Opinion: The right to vote should not fall victim to partisan battles

From today’s Chicago Sun-Times:

The right to vote is fundamental to any democracy. Protecting that right — and making it easier to exercise it — ought to be a priority across partisan lines.Instead, in states across the country — particularly in the five years since the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act — it has become a pitched battle.

The basic reality is clear: Republicans, increasingly a party of older, white voters, have chosen not to reach out to Hispanics, African Americans or the young, but instead seek ways to make it harder for them to vote — or for their votes to count. Backed by right-wing think tanks, Republican state legislators and governors push a slew of measures to suppress the vote of targeted populations. These are increasingly challenged in courts and protested on the streets.

Alabama, for example, is a state that is over one-fourth African American. Yet it has had all white appellate court justices for a quarter-century. This was locked in by requiring at-large statewide elections for both appellate and Supreme Court judges instead of district elections where African American candidates would have a good chance of being elected in some areas. This practice — followed in Texas against Hispanic voters — is now being challenged in a lawsuit filed by the Alabama State Conference of the NAACP.

At-large elections are only one of the tactics tried by the Republican power structure in Alabama.

Since the Supreme Court’s Shelby decision that ended federal pre-approval of voting rights changes, Alabama has passed measures to require a photo ID to vote while seeking to close driver’s license offices disproportionately in black areas. They sought to impose a “proof of citizenship” mandate to register to vote in state and local elections. Dozens of polling places were closed, disproportionately in areas with large African American populations. Get-out-the-vote efforts were made more difficult with the passage of a ban on financial transfers from one PAC to another, an act aimed at the leading organizations working on African American turnout, which got much of their revenue from other political entities. Alabama has also begun the process of purging the voting rolls. When the state legislature passed a measure giving felons who had served their sentences the right to vote, the state government refused to do anything to inform people that their rights had been restored. Some of these measures have been stalled by judicial decisions, but the effort to constrict the vote continues.

Read the complete article here.

Beshear’s gubernatorial win in KY is also a win for ex-felon voting rights

From today’s Vox News:

In November 2015, then-Gov. Steve Beshear (D) signed an executive order restoring the voting rights of more than 100,000 people with felony records in Kentucky. But in December of that year, Beshear’s successor, Gov. Matt Bevin (R), undid the executive order — just as easily taking away from ex-felons what the former governor had given them.

On Tuesday, though, Bevin lost his reelection bid to Democrat Andy Beshear, the former governor’s son. And the new governor-elect is poised to sign another executive order that restores voting rights to at least some people with felony records after they’ve served their sentences — potentially increasing the voter rolls by more than 100,000.

Kentucky has one of the strictest laws disenfranchising people with felony records, banning ex-felons from voting for life — unless they get a special reprieve from the state government — even after they finish serving out their prison sentences, parole, or probation. It is only one of two states, along with Iowa, with such a strict lifetime ban.

Read the complete article here.

GOP Blocks Voting Rights Bill Requiring Candidates to Disclose Tax Returns

From today’s Newsweek Online:

Republican senators have blocked an effort by Democrats to vote on a voting rights and election ethics bill.

Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) blocked a request that the For the People Act of 2019 be voted on Wednesday. Democratic Sens. Tom Udall (N.M.) and Jeff Merkley (Ore.) launched the latest attempt to bring the bill to the senate floor.

“The For the People Act repairs our broken campaign finance system, opens up the ballot box to all Americans, and lays waste to the corruption in Washington,” said Udall. “These are all reforms that the American people support. Why won’t the Senate Majority Leader let us vote on them?”

The bill was introduced by Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.) in January. It passed in the House of Representatives by a vote of 234–193 in March. The bill has been repeatedly blocked by Senate Republicans since then.

One of the bill’s many provisions attempts to increase voter participation by making Election Day a federal holiday. Another provision is aimed at eliminating so-called “dark money” from campaign funds by requiring that super PACs and other organizations disclose the identity of their donors.

Merkley claimed that the failure to pass the bill was symptomatic of a “corrupt system” and that the senate was controlled by “powerful special interests.” After blocking the bill, Blunt countered that the bill represents an overreach of power that would allow the federal government to take control away from states.

One of the bill’s major hurdles for Republicans is an ethics provision that would require candidates for president and vice president to disclose the last 10 years of their income tax returns. President Donald Trump has repeatedly refused to disclose his tax returns, and is currently embroiled in a legal fight to keep the information secret.

Read the complete article here.

Trump administration gives up fight over citizenship question on the census

From today’s Los Angeles Times:

The Trump administration, abruptly switching course, has decided to give up its fight to add a question about citizenship to next year’s census. Word of the decision to give up the fight came initially in an email from a Justice Department attorney to the lawyers who had challenged the administration in court. The email announced the decision to begin printing census forms without the controversial question.

Administration officials did not dispute the authenticity of the email, but declined additional immediate comment. A Justice Department spokesperson confirmed the decision to print the census forms without the citizenship query.

The Supreme Court last week blocked the administration’s effort to add the question on citizenship to the census, saying Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, whose agency oversees the Census Bureau, had not provided an honest answer for why he wanted to make the move.

But the 5-4 ruling by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. gave the administration a chance to start over and try to come up with a new rationale for adding the question for the first time in decades.

As recently as Monday, President Trump had repeated his insistence that the census should include a question about citizenship. After the high court’s decision, he had publicly called for delaying the census.

Read the complete article here.

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.

FACT CHECK: Foreign Interference And ‘Opposition Research’ Are Not The Same

From today’s NPR News Online:

President Trump has conflated an infamous practice in and among political campaigns — “opposition research” — with foreign election interference like that launched by Russia against the United States in 2016.

Are they the same thing? Is foreign interference just a kind of “oppo research,” as Trump said in an interview with ABC?

The short answer: No. Oppo research is part of politics. But the law prohibits American political campaigns from taking “a contribution or donation of money or any other thing of value” from foreigners. The ban isn’t limited to money, as Justice Department investigators wrote.

The long answer: Trump told ABC News that essentially every political candidate is willing to accept information that could be of use against an opponent.

“You go and talk honestly to congressmen, they all do it. They always have. And that’s the way it is. It’s called ‘oppo research,’ ” he said.

What’s the difference?

Opposition research is what campaigns and political operatives use against each other. If one candidate running for office dug up a story about something embarrassing her opponent had done, the first candidate might bundle it together and see that it found its way into the newspaper.

Active measures

In 2016, however, the Russian government also launched a broad wave of “active measures” from outside the U.S. and used sophisticated tools found only in the arsenal of a major government. Its ultimate goal was to help elect Trump.

Trump’s campaign counted on the boost it got from WikiLeaks in 2016, according to the report by Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller. Donald Trump Jr. also accepted the offer of a meeting, via intermediaries, to get “dirt” on Hillary Clinton.

Read the complete article here.

Nevada governor signs bill to restore voting rights to convicted felons

From today’s The Hill:

Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak (D) on Wednesday signed into law a pair of criminal justice reform bills, including one that restores voting rights to convicted felons following their release from prison. 

“I just signed two criminal justice reform bills that will restore fairness and justice to thousands of Nevadans,” Sisolak said on Twitter following the signing. “I’m so excited about the positive impact these bills will have on our communities, especially communities of color.”

The first measure Sisolak signed, known as Assembly Bill 431, immediately grants the right to vote to felons released from prison or discharged from parole or probation. The law will replace one that granted certain felons the right to vote two years after their prison release, The Associated Press noted

Sisolak said the legislation, which is set to go into effect on July 1, will re-enfranchise about 77,000 state residents. 

The other measure Sisolak signed into law will streamline the process for sealing low-level marijuana convictions. The AP reported that the law allows a person to ask a court to seal records for any offense that has since been decriminalized. 

Read the complete article here.

Felon voting bill goes to Florida governor’s desk amid outcry

From today’s Associated Press News Wire:

Florida felons will have to pay court-ordered financial obligations if they want their voting rights restored under a bill sent to Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis on Friday that would implement a voter-approved constitutional amendment.

The bill, though, caused outrage among Democrats who say Republicans are adding hurdles that don’t reflect the spirit in which voters approved allowing most felons to vote once they’ve completed their sentences. The amendment was approved with 64.5 percent of the vote and excludes murderers and sex offenders from the voting restoration rights.

“I believe Floridians are smart. I believe Floridians knew exactly what they were doing,” said Democratic Rep. Al Jacquet. “White, black, Hispanic, women, male, every Floridian understanding the value of their voice, the value of their vote. But we sit here and we begin to say, ‘Well, if you want to regain it, you should do this.’”

The ballot language on the amendment said rights would be restored after all terms of a sentence are completed. Republicans said that means court costs, restitution, fees and fines imposed by a judge. Democrats have said financial burdens shouldn’t be a barrier to voting rights restoration, especially if a judge converts them to a civil judgment.

Jacquet and other Democrats argued that the original intent of the felon voting ban was to repress the minority vote, because minorities historically have been disproportionately convicted of felonies.

Read the complete article here.

McConnell maintains that Senate won’t take up election reform bill because GOP doesn’t want Americans to vote

From The Hill Online News:

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) maintained Wednesday that the upper chamber wouldn’t take up a House election reform bill.

McConnell reiterated his position when pressed about why he has only pledged to bring the progressive Green New Deal to the floor for a vote and not the election reform bill.

“Because I get to decide what we vote on,” McConnell quipped.

The Kentucky senator said earlier this week that House Democrats’ sweeping anticorruption bill, known as H.R. 1, would never become law.

“This sprawling 622-page doorstop is never going to become law. I certainly don’t plan to even bring it to the floor here in the Senate,” McConnell said of the legislation Monday.

The legislation aims to expand voting rights by creating automatic voter registration and making Election Day a national holiday for federal workers.

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.