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Saturday, March 28, 2015

Kansas asks Supreme Court to Restore Proof-of-Citizenship Law


Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn an appeals court decision and restore a state law he wrote requiring proof-of-citizenship documents to register to vote.

Kobach wants the Supreme Court to undo the November decision by the Denver-based 10th Circuit Court of Appeal, in a case pitting Kansas and Arizona against the federal Election Assistance Commission and a number of voting rights groups.

The appeals court ruled that the states could not require documented citizenship proof from prospective voters who register using a federal form that doesn’t demand it, and that the commission doesn’t have to alter the federal registration form to comply with the states’ demands.

Kobach argues Supreme Court guidance is needed because the case is of paramount national importance.

“It’s a really profoundly important case,” Kobach said.  “The founding fathers were emphatic that the states get to decide who is a qualified voter and who is not.  It was a critical point in the Constitution that the federal government would have to follow the states on this matter.  “In other words, the qualifications for voting for a member of Congress in Kansas would have to be the same as those for voting for a member of the Kansas Legislature and it was the states who would set the rules and Congress would follow, not vice versa.  What this federal agency has done is turn the founding fathers’ notion on its head.”

Dolores Furtado, president of the Kansas chapter of the League of Women Voters, said the league will continue its intervention in the case on the federal commission’s side.

She said she hasn’t yet talked with the group’s lawyers about Kobach’s appeal, but they will very likely file a rebuttal to it.  Both the state and national league organizations have intervened in the case, represented by the lawyers from the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University.  Other voting-rights groups that have joined on the commission’s side include Common Cause, Project Vote, Inter Tribal Council of Arizona and others.

They argue that the proof-of-citizenship requirement represents an unacceptable hurdle to voting and is therefore unconstitutional.  They also say the requirement is especially difficult for low-income, elderly and minority voters to meet.

The Kansas requirement for proof of citizenship is often confused with, but separate from the state’s requirement for photo ID to vote at the polls.

While a driver’s license fulfills the photo ID requirement, proof of citizenship to register to vote most often requires either a birth certificate, passport, or other documents for special circumstances such as tribal and foreign-born citizens.

The federal form doesn’t require any documents, but instead requires prospective voters to attest to their citizenship by signing a sworn statement under penalty of perjury.

Since the 10th Circuit ruled against Kobach, Kansas has operated under a two-tier system for state and federal voters.

Voters who use the state registration form and provide citizenship proof can vote in all elections.  But those who fill out a state form and don’t provide the proof have their voting privilege suspended until they produce it.  At present, about 25,000 prospective voters are on the suspense list.

Voters who register with the federal form and don’t provide citizenship proof are excluded from state and local elections, but can vote for federal candidates in congressional and presidential elections.

The change has already affected Wichita’s elections.

Signatures of federal-form voters were disallowed on the petitions to put a marijuana-reform effort on the city election ballot.  Federal voters were also excluded from the recent city primary and won’t be allowed to vote in the April 7 election for Mayor, City Council and school boards.

The 10th Circuit judges said Kansas and Arizona have other ways to check voters’ citizenship that are less burdensome for voters than requiring them to provide their birth records.

The Election Assistance Commission’s executive director “discussed in significant detail no fewer than five alternatives to requiring documentary evidence of citizenship that states can use to ensure that noncitizens do not register using the Federal Form,” the court ruling said.  “Kobach and Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett do not dispute that these means exist, and merely contend that they are overly onerous.”

Kobach’s filing sets the clock for a series of written rebuttals from both sides, followed by a decision by the Supreme Court whether it will take up the case.

Kobach said he expects that decision sometime this summer, with oral arguments in the fall if the court decides to take the case.











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ACLU Asks Federal Court to Expand Wisconsin Voter Access


The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) asked a federal district court to bolster access to the ballot for Wisconsin voters by permitting more types of acceptable identification for voting, and by allowing people who have difficulty obtaining identification to vote by affidavit.

The motion comes in response to a federal appeals court decision upholding the law, and seeks modifications to help ensure voter access to the polls.  It asks that the limited list of acceptable identification be expanded to include IDs for veterans and students attending technical colleges, as well as out-of-state driver licenses.

Dale Ho, director of the ACLU's Voting Rights Project, said:

"Thousands of Wisconsinites face barriers to the polls due to the limited forms of ID mandated under the state's strict voter ID law. We're asking the court to help lift these barriers by allowing a broader range of options."

The ACLU, the ACLU of Wisconsin, the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, and Dechert LLP are co-counsel in this case, Frank v. Walker.  The motion was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin.

CLICK HERE for more information about the motion.











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NJ Judge Throws Out an Election Results


In a rare move, a Superior Court judge this week threw out the November election results for a New Jersey City Council seat, ordering a new election after finding that the city's Democratic chairwoman took advantage of elderly nursing home residents.

Among the residents whose mail-in ballots were thrown out Wednesday by Judge Heidi Currier was a blind man, a resident who couldn't recall either her address or having voted, and others who testified that Leslie Dominguez-Rodriguez coerced them into voting for her husband, a candidate for Board of Education.

Dominguez-Rodriguez also was supporting council candidate Fernando Gonzalez, who beat Sergio Diaz by just 10 votes.  Gonzalez has been serving on the council since January as the election lawsuit played out in court.

His margin of victory was less than the 13 votes that the judge on Wednesday invalidated following a trial that included the testimony of the residents whose ballots were contested.

Currier said the fraud "went far beyond a technical violation" and the actions of Dominguez-Rodriguez and Gilfrank Nunez, a cousin of her husband's school board running mate, "were pervasive and far reaching and likely not just limited to these individuals whose ballots have been contested."

As a result, she had to order a new election for the two top votegetters, both Democrats.  The city has nonpartisan races.  None of the other City Council or school board election results were impacted by the judge's decision, including the victory for Dominguez-Rodriguez's husband, Jose Rodriguez.  Only Diaz and Gonzalez will appear on the May ballot.

"It's shameful that these residents were taken advantage of by an individual who had a direct personal interest in this election, and who, either used her influence over these residents or took advantage of their waning competence," Currier said.  Currier said these residents were further victimized by having to testify in this case.  "Many of them were nervous and upset and thought they had done something wrong," she said.

On Thursday Mayor Wilda Diaz, who was supporting Diaz, but is not related, against Gonzalez, called for the resignation of Dominguez-Rodriguez.  The two are longtime foes and the mayor has previously tried to remove the chairwoman from power.

"As a lifelong Democrat, I am appalled that someone who has engaged in voter fraud is the leader of our party," Diaz said in a statement.  "This is not what our party stands for and this is not the kind of person who should be representing thousands of ethical Democrats across Perth Amboy."  Councilmen Lisa Nanton, Fernando Irizarry, Joel Pabon and Bill Petrick also called for Dominguez-Rodriguez to step down.

The invalidation of an election is extremely rare: Middlesex County Clerk Elaine Flynn said Thursday that this is the first time during her 19-year tenure that a judge has called for a new election in the county.

Flynn said the special election likely will be held May 5 and will require the county to hire election workers, send out sample ballots and scramble to prepare voting machines at a time when county election workers are preparing for the June primaries.  It is still not clear how much the special election will cost or whether the county or the city will be responsible for it, she said.

Testimony from residents at the nursing home indicates that Dominguez-Rodriguez, who sometimes volunteers at the nursing home, may have impersonated someone else.

Ballots submitted by the voters claimed they were assisted by someone named "Linda Ferreira" and the residents testified in court that they were helped by someone by that name.  But when they were asked to point to a picture of "Linda Ferreira" they instead pointed to a picture of Dominguez-Rodriguez.

Among the problems Currier found:

• A resident testified that the handwriting on a ballot was not hers and she did not recall voting.

• Another resident said he felt "coerced" by Dominguez-Rodriguez into voting for her husband.

• Another resident said he told Dominguez-Rodriguez that he didn't want her help and was "very upset that somebody would tell him who to vote for," Currier said.

• Another voter also said Dominguez-Rodriguez asked him to vote for her husband and "he did not like that."  He said he does not know "Linda Ferreira," whose name is on the ballot as having assisted him, and testified that Dominguez-Rodriguez was the one who helped him.

• Another voter did not remember having voted at all.

• Two other voters who testified were described by Currier as "unintelligible" and "incomprehensible" in their testimony.  Currier ruled that one "did not vote of her own choice" and the other "did not complete a ballot under his own power."

"There is no doubt that Ms. Dominguez-Rodriguez was very involved in this election," Currier said.  "She denied helping any residents of the care center but one, and yet one by one the residents testified to the contrary.

Currier did not find that either candidate was involved in the fraud.

The state's vote-by-mail law allows any voter to request a mail-in ballot for any reason.

The law also allows for an "authorized messenger" who is a relative or registered voter of the county to deliver up to 10 mail-in ballots on behalf of voters.  The County Clerk's Office is supposed to verify the messenger's identity.

Voters also are allowed to be assisted.  The person who assists is supposed to identify themselves on the ballot.

Assisters are not allowed to campaign for any candidate and candidates are not allowed to assist voters.

A day after the the chairwoman resigned.  Leslie Dominguez-Rodriguez resigned Friday night, according to Middlesex County Democratic Chairman Kevin McCabe.











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CA Automatic Voter Registration


California Secretary of State Alex Padilla has proposed automatically registering eligible residents to vote when they obtain or renew their driver's licenses, a measure that could help reverse the state's dismal voter turnout.  Padilla, a former state senator who was elected as secretary of state last year, is teaming up with Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego) to get the legislative process rolling.

Padilla's proposal is modeled after the "motor voter" law recently enacted in neighboring Oregon.  That legislation, the first of its kind in the nation, uses Department of Motor Vehicles data to automatically register eligible voters, offering them a 21-day opt-out period if they choose not to register.

“One of the biggest barriers to citizen participation is the voter registration process," Padilla said of the California initiative, according to the Los Angeles Times.  "A new, enhanced California Motor Voter law would strengthen our democracy.  It would be a game-changer."

He noted that if passed, an automatic voter registration law could potentially boost California's voter rolls by the millions, the secretary of state's office estimates that there are 7 million eligible Californians currently unregistered.

Voter turnout in the nation's most populous state has taken a downward turn in recent years.  In 2014, just 42 percent of eligible voters cast a ballot in November's midterm elections.  Meanwhile, the state's youngest voters were virtually absent,  A University of California at Davis report found just 8.2 percent of Californians age 18 to 24 turned out to the polls.  Participation was even worse in Los Angeles' recent municipal elections, with only 8.6 percent of voters casting ballots.

Nationally, turnout hit a 72-year low of 36.4 percent in 2014, the lowest percentage since World War II. President Barack Obama lamented the dismal turnout in a February town hall.

"Why are you staying at home?" Obama said. "Why are you not participating?

The president has since floated the idea of mandatory voter registration.

I wonder if you are forced to vote, would submitting a BLANK ballot be a new way to protest?











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Nevada GOP Moves To Limit Early Voting


A Nevada state Senate committee has introduced legislation that would eliminate early voting on Sundays and restrict counties' abilities to set their own voting hours, in the latest move to reshape how elections are held in the state.

Senate Bill 433 was introduced on Monday by the Nevada Senate Committee on Legislative Operations and Elections.  Under the terms of the bill, voting on Sundays during the early voting period ahead of next year's elections would no longer be allowed, and counties would no longer be able to keep their polls open beyond 7 p.m.  Previously, polling sites in areas like Clark County, which contains Las Vegas, had kept polls open until 9 p.m.

State Sen. Patricia Farley (R), chairs the committee that introduced the early voting legislation, and state Sen. James Settelmeyer (R), is the committee's vice chair.

If the law passes the Republican-controlled state legislature and is signed by Gov. Brian Sandoval (R), Nevada would remove itself from the group of nine states, Alaska, Illinois, Ohio, Maryland, California, Florida, Georgia, Nevada and Massachusetts, that have Sunday voting or that leave it up to county clerks to choose whether facilities will be open on Sundays.

Yvanna Cancela, the political director of the Culinary Union 226, which represents more than 55,000 employees on the Las Vegas strip and at the city's airport, called Senate Bill 433 an intentional effort to suppress the votes of the union's members.

State Senate Minority Leader Aaron Ford (D) said that the bill to restrict early voting hours struck him as "problematic" and a "direct attack" on African-Americans who go to vote on Sundays with their church, a tradition known as "Souls to the Polls."  Ford also said that restricting the operating hours of early voting locations would infringe upon the "fundamental rights of lower-income individuals who work different types of hours" in Nevada.

The bill is a part of a wave of election-related legislation pushed by the Nevada GOP since November, when the party took control of both chambers of the legislature and the governorship for the first time since 1929.  A different bill is advancing that would require a government-issued photo identification to vote.  Other bills aim to grant state officials the authority to terminate the registrations of voters who “may not be citizens."

Republicans have said the legislation is meant to keep undocumented immigrants from voting and to maintain the integrity of the election process, while Democrats say such bills are intended to suppress the votes of minorities.

The Nevada secretary of state's office has identified just five cases of voter fraud since 2008, according to the Las Vegas Sun.

Since committee-introduced bills are rarely filed without approval from the chamber's leadership, there is a certain amount of 2016 U.S. Senate intrigue accompanying the election-related bills.  State Senate Majority Leader Michael Roberson (R) is considered a likely candidate for the seat held by retiring U.S. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D).











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Friday, March 27, 2015

South Dakota Limits Voter Rights


In the midst of all the Senate retirement announcements this past week, one news item has received little national media coverage, but the implications of which are far reaching.

South Dakota has passed and the Governor has signed S.B. 69, a bill which prevents Democrats and Republicans from signing the nominating petitions of any Independent candidate.  This was done just a few months after two Independent candidates, Gordon Howie, and Larry Pressler who I endorsed, took 20% of the vote in the state Senate election.

In a time when an overwhelming number of Americans are saying our government needs to change the way it behaves, South Dakota legislators have sent a very clear message with S.B. 69: They will eliminate dissent from within and competition from without.  When Americans want greater choice and better alternatives, politicians are taking steps to become further entrenched, and prevent popular will from being heard.

Past the callous disregard for the democratic rights of members of their own parties, this is about politicians openly flaunting public opinion.  This is indicative of our national challenge.  Although this happened in South Dakota, this is a national issue.

For years, members of both parties have taken steps to eliminate competition.  The most prominent strategy is gerrymandering, but most restrictions are passed quietly, by state legislatures that draw little public attention.

SB 69 was proposed by the State Board of Elections in South Dakota, which is supposed to control all changes to election law.  The restrictions against signing nominating petitions were introduced in a committee, without consultation or approval from the independent board.  They were introduced as amendments, eliminating words like "may not" to reverse the meaning of entire sentences.  The weak attempts to justify these amendments without appearing politically corrupt add to a narrative that might leave the most diehard party loyalist scratching their head.

CLICK HERE to read more about this bill.











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Google Searches Show that People Wanted to Vote But Couldn’t


Alex Street, an assistant professor of political science at Carroll College, writes about using Google searches to determine that requiring early registration hurts voter mobilization in the final days of the campaign, when interest in the election is most intense.

Some states allow voters to register right up to Election Day, others require registration as much as one month beforehand.  In the typical state in 2012, registration was closed for three weeks before the election.

Some scholars argue that requiring early registration hurts voter mobilization in the final days of the campaign, when interest in the election is most intense.  But skeptics counter that most of the people who fail to register in time have little real interest in voting.

New research shows that there is a lot of last-minute interest.  Street estimated that keeping registration open through Election Day in 2012 would have allowed an additional 3 million to 4 million Americans to register and vote.

His team used the number of Google searches for “register to vote” in the weeks leading up to the 2012 election to measure late interest in registering.  These search terms were entered millions of times, and much of the activity fell at the very end of the campaign period.

To estimate the relationship between searching online, and actually registering, They turned to state records of registered voters.  The data confirm that, in the period leading up to voter registration deadlines, the daily number of Google searches in each state was closely related to the daily number who registered.  If the same pattern had been allowed to continue up to Election Day, millions more Americans would have registered in time to vote.

Turnout is higher in states that allow voters to register on Election Day.  Despite fears over administrative difficulties, surveys show that polling place wait times are actually shorter in states with election-day registration than in the rest of the country.  Fears of voter fraud are sometimes cited as a reason against allowing election-day registration.  But all of the research shows that voter fraud is extremely rare.

In recent years, several additional states, including California and Illinois, have moved to allow election-day registration.  But others have shifted in the opposite direction: Florida and Ohio have shortened the early voting period for absentees.  North Carolina recently put an end to absentee registration and voting on the Sunday before Election Day.  This came after African American churches organized buses to take “souls to the polls” after attending service.  Legislators in Maine and Montana recently passed bills to repeal election-day registration, but were blocked by the governor or by referendum.

There research suggests that early registration requirements have real consequences.  New technologies make online registration, or same-day registration and voting, much easier to administer, and if Google searches are any indicator, these reforms would help more people vote.

CLICK HERE to read the "Estimating Voter Registration Deadline Effects with Web Search Data" report.











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