● New Hampshire: New Hampshire Republicans have long stoked fears of voter fraud as a pretext for passing measures that suppress Democratic-leaning voters, but a new review has predictably deemed those fears to be totally unfounded. New Hampshire uses the Interstate Crosscheck system championed by the notorious Kris Kobach to ostensibly find voters who’ve improperly cast ballots in multiple states, but after Crosscheck initially flagged 95,000 voter registrations, a comprehensive review found only 142 potential cases of double-voting, and it’s a good bet that very few if any of those will yield actual fraud.
This review from the office of Secretary of State Bill Gardner, a nominal Democrat who nevertheless has backed many GOP voting restrictions in recent years, shows yet again what a failure Kobach's Crosscheck system is. But that absurdly large number of false positives is likely a feature, not a bug, in the eyes of Republicans, because it helps stir up unwarranted suspicions and gives them an excuse for new voting restrictions. Indeed, by design, Crosscheck only compares names and birthdates of voters, but in a country of more than 300 million people, that's bound to produce countless false positives as it did in the Granite State.
Kobach and other voter suppression crusaders have whipped up the specter of voter fraud as an excuse to enact voting restrictions, but they have always lacked justifying evidence. But even though this latest debacle should discredit Crosscheck for all time, Gardner somehow proclaimed that the system was still "valuable."
Yet this pronouncement was no surprise: Throughout his long career, Gardner has frequently sided with the GOP on matters like these. That history is a major reason why mainstream Democrats hope to replace him with Democrat Colin Van Ostern if they win control of the state House this fall and gain the power to appoint a secretary of state who realizes voter suppression, not fairy tales of voter fraud, is the real threat to our democracy.
● North Carolina: What do you do when judges strike down your gerrymanders for every level of government where you’ve tried to jink the lines in your favor? If you're North Carolina Republicans, you gerrymander the judicial districts, of course! On Wednesday, Republican state senators passed a bill along party lines to gerrymander the lower court districts for solidly Democratic Mecklenburg County, which is the state's most populous county, with 1.1 million people, and is also home to its biggest city, Charlotte.
Thanks to legislative gerrymanders that were themselves ruled unconstitutional and redrawn for the 2018 cycle, the GOP narrowly holds enough seats in both chambers to override a near-certain veto from Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper (North Carolina's constitution doesn't let its governor veto congressional and legislative redistricting, but it does grant the power to veto judicial redistricting). Consequently, if the GOP-dominated state House also approves this proposal, as looks likely, it stands a good chance of becoming law.
● Pennsylvania: On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court dismissed a challenge to Pennsylvania's old Republican-drawn congressional gerrymander as moot; earlier this year, the state Supreme Court threw out that map and replaced it with a fairer one. This dismissal is nevertheless noteworthy because the plaintiffs in the federal case had relied on a novel argument that partisan gerrymandering violates the U.S. Constitution's Elections Clause. The U.S. Supreme Court has never adjudicated a gerrymandering dispute on those grounds, meaning that a claim on such grounds conceivably remains viable for other cases.
● Virginia: As expected, Virginia's conservative-leaning state Supreme Court has rejected a challenge to nearly a dozen state legislative districts that had argued the maps violated the state constitution's requirement that such districts be compact. Plaintiffs had attacked a handful of districts in both the state Senate and the state House that were anything but compact, such as the 21st Senate District, which stretches to connect the Democratic core of Roanoke City with the college town of Blacksburg some 40 miles away while avoiding heavily Republican suburbs in between. A victory likely would have been a boon to Democratic chances of regaining both chambers in the 2019 elections.
While this ruling is a setback in the fight for fairer maps, there is still an ongoing federal lawsuit targeting the state House map that alleges Republicans violated the rights of black voters. In early 2017, the U.S. Supreme Court told the district court overseeing the case to reconsider its original decision in favor of the GOP, but the district court has been slow to take action: Despite rehearing the matter in November, it has yet to issue a new ruling.
● Iowa: The League of United Latin American Citizens, which is one of the country's most prominent Latino civil rights organizations, has filed a state lawsuit over Iowa's new voting restrictions, which Republican legislators enacted in 2017 after gaining full control of state government for the first time in two decades. Backed by Democrats, the plaintiffs claim Republican election administrators have failed to provide suitable IDs for the roughly 85,000 eligible voters who don't have one, violating Iowa's state constitutional guarantees of voting rights and equal protection.
The plaintiffs are also challenging the GOP's reduction of early voting availability from 40 to 29 days, strict signature-matching procedures for ballots, and the elimination of straight-ticket voting. They argue one-third of Iowa voters cast straight-ticket ballots in recent elections, and people of color are typically more likely to use the option than white voters. Ending straight-ticket voting could increase the time it takes to cast a ballot, consequently contributing to longer lines on Election Day in precincts where it’s traditionally been most popular and therefore disproportionately affecting non-white voters.
● Texas: In a story that has been all too common in recent years, the conservative Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has temporarily blocked a district court decision that ordered the state of Texas to establish an online voter registration system for those who update their driver’s licenses via the internet, a decision that GOP officials are appealing. Texas has long refused to offer such an option, which the lower court deemed a violation of the National Voter Registration Act, also known as the "Motor Voter" law. That makes Texas one of just a dozen states that still doesn't allow voters to register online, and this appeal may not be resolved in time for the November elections.
● Louisiana: As expected, Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards has signed a law that will restore voting rights to disenfranchised citizens who have been out of prison for at least five years but are still on parole or probation for a felony conviction. This move will only restore voting rights to an estimated 2,200 individuals, meaning it will only make a small dent in the the state’s disenfranchised population of roughly 72,000 citizens on parole or probation. Nevertheless, it's an encouraging step in the right direction, especially because it was Republican legislators who passed the law, after they’d repeatedly rejected previous attempts.
● Maine: A federal district court has rejected a Republican-backed lawsuit that sought to stop Maine's new instant-runoff voting law from being used in the state’s upcoming primary on June 12. The GOP had claimed the new voting system violated the party’s First Amendment right to freedom of association, but the court explained that parties give up some degree of self-governance in exchange for having the state pay for and administer their primaries. Republicans are considering an appeal, but time is swiftly running out.
● Wisconsin: State Supreme Court Justice Shirley Abrahamson, who has been on the bench since 1976, has announced she'll retire in 2019, when she will be 85 years old. Abrahamson was the first woman ever to join the court, and she’s served there longer than anyone in state history. Throughout her tenure, she’s been aligned with the court’s progressive bloc, which currently holds three seats while conservatives hold four.
If progressives gain a majority on the court after the 2021 spring elections, when a conservative-held seat will be up, they may be able to curtail Republican gerrymandering and voter suppression laws next decade. Consequently, the race to defend Abrahamson's seat next year will be of crucial importance—and heavily contested.
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