Sunday, August 07, 2016

255.2 - Good News: Five court victories for voting rights

Good News: Five court victories for voting rights

Moving on from there to more good news that also involves North Carolina, a series of five recent court rulings have struck blows against the on-going attempts by the reactionaries to keep minorities, students, and others they think are more likely to vote liberal from voting at all.

The first blow came on July 19, when Federal District Court Judge Lynn Adelman ruled that Wisconsin voters without required photo id can vote in the fall elections by signing an affidavit swearing to their identity.

A higher court had already ruled in favor of the law, so Adelman could not strike it down - but he could limit its impact, and he did. And yes, I talked about this before, just a couple of weeks ago. It bears repeating.

The next day, July 20, was when the full 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a voter ID law in Texas discriminates against blacks and Hispanics and ordered that a temporary remedy be put in place before the November election.

According to Myrna Perez, an attorney with the Brennan Center for Justice, which tracks voter rights, about 600,000 registered voters in Texas lack state-specified forms of identification.

Interestingly, student IDs, employer IDs, and utility bills, the latter a traditional way of proving ID and residence, are among the forms of ID the law considers unacceptable - while a concealed handgun permit will do just fine.

The court sent the case back to the district court to consider if the law intended to discriminate but added that regardless of intent, the discriminatory impact was clear enough and sufficient to demand a remedy.

Two days, two victories for voting rights.

And just over a week later, on July 29, came not a one-two but a one-two-three combination against the vote blockers.

First came North Carolina, where a sweeping decision by a panel of the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the state's voter ID law as clearly unconstitutional, ruling that it consciously "target[s] African-Americans with almost surgical precision" in an effort to depress black voter turnout.

The court permanently blocked provisions that required certain photo IDs to vote, limited early voting, eliminated same day registration, ended out-of-precinct voting, and prohibited pre-registration of young voters.

In finding that the state intended to discriminate, the court noted that state lawmakers first sought data breaking down voting practices by race and then cut back or eliminated those practices disproportionately used by African-Americans and required forms of ID that African-Americans disproportionately lacked.

Just hours later on that same day, federal district judge James Peterson struck down a series of voting restrictions in Wisconsin, ruling in a case different from the one decided earlier in the month.

Peterson wrote that
The Wisconsin experience demonstrates that a preoccupation with mostly phantom election fraud leads to real incidents of disenfranchisement.... Wisconsin's strict version of voter ID law is a cure worse than the disease.
He ordered the state to make photo IDs more easily available and to broaden the range of student IDs that are accepted at the polling station while throwing out other rules, including ones that lengthened the residency requirement for newly registered voters and sharply limited the places and times at which municipal voters, many of them Milwaukee blacks, could cast absentee ballots in person.

Then later the same day, the light shone on Kansas. Kansas had passed a law saying you had to produce proof of citizenship in order to register to vote. But that was in conflict with federal law, so the state tried to create a two-tier voting system, so if you didn't have the proper response to "your papers, please," you could vote in federal elections but not in state or local ones. Some 17,500 Kansas voters were stuck in this legal limbo, a number projected to rise to 50,000 by election day.

The ACLU sued on their behalf, saying, in the words of ACLU attorney Sophia Lakin, "You're either registered or you're not. There's no such thing as half registration."

On July 29, Shawnee County judge Larry Hendricks agreed, ruling that those voters can have their votes counted in state and local races as well as federal ones. The ruling went into effect  immediately, meaning they could vote in the state's primary election, which took place on August 2.

The injunction is temporary to cover the primary; Judge Hendricks has set a September 21 court date for an evidentiary hearing ahead of the November general election. But in normal practice, such an injunction is not issued unless there is a good chance that those trying to advance rather than restrict voting rights will prevail in the broader suit.

In his ruling, Judge Hendricks said that "Losing one’s vote is an irreparable harm."

Damn straight.

Of course, the fanatics are not about to give up and will continue to spin their lying lies about hordes of illegal voters flooding our ballot boxes with fraudulent votes.

32 states now have some form of voter ID requirement, with 17 states tightening voter rules since 2012, most of those coming in the wake of, and taking advantage of, the Supreme Court tearing the heart out of the Voting Rights Act in 2013.

The truth is, of course, that they are lying and they know they are lying. They can't not know they are lying. The evidence that voter fraud is almost vanishingly rare in US elections is overwhelming.

For example, two years ago the Washington Post cited what it called in its headline "seven papers, four government inquiries, two news investigations and one court ruling" all showing that voter fraud, especially the type of voter impersonation fraud that voter ID would address, is mostly a myth.

Those studies are in no way the only ones and other studies have shown that such laws do have the overall impact of depressing turnout among minorities - which is the point. And now it's gotten so obvious that the courts are coming to recognize the reality, even if, as in the Texas decision, only the effect rather than, as in the case of North Carolina, the intent.

Which is maybe why the argument is shifting from "It's all about preventing fraud!" to the right-wing's now-standard version of accuse the accuser: Just like if you address racism you'll be faced with some Hannity-wannabe escapee from the loony farm screeching that "You're the REAL racist!" so now some among the reactionaries are frothing and moaning about how decisions like these are part of a plot - I am not joking here and only very slightly exaggerating - part of a Democratic party plot to steal elections from the right.

For example, North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory made sure to refer to the members of the 4th Circuit panel who ruled against him as "Democratic judges" who are "undermining the integrity of our elections."

Or maybe I'm not even exaggerating: Two members of the North Carolina legislature, State Senator Phil Berger and House speaker Tim Moore, said in a joint statement that "We can only wonder if the intent [of the ruling] is to reopen the door for voter fraud, potentially allowing fellow Democrat politicians ... to steal the election."

So we still have a long way to go and a lot of fights remain - but bear in mind that the drive to expand restrictive voter ID to more states has stalled in some cases over the past few years, including Pennsylvania - which gave up a court fight over its law - Iowa, Nevada, and Massachusetts, where it never even got off the ground. So even as the fights continue, the battlefield does not seem to be growing. Which is its own form of Good News.

And as for these five recent court victories for voting right? They are definitely Good News.

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