessary identification and are unable to vote, that could damage Heitkamp in a close race.

However, it is possible to obtain a residential address before Election Day, according to a Facebook post by the organization Native Vote ND, which encourages voter participation by Native Americans in the state.

Read the complete article here.

Inside the Unlikely Movement to Restore Voting Rights to 1.4 Million Floridians

From today’s Mother Jones Magazine:

On a muggy August day in 2005, Desmond Meade stood in front of the railroad tracks north of downtown Miami and prepared to take his life. He’d been released from prison early after a 15-year sentence for gun possession was reduced to three years, but he was addicted to crack, without a job, and homeless. “The only thing going through my mind was how much pain I’d feel when I jumped in front of the oncoming train,” Meade said. “I was a broken man.”

But the train never came, and eventually Meade walked two blocks to a drug treatment center and checked himself in. He got clean, enrolled in school, and received a law degree from Florida International University in 2014. Meade should have been the archetypal recovery success story­—­“[God] took a crackhead and made a lawyer out of him,” as he put it. But he’s not allowed to practice law. And when his wife ran for the Florida House of Representatives in 2016, he couldn’t vote for her. “My story still doesn’t have a happy ending,” he said. “Because despite the fact that I’ve dedicated my life to being an asset to my community, I still can’t vote.”

Meade was recounting his experience this summer at a gathering of ex-­offenders in Ocala, a conservative city of 60,000 in central Florida, 80 miles north of Orlando. Florida’s primaries were just days away, and there was an early voting center nearby, lined by signs for the candidates.

But 1.69 million Floridians like Meade aren’t able to participate in the 2018 elections. Florida bans people with felony records from voting, practicing law, or serving on a jury. Across the United States, 6.1 million ex-felons can’t vote. Some states prohibit people from voting while they’re on probation or parole or have unpaid fines, but Florida is one of only four, along with Iowa, Kentucky, and Virginia, that still bar ex-felons from voting indefinitely unless their rights are restored by the governor. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, Florida disenfranchises more citizens than Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee combined. Ten percent of the state’s adult population is ineligible to vote because of a criminal record, including 1 in 5 African Americans. Florida counts 533 different infractions as felonies, including crimes like disturbing a lobster trap and trespassing on a construction site. “Come on Vacation, Leave on Probation” is an unofficial slogan.

Meade, 51, speaks with the cadence of a preacher and has a physique befitting his former job as a bodyguard to the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Tupac Shakur. It was an oppressively hot day, and he and the 100 attendees—many of them older white men with tattoos who would not have looked out of place at a Donald Trump rally—took refuge beneath Spanish-moss-covered oak trees in a city park. He wore a black “Say YES to Second Chances” T-shirt. “This movement sits at the heart of a simple slogan: When a debt is paid, it’s paid,” Meade said. “We don’t care how you might vote or whether you vote at all, but every American citizen deserves that opportunity to at least earn the eligibility to vote again.”

In 2009, Meade became head of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition(FRRC), and he was soon putting 50,000 miles a year on his car to help gather the nearly 800,000 signatures needed to place the Voting Restoration Amendment on the 2018 ballot. Amendment 4, as it’s called on the ballot, would automatically restore voting rights to as many as 1.4 million people with felony records who have completed their full sentences, but not those convicted of murder or a sexual offense. “It’s the largest enfranchisement of new voters since the Voting Rights Act,” says Samuel Sinyangwe, co-founder of StayWoke, an advocacy group started by Black Lives Matter activists. “It’s the biggest thing happening in the country with regard to voting rights.”

Read the complete article here.