Two States Question the Impact of Strict Voter ID Laws

In most states, a citizen may register and vote after establishing four critical points: citizenship, age, residency, and, in some cases, felony conviction. However, at least eight states exceed these basic requirements by also requiring voters to present valid photo ID at the polls on Election Day. Now, with the midterm elections approaching, the necessity, efficiency, and even constitutionality of voter ID laws are being questioned once again.

This week, two states—one with an established (though controversial) voter ID law, and another that expects to officially debut its law in November—are met with questions about the laws’ impact on voters.

While Georgia’s high court ponders the constitutionality of its “oft-challenged” 2005 photo voter ID law, Idaho officials are reportedly focusing on the potentially harmful logistical issues of the state’s new law before its official debut in the November election.

Idaho’s voter ID procedure was tested last month in several county elections, but not without a hitch for voters, according to theAssociated Press Monday.

“It did slow things down a little bit,” said Deputy Secretary of State Tim Hurst to the AP.

The new law, which was modeled after South Dakota's voter ID law, requires poll workers to verify a voter's identity with picture ID. If the voter has no picture ID, he or she is supposed to be permitted to sign an affidavit; however, in its first year of implementation, South Dakota voters complained about being turned away rather than being offered the option of signing an affidavit.

Idaho officials say they are working to avoid this problem with public announcements and billboards detailing the new law.

“It’s always a concern that people waiting in long lines will get disgruntled and walk away…The counties are concerned about it too,” he said. “That’s why we’re trying to get the word out.”

But the concerns of voting rights advocate go beyond the issue of efficiency, since democracy can only be efficient if it is equally accessible.

“The primary concern is that the impact of photo ID requirements are particularly felt by elderly people, low-income people and often racial minorities,” said Project Vote Director of Advocacy Estelle Rogers in the AP report.

A 2006 survey by the Brennan Center for Justice found that as many as 21 million Americans were without valid photo identification that included current address or married name. That, coupled with the fact that there are about eight illegal votes out of millions per year, it is difficult even to justify the long lines and confusion on Election Day, let alone the potential disenfranchisement of eligible voters.

On Tuesday, Georgia’s highest court heard “a new type of legal challenge brought by the law's opponents,” according to theAssociated Press.

“Earlier efforts to block the law were filed in federal court and contended it violated voters' rights under the U.S. Constitution. But the latest case brought by the Democratic Party of Georgia claims the requirement violates the Georgia Constitution.”

In particular, the state Democratic Party asserts that Georgia residents have an “absolute right” to vote if they meet the qualifications expressed in the Georgia Constitution and have not been disqualified for the reasons set forth by the Constitution,specifically felony conviction relating to moral turpitude or the judicial determination of mental incompetence.

“Nowhere in the Georgia Constitution is the right to vote premised on the possession of an approved form of photo ID,” theappellant brief states.

Western state Republicans in complete meltdown

Colorado. Idaho. Nevada. California. From crazy to corrupt to down in the polls, the Republican Party is imploding all over the Mountain and Pacific time zones.

Let’s start with Colorado. You already know about sexist Senate candidate Ken Buck and the gubernatorial primary between plagiarist Scott McInnis and finance cheat Dan Maes. Both stories have new developments. Buck was caught yet again making stupid comments on tape, referring to birthers as “dumbasses”. He was obviously right and I’m with him every step of the way, but it still won’t help him in a GOP primary. But it’s the governor’s race where we really get to sit back and enjoy the ride.

Former Repub Congressman and presidential candidate Tom Trancedo jumped in the race for governor this week as an independent. He he was interviewed yesterday alongside state Repub chair Dick Wadhams on Peter Boyles’ radio show. The interview quickly escalated into a public screaming match, and if you’ve got twenty minutes you really should listen. It’s  just plain fun. The interview starts about ten minutes into the clip with Tancredo being a rude jerk, but by the end Wadhams is making unreasonable demands and calling both Tancredo and Boyles liars. The two men said that Wadhams has told them he dislikes both McInnis and Maes, so not only is the public meltdown fun, it also reveals new party rifts. All of a sudden this Senate seat and this statehouse don't seem to be in nearly as much trouble for Democrats as they were.

If Colorado Repubs feel lonely, all they have to do is look northwest to my neck of the woods, Idaho. I’ve already told you about the state GOP convention, which passed a resolution stating all Repub lawmakers must sign a loyalty oath to try and repeal direct election of senators. That same post also described Sarah Palin’s birthplace in Bonner County, where Repubs are protesting the local fair’s use of the word “fiesta.” The crazy gets worse with ID-01 nominee Raul Labrador, who called for repeal of the 17th amendment before the state GOP did, says our energy policy should be “increasing the production of fossil fuels,” and, like the Colorado GOP and the man he beat in the primary, is a plagiarist. This is an +18 district where McCain won by 25 points – and yet Labrador can’t so much as win the support of the NRCC, the Tea Party Express or the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Small wonder the endangered first-term Democrat Walt Minnick has a 16-1 advantage in cash-on-hand and national pundits are moving the race from “toss-up” to “leans Democratic.”

But what happens at the federal level is a symptom of what happens at the local level, and state Rep. Phil Hart of Athol, here in Kootenai County, is our own little Charlie Rangel. Hart is under investigation by the state House ethics committee for tax issues. He’s been late on paying county taxes for 8 years in a row, but the county should consider itself lucky – he owes nearly $700,000 in unpaid federal and state taxes. The man’s not just a tax cheat, either – he’s a thief. The liens include $13,014 in unpaid federal withholding taxes at his engineering firm. In other words, he took his employees’ tax money but kept it for himself rather than turning it over to the government. And the best part? He sits on the House subcommittee that affects issues like his but insists there’s no conflict of interest. Hart and the Idaho GOP are a bigger joke than the name of the town he represents – Athol. But not to worry, he says; the citizens of Idaho are better off for his crimes. “I think it makes you a better legislator, to have these life experiences.”

And of course, you already know about Nevada and the crazy that is Sharron Angle. After a series of missteps – defending BP, calling for the repeal of Medicare and Social Security – she is starting to face criticism from within her own party.

"Sharron's first six weeks have been atrocious," said Danny Tarkanian, who was defeated in Nevada's GOP Senate primary. "I think she would admit to that."…

Before endorsing Angle in her election fight, former Nevada Congresswoman Barbara Vucanovich warned the Tea Party darling, "You're scaring the bejesus out of everybody."

Republican Reno Mayor Bob Cashell, who backed Angle's GOP primary opponent, Sue Lowden, settled on endorsing Reid in the state's general election match-up. "Our state [would] suffer and we would never get anything done," Cashell said of the prospect of Angle being elected.

If California Republicans were hoping that maybe the San Gabriels would insulate them from the mountain west, they’re going to be very disappointed. Despite a new ad-buy from the NRSC, a new PPP poll shows that Democrat Barbara Boxer finally has a comfortable lead over the Palin-endorsed Carly Fiorina in CA-Sen at 49-40. Boxer hasn’t been up by this much since May. (The poll also found that 19% of voters have a higher opinion of Boxer’s hair and 14% have a higher opinion of Fiorina’s hair. 67% are not sure.)

This sure is a good month to be a western Democrat. Whoa, I feel good… I knew that I would now… so good… so good…

Idaho Republicans hate the word “fiesta,” demand repeal of the 17th Amendment, and require loyalty oath

Even when ID-01 is in Democratic hands, Repubs still know how to steal the show. Two inane stories the past couple weeks. First, at their state convention, the party voted to enshrine repealing the 17th Amendment (direct election of senators) into their party platform, as well as demand that all Repub candidates sign a party loyalty oath. Second, the Bonner County Republican Party is outraged, OUTRAGED! that their county’s fair has chosen “Fiesta” as this year’s theme. This is America and we speak American, gulldarnit!

Let’s think about that party platform for a second: signing a loyalty oath to support repeal of the 17th Amendment. That means that if you’re pro-life, think Obama is a socialist, want to get rid of social security and the income tax, and can’t wait to drill baby drill but also think that people should have their right to elect their own representatives, then you are not right-wing enough for the Idaho Repub Party. By the way, that 17th Amendment? It was originally co-sponsored and introduced by an Idaho Republican in 1911, Senator William Borah.

From the Idaho Democratic Party:

It is now clear that the "new" Idaho Republican Party is interested not in governing but in ruling our state and its people...

Some of these extremist proposals included disbanding all Idaho public schools, creating a state militia, forbidding closure of poorly run publicly-funded charter schools that are drowning in red ink, and rejecting school-based vaccination clinics (vaccinations were called "unnecessary drugging of our children").

"The Idaho Democratic Party welcomes all well-intentioned voters to join us in finding solutions to the problems this state now faces. We embrace a wide range of views and voters. At the same time, the Idaho Republican Party is quickly moving to the extreme right, far away from its traditional, moderate center," stated [Democratic Chairman Keith] Roark.

To Rep. Mike Simpson (R-ID)’s credit, he refuses to sign the loyalty oath.

But that’s not even half as crazy as one of the county parties. Just north of my home in Kootenai County, Repubs are furious that a Spanish word - "fiesta" - was chosen (way back in January) as the theme for this year’s Bonner County Fair. In protest, they have declared that the theme of their booth will be "celebrate," and they have written to Arizona Governor Jan Brewer to ask if she has any Arizona license plates she could spare for them to decorate their booth.

The Twin Falls Times-News titled their responding editorial, “A bigot is a bigot, in any language” and said that Repubs should “avoid insulting 10 percent of your political constituency.” But my favorite line from this whole affair comes from Fair Board Chairman Tim Cary, who asked of the food court, "Are we supposed to change the name of a burrito to something in English?"

Small wonder that CQ just upgraded ID-01, once the national Repubs’ top target, from "toss-up" to 'leans Dem."

Update 3:49 EDT: Per Boise Weekly, the Bonner County Democrats have responded to the fiesta flap. Chairwoman Laura Bry says they will have donkey piñatas at their booth.

I should also point out that Sarah Palin was born in Bonner County.

Ridiculous Repub scheme to bump Pelosi

This is ridiculous. From Roll Call:

Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) is trying to foment a long-shot Democratic rebellion against Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) that would install House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) in her place after the November elections.

The scenario, as Simpson sees it, runs like this: Democrats lose a bunch of seats but cling to a narrow majority. If a handful of Democrats withhold their votes for Pelosi, Democrats would have to put up another candidate, or else Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) would become Speaker.

“I’m trying to help Steny,” Simpson said with a smile. “If it gets close enough, six or eight Blue Dogs could make the difference." ...

“Mr. Hoyer is focused on keeping the House in Democratic hands and being Majority Leader in the next Congress,” Hoyer spokeswoman Katie Grant said. Hoyer, indeed, hasn’t given any hint of challenging the Speaker.

This scheme is ridiculous. First, "six or eight Blue Dogs" might be a large part of the Blue Dog caucus, given that, like in 1994, it won't be House liberals who lose this fall. Most of their districts are safe; any voter anger at liberals will more likely take out Democrats in vulnerable districts, who are mostly the conservadems. Most pundits don't get that, and apparently neither does Simpson. Second, Dems are very loyal to Pelosi. She helped get many of them elected, lets them off the hook for tough votes when she knows she has the margin, and most importantly, is extremely effective at passing their agenda. The House health bill was better than the Senate health bill; financial regs are being watered down because of folks like SENATOR Scott Brown; climate legislation and tax extenders have passed the House but failed in the Senate.

Nancy Pelosi is a very partisan figure who knows how to hold a grudge, and I don't like that. But given her effectiveness, Democratic lawmakers aren't about to send her packing. Mike Simpson, get a life.

(Since this attempt will go nowhere, the only reason this story warrants any attention at all is that it gives one the chance to emphasize the fact that it's the Blue Dogs who will suffer, not the progressives. It caught my eye not because of the leadership "challenge" but because of the Idaho connection. Simpson is the state's other Congressman, ie, not mine, but is a big figure in western funding and politics.)

Idaho Debates Justice in “Lawless” Indian Country

This post is from Wednesday, but as it recieved less time on the front page than normal and is a rarely covered but incredibly important topic, I'm giving it a weekend bump on a slow Sunday. -N

1 in 3 American Indian women will be raped at some point in their lifetime, twice the national average. In Idaho, if state lawmakers don't pass a bill before them now, the problem will get worse before it gets better.

In 1978, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Oliphant v. Suquamish Indian Tribe that sovereign Indian nations do not have criminal jurisdiction over non-Natives traveling or even living in Indian Country. For a variety of nonsensical and unprecedented legal reasons, Tribal police and courts only have authority over other Indians. This is akin to telling the Montana State Police that the law doesn’t apply to Minnesota residents passing through on I-90.

Except for a few “Public Law 280” states, state and local authorities also lack jurisdiction on Indian reservations, per the Constitution’s commerce clause and a number of Court precedents. That means jurisdiction falls to the feds, who don’t do their job. As Chickasaw Tribal Police Chief Jason O’Neal told NPR in 2007, “’Many of the criminals know Indian lands are almost a lawless community, where they can do whatever they want.’…  A 2003 report from the Justice Department found that U.S. attorneys take fewer cases from the BIA than from almost any other federal-law enforcement agency.”

The real world result? 1 in 3 American Indian women will be raped at some point in their life, compared to 1 in 6 women nationally. 41% of those women report being raped by a stranger rather than an acquaintance, compared to 16.7% nationally. As Chief O’Neal points out, these strangers are not from within the Indian communities, so we can’t point to reservation issues as the problem - 80% of attacks against Indians are from non-Natives. Overall, the violent crime rate in Indian country is twice the national average. (All numbers are from various Justice Department reports.)

Last month, it looked like things were going to get worse for American Indians in northern Idaho before they got better, but thankfully the state is taking the right steps. To make up for the lack of federal activity, tribes can make deals with local or state law enforcement agencies to cross-deputize tribal  officers and give them the necessary jurisdiction. Last month, however, Benewah County Sheriff Bob Kirts, whose county includes the southern half of the Coeur d’Alene Tribal Reservation, refused to re-instate a cross-deputization agreement with tribal police. If that wasn’t bad enough, he also said he would no longer respond to tribal calls for help, leaving the southern half of the Reservation completely lawless. Of the 10,000 people on the reservation, over 8,000 are non-Natives now free to break the law.

The proposed solution now before the legislature and more below the jump.

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