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Voting rightsAs North Carolinians await a verdict in the federal court case challenging their state’s voter suppression laws, a new national study confirms what common sense tells us: these laws really do work to depress the vote.

Scott Keyes at Think Progress has the story:

“For years, researchers warned that laws requiring voters to show certain forms of photo identification at the poll would discriminate against racial minorities and other groups. Now, the first study has been released showing that the proliferation of voter ID laws in recent years has indeed driven down minority voter turnout, and by a significant amount.

In a new paper entitled “Voter Identification Laws and the Suppression of Minority Votes”, researchers at the University of California, San Diego — Zoltan Hajnal, Nazita Lajevardi — and Bucknell University — Lindsay Nielson — used data from the annual Cooperative Congressional Election Study to compare states with strict voter ID laws to those that allow voters without photo ID to cast a ballot. They found a clear and significant dampening effect on minority turnout in strict voter ID states.”

The researchers found that strict voter ID laws could depress turnout in primary elections amongst African American, Latino and Asian American voters by numbers as high as 8.6%, 9.3% and 12.6%, respectively.

But, of course, you know that these laws are really just about attacking “fraud.”

Commentary

Voting rightsAs this editorial in this morning’s Charlotte Observer explains, California has hit on a startlingly simple tactic that will both boost voting rates and shine a bright light on the actual reason conservative political leaders keep instituting new roadblocks to voting: automatic voter registration for all driver’s license holders.

The “New Motor Voter Act” will automatically register all eligible citizens to vote when they obtain or renew a state driver’s license. It’s the second such law in the country; Oregon goes even further by automatically registering all eligible adult citizens in the Department of Motor Vehicle’s database.

Federal law already allows for voters to choose to be registered to vote at DMVs. But as California Secretary of State Alex Padilla said: “Citizens should not be required to opt-in to their fundamental right to vote. We do not have to opt-in to other rights, such as free speech and due process.”

California officials say that 7 million additional voters will be registered because of the law. Certainly, eligibility doesn’t guarantee participation, as low voter turnout percentages across the country show. But the law does remove one barrier to voting.

The editorial goes on to say this about the politics of the change:

“All of which leads us to a somewhat delicious feature of automatic voter registration: It lays bare the reason Republicans really don’t want more people casting ballots – because those voters might vote against them.

Read More

News

voteA unanimous panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled today that Texas’ voter ID law violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, finding that the law had a discriminatory impact on minorities.

Election law expert Rick Hasen, who has analysis in progress here, calls the ruling on Section 2 grounds a ‘big win” for plaintiffs.

Says Hasen:

The 5th Circuit adopted the two part “vote denial” test for Section 2 claims used by the 4th and 6th circuits (which is probably the standard that the trial court in the North Carolina voter id case will apply).  Applying the test, the 5th Circuit affirmed the trial court’s finding of a Section 2 violation. It upheld the finding that the law will have a discriminatory impact on minority voters—that is, minority voters are disproportionately likely to lack one of the types of ID which are allowed under Texas law. Then, [the court] found enough evidence to sustain a finding that [the law] “produces a discriminatory result that is actionable because [it] . . . interact[s] with social and historical conditions in Texas to cause an inequality in the electoral opportunities enjoyed by African-Americans and Hispanic voters.” Particularly interesting in this analysis is the question whether Texas’s explanations for why it needed its law (antifraud, voter confidence) were tenuous. The trial court found that they were because the evidence did not support the need for voter id for either of these purposes, and this factor worked in favor of finding of a Section 2 violation.

Read the full decision here.

News

Voter IDAttorneys and parties in the voting rights trial return to federal court in Winston-Salem this morning to continue presenting testimony and other evidence to U.S. District Judge Thomas Schroeder.

During week one of what’s expected to be a multi-week trial, attorneys for the parties challenging the sweeping voting restrictions adopted in 2013 unfolded their case with personal stories from voters who struggled to vote as a result, along with testimony from experts about the intent and the impact of the election law changes.

Attorneys for the state in turn sought to poke holes in that testimony, questioning the efforts voters took to cast their ballots and probing the analyses undertaken by the academics.

Here’s a quick look at some of what Judge Schroeder heard last week.

A number of voters testified about difficulties they had in casting a ballot that counted.

Durham resident Gwendolyn Farrington testified on Monday that she tried to vote near her 6 a.m.-to-6 p.m. job, since she couldn’t get to her own precinct, but was told that she had to cast a provisional ballot — which she later learned would not be counted. The 2013 voting changes prohibited the counting of provisional ballots cast in the right county but the wrong precinct.

Terrilyn Cunningham, a minister in Concord, had a similar experience on election day. When she went to vote early before work, she learned that she was in the wrong precinct, but was told she could cast a provisional ballot. Like Farrington, she later learned that her vote wouldn’t count.  Read More

Commentary
Paul Foley

SBOE member Paul Foley with presidential candidate Donald Trump – Image: Twitter.com

The Winston-Salem Journal became the latest major newspaper this morning to call for Governor Pat McCrory to remove his appointee, Republican lawyer  Paul Foley, from the state Board of Elections. The editorial, which cited Foley’s troubling behavior surrounding the Board’s investigation of a sweepstakes company owner that was also a client of his law firm, came at almost the same time that Associated Press reported new and disturbing developments in the ongoing investigation of Foley related to the elimination of a voting site at Appalachian State University.

After summarizing his behavior in the sweepstake investigation (in which he repeatedly questioned Board of Elections staff and failed to disclose his obvious conflict of interest) the editorial concludes this way:

“Foley has shown he can’t be trusted to understand and fulfill his responsibilities. His continued presence on the board could hurt its credibility.  If he won’t realize that and step down, Gov. McCrory should remove him.”

The Journal editorial comes on the heels of one in yesterday’s edition of Raleigh’s News & Observer that said this:

“The public relies on the State Board of Elections to oversee honest elections and fair enforcement of election laws. Foley can no longer fulfill those roles credibly. He should step down or the governor should ask for his resignation.”

Meanwhile, this is from this morning’s AP story on Foley’s involvement in the A.S.U. voting site matter:
“Paul Foley, a Republican member of the the North Carolina elections board from Winston-Salem, worked closely with local officials in their effort to eliminate a heavily Democratic voting site, a plan a judge ruled was intended to suppress voter turnout, according to hundreds of emails reviewed by The Associated Press.
The state Board of Elections is supposed to act as a neutral arbiter when policy disputes arise involving county elections boards. The emails show that Foley worked closely behind the scenes with GOP officials in Watauga County as they crafted a plan to eliminate the early voting site at Appalachian State University.”

Coming, as they have, at the very moment that Republican officials are trying to defend their relentless and transparent efforts to rig and suppress voting in a federal court trial in Winston-Salem, you’d think these latest revelations would prompt Governor McCrory to ax Foley ASAP. Based on his penchant for waffling and indecisive leadership in so many other controversies, however, it seems just as likely that the Guv will ignore the matter and head off to another ribbon cutting somewhere. Stay tuned.