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Voter IDIf you’ve found yourself having trouble keeping up with the details of North Carolina’ new Monster Voting Law, its implementation and the court challenges that have ensued, you owe it to yourself to read Sharon McCloskey’s latest article that was published this morning: “Voting gets its day in court” over on the main Policy Watch site.

In it, Sharon explains, among other things, the main provision in the law, what’s at issue, who is suing, what they’re arguing, what the state of North Carolina is arguing in defense, who the key witnesses and experts are that are expected to testify in federal court hearings next week. Here’s an excerpt:

“What the parties want

Judge Schroeder has already set the case for trial in the summer of 2015.

The challengers have asked the court in the meantime to block its enforcement so that the November 2014 elections can proceed under voting laws in effect during the 2012 elections.

Practically speaking, that would mean that same-day voter registration would continue, out-of-precinct provisional voting would be allowed, and early voting would take place over 17 days, as opposed to the ten days set in H589. County Boards of Election would still be allowed to keep polls open an extra hour and 16- and 17-year-olds could still be pre-registered to vote.

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Check out this new report by Pro Publica on what’s happened to voting rights across the country since the U.S. Supreme Court last June struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder.

It’s the visual that gets you. Two maps, showing the movement of voting laws across the country from less restrictive to more (from light yellow to red), reveal how quickly lawmakers reacted to the court’s ruling and passed restrictive voting measures.

Here’s the country, pre-Shelby County:

before-shelby2

And here’s the country post-Shelby County:

AfterShelby

 

North Carolina’s change has been most striking, moving clear across the spectrum.

“What North Carolina did was definitely at the extreme of practices in this country,” Yale University law professor Heather Gerken said in the report. “So if anything is vulnerable to a suit, it’s likely to be the North Carolina law. 

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In an order released late today in the voting rights cases pending in federal court in Winston-Salem, U.S. District Judge Thomas D. Schroeder upheld an earlier magistrate’s ruling which rejected state lawmakers’ efforts to withhold emails relating to the passage of the voting law changes last session under a claim of absolute legislative privilege.

In that prior ruling, Magistrate Judge Joi Elizabeth Peake adopted a flexible approach to the disclosure of emails and other communications created during the time that lawmakers were considering the voting law changes ultimately enacted last session. Peake found that at least some of the communications sought were not absolutely protected — communications with constituents or other third-parties, for example – and should be produced. The judge also held that other documents might likewise have to be disclosed if the need for them in the voting rights context outweighed any intrusion on the legislative process.

That’s an approach that courts elsewhere have adopted — in Florida, Texas, and Wisconsin, for example — weighing the need of legislators to be free from harassing questions about their decision-making processes with the needs of citizens suspicious of those lawmakers’ motives – and in the end, ordering the disclosure of at least some information.

“This is a place where courts have rarely spoken, but clearly the concern that legislative officials might not be acting with the best interests of their public in mind has caused this issue to arise more frequently,” said Justin Levitt, a voting law expert and professor at Loyola Law School.

Attorneys for the parties challenging the voting law changes called today’s ruling a victory for the integrity of elections and the transparency of the legislative process.

“This ruling means lawmakers will no longer be allowed to hide behind a veil of secrecy,” Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, said in a statement. “If politicians are going to tamper with people’s fundamental right to vote, we deserve to know why.”

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Voter IDThe battle over the disclosure of information relating to the passage of controversial voting law changes last summer continues in federal court, as state lawmakers yesterday filed an objection to a magistrate’s  order requiring them to produce at least some documents they’d claimed were absolutely protected under the doctrines of legislative immunity and legislative privilege.

In that order, U.S. Magistrate Judge Joi Elizabeth Peake  adopted a flexible approach, finding that at a minimum, certain documents — communications with constituents or other third-parties, for example  — were not protected and should be produced, and that other documents might likewise have to be disclosed if the need for them in the voting rights context outweighed any intrusion on the legislative process.

That’s an approach that courts elsewhere have adopted — in Florida, Texas, and Wisconsin, for example — weighing the need of legislators to be free from harassing questions about their decision-making processes with the needs of citizens suspicious of those lawmakers’ motives – and in the end, ordering the disclosure of at least some information.

“This is a place where courts have rarely spoken, but clearly the concern that legislative officials might not be acting with the best interests of their public in mind has caused this issue to arise more frequently,” said Justin Levitt, a voting law expert and professor at Loyola Law School.

The lawmakers’ objection means that disclosure of their documents will be further delayed as U.S. District Judge Thomas Schroeder, who is presiding over the three cases pending in Winston-Salem,  reviews the magistrate’s ruling and affirms, overrules or modifies its terms.

The court has been pushing the parties in the cases to hasten the disclosure of information with a view towards the filing of papers seeking to delay implementation of the voting changes so that, at least during the upcoming November elections, voters will maintain the full range of voting options they previously had — extended early voting and same-day registration, for example.

Those papers are tentatively scheduled for filing in May, with a hearing to be held some time in July.