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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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The voting and good government experts at Democracy North Carolina have taken a look at the impact of the state’s new “Monster Voting Law” on the May primary election. Here is their initial take:

“Data Highlight: New Voting Law, Little Information, Less Confidence

Volunteers with Democracy North Carolina and other groups conducted a large Exit Survey at the polls in 34 counties during the May primary. An analysis of the 7,000 surveys seems to undermine NC House Speaker Thom Tillis’ justification for passing the Monster Law; he said it was needed to “restore confidence” in elections, but it’s causing just the opposite reaction.

See Rob Christensen’s story in today’s Raleigh News & Observer.

Dr. Martha Kropf, professor of political science at UNC-Charlotte, designed the questions, analyzed the data and produced a report. She is also president of the NC Political Science Association this year. Her report is pretty technical; here are some of the key findings, with rounded numbers:

** 76% of the voters surveyed said the information they were given at the polls about the photo ID was “clear and understandable,” but 46% could not tell us “what is the first election when voters will be required to show an acceptable photo ID at the polls.” This indicates to us that the information they received was simplistic and essentially useless.

** 19% or nearly 1 in 5 said they were not even asked about having an acceptable ID, a chief purpose of the roll-out education.

** The changes to the election law are not making most people feel more confident about the election process; and there are strong differences between how African-American and white voters view the changes.

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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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In case you missed it, the Charlotte Observer has reprinted a fine column authored by Al Hunt of Bloomberg News under the headline: “Voter suppression is the greater racist outrage.”

As Hunt aptly notes:

“The widespread condemnation of the vile prejudice expressed by a professional-basketball-team owner and a Nevada rancher underscored the progress America has made on race.

On the same day Donald Sterling, the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, was banned from the game for life for making racist comments, another story with more important racial implications was unfolding: A federal judge in Wisconsin struck down a law passed by that state’s Republican legislators that would have made voting harder by requiring state-approved photo identification at polling places.

More than 30 states have sought to impose voting restrictions over the past three years. Supporters of the measures claim they are aimed at preventing voting fraud. Critics say they are designed to disenfranchise, particularly black Americans and members of other minorities, and are the greatest threat since the Voting Rights Act was passed almost a half century ago….. Read More