Latest News from the Brennan Center

December 19, 2011

AG Holder Urges Voter Registration Modernization

“Today, the single biggest barrier to voting in this country is our antiquated registration system,” said Attorney General Eric Holder in a speech last Tuesday at the L.B.J Library in Austin, Texas. “Fortunately, modern technology provides a straightforward fix for these problems – if we have the political will to bring our election systems into the 21st century." Many of Holder’s recommendations echo the Brennan Center’s proposal for Voter Registration Modernization (Read our plan here.) Seventeen states have moved forward to begin implementing parts of our proposal, registering hundreds of thousands — with little partisan rancor.

In his speech, Holder also said that voting rights are “under attack,” and vowed that the Department of Justice would be aggressive in reviewing new state laws. According to our recent report, new state voting laws could make it harder for as many as 5 million Americans to vote in the 2012 elections. Watch Keesha Gaskins discuss the speech on PBS NewsHour and listen to Michael Waldman on The Takeaway.

Center Suit Against Florida Voting Law

Last week, the Center filed a lawsuit in federal court on behalf of the League of Women Voters of Florida and other groups, challenging that the new state law regulating the activities of third party voter registration groups violates the U.S. Constitution and federal law. The law, according to the complaint, forces the League and others to scale back or eliminate their voter registration efforts. The Center and others argue that the law violates the plaintiffs’ constitutionally protected rights of speech and association — and that it violates the National Voter Registration Act, which was designed in part to encourage community-based voter registration activity. 

According to the suit, the law was created even as voter registration rates have continued to decline in Florida. “Sadly, Florida’s anti-voter law creates impassable roadblocks for our volunteers, who are simply trying to bring fellow citizens into our democratic process,” said Deirdre Macnab, president of the League of Women Voters of Florida. “Today, we take a stand against these unacceptable barriers to voting and voter registration.”

Report: 60,000 New York Votes Lost in 2010 Due to Poor Design

As many as 60,000 votes were lost in the New York State elections last year because of an error message that led citizens to cast their ballot for more than one candidate, according to a new Brennan Center study. The study showed that minority, low-income and immigrant communities were hardest hit, including two Bronx districts where 40 percent of the votes for governor were disqualified.

“With more than 1 in 20 voters losing their vote in a number of districts, this is a voting system crisis that has gone unrecognized,” said Lawrence Norden, report author. “To solve these problems and move forward, we need to get serious about election administration in New York,” he added. Norden cited full disclosure of all voting machine tallies after elections, an overhaul of outdated ballot design requirements, and better public access to ballots and recount procedures as key elements for a fix. Read coverage by The New York Times, Daily News, NY1, and Politico.

Bradley Manning Story Points to Nation’s Broken Classification System

Bradley Manning, who is accused of leaking nearly 750,000 government documents to WikiLeaks, had his first hearing Friday — 19 months after his arrest. Writing for Salon, the Brennan Center’s Elizabeth Goitein says that, while Manning’s actions deserve punishment, the real issue is our nation’s broken classification system, which forces too many documents to be kept secret when they need not be. This “near-habitual overclassification,” explains Goitein, is detrimental to our national security and the democratic decision-making process, and it leads people like Manning to recklessly disclose information. Goitein proposed a solution to this broken system in her recent report, Reducing Overclassification Through Accountability. Read the Los Angeles Times and Associated Press coverage of the hearing.

Federal Bill to Restore Voting Rights to the Formerly Incarcerated

Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) introduced the Democracy Restoration Act (DRA) Friday, a bill to restore voting rights in federal elections to formerly incarcerated individuals. A patchwork of state laws has kept more than 4 million people with prior criminal convictions and, in some states, probationers and parolees from exercising their democratic right. The DRA will restore the right to vote to all citizens upon completion of their prison sentence, creating a single, fair rule that will strengthen our democracy. Read this piece in The Hill from Nicole Austin-Hillery and Nic Riley.

New York State Supreme Court Upholds Law Ending Prison-Based Gerrymandering

Working with numerous civil rights allies, the Brennan Center scored a victory for fairness in New York's redistricting process. New York State Supreme Court Justice Eugene Devine upheld New York's new law ending prison-based gerrymandering, the practice of padding districts with prisoners who cannot vote and maintain residency elsewhere. The law, which allocated prisoners to their home communities when conducting state redistricting, was challenged in Little v. LATFOR, a suit brought by Republican state senators and voters from districts who had benefited from prison-based gerrymandering. The Brennan Center and a coalition of civil rights organizations represented a group of voters defending the new law.

Ideas on Democracy, Justice, and the Rule of Law

Real Solutions Needed on Voter Deception – Keesha Gaskins

  • An election fraud, robo-call conviction in Maryland shows the need for real solutions to combat voter suppression efforts.

Broken Senate, Broken Courts – Adam Skaggs & Maria da Silva

  • Washington is mired in gridlock. But hyper-partisan politics does more than just slow down government. It also cripples the federal judiciary one of the bedrocks of our democracy.

New York State Ethics Oversight: Timely Implementation – Kelly Williams

  • Legislative leadership and the executive must ensure the new ethics watchdog has everything it needs to roll up its sleeves and get to work.

Expanding the Vote Abroad, Suppressing it at Home – Yanick Saila-Ngita

  • We often talk about voter suppression laws as running afoul of the basic American right to vote. Yet these measures also contradict our obligations as a country under international agreements.

Poor Design and Lost Votes – John Travis

  • In New York's 2010 election, a confusing ballot design and a misleading warning message on voting machines led to as many as 20,000 lost votes in the governor’s contest alone.

Money and Politics in New York – ReformNY

  • A roundup with the latest news highlighting the corrosive nature of money in New York State politics — and the need for public financing and robust campaign finance reform.

What We’re Reading

  • See what the Brennan Center’s reading in this daily round-up of quick hits, clips, and opinion pieces touching on key issues of democracy, justice, liberty and national security. Includes stories on a protest march to support the right to vote, burdensome prison fees in California, and a redistricting fight in Texas.

Read more blogs here.


Gun Rights: The Secret History

The Brennan Center held a fascinating conversation with Adam Winkler, author of the new book, Gunfight: The Battle over the Right to Bear Arms in America. Winkler, a professor at UCLA School of Law, has not only written a pioneering history of gun rights, but he challenges the bedrock assumptions of all partisans in the gun control debate. Winkler was questioned by Jeffrey Rosen, a professor at George Washington Law School and legal affairs editor of The New Republic. See video and photos.


  • Dec. 20 – Nicole Austin-Hillery participates in a congressional briefing on voter suppression hosted by the ADA Education Fund.
  • Jan. 20 – Liza Goitein speaks on a panel on transparency in the Obama administration at an American University Washington College of Law event.
  • Jan. 25 – Michael Price participates in a Cardozo Law School panel on cyber law.
  • Feb. 15 – The Brennan Center hosts former Inspector General Glenn Fine for a discussion on government oversight in New York City.