California is poised to become the ninth and largest state in the Union to allow citizens to register to vote on election day. Both the state senate and assembly have passed election day registration (EDR) and, after different wordings between the two houses are worked out, it is certain Gov. Jerry Brown will sign the bill into law. It won't, however, take effect until 2016.
The current law cuts would-be voters off from registering two weeks before an election. Studies show that EDR "boosts voter turnout by seven percentage points," reports Scott Keyes at ThinkProgress. In California, that could mean another 700,000 voters.
Eight other states already have election day registration: Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, Wisconsin and Wyoming.
- Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett is unhappy with U.S. Attorney Gen. Eric Holder's investigation of the state's restrictive voter-ID law, calling it "unprecedented":
In a letter to the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, Pennsylvania General Counsel James Schultz wrote that while the state had provided the Justice Department with tens of thousands of documents, the fishing expedition by Justice was going too far. "In light of the absence of authority for your request for information, I question whether your inquiry is truly motivated by a desire to assess compliance with federal voting rights laws, or rather is fueled by political motivation," he wrote.Kathleen Kane, the Democratic candidate for attorney general in Pennsylvania said it's not Holder but rather Corbett who is "playing" politics over the matter.
Holder has said that restrictive voter-ID laws like the Keystone state's are akin to a modern-day "poll tax," which was one of the many ways the post-Reconstruction Jim Crow South kept African Americans away from the ballot box for eight decades.
Unlike in 16 other states or parts of other states, changes in the voting laws in Pennsylvania do not require federal oversight under the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Critics say the photo voter-ID law will make it harder for minorities, the youngest and oldest voters to cast ballots because they are the least likely to have the government-issued ID that the state now requires. Officials concede they are not set up to deal with the potential deluge of Pennsyvlanians who might seek an ID between now and election day.
A state judge has nevertheless rejected a challenge to the law brought by the Pennsylvania ACLU and others. Officials are now seeking to delay until mid-October an appeal of the case to the state supreme court. How transparent can you get?
“That’s way too late,” says Vic Walczak, Legal Director for the ACLU of Pennsylvania.Supporters of the ID law said they have been vindicated by the fact that the lead plaintiff in the case, 93-year-old Viviette Applewhite, obtained a voter ID the day after the judge ruled against her lawyer's claims that the law will have a discriminatory impact. But foes of the law say the fact that one woman can get an ID after becoming a celebrity is scarcely proof that other citizens will also find the law isn't onerous.
He says a mid-October date would leave less than three weeks before the election.
“That would make it difficult, if not impossible for county elections boards to adjust their procedures, if that’s necessary,” he says. “That would also mean there is no certainty for voters, until that time. And people won’t know whether they need to go to that extra mile to get the ID.”
(Continue reading below the fold.)
In other news:
- In an unsurprising move, Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen wants the state supreme court to reinstate a restrictive voter-ID law that two lower-court judges have independently ruled to be unconstitutional. The two lawsuits challenging the law were brought by the League of Women Voters and the NAACP. Up until now, it had appeared the law would not be in effect for this year's voting. Now nobody can sure if it will or not.
- Team Obama officials think their on-the-ground efforts will overcome potential disadvantages from voter suppression:
"I think that all these challenges are why you run a field operation and why, in a battleground state like Ohio, where we have four times as many offices as [the Mitt Romney campaign does] and many times more staffers, we have the advantage to do it," said one senior staffer who spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to speak frankly about campaign strategy. "I know everyone thinks it is just our side that suffers from these things, from ballot access challenges. But their senior voters are going to have challenges too. Both sides are going to have to adapt to this. And I think that is a place where we have an advantage on the ground."
According to the campaign officials, the president's team has collected 147 percent more voter registration forms, made 234 percent more phone calls and knocks on doors, and had 171 percent more voter "conversations" than it had at this point in 2008.
- A Quinnipiac University/New York Times poll shows voters in three swing states support restrictive voter-IDs laws. In Florida, 78 percent of those polled support the laws; in Ohio, 75 percent do; in Wisconsin, 66 percent do. Only Wisconsin has such a law on the books and, as noted above, it has been struck down by two state judges and is being appealed to the state supreme court.
The poll also found 65 percent of voters approved of efforts by Republican Gov. Rick Scott to purge voter rolls of people who may not be U.S. citizens. Critics have complained that the purge has come up with too many "false positives," which mostly affect Hispanics. In the first batch of names the governor wanted culled from the voter rolls, 98.4 percent turned out to be citizens.
- Andrew Cohen at The Atlantic weighed in on the antics of Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted and made comparisons to efforts to maintain desegregation in Mississippi in the summer of 1962.
Husted issued an edict last week setting uniform early voting hours across the state. The decision came as a consequence of pressure from critics inside and outside Ohio who decried the fact that election boards in heavily Democratic counties were, with Husted's help, establishing shorter early voter hours than boards in heavily Republican counties. Husted put into place shorter hours for all 88 counties, a decision whose impact would be felt most sharply by African Americans and lower-income voters in urban, Democratic areas.
After the edict, the two Democrats on the four-member Montgomery County board voted to continue early voting hours on weekends to make it easier for such voters to cast their ballots. In 2008, tens of thousands of Ohioans voted during the hours that Husted has now removed from the early voting schedule. The two Republicans on the Montgomery County board voted for fewer hours and Husted broke the tie by voting with them.
End of story, right? Nope. Husted went a step further and demanded the two rescind their vote or face suspension from the board:
Husted now alleges insubordination. And what do his mutineers [Dennis} Lieberman and [Tom] Ritchie say? Ritchie says that the Republican limitations on early voting hours represent "a continued attempt to suppress Americans from exercising their right to vote." Lieberman says: "I believe that this is so critical to our freedom on America, and to individual rights to vote, that I am doing what I think is right... In 10 years, I've never received a threat that if I don't do what they want me to do, I could be fired."The efforts to curtail hours is, Cohen says, an effort to curtail the voting of the very same people whose rights were at issue 50 years ago in Mississippi and throughout the South. But, he wonders, where is the outrage? Why are no high-level public officials making an issue of voter suppression every day?
- GOP platform committee has approved an amendment supporting states that have passed laws requiring restrictive voter-IDs and proof of citizenship. The amendment was proposed by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach. Delegates in support said it's all about Democrats stealing elections:
“I think we have to acknowledge and be bold that people on the progressive side are willing to cheat in ways we could never before fathom,” Tamara Hall from Montana said. Hall said she had a disabled daughter who cannot read, write, count or tell time who voted without her permission.
“For cookies and milk they had her vote,” Hall said. “You have no idea the extreme these people will go to to steal an election.”