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Voting for America

No help from SCOTUS on voter registration

Bummer.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

The U.S. Supreme Court late Tuesday denied an emergency request by a voter registration group that sought to block the state from enforcing changes made last year. The legislation adds hurdles for canvassers or groups that seek to increase voter participation through registration drives.

A trial will be held later to determine whether the new law is constitutional or violates state and federal law.

[…]

Project Vote Executive Director Michael Slater said he was disappointed with the Supreme Court’s action.

“The most important issue is that several million Texans are still not registered to vote,” Slater said. “Texas law should make it easier, not harder, for community members to help one another to register.”

See here, here, here, and here for more. The good news, I guess, is that the voter registration deadline is October 9, so a favorable ruling would not have had that much effect. This is all about a preliminary injunction – there has not been a final ruling in the lawsuit yet. One there is, we’ll undoubtedly go through more rounds of injunction- and stay-seeking and appealing, and eventually we’ll get a final answer. For now, we have to live with those petty little laws the Lege passed last year.

No stay for voter registration injunction

Good.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

A federal judge in Galveston today denied the state’s request for a stay that would have allowed Texas to enforce several of its voter registration laws.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott’s office asked for the stay on Aug. 4 — the same day it appealed an order by U.S. District Judge Gregg Costa that granted a temporary injunction sought by two Galveston residents and two national, nonpartisan groups that organize efforts to register people in areas with low registration levels.

The provisions at issue include those that prohibit completed voter applications from being mailed to county offices; prohibit deputy voter registrars from registering voters in counties where they don’t live; prohibit the photocopying of voter registration cards; require voter registrars to be Texas residents; and prohibit registration drives from firing deputy registrars based on their performance. Some of the blocked provisions specifically address “volunteer deputy registrars,” the canvassers who, by law, must be appointed to take applications from prospective voters.

Costa’s injunction, which remains in place, bars enforcement of the provisions until a trial can be held to determine if they violate the 1993 National Voter Registration Act or the U.S. Constitution. No trial has been set.

See here and here for the background. I’d link to Judge Costa’s order, but the Southern District of Texas webpage doesn’t make it easy to find such documents, if they exist online. The case is Voting for America, Inc., v Andrade, southern district, G-12-44 according to Ballot Access News, if that helps anyone who knows these things better than I. On to trial from here, where hopefully these petty little laws will get a proper burial. BOR and Juanita have more.

UPDATE: Here’s a copy of the judge’s order denying the request for a stay. Thanks to Jeff and to Tony for using their superpowers as attorneys to find that for me. The state has now asked the Fifth Circuit Court for a stay, so this isn’t over yet.

Judge halts anti-voter registration laws

Good.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

U.S. District Judge Gregg Costa of Galveston ruled that a law that prohibits third-party voter registrars from working in more than one county and another that mandates registrars in Texas be residents of the state violate the First Amendment.

“During the 2011 legislative session, the Governor signed two bills that imposed a number of additional requirements,” U.S. District Judge Greg Costa wrote in his 94-page opinion. “The result is that Texas now imposes more burdensome regulations on those engaging in third-party voter registration than the vast majority of, if not all, other states.”

The judge also struck down provisions that required deputy voter registrars be paid hourly, that prevented registration certificates from being photocopied and that prohibited completed forms from being mailed in to elections officials. A final judgment must still be rendered, Costa declared. Until then, the laws cannot be enforced.

More from the Chron:

“Today’s ruling means that community groups and organizations like Voting for America and Project Vote will be able to run community voter registration drives in Texas,” plaintiff’s attorney Chad Dunn said. “These drives are important to reaching the millions of Texans, including three-quarters of a million African-Americans and 2 million Latinos, who are eligible but still not registered to vote.”

Dunn represents two Galveston County residents and the nonprofit voter registration group Voting for America, an affiliate of the nonpartisan Project Vote based in Washington, D.C.

“They don’t care how you vote as long as you get registered and participate,” Dunn said.

[…]

The plaintiffs had asked Costa to block eight sections of the law enacted in 2011 so that they could register voters before the national election in November. Costa declined to block enforcement of laws that make it a criminal offense for a deputy registrar to submit a partially completed form, a restrictive training requirement, and a requirement that deputy registrars wear an identification badge. He left the legality of those laws to be decided at trial.

Dunn said the attorney general could appeal the injunction to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Dunn, who has represented Democrats in redistricting lawsuits, said the Legislature’s redistricting plan, photo identification bill and registration requirements are evidence of voter suppression.

“This Legislature will do anything to prevent Texans from voting,” Dunn said.

See here for some background, and see Ballot Access News for more on the decision, which you can read in full here. This is just an injunction preventing these laws from being enforced until there’s a final ruling, but it’s still a very big deal. These laws were petty little attempts to make it harder for people to vote. They served no other purpose. The fact that they flew so completely under the radar is a sign of just how atrocious the last legislative session was, and of how many mind-bendingly bad things they did. They got the treatment they deserved from Judge Costa. I’m sure there will be an appeal – there’s already been a motion for a stay of the injunction – because neither Rick Perry nor Greg Abbott can accept that they might be wrong about something, but we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it. This was a good ruling, and we should be happy about it. Texas Redistricting has more.

Yet another voting-related lawsuit

I had completely forgotten about this.

A federal judge in Galveston is to consider motions in a lawsuit filed by a Washington-based voters’ rights group that contends Texas laws make it illegally difficult to register voters.

The group Voting for America is seeking an injunction to block enforcement of laws they say keep registration records from the public, attack voter registration drives and impede its “mission of voter advocacy.”

That hearing was scheduled for yesterday. Here’s a story from the hearing.

Volunteer voter registrars are fearful of new laws that impose criminal penalties for improperly filling out voter registration forms or turning them in late, a Galveston County deputy registrar testified Monday.

“You’re afraid that if you made a mistake there was an implied prosecution,” testified Estelle Holmes of Hitchcock, a volunteer deputy registrar for more than 30 years.

The penalties enacted by the 2011 Legislature are being challenged by Voting for America, a nonprofit organization dedicated to registering minority and low-income voters nationwide, and two Galveston County residents in a lawsuit against Texas Secretary of State Hope Andrade and Galveston County Tax Assessor-Collector Cheryl Johnson. The lawsuit asks U.S. District Judge Gregg Costa to declare that Texas voter registration laws violate the 1993 National Voter Registration Act, improperly prevent inspection of voter registration applications and violate the organization’s constitutional speech rights.

Voting for America, an affiliate of Project Vote, argues that Texas laws make conducting large-scale voter registration drives impossible.

The lawsuit by Voting for America was filed in February:

According to the lawsuit, the Texas Election Code imposes a variety of burdensome restrictions related to public access to records, qualifications and compensation for employees of voter registration drives, and the review and delivery of voter registration forms. Specifically, the suit alleges that:

  • Texas improperly restricts public access to inspect and copy voter registration records in violation of the NVRA, thus severely hindering the ability of individuals and organizations to verify the accuracy of the voter rolls and the fairness of the voter application process.
  • Texas improperly regulates the distribution of voter registration applications, as it requires anyone seeking to do so to first be appointed as a “voluntary deputy registrar (VDR)” by a county registrar, and places unfair and onerous restrictions and requirements on such VDRs. For example, VDRs must be registered to vote in the state of Texas, and may only accept registration applications from applicants who reside within the same county in which the VDR was appointed.
  • Texas prohibits VDRs from mailing in completed applications. Rather, VDRs must personally deliver completed applications within five days of collection, a requirement that severely hinders the ability of large-scale voter registration drives to manage their programs and implement effective quality control measures.
  • Texas places undue restrictions on how community organizations manage their employees, making it virtually impossible to fire under-producing employees and threatening organizations with such excessive threats of fines and criminal prosecution that running such a drive would be prohibitively risky in the state.

Michael Li has a copy of the lawsuit here. All of these objectionable provisions were passed by the Legislature last year, with the express intent of making it harder to register voters. I can’t think of any good reason why registration applications can’t be mailed but must be dropped off in person, or why someone from Harris County could not register someone from Fort Bend or vice versa. Amid all the fuss over voter ID and redistricting, these changes went mostly unnoticed. I’m glad to see that someone filed a suit to stop these petty nuisance laws, and I will try to keep a closer eye on its progress.

I found that story as a related link to this story about the upcoming voter ID trial. There’s not really anything I’d call “news” in it, but I suppose even that is worth noting.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Despite legal maneuvering by Texas and Justice Department lawyers, a three-judge U.S. District Court panel has cleared the docket for a July 9 trial. And it remains questionable whether the new law can be implemented in Texas by the November general election.

Texas joins South Carolina as states that have filed lawsuits challenging the Justice Department’s rejection of voter ID laws.

The states claim that the Obama administration is overreaching in its opposition to voter ID laws, which have been found to be constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court.

“Texas should not be treated differently and must have the same authority as other states to protect the integrity of our elections,” Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott said.

Minority-rights groups have sided with the Justice Department, saying the Texas law, which requires a valid photo ID, is aimed at suppressing voting by African Americans, Hispanics and other minorities.

Holder said a similar law in South Carolina was blocked by the Justice Department because it would have placed an unfair burden on nonwhite voters.

In both cases, the Justice Department blocked the laws by not granting a clearance under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which requires states, most of them in the South, with a historical pattern of discrimination to “preclear” changes in voting laws or political lines.

“The past two years have brought nearly two dozen new state laws and executive orders, from more than a dozen states, that could make it significantly harder for eligible voters to cast ballots in 2012,” Holder said.

Texas, like several states, is challenging the Justice Department’s authority to deny preclearance.

Like I said, nothing really new. I am glad I clicked on it, however, as I wouldn’t have found the real story otherwise.

Why do we make it so hard to vote?

News item: Many voter registrations around the country are outdated or incorrect.

Some 24 million voter registrations in the United States contain significant errors, including about 1.8 million dead people still on the rolls and many more approved to vote in multiple states, according to a report released Tuesday.

Even though the inaccuracies impact one in eight registrations, researches at the Pew Center on the States said they don’t see it as an indicator of widespread fraud. Rather, they believe outdated systems are failing to keep pace with the most basic changes in people’s lives, feeding perceptions that U.S. elections are not as airtight as they could be.

In conjunction with Pew’s report, eight states said they are working this year on a centralized data system to help identify people whose registrations may be out of date.

“A lot of people probably assume we do this already,” said Sam Reed, who oversees elections as Washington’s secretary of state. “I think it’s going to bring more trust and confidence in the election system.”

About 2.7 million people have active registrations in multiple states, including about 2,000 people registered in four or more states, according to the Pew report. Elections officials said it is difficult to track when someone has moved to another state without canceling their previous registration.

Dead people on voter rolls get a lot of attention. What gets much less attention is the number of eligible voters who get purged from voter rolls as election administrators try to clean them up. Database management is hard. People with common names are often mistaken for each other, but even people with relatively uncommon names can have this problem. There’s another person with the same name as my wife in the Houston area who isn’t very good at paying her bills. We know this because we have received many, many phone calls over the years from various collection agencies trying to track her down. With the best of intentions and the most careful practices, mistakes can be and are made by elections administrator. Of course, some of them don’t have good intentions, and some of them aren’t particularly careful.

News item: Nonprofit group files federal lawsuit against Texas over voter registration practices.

The only voter ID anyone should need

Why do we make this so hard to get?

The nonprofit Voting for America filed a federal lawsuit Monday alleging Texas voter rolls have been actively suppressed by excessive restrictions on volunteers who conduct registration drives, aggressive purges of county voter rolls and poll workers who improperly requested identification from voters.

“A developing body of state practices and provisions targeted at voter registration activities is endangering the rights of many Texas voters,” the lawsuit alleges.

The group, affiliated with the Washington D.C.-based Project Vote, runs nonpartisan voter registration drives nationwide and has previously mounted legal challenges to state voter registration procedures in Missouri, Ohio, Indiana and New Mexico, among other states.

The latest lawsuit filed in the Southern District of Texas courts names Texas Secretary of State Hope Andrade and takes aim at the state’s new mandatory training for all volunteer registrars – in which almost anyone who handles a voter’s application as part of a registration drive has to complete training before he or she can be “deputized” to operate in any Texas county. A spokesman for Andrade refused comment.

Population growth in Texas exceeds most other states, while many voter registration rolls throughout the state remain stagnant. As of January, 12.9 million Texans had registered to vote -up just 2 percent from January 2008.

That’s a companion to a Chron story from January 30 that I still haven’t seen online that notes voter registration totals in Harris County have stagnated despite its growth over the past decade. In response to which local Dem activist Stan Merriman wrote this op-ed about simplifying the voter registration process:

First, the voter, once registered should always be registered; any changes can and should be treated with a simple change of address process, excepting those few who lose their right to vote.

Second, voting at all times and locations should be treated like we do early voting. Voters should be allowed to show up at any polling place within the county and, with verification that they are county residents, be allowed to vote. Our sophisticated data base technology today can take care of the verification process.

Third, the county should routinely allocate adequate funding to maintain an ongoing voter registration and participation outreach campaign to motivate our citizens to participate in a simple process that ought to be routine, not torturous. The scale of our outreach now is comparable to that of a backwater, rural Texas county.

Fourth, my own party has never made registration a priority; it is not even mentioned in our State Platform. We should get into registration in a huge way, rather than relying on other groups.

Fifth, we should allow election-day registration, as is done in many states. Studies have shown at least a 15 percent increase in participation levels compared to states with burdensome advance registration processes, such as those in Harris County.

As I see it, there are two types of people in this country: Those who believe voting is a right, and that everyone has the right to vote unless they are too young, not citizens, or have an unresolved felony conviction; and those who believe voting is a privilege that one must earn by successfully completing a series of bureaucratic obligations. (Or, preferably, by being born in the right places to the right people. They don’t usually say that part out loud.) I am in the former group. All of these problems, along with the well-documented Republican efforts to suppress voting via onerous voter ID requirements, convince me that the solution is to reaffirm the right that every free adult citizen has in this country to vote and do away with all the needless and nettlesome requirements that hinder that right.

Admittedly, that’s easier said than done. One possible way to help is to take responsibility for tracking voters away from local officials and make it a federal responsibility. Kevin Drum suggests that a national ID card provided by the federal government would go a long way to solving this problem, and would make the voter ID issue moot as well. I realize that’s a black-helicopter issue for some people, but honestly in this day and age when Google and Facebook know more about you than you do about yourself, how scary is that really? But putting all the technical details aside, what this comes down to is very basic. Either you believe adult citizens have a right to vote that should not be interfered with by petty bureaucrats, or you believe that voting is a privilege that is arbitrarily granted and can be denied by whim or computer glitch. I have a hard time understanding why anyone would think the latter is acceptable. Stace and BOR have more.

UPDATE: Here’s that Chron story about voter registration totals in Harris County. Thanks to Fred King in the Tax Assessor’s office for sending it to me.