N.H. Republicans Don’t Think Young People Should Vote

Young people "lack life experience," are "foolish," vote "as a liberal," and "just vote their feelings," apparently, all reasons to shut down or limit their access to democratic participation. At least, that's what New Hampshire state House Speaker William O'Brien seems to think, causing partisans like him to take matters to the Legislature.

Yesterday, Washington Post writer Peter Wallsten wrote on Speaker O'Brien's YouTubed speech to a N.H. tea party group, linking his views to the state Republicans' assault on young people's access to the ballot. Among the measures under consideration are HB 176, a bill to "permit students to vote in their college towns only if they or their parents had previously established permanent residency there," and HB 223, a bill to end the state's Election Day Registration policy, a policy that is known to increase overall voter turnout, especially among young people.

The House Election Law committee is scheduled to hear both bills today.

New Hampshire is not the only state to challenge voters' access to the ballot. More states are introducing and advancing anti-EDR, voter ID, and proof-of-citizenship bills. All are based around alarmist notions of election problems, particularly the unsubstantiated threat of voter fraud.

So, why are voters being punished with more red tape when there’s no actual proof that the “problem” with elections lies with the voter?

"It's true that without the participation of many, power will consolidate into the hands of the few," writes Rock the Vote executive director, Heather Smith at the Huffington Post yesterday. "The inverse is also true: When many participate, it threatens those in power."

Doug Chapin of the Pew Center on the States tells Wallsten that "Election policy debates like photo ID and same-day registration have become so fierce around the country because they are founded more on passionate belief than proven fact. One side is convinced fraud is rampant; the other believes that disenfranchisement is widespread,” he says.

Precious time and resources are being wasted over partisan-slanted perceptions of what is wrong with the administration of elections. The real offense is that only 71 percent of eligible citizens are actually registered to vote, and therefore able to cast a ballot. Adding more restrictions, or further limiting access to the franchise by enacting these partisan-driven policies only hurts democracy.

"Every four years when our country is focused on a Presidential election, there are obligatory stories written expressing outrage about flaws in our voting system," Smith writes. "Why aren't we automatically registered? Why is it so hard to register and why can't we use new technologies to make it easier? Why are certain groups of people being intimidated at the polls? Who is really cheating? What in the world is a hanging chad?"

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Officials Dispute Need for Voter ID in Their States

Since the 2010 midterm elections and the Republican takeover of several state houses, the fight to enact controversial photo voter ID bills has dominated legislative debates that would otherwise be devoted to tacking swelling state deficits. This week alone, WisconsinKansasTennesseeMissouri, andMinnesota made headlines for this contentious issue. Now, municipal officials, an election clerk, and voting rights advocates weigh in on what these bills really mean to voters and their states at large.

State policymakers; take notice of what they have to say.

In Wisconsin, there is an apparent movement among municipal council members across the state to denounce the Legislature’s intent to enact a strict photo ID law that can be costly to the state and discriminatory to voters.

Yesterday, the Milwaukee Common Council voted 8-1 to oppose state voter ID legislation, urging the Legislature to expand the list of acceptable forms of ID, among other provisions.

"This is a bad bill, and it will disenfranchise people - a lot of people," Ald. Ashanti Hamilton said in a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel report. "For us not to take a position in opposition to it would be irresponsible."

Appleton Ald. Kole Oswald is trying to get municipal leaders across Wisconsin to show state policymakers that they want "no part of a proposal requiring residents to show identification before voting."

"I think this is definitely a city issue because the costs and consequences passed down from Madison will trickle down to us," Oswald said. "The state needs to listen to the clerk's offices from different municipalities and make sure their voices are being heard."

Oswald, who planned to debate his resolution today during the city's Finance and Administration Committee meeting, questions state policy makers’ motives in passing a voter ID law during an economic crisis, according to anAppleton Post Crescent report.

"Their platform was jobs and economic growth and cutting spending," he said. "Where is the public outcry for a photo ID law? Where is the public outcry to end same-day registration? This does not seem to be a citizen-driven process."

Partisan operatives have drilled fear of voter fraud into the public consciousness to gain support for regressive voter ID laws by making voters believe that their votes are overridden by a legion of voter impersonators. However, the Post Crescent reports that out of 2.99 million votes cast in 2008, 20 people were charged with illegal voting in the state and “more than half of the cases involved felons who were ineligible to vote,” two “were people who each voted twice,” and “one of them obtained an absentee ballot in his late wife’s name.”

A photo ID would not have prevented any of these alleged instances of illegal voting.

The voter fraud scare was exploited once again this week by Kansas by Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who claims voter fraud is more widespread than he thought. Kobach’s claims even captured the attention of a Harvey County clerk who contradictorily “likes” the law that he supports, but says widespread voter fraud is not an issue in her county.

The clerk, Joyce Truskett says in the five years that she has administered elections, she has found three cases of illegal voting. "Out of 20,000 voters, I'll take that," she said in a recent Newton Kansan report. It was unclear if these cases involved voter impersonation, the only type of illegal voting that a voter ID would prevent.

Kobach claims that there are 59 reports of irregularities involving 221 ballots since 1997, double the amount from a 2008 report. However, Kansas NAACP President Kevin Myles disputes these statistics.

“Even if this is true, it's a very small amount when you take into account that approximately 10 million votes have been cast during that time period,” according to a KWCH-TV report. He adds that of the 221 cases, only two would actually be detected by the proposed measure.

Even though Truskett says there is no issue with fraud, she approves of the bill and claims a voter ID law, which is estimated to cost at least $60,000, will not be difficult to implement for election administrators. But, she warns, “unless our courts are willing to prosecute, it doesn’t do any good. The courts are very busy, and they have lots of other fish to fry."

Newly Elected Minnesota Legislators Announce Intent to make Voting More Difficult

Cross-posted at Project Vote's blog, Voting Matters

Minnesota has some of the most progressive voter registration laws in the country, laws like same day registration and vouching, that are designed to maximize turnout and get as many voices as possible heard on Election Day. Some newly elected members of the Minnesota state legislature, however, have recently announced that they intend to repeal those laws as soon as they take office. These laws, they claim, leave the state vulnerable to voter fraud, so vulnerable they apparently must be repealed immediately, despite their obvious benefits.

Like Don Quixote charging at windmills, believing them to be monsters, these state legislators are gearing up to fight imaginary threats. Voter fraud, contrary to the media perception, is incredibly rare. According to a study by the nonpartisan group Citizens for Election Integrity Minnesota, only twenty-six people were convicted of voter fraud in Minnesota in 2008, all of them convicted felons who are restricted from voting. In other words, less than nine-ten thousandths of one percent of Minnesota voters (.0009 percent), were convicted of voter fraud in 2008. At the national level, a report by Dr. Lorraine Minnite, director of research at Project Vote and former assistant professor of American and urban politics at Barnard College, found that only 24 people were convicted of voter fraud between 2002 and 2005.

So, these state legislatures are trying to repeal laws that make it easier for all Minnesotans to vote, on the off-chance that repealing those laws might discourage some twenty-odd convicted felons from showing up on Election Day. Certainly, what little voter fraud there is should be prevented, but not at the cost of repealing laws that provide tremendous benefits to legitimate voters. In 2004, the six states with same day registration had turnout rates almost 12 percent above the national average, but the newly elected Minnesota legislators are more worried about the two dozen felons who might be voting illegally, than the thousands of legitimate voters who may be prevented from voting at all if these laws are repealed.

If the state legislatures want to fix elections in this country, if they want to protect the sanctity of the democratic process, they should not be focused on the .00009 percent of ineligible citizens who vote illegally--oftentimes unknowingly--due to criminal convictions. Instead, they should focus on reforming current law to allow non-incarcerated felons to automatically regain their right to vote and the 50-plus percent of eligible voters who did not even cast a ballot on Election Day, finding ways to increase turnout, not lower it.

Anthony Balady is a legal intern at Project Vote and second-year   student at William & Mary Law School. Mr. Balady also serves as vice   president of William & Mary’s Election Law Society and   editor-in-chief of its election law blog, State of Elections.

The Disenfranchisement of Communities through the Criminal Justice System

Cross-posted at Project Vote's blog, Voting Matters.

Expanding ballot access to all voting-age citizens, particularly the millions who are living and working in our communities with past felony convictions, has been the foundation of many advocates’ pleas to make American life equitable. Whether wrapped in an argument to fend against racism, classism, or even “overcriminalization,” felon advocates’ main issue boils down to preserving the civil rights of every citizen who participates in society, no matter their personal history.

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Advocates Baffled By DOJ Approval of Controversial Voter Verification Law

A two-year battle in the courts concluded this week when the Department of Justice approved Georgia’s controversial voter verification system that was originally struck down in 2009 as inaccurate, unreliable, and worst of all, discriminatory against people of color and naturalized citizens.  The decision leaves voting rights advocates dismayed as to why the DOJ would allow the state to implement this arguably overzealous and potentially disenfranchising procedure.

“Systematic Purging” of Voters in 2008 Without Preclearance

The story of Georgia’s “citizen-check” procedure goes back to October 2008, when the state was sued by voting rights groups who claimed the procedure not only violated the Voting Rights Act, but inappropriately amounted to a systematic purging of voters just before the presidential election.

Due to its history of Jim Crow-era discriminatory voting practices, Georgia is one of 10 states required to seek federal approval or “preclearance” under the Voting Rights Act before changing election rules. In 2009, the DOJ refused to grant preclearance to Georgia’s flawed system of matching Social Security and driver’s license numbers that erroneously flagged thousands of otherwise eligible voters as “potential non-citizens.”

Typographical errors and an outdated driver’s license database were named the primary causes of systematic failure, though the DOJ further criticized the time-sensitive hurdles that “potential non-citizens” had to go through in order to prove their eligibility to vote. The DOJ also noted the system’s discriminatory impact on a disproportionate number of African American, Latino, and Asian American citizens.

In June, Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp sued the DOJ to grant the state preclearance for the "citizen checking" procedure, citing partisan politics as the reason the system was shut down, despite the fact that the Bush Administration’s DOJ was first to question the system in 2008.

Why Did the DOJ Approve a System that Exceeds Federal Law?

Under the Help America Vote Act, states are required to verify voter identity by checking voter registration information against Social Security and driver’s license databases.  But, as Bush’s DOJ determined in 2008, HAVA only requires states to verify a voter’s identity, not his or her citizenship.

The approval of a law that not only exceeds HAVA, but, in its former version, had a discriminatory impact on voters, “came as something of a shock," said Laughlin McDonald, the voting rights project director for the American Civil Liberties Union in a recent Atlanta Journal Constitution report.

The original procedure applied to all first-time voter registration applicants and anyone who made a change on his or her driver's license, including a name change through marriage or moving. The approved system now "includes all first-time voter registration applicants, including those who register by mail or in person at their county registrar. It does not, however include voters already registered who make changes to their information."

"It was the pool that changed," Kemp’s spokesperson, Matt Carrothers told the AJC. "Again, the process that has been granted preclearance by the DOJ is actually broader than that that was denied previously."

McDonald speculates that the DOJ precleared the Georgia system “to avoid a worse fate in court,” The AJC reports.

“The state's lawsuit said if the court found its system allowable under the Voting Rights Act, that it should also rule all of Section 5 unconstitutional. The Obama administration probably didn't want to take the chance of that happening, he said.”

Though the true reasons why the DOJ precleared this law are unknown, ultimately, the Georgia decision exemplifies how the specter of voter fraud only continues to encourage the erosion of voting rights through overextending measures. Looking at Georgia’s history in election policies, including a long fight to implement photo voter ID, the state shows no sympathy for the potentially discriminatory impact of its laws on its voters. Time will tell if the new version of the “citizen-check” procedure will provide evidence needed to challenge this pervasive misconception.  And with the approaching election, that time may be very soon.

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