Constitutional Law and Civil Rights

The Voting Rights Act: Voter Purges and Voter IDs


FL GEARING UP FOR ANOTHER VOTER 'PURGE': Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) is planning to initiate another purge of non-U.S. citizens from the state's voter rolls, despite the uproar created by his last such effort. The U.S. Supreme Court effectively authorized the action when it struck down the federal preclearance requirement of the Voting Rights Act in June, nullifying a federal lawsuit in Tampa that sought to block such purges. But it is somewhat surprising the governor would want to attempt another purge, considering how well the last one went over with the state's election officials.

"It was sloppy, it was slapdash and it was inaccurate," said Polk County elections supervisor Lori Edwards. "They were sending us names of people to remove because they were born in Puerto Rico. It was disgusting."

The state's list of suspected non-U.S. citizens initially began at 182,000 but over time shrank to 198 before election supervisors suspended the effort as the presidential election approached.

"That was embarrassing," said Jerry Holland, elections chief in Jacksonville's Duval County. "It has to be a better scrub of names than we had before."

The state's top elections official, Secretary of State Ken Detzner, is reportedly creating a new list of suspected non-citizen voters by crosschecking the state's voter registration information against the Department of Homeland Security's Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements, or SAVE, database.

Okaloosa County Election Supervisor Paul Lux, however, was skeptical that the SAVE-based list would be any better than the state's previous one.

"If the federal government is as good at collecting data as they are with doing other things, then I've got to wonder about the quality of this data," he said.

Myrna Perez, deputy director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University's law school, said voter purges aren't necessarily a bad thing. She said many states mandate voter roll maintenance to remove ineligible or deceased voters. But she said purges should be avoided close to an election.

"They offer lots of opportunities for eligible voters to get improperly removed because they frequently happen in a rushed, haphazard manner behind closed doors," she said. "And the data is usually flawed."

The decision in Florida is ultimately up to Scott, who is up for re-election next year. And he appears intent on the move.

"If there's anybody that we think isn't voting properly, from the standpoint that they didn't have a right to vote, I think we need to do an investigation," he said the day of the Supreme Court's voting rights ruling. (TAMPA BAY TIMES)

PA VOTING RIGHTS CASE NOW UP TO JUDGE: A Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court judge heard closing arguments this month in the state's landmark voting rights case. Attorney Alicia Hickok made the case that the state had done "whatever is possible, whatever is necessary, and whatever is legal" to ensure that voters knew about the state's new voter ID law and how to apply for a free, voting-only card if necessary. But attorney Jennifer Clarke argued that the state hadn't done enough and that the new law placed a "fundamental burden" on a right "enshrined in the Constitution."

"It is time to put an end to this and enjoin this law," she told Judge Bernard McGinley.

Clarke also reminded the court of the political motivations expressed by some of the law's chief backers, including House Majority Leader Mike Turzai (R), who told GOP supporters in a closed-door meeting last summer that the voter ID law would help Republican Mitt Romney win the state's presidential vote. And she noted the Philadelphia statistics expert who had testified that Democrats were twice as likely as Republicans to lack the sort of ID required by the law.

But Hickok accused the plaintiffs of "playing fast and loose with the facts" about the number of voters that would be affected by the law, pointing out that it allowed college and nursing-home IDs with expiration dates to be used for voting.

It isn't clear when Judge McGinley will rule on the case. But both sides have already vowed to appeal his decision to the state Supreme Court. (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER)

POLITICS IN BRIEF: A group that advocates for Native American voting rights filed a federal election complaint against SOUTH DAKOTA Secretary of State Jason Gant and the state's Board of Elections after they denied the group's request for three early voting satellite offices in Indian Country. The group, Four Directions, contends residents of the three predominantly Native American communities don't have the same opportunity to voter or register as those in other parts of the state (ARGUS LEADER [SIOUX FALLS]).

VOTER ID: The issue of voter ID occupied the attention of lawmakers in many states in 2011 and 2012. But several of the voter ID bills introduced in at least 30 states this year, by NCSL's accounting, were put on hold while the U.S. Supreme Court deliberated on Shelby County v. Holder, dealing with Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, requiring sixteen states with a history of racial discrimination to obtain federal preclearance before making any changes to their voting laws. With the justices having effectively nullified that provision, several states formerly subject to it, including Alabama, Mississippi and Texas, have announced plans to proceed with implementation of new voter ID restrictions.

Last month, however, U.S. Attorney General announced that the Justice Department would continue to scrutinize the voting laws of Texas and other states by relying on the Voting Rights Act's Section 3, requiring evidence of intentional discrimination to block voting law changes rather than merely a history of discrimination as with Section 5. Meanwhile, voter-ID laws passed in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin are under review by state courts. And with the entire U.S. House and a majority of the nation's legislative seats up for grabs in the 2014 midterm elections, the issue is likely to continue to simmer, even despite indications that voter ID laws have actually spurred minority voter turnout, which critics of the laws say they are designed to suppress.

— Compiled by KOREY CLARK

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