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The Fight Over Voting Rights Ahead Of Midterms

A voter casts their ballot on the first day of early voting at the Hamilton County Board of Elections, Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2018, in Cincinnati. In-person voting has begun in swing-state Ohio for the Nov. 6 elections for governor, U.S. Senate, House seats and a host of other state and local offices and issues. Registration closed Tuesday, and county voting centers opened Wednesday morning. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
A voter casts their ballot on the first day of early voting at the Hamilton County Board of Elections, Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2018, in Cincinnati. In-person voting has begun in swing-state Ohio for the Nov. 6 elections for governor, U.S. Senate, House seats and a host of other state and local offices and issues. Registration closed Tuesday, and county voting centers opened Wednesday morning. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

With David Folkenflik

Some lawmakers seek to prevent many people from voting ahead of this fall’s midterms. Those efforts don’t show up in polls, but could affect the results.


Wendy Weiserdirector of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law. She founded the program’s Voting Rights and Elections Project. (@WendyRWeiser)

Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project. (@dale_e_ho)

John Merrill, Alabama secretary of state. (@JohnHMerrill)

Interview Highlights

On what’s happening around the country

Wendy Weiser: “We are actually several years into a multi-year push in many states to restrict access to voting. We normally think of voting as something that has been advancing forward, we’ve been increasing access to the franchise since our founding, but really in the last decade, 24 states have put in place new laws that make it harder for eligible citizens to vote. Almost half the states. The most common are very strict voter ID requirements, but there are cutbacks to voter registration access, cutbacks to early voting, cut backs to polling sites and a whole host of other innovative ways and hurdles to the ballot box.”

On the justification for purging electoral rolls

WW: “Purging, when done well and properly and responsibly, is actually something that we want our election officials to do. People move, people die, we want our voter rolls to be kept up to date. But what we’ve been seeing are large-scale, aggressive purges that don’t put in place protections to make sure that eligible citizens aren’t being removed. And we actually have laws that are supposed to protect against that, and some of them are just being blown through. And we’ve had a couple of really aggressive purges this year that have come to light, that have caught up tens of thousands of eligible voters. Some of them are being sued on, but overall, in the last decade, there’s been a real dramatic increase in our purge rates. We went from purging roughly 6 percent of voters between the presidential elections of 2004 and 2008 to purging almost 7 percent. And that doesn’t sound like a lot but it’s more than 4 million voters more being purged across the country. And it’s not happening evenly. In places that had a history of discrimination and used to be covered under the Federal Voting Rights Act, we’ve seen even more aggressive purge rates. In places like Georgia, more than 10 percent, almost 11 percent of voters were actually purged from 2016 until not. So there’s some real discrepancies across the country.

“We’re really seeing a heightened purge rate in states that used to have — and still have, in many cases — ongoing problems with race discrimination in voting. And every time we look into these purges, they are disproportionately sweeping up voters of color. And even the most recent revelations in Georgia, where 53,000 registrations are being held because they’re failing to meet this ‘no match policy’ that the state has put in place … more than 70 percent of those registrations are from African-American and other minority voters. So these are not evenly distributed across the country and across populations.”

On the proof-of-citizenship voter laws in Kansas

Dale Ho: “There’s absolutely nothing wrong with making sure that voters are legally entitled to vote. We absolutely should be doing that. The questions is how do we do it? In 49 states and the District of Columbiam the way that we make sure that people are United States citizens when they register to vote is we ask them to swear an oath under penalty of perjury — for which they can be prosecuted — that they are in fact United States citizens. And that’s effective. What Secretary [Kris] Kobach [of Kansas] has done is something quite different. He asks people to show a document, like a birth certificate or a passport, when you register to vote. And the effect of that law has been to stop 1 out of 7 voter registration applications in the state of Kansas, over 30,000 people over a three-year period, from registering to vote with absolutely no evidence that that’s necessary to prevent a problem of non-citizens registering to vote in the state of Kansas.”

On what the state of Alabama is doing to register voters

John Merrill: “We want each and every eligible U.S. citizen that’s a resident of Alabama to be registered to vote and have a photo ID, and we have gone to extra lengths to make sure that people are accommodated whenever that occurs. And we’ve been to all 67 counties at least one time every year with our mobile units as well as having our board of registrars office open each and every day that the courthouse is open in all 67 counties. And we visit festivals, events and activities, in our counties throughout the state at different times, to make sure that we’re giving people ample opportunity to register and to obtain IDs if they don’t have one. Now I will also tell you that in the rare instances where people say, ‘Hey, I can’t get to the board of registrars office because of my work schedule,’ or, ‘I can’t get to one of the mobile unit locations because it’s not convenient, well I don’t go to the events or festivals,’ in those rare occasions where that has happened, we have gone to people’s homes and we have given them photo IDs in their homes. And we are very excited about what we’ve achieved during the last three years, nine months and and 23 days that I’ve had the privilege to be Alabama’s secretary of state. We’ve registered 1,950,861 new voters. And we have 3,434,863 registered voters in Alabama. Those numbers are unprecedented and unparalleled in the history of the state.”

On the need for voter ID

JM: “The reason that I voted for it was because I want to make it easy to vote and hard to cheat. If you need an ID when you open a bank account, if you need an ID when you go to the movies, if you need an ID when you buy a six-pack of beer or if you buy a pack of cigarettes, then you ought to be able to present an ID when you exercise the most precious right that we have, and that’s to participate in our democratic republic as a voter.”

More on voter ID laws across the country

DH: “The devil is really in the details when it comes to these identification requirements. And as Secretary Merrill said, they vary dramatically from state to state. And when you look at the kinds of ID that states will accept, the laws stop looking like legitimate fraud prevention techniques, and more like efforts to try and curate the electorate. And let me give you examples of what I mean by that. In Texas, you can vote with a driver’s license, with a concealed weapons permit, but you can’t vote with a University of Texas government-issued student ID card. In North Carolina, you could vote with a passport, military ID, but you couldn’t vote with a municipal government employee ID card, with a University of North Carolina government-issued student ID card, with a public assistance ID card. In Wisconsin, where [the ACLU] sued, you could vote with a military ID card, but you couldn’t vote with a veteran’s health benefits ID card until three of four years after our litigation commenced. So these laws seem almost surgically deigned to try to slice out certain parts of the electorate, and that is what a court held — with respect to the North Carolina law — that it was intended to surgically target African-American voters. That’s what a court held in respect to the Texas voter ID law. In an opinion from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit by Judge Catharina Haynes, a George W. Bush appointee, found that that law was disproportionately affecting black and Hispanic voters. So I take Secretary Merrill’s point that these laws vary dramatically from state to state, but courts in multiple of states have found that a number of them are racially discriminatory.”

From The Reading List

Brennan Center For Justice: “The State of Voting 2018 — Updated” — Americans’ voting rights remain in flux in advance of the 2018 election. In June, we published The State of Voting 2018 — a comprehensive summary of new laws, bills, lawsuits, and other developments that could impact Americans’ ability to cast a ballot that counts this November. A lot has happened since then. Here are the major updates:

Restrictive Voting Laws

In June we reported that at least eight states had put in place new laws restricting access to voting since 2016. That number has grown to nine. Since June:

  • New Hampshire passed a law that will make it more difficult for students to register and vote.
  • North Carolina passed laws that will eliminate early voting on the last Saturday before the election, though the restriction will not take effect until after this year’s election.

Expansive Voting Laws

We previously reported on the dramatic spread of automatic voter registration (AVR) across the country. Since then, the total number of states to have adopted this transformative reform is poised to rise to 13 plus D.C., and new numbers from California showed positive effects from its new AVR system.

HuffPost: “Voting Rights Become A Flashpoint In Georgia Governor’s Race” — “Marsha Appling-Nunez was showing the college students she teaches how to check online if they’re registered to vote when she made a troubling discovery. Despite being an active Georgia voter who had cast ballots in recent elections, she was no longer registered.

“‘I was kind of shocked,’ said Appling-Nunez, who moved from one Atlanta suburb to another in May and believed she had successfully changed her address on the voter rolls.

“‘I’ve always voted. I try to not miss any elections, including local ones,’ Appling-Nunez said.

“She tried re-registering, but with about one month left before a November election that will decide a governor’s race and some competitive U.S. House races, Appling-Nunez’s application is one of over 53,000 sitting on hold with Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp’s office. And unlike Appling-Nunez, many people on that list — which is predominantly black, according to an analysis by The Associated Press — may not even know their voter registration has been held up.

“Tuesday is Georgia’s deadline to register and be eligible to vote in the November General Election.”

New York Times Magazine: “Will Florida’s Ex-Felons Finally Regain the Right to Vote?” — “Twenty-five years ago, when he was a sophomore at Ohio State, Neil Volz started volunteering for his state senator, Bob Ney. Volz grew up in a family that wasn’t especially political, but he was drawn to libertarian principles about limited regulation and taxation, and a political-science professor connected him with Ney, who was about to run in the Republican primary for an open seat in Congress. When Ney won his congressional election in 1994, the year Newt Gingrich’s ‘Republican revolution’ swept Democrats from power in Washington, he asked Volz to join his staff. Volz was 24 (he had taken time off from college), and he decided to rent a car to drive to Washington and take the job. ‘It was a dream come true, honestly,’ he told me.

“Over the next four years, Volz got married and worked his way up to become Ney’s chief of staff. In 2002, when he was 31, he went through Washington’s revolving door to become a lobbyist — working for an influential high roller named Jack Abramoff, whom he had met through another Republican staff member. ‘I was a pirate on a ship for hire,’ Volz said later, after he cooperated with the F.B.I. in the corruption scandal that shook Washington in 2006. Volz pleaded guilty to a felony count of conspiracy for channeling gifts from Abramoff’s firm to Ney, including trips to golf resorts, dinners in expensive restaurants and U2 tickets. In exchange, prosecutors showed, Ney tried to add four amendments to a 2002 bill to aid Abramoff’s clients, and helped another client win a lucrative government contract. Ney and Abramoff went to prison. Volz received a sentence of probation and community service.

“After his conviction, Volz couldn’t get another job in politics. ‘I went from being a $500-an-hour lobbyist, with a view of the White House, to nobody wanted to hire me at all,’ he said. His marriage was also falling apart. (He and his wife eventually divorced.) He decided to volunteer at a homeless shelter in Northwest Washington. A Vietnam veteran who was staying there encouraged him to go to church, and Volz started attending services, trying different congregations. After more than a year, he was hired as a case manager at the shelter, and then as its director. ‘I loved the whole second-chance culture,’ he said. ‘The accountability, the “We’re in this together.”‘ ”

Rolling Stone: “The Supreme Court Just Dealt Another Blow to Voting Rights” — “Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) is currently battling to retain her Senate seat, but it’s not looking good. She’s long trailed her Republican challenger Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-ND) in the polls, and last week, she voted against Brett Kavanaugh knowing full well it could hurt her chances to win in November. On Tuesday, the Supreme Court made it even more difficult for Heitkamp to carry her state next month, which Trump won in 2016 by over 35 percentage points. Though Kavanaugh did not participate in the vote, the nation’s highest court ruled to uphold a decision by the state’s courts that requires a residential street address in order to vote in the state’s elections. The decision is expected to disenfranchise much of the state’s Native American population, which lives largely on tribal land and whose IDs typically feature P.O. boxes.”

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