● Washington, D.C.: Our nation's capital may soon become the first major jurisdiction in America to lower the voting age from 18 to 16 after a majority of the city council expressed its support for a proposal to do so. This bill would lower the voting age in both local and presidential elections, which would make D.C. the first place in the country to allow 16- and 17-year-olds to vote in federal elections. In 2013, Takoma Park, Maryland became the first American city to lower the voting age in local elections, and a few others have followed suit, but no major city has yet joined them.
Lowering the voting age is an overlooked tool in the fight for voting rights, but it's an important one that could have a major impact if more cities and states begin to adopt it. Setting the voting age at 16 could lead to higher turnout among those voters as they grow older, since voting is a habit-forming behavior. Many teenagers move away from their parents' home when they first become eligible to vote at age 18, and many often don't register and cast a ballot when they're busy dealing with major life changes.
However, at age 16, most teenagers still live with their parents, and a vigorous high school civics education could lead to higher participation if these teenagers are able to register through their school and then cast a ballot. Indeed, Austria lowered its voting age to 16 back in 2008 and found that 16- and 17-year-olds turned out at higher rates than 18- to 20-year-olds in subsequent elections. Several other democracies like Brazil have also lowered their voting age to 16.
By itself, D.C.’s move won't have much political impact, since the city is overwhelmingly Democratic and is disenfranchised in congressional elections. But if this reform spreads across the country, it could enable a wave of young citizens to make their voices count in the future.
And the timing couldn’t be more apposite. Following the horrific school shooting in Parkland, Florida, we’ve seen a surge in activism from teenagers advocating for new gun-safety laws, even though they aren't yet eligible to vote. Just as lowering the voting age from 21 to 18 helped end the draft during the Vietnam War, setting it at 16 could help America finally enact sensible gun laws that make our schools safer.
● Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania Republicans just won't give up in their fight to keep on gerrymandering, and their latest actions can only be described as legislating by ambush. The GOP took a bill that would create an independent redistricting commission, which legislative leaders had blocked from getting a vote even though a bipartisan majority of state House members supported it, and replaced it—without warning or debate—with an amendment that would give Republican legislators complete control over redistricting.
This power grab would create a six-member redistricting commission made up of members appointed by the legislature. Under this proposal, a party holding a majority in both chambers—as the GOP does now—would be able to select four of the panel’s members. The amendment does specify that five votes are needed to pass a map, but in the event of a deadlock, the legislature itself can pass the commission’s draft maps.
The commission therefore is little more than a fig-leaf, but the real kicker is this: The amendment would remove the governor from the redistricting process entirely, denying him or her the opportunity to veto any maps. This is an obvious effort to target Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, who’s favored to win re-election this fall and would thus be in a position to block any future GOP gerrymanders if Republicans keep control of the legislature in 2021—which they may very well do, thanks to their existing ill-gotten gerrymanders.
And of course, they’re fighting to retain their authority of those maps as well, since the amendment similarly usurps control over legislative redistricting from the state’s existing bipartisan commission. That commission has an even number of Democrats and Republicans, while the state Supreme Court appoints a tiebreaker when the parties inevitably can't agree on a fifth member.
When Republicans controlled the high court after both the 2000 and 2010 censuses, the justices chose a tiebreaking member who signed off on the GOP’s preferred gerrymanders. But now the court is home to an anti-gerrymandering Democratic majority that’s poised to remain in place through at least 2022, so Republicans have decided the court should no longer play any role.
Fortunately, there’s at least one serious obstacle ahead for the GOP. Republican legislators would have to pass this amendment both this year and again after the 2018 elections, though they should be able to do so—again, thanks to their current gerrymandered maps. However, the amendment would then have to win the approval of voters in a referendum, giving opponents a chance to ultimately defeat it at the ballot box.
Still, this maneuver is a major setback for a redistricting reform effort that had been gathering steam. Indeed, after a Republican committee chair had continually kept his committee from voting on the genuine reform proposal that Republicans have now gutted, a Democratic legislator announced that he intended to use a procedural maneuver force a vote on the bottled-up bill. Rather than allow such a vote, the GOP instead eviscerated the measure and, in a bitterly ironic twist, used its husk to advance their own sham proposal.
It's unclear just how far Republicans are willing to push this power grab, since it has yet to proceed to a vote before the full House. And of course, even if it passes, it could end up backfiring if the GOP nevertheless loses its majorities by 2020. However, nothing would be surprising from a party that has called for impeaching judges simply for striking down a partisan gerrymander and replacing it with a fair map.
● Maine: Maine's Supreme Court has taken up the long-running legal battle over whether the state's new instant-runoff voting law can be used in June's primaries for federal and state office, which we have previously examined. The court heard oral arguments on Thursday in an effort to swiftly resolve the issue so that officials can begin printing ballots. State Senate Republicans are leading the fight against the law, and they are contending the secretary of state doesn't have the authority to implement IRV without legislative approval.
● Nevada: A Republican-backed effort to recall two Democratic state senators has all but officially failed after state election officials ruled that organizers had not submitted enough valid signatures. Importantly, they found recall supporters lacked sufficient signatures even before accounting for the thousands of voters who submitted requests to remove their signatures, making it almost certain that any appeal would not succeed.
As we have previously explained, organizers never alleged any malfeasance on the part of the targeted senators that would justify recalls. Rather, Republicans sought them solely because the electoral playing field in 2018 meant it would be almost impossible for them to retake power in this November’s regularly scheduled elections.
● New Jersey: On Thursday, New Jersey's Democratic-run state legislature passed a bill to automatically register eligible voters when they obtain or renew their driver's license or state ID card, unless they opt out. This bill now goes to Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy, who is expected to sign it after campaigning in favor of the issue. Automatic registration will make voting more accessible and help keep voting rolls more accurate and up-to-date.
Importantly, this new system could potentially reach beyond the state Motor Vehicle Commission, since it also gives the secretary of state the option to expand automatic registration to other state agencies that have the ability to verify whether citizens are eligible to vote. Only the Motor Vehicle Commission will actually be required to implement automatic registration, though an eventual expansion seems likely. That will be critical for reaching voters who don't drive, such as the elderly, disabled, and those who rely on public transportation.
● Louisiana: A committee in Louisiana's Republican-dominated state House has passed a Democratic-backed bill that would loosen the state's felony disenfranchisement restrictions. Louisiana currently disenfranchises everyone with a felony conviction until they have fully completed their sentences, including probation and parole, but this bill would allow those citizens to regain their voting rights five years after incarceration. This bill would restore voting rights to only 7,000 people, meaning it would be just a small—but welcome—step in the right direction.
Nevertheless, this bill likely faces a very uphill challenge passing the full chamber, if it even gets a vote.That's because Louisiana has an atypical legislative tradition where the minority party often gets to chair some committees and even hold a majority on some of them. Indeed, the House Governmental Affairs Committee has a Democratic chairman and just a one-seat GOP majority. In 2017, the House rejected a similar bill by 60-37, largely along party lines.
However, even if this latest bill faces steep obstacles to passage, voting rights advocates have also been waging an ongoing litigation that claims disenfranchising those on parole and probation violates the state constitution. A state district court ruled against them last year, but the plaintiffs have appealed. It's unclear whether their lawsuit stands much of a chance if it ultimately reaches Louisiana's conservative-leaning Supreme Court.
● New Hampshire: The fight against recent Republican voter suppression efforts in New Hampshire will proceed to trial on Aug. 20 after a state court denied the GOP's motion to dismiss a lawsuit against a new Republican-backed law that imposes tighter residency restrictions on voters. As we have previously explained, Republicans passed this law in 2017 in an attempt to suppress the votes of college students and other Democratic-leaning demographic groups, even though they couldn't point to any cases of voter fraud this measure supposedly aims to address.
● Voter Suppression: Trump's bogus "voter fraud" commission may have been disbanded earlier this year, but the voter suppression crusaders who ran it are still concocting other ways to prevent Democratic-leaning groups from voting, and one of the commission's former members just found himself in trouble as a result. Former commissioner J. Christian Adams, who runs the Public Interest Legal Foundation (PILF), lost a major lawsuit in Florida, where he tried to purge the voter registration rolls, and he also just got sued for defamation and voter intimidation in Virginia.
Adams has long tried to bully local governments into aggressively purging their voting rolls by launching frivolous lawsuits, with his intent being to kick eligible voters who tend to vote for Democrats off the rolls. Adams’ organization largely targeted rural counties with large black populations, and those underfunded localities often lacked the resources to fight expensive legal battles, preferring instead to settle and avoid the costs of a trial.
Adams then tried this scheme in Florida's far more populous Broward County, but county officials fought back and went to trial and won. Adams had argued the county failed to maintain accurate registration rolls because there were ostensibly more registered voters than eligible voters. However, election experts testified he was misusing outdated census information and cherry-picked registration statistics that exaggerated the results. The court agreed, calling Adams' supposed evidence "misleading."
Meanwhile, Adams has also stoked fears of non-citizens casting ballots, publishing reports in 2016 and 2017 that used a flawed methodology to accuse thousands of Virginia voters of being part of an "alien invasion" of non-citizen voters. PILF even published unredacted personal information on those individuals, whom they effectively had accused of committing felonies.
Several of these Virginia citizens have now sued Adams and PILF for violating federal civil rights laws and potentially exposing them to harassment from anti-immigrant zealots who might mistakenly believe they illegally voted. After his loss in the Florida case, another victory for civil rights advocates in this Virginia lawsuit could help further discredit Adams and his organization in the eyes of the courts, giving other local governments even more power to fight back against Adams' bogus lawsuits in the future.
Secretary of State Elections
● North Dakota: Republican Secretary of State Al Jaeger, who has held his office for the past 25 years, won't be running for re-election after he lost his party’s endorsement at the state GOP’s recent convention to challenger Will Gardner. Gardner ran on a pro-voter ID platform, while Jaeger had appeared acquiescent after a federal judge recently weakened North Dakota's voter ID law.