Latest News: New Front in Florida Purge War

June 12, 2012


Despite Brennan Center Victory, Florida Continues Voting War

A week after the Brennan Center won a crucial victory blocking Florida's new law on voter registration, the Sunshine State’s election practices have again come under legal challenge. The Department of Justice announced it will sue Florida for refusing to suspend its efforts to purge voters the state considers “ineligible” from the rolls. The same day that the Brennan Center won its fight for democracy, the Justice Department had warned Florida that the purge initiative may violate the Voting Rights Act as well as the National Voter Registration Act (better known as the “The Motor Voter”).  Watch Brennan Center President Michael Waldman discuss the purges on CNN.

Voter purges are often rife with problems. “No standards govern voter purges, making the risk of being purged unpredictable and difficult to guard against,” Myrna Pérez wrote in a Brennan Center report. In the Orlando Sentinel, Pérez noted, “Policy makers should make voter registration more accurate and more accessible by modernizing the system, not by repeating the kind of discredited and problematic purge programs that have taken place in the past.” At the Brennan Center, modernizing voter registration is not a theory. The Center published a policy proposal nearly three years ago.

Brennan Center at Netroots Nation

Brennan Center experts shared ideas on how to tackle problems in criminal justice, voting and money in politics at this month’s Netroots Nation Conference in Rhode Island. The conference brings together thousands of bloggers, newsmakers, social justice advocates, organizers and activists to brainstorm on how to best use technology to influence the public debate on progressive issues. Nicole Austin-Hillery's speech (pictured left) during a lunch keynote on criminal justice in America touched on the impact of unconscious bias and subtle racism in the media. Keesha Gaskins spoke about the threat that voter ID laws pose to a free and just democracy during a war on voting panel moderated by The Nation’s Ari Berman. And Mimi Marziani presented at a Brennan Center-sponsored lunch on restrictive voting laws and money in politics.


Voter Registration Modernization Introduced in New York

Sen. Michael Gianaris (fifth from left) and Assemblyman Brian Kavanagh (first from left) introduced the Voter Empowerment Act, a non-partisan bill to update, streamline, and make the voter registration process more efficient. Among other things, the measure would computerize voter registration, and automatically register citizens with their consent. The bill is modeled after federal legislation introduced last month by Rep. John Lewis (Ga.) Both laws are based on recommendations the Brennan Center made in 2008. At a City Hall press conference to announce the legislation, the Brennan Center’s Wendy Weiser (third from left), noted, “Through this effort, New York will lead the country in having a voter registration system that is accurate, complete, and works for all voters.” 


Will Small Voters Beat Big Money?

Two great trends are colliding in the way we fund elections. On the one hand, small donors increasingly are funding presidential campaigns, often through the internet. On the other, thanks to Citizens United and other court cases, we now see the rise of a new breed of big dollar donors. This year, Michael Waldman wrote in the The New York Times’ Room for Debate column, "billionaires sponsor presidential candidates as if they were racehorses." Waldman noted that a key reform would be a system of multiple matching funds for small-dollar donations. Such a system “wouldn’t shut down all big money,” he wrote, “but it could boost the voices of ordinary citizens.”

TONIGHT: Tales of the FBI’s Secrets and Lies

Join the Brennan Center tonight for a discussion of the FBI’s history and its slow evolution into America’s primary counterterrorism agency. Tim Weiner will discuss his newest book Enemies: A History of the FBI. The book is a “depressing story with all the verve and coherence of a good spy thriller,” The New York Times said. In Enemies, Weiner recounts the FBI’s controversial history and delves into the organization’s most covert and controversial operations. A former newspaper reporter for The New York Times and the Philadelphia Inquirer, Tim Weiner won a Pulitzer Prize in 1988 for articles he wrote on “black budget” spending at the Pentagon and the C.I.A. while at the Inquirer.

From the Brennan Center Blog

Voter Registration Modernization Will Address Congressional Concerns - Molly Alarcon

  • At a House Judiciary Committee hearing last Thursday, members of both parties told U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder they were concerned about inaccurate voter rolls and voter fraud. If Congress truly wanted to eliminate their anxiety, they should pass a national system of voter registration modernization.

‘It Shouldn’t Be Like This’ - Brian Pearson (Guest Blogger)

  • Pearson is a leader of VOCAL-NY, a grassroots organization of low-income people. At the press conference for the Voter Empowerment Act (see above), Pearson confessed that he is not registered to vote. “After getting off of parole in January, I went to get my license. No one asked me to register to vote. I also re-certified for Medicaid. Again, no one asked me to register to vote. In March, after losing temporary construction work, I applied for unemployment. No one asked me to register. It shouldn’t be like this. And if this law passes, it won’t be. We need to eliminate the barriers to people voting.” Peason registered immediately after the press conference.

Overclassificaton Harms Democracy - Liza Goitein

  • Although the underlying causes are not entirely clear, there is a rapidly growing trend to keep information classified. According to a recent government report, decisions to classify information grew by 20 percent in 2011 compared with 2010, which itself was a 40 percent increase from 2009. One marker that too much is being kept secret is that, when challenged, the government makes some or all of the information public about 90 percent of the time. “We urgently need to rethink how our government creates and accounts for its secrets,” Goitein writes.

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Upcoming Events

  • TONIGHT, June 12 – Tim Weiner, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award, visits the Brennan Center to discuss Enemies: A History of the FBI, his groundbreaking book on the development of the FBI and its transformation into America's primary counterterrorism agency.

  • June 16 –  Nicole Austin-Hillery speaks at an American Constitution Society panel titled, “What's at Stake: Examining Voting Rights in the 21st Century,” in Washington, DC.

  • June 16 –  Monica Youn participates in a panel called, “Citizens United Two Years Later: Money, Politics and Democracy at Stake” at the American Constitution Societt National Convention in Washington, DC.

  • June 20 –  Mark Ladov speaks at a New York Civil Liberties Union discussion on Citizens United at Hofstra Law School.

  • Using criminal justice fees as way to fund legal services for the indigent puts public defenders in the impossible position of lobbying for funding from the people they represent, Roopal Patel wrote in a letter to the editor for The Times-Picayune.
  • In his column for The Dallas Morning News, Carl P. Leubsdorf argued that an orchestrated effort to make voting harder in several states will diminish turnout. He quoted Myrna Pérez to explain that Florida’s previous efforts in 2000 to purge the voter rolls eliminated approximately 12,000 eligible voters.  
  • Diana Kasdan and Sue Smith, president of the Michigan League of Women Voters, warned of the dangers of voter suppression laws. The state legislature is currently considering three bills that would make it harder to register to vote, receive a ballot and cast a vote on Election Day. Should the proposals pass, “Michigan would join a dubious list of states moving backward on voting rights and running afoul of core federal and constitutional protections,” they wrote in an op-ed for The Detroit News
  • In a letter to the editor to The New York Times Mark Ladov supported New York Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman’s order that prospective lawyers perform 50 hours of pro bono work before admission to the bar. He cited one study that showed legal representation saved taxpayers“ at least $116 million by keeping low-income tenants in their homes, and at least $85 million a year in costs relating to domestic violence."


To read more Brennan Center In The News, click here.