Voting Newsletter: Voting Rights Victories in 14 States, Registration Deadlines Approach

October 9, 2012

Welcome to the Brennan Center's voting newsletter, the most comprehensive summary of all the latest developments affecting voting. Sign up for all Brennan Center newsletters here.

Latest Developments

New Analysis: Voting Rights Victories in 14 States

After a wave of restrictive voting laws passed in the last two years, a new Brennan Center analysis shows a fierce pushback against these laws, with measures blocked or blunted in 14 states (click map to enlarge).

“Every voter restriction that has been challenged this year has been either enjoined, blocked or weakened,” Lawrence Norden told The New York Times. “It has been an extraordinary string of victories for those opposing these laws.”

The latest victories come in Pennsylvania and Ohio, where a judge blocked a voter ID law for November and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit restored early voting to the weekend before the election, respectively. “The public interest ... favors permitting as many qualified voters to vote as possible,” wrote Circuit Judge Eric Clay. However, individual Ohio counties will determine whether to remain open on that weekend. Ohio’s secretary of state will appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Brennan Center and its allies have been part of this major achievement for democracy and voting rights. Just over a year ago we released our study showing that millions of Americans could find it harder to vote this year. Read more on recent victories.

As Deadlines Approach, Brennan Center Releases Registration Video for Young Voters

The Brennan Center released a voting rights public service announcement (left) encouraging young voters to register, locate their polling places, and learn the rules. Information for students is available in our 50-State Student Voting Guide.

Registration deadlines for the November election are approaching fast. Today is the deadline in 17 states — Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Montana, New Mexico, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Utah.

At least 51 million eligible Americans are not registered — more than 24 percent of the eligible population — and they are in danger of not having their voices heard, wrote Erik Opsal in the Huffington Post.

State Updates

Florida – A controversy erupted in Florida after a consulting firm tied to the state’s Republican Party submitted fake voter registration forms. The Florida GOP has since fired the firm and filed an election fraud complaint. Authorities have also launched a criminal probe. Lawrence Norden discussed the controversy on CNN’s Starting Point, saying it “undermines confidence in elections.” The firm also did registration work for the GOP in the additional key states of Colorado, North Carolina, and Virginia. Read more here and here. Meanwhile, a federal judge ruled last week that “Florida’s purge of potential noncitizens on the voter rolls can go on.”

Michigan – A U.S. citizenship question will no longer appear on ballot applications in Michigan, a federal judge ruled last week, “citing inconsistent enforcement and potential ‘confusion’ at the polls.”

Minnesota – A new poll shows support dropping for the state's voter ID amendment, which will be on the ballot next month.

Mississippi – The state’s voter ID law will not be in effect this November. The Justice Department is still considering whether to approve the law.

New Mexico – Video surfaced last week showing Albuquerque Republican party officials “instructing its poll watchers to engage in what could be illegal voter suppression,” The Nation reported. Poll watchers were reportedly told to ask voters for ID, even though they’re not required in the state. Read more here. Read the Brennan Center’s Voter Challengers report for an extensive analysis of poll watching laws in all 50 states.

Ohio – As explained above, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit restored early voting on the weekend before the election, but each county will decide whether to open the polls on those days. Read more analysis of the decision. In a separate case, the Sixth Circuit heard arguments last week on whether provisional ballots with the incorrect precinct given to voters by poll workers should count. The Brennan Center filed an amicus brief maintaining that the ballots should be treated as valid because the error was caused by an election official, not a voter.

Pennsylvania – TV ads and other public education materials could mislead some voters after a judge blocked Pennsylvania’s voter ID law. Poll workers will be allowed to ask for a photo ID, but voters can cast a regular ballot without one. Advocates are worried this could cause confusion. Read more here and here. Bloomberg’s Francis Wilkinson wrote that it was “bug-eyed insanity” for the GOP “to launch a voting-rights war in which minority voters would be the obvious casualties.” “It's hard to imagine a better way to galvanize the nation's emerging multiracial majority into long-term opposition than to set up roadblocks to their right to vote,” he wrote.

South Carolina – The Department of Justice approved a law allowing South Carolina voters to register online.

Tennessee – A civil rights attorney appealed a decision rejecting a challenge to Tennessee’s voter ID law.

And don’t forget our up-to-date online roundup of voting law changes in 2012.

New Data and Research

State Laws Addressing Registration and Voting on or Before Election Day

A new report from the Government Accountability Office analyzes new restrictions on identification requirements, early voting, and voter registration drives. Notably, the GAO was unable to document any cases of voter fraud because of lack of data. The comprehensive study was requested by Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) and Bill Nelson (D-Fla.). Read more here.

Media Round-Up

  • “Americans should be skeptical of the sweeping changes to state voting rules that will make it harder for many eligible citizens to vote,” explained Wendy Weiser in The Christian Science Monitor’s “One Minute Debate” feature.
  • Mo Rocca’s latest op-doc in The New York Times explains the Electoral College. On Wednesday, October 10th at NYU, Rocca will join the Brennan Center for a discussion and screening of his new film, “Electoral Dysfunction.”
  • “Election experts say the challenges created by mailed ballots could well affect outcomes this fall and beyond,” wrote Adam Liptak in The Times. “If the contests next month are close enough to be within what election lawyers call the margin of litigation, the grounds on which they will be fought will not be hanging chads but ballots cast away from the voting booth.” Read Lawrence Norden's proposed solutions.
  • On Sunday, October 14th, CNN debuts Voters in America: Who Counts, an investigation of voting restrictions in Florida. The documentary features the Center’s Lee Rowland, who helped represent civil rights groups that successfully challenged curbs on voter registration drives.
  • When determining whether to uphold Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, the Supreme Court should not “upend settled law on the naïve assumption that racism and racial discrimination are ancient history,” the Los Angeles Times editorialized.
  • As some states restrict voting rights, others such as California and Connecticut are moving in the opposite direction, making it easier to vote by allowing online and Election Day registration. Read more from The Sacramento Bee.
  • Absentee ballot requests from military voters are down significantly since 2008, including in key battleground states such as Virginia and Ohio, where requests dropped 70 percent, Fox News reported.
  • To counter restrictive voting laws, voting rights advocates in states such as Pennsylvania, Florida, Georgia, and Ohio are “working to find, educate and register voters who might not meet eligibility requirements.”
  • California Institute of Technology History Prof. J. Morgan Kousser writes in The Los Angeles Times that today’s spate of voting restrictions “bear an eerie resemblance to the initial legal stages of the first disfranchisement” of Southern blacks and poor whites in the late 19th century.