● New Hampshire: With little flourish, Republican Gov. Chris Sununu signed a law that will impose new residency requirements on New Hampshire voters after Republican legislators passed the measure on a party-line vote. This new law will require voters who register within 30 days of an election to show additional documentation that they indeed live day-to-day at the residence they claim as their “domicile" and intend to do so long-term.
Voters who lack suitable documentation will be able to cast provisional ballots, but they’d still have to provide documents proving their residency meets the state’s new requirements at a later date. If they don’t, this new law empowers state election officials to visit their homes and refer them to the state secretary of state’s office for potential investigation, which many voters might find intimidating.
Republicans passed this law after Donald Trump baselessly claimed earlier this year that thousands of illegal voters were bused into New Hampshire to cast ballots, which he falsely asserted cost GOP Sen. Kelly Ayotte re-election in 2016. Despite the fact that this completely bogus conspiracy theory was shot down even by Republicans, Sununu himself also made the same brazenly fraudulent arguments just prior to the election.
This bill’s supporters have, of course, offered no evidence that voter fraud is a significant problem in the Granite State, because there is none. Instead, this bill is simply intended to make it more difficult for Democratic-leaning demographics like college students and transient young adults to exercise their right to cast a ballot. Ironically, though, it could also unintentionally disenfranchise a group that tends to favor Republicans: active-duty military members who happen to be stationed in New Hampshire.
The law could also yield other harmful effects. New Hampshire allows same-day voter registration but does not permit early voting, meaning the same-day registration is only available on Election Day itself. That means election officials would have to verify all the extra documents provided by new registrations at the same time they’re conducting a busy election, which would likely lead to longer wait times to vote—delays that would further hamper the same younger voters already burdened by this new law.
There is still some hope, because it’s possible that this new law could violate the Constitution thanks to past Supreme Court precedents, which have generally guaranteed citizens the right to vote at their legal residence, including college students who live at their school’s campus for most of the year. However, if it remains in effect, it could potentially swing a close election to Republicans. That’s a very real prospect given 2016’s election results, which saw Hillary Clinton and Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan win their respective races in New Hampshire by margins of just 0.4 and 0.1 points.
● North Carolina: In 2016, a federal court struck down North Carolina Republicans’ sweeping 2013 voter suppression law for “target[ing] African Americans with almost surgical precision,” and the Supreme Court refused to reinstate that law earlier this year. However, GOP legislators are already plotting to pass a new voter ID measure that they hope will survive judicial review, even if their motivation for doing so to suppress Democratic-leaning black voters remains.
State Rep. David Lewis, who chairs the powerful House Rules Committee, recently stated that Republicans are “a hundred percent committed to the idea of voter ID.” Lewis has openly acknowledged his party’s efforts to seek naked partisan advantage with some of its past voting-law changes, and this time is no different. Lewis has even suggested that Republicans could use their supermajorities, which they hold thanks to district lines that were ruled unconstitutional and will soon have to be redrawn, to refer a state constitutional amendment to the ballot that would require voter ID.
Voter ID tends to poll well in the abstract, so a ballot referendum could be difficult for voting-rights advocates to defeat, especially if it’s scheduled at a time when turnout will be low and disproportionately Republican-leaning. (You can bet the GOP will try to do just that.) But regardless of whether Tarheel Republicans attempt to pass a new voter ID measure by statute or by amendment, a new round of litigation will almost certainly occur.
● Voter Fraud Commission: Trump’s “Election Integrity Commission” has been hard at work gearing up to build pretexts for introducing new federal voting restrictions. We recounted in detail last week how state election agencies have reacted with almost universal hostility toward a request to send the commission sensitive voter registration data, with the vast majority of states states partly refusing to comply and many balking entirely. And the commission’s request has even raised questions as to whether it might violate the law, prompting the Electronic Privacy Information Center to seek a temporary restraining order last week.
On Monday, the commission itself told the states to hold off on submitting their data while that ruling is pending. However, the panel’s legal troubles don’t end there. The American Civil Liberties Union filed its own lawsuit on Monday over the commission’s failure to allow public access to its activities. Other groups have also launched related privacy suits in recent days.
Unfortunately, even if the commission’s attempts to procure private voter registration data (like the last four digits of Social Security numbers) have so far proved unfruitful, its efforts could already be producing its desired result: voter suppression and discrediting the integrity of the system. Multiple states and localities have reported a surge in the number of voters seeking to cancel their registrations for fear of having their personal information exposed, with Colorado alone reporting over 3,000 such requests. While these voters only represent a tiny fraction of the electorate, a spike in registration cancellations over privacy fears should be unacceptable in a democracy.
● Nevada: In an effort to make voting easier and cut down on the use of provisional ballots, Clark County, Nevada, has switched from using traditional precincts on Election Day to so-called “vote centers,” where any voter can cast a ballot regardless of where they live in the county. This system is already in use for the early voting period, and instituting it on Election Day will eliminate the problem of voters trying to cast a ballot in the wrong precinct, which accounted for roughly two-thirds of Clark’s 5,600 provisional ballots cast in 2016.
Home to the greater Las Vegas area, Clark County accounted for two-thirds of all ballots cast in the entire state of Nevada last year. Excluding early votes, its Election Day ballots were still more than one-fifth of all votes cast in in the Silver State, meaning an effort to make voting more convenient and reduce the time it takes to cast a ballot could have a big impact for Nevadans. Earlier this year, Democratic legislators had in fact passed a bill to clarify state law to promote the use of vote centers statewide, but Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval vetoed it.
● Gerrymandering: We've frequently discussed the so-called “efficiency gap,” a new statistical measure of partisan gerrymandering, in the context of a trailblazing redistricting lawsuit out of Wisconsin. One of the creators of this metric, University of Chicago Law school professor Nick Stephanopoulos, has an excellent new article in Vox explaining exactly how it works in the context of this litigation, and what's so pioneering about its use in Wisconsin.
● Texas: A three-judge federal district court panel in San Antonio has been holding a trial this week to determine whether the congressional and state House districts that Texas Republicans passed in 2013 constitute intentionally discriminatory racial gerrymanders. If the plaintiffs prevail, Texas’ GOP legislators or even the court itself could wind up drawing new districts for the 2018 election cycle, which could consequently see black and Latino voters be able to elect their preferred candidates in several more districts.
The same court had previously ruled that earlier maps passed by Republicans in 2011 had indeed intentionally discriminated. However, the Justice Department and the courts had long since blocked these more aggressive maps from being used in the first place. As a result, the court modestly curtailed the GOP’s original maps for the 2012 elections, and Republican legislators made those temporary maps permanent in 2013, with some minor tweaks for the state House map. Those are the maps currently at stake in this case.
Before the trial began, the Brennan Center’s Michael Li thoroughly laid out the issues at stake in the current litigation over the existing maps, and he has been covering the proceedings on Twitter. There is a strong chance that this panel will strike down parts of the current maps, since some of the problematic districts are exactly the same as those in the GOP’s original maps from 2011. Should the court invalidate the present lines, Li argues that it could swiftly set in motion an effort to redraw them before the late-2017 filing deadline for the 2018 election cycle.
Texas’ congressional map is one of the most ruthlessly effective Republican gerrymanders of any state, and the Lone Star State’s large population makes this the single-most important map for cementing the GOP’s grip on the House. As shown in this map, Republicans won a lopsided 25-to-11 majority of seats in 2016 even as Donald Trump won statewide in Texas by just a 52-43 margin. Furthermore, black and Latino voters were only able to elect their preferred candidates in just 28 percent of districts (10 of 36 total), even though people of color comprised roughly 46 percent of the eligible voter population in the latest census estimates.
If the court strikes down this map, Republican legislators would likely be able to draw a new gerrymander that could survive legal scrutiny by basing it (or at least, claiming to base it) strictly on partisan concerns, something that the Supreme Court has so far tolerated. However, when race and party correlate as strongly they do in the South, it likely won’t be possible for Republicans to draw as effective of a partisan gerrymander if they can’t racially gerrymander, too. In what some Republicans have called an “Armageddon scenario,” the court could even draw its own plan to remedy the handful of illegal districts, costing the GOP several seats in the process.
Just how effective is GOP gerrymandering in Texas, and what might a redrawn map look like in 2018 as a consequence of a favorable court ruling? In a recent detailed analysis, Daily Kos has examined a hypothetical nonpartisan congressional map for Texas as part of our ongoing series on how Republican congressional gerrymandering affected the 2016 elections.
Using this map, we conclude that GOP gerrymandering likely cost Democrats four to five House seats in Texas alone last year, while also reducing the number of seats where Latino voters could elect their preferred candidates by three. However, the current litigation is highly unlikely to produce such a map even if the plaintiffs prevail, since partisan gerrymandering is not on trial here. Nevertheless, there is a strong chance that a plaintiff victory would result in at least two to three extra seats where Latino votes would be able to elect the candidates of their choice, who would almost certainly be Democrats.
● Michigan: After Donald Trump shockingly won Michigan by an ultra-slim 0.2 percent margin last year, Michigan’s voting system received heightened scrutiny amid a drive to conduct a statewide recount. Although the Michigan Supreme Court ultimately blocked that recount push, it revealed widespread problems in Detroit especially, where the votes in over half of all precincts couldn’t have even been recounted thanks to discrepancies. A post-election audit concluded there was “an abundance of human errors” by election administrators that contributed to the problem.
In that light, the Aug. 8 Democratic primary for city clerk, Detroit’s chief elections official, has seen incumbent Janice Winfrey looking unusually vulnerable, and several candidates are running to oppose her. They include Heaster Wheeler, a former county official and former Detroit NAACP director, and city technology director Garlin Gilchrist, who is pledging to implement reforms to prevent another repeat of 2016 while making voting easier. Detroit is the most Democratic major city in America, and with nearly 700,000 residents in a key swing state, having efficient and reliable elections that make voting easier is vital.