Tag Archives: right to vote

Judge strikes down Wisconsin election laws that thwart Democratic voters

A federal judge has thrown out a number of Wisconsin election laws passed in recent years, ruling they’re unconstitutional and serve no purpose except to unfairly benefited Republicans by making it more difficult for Democrat-leaning groups to vote.

Unlike rulings against similar election laws enacted by Republicans in North Carolina and Texas, U.S. District Judge James Peterson’s ruling did not eliminate Wisconsin’s voter identification law. But he ordered the state to quickly issue valid voter credentials for anyone who seeks a free photo ID but lacks documents, such as birth certificates, that are required under the Republican law.

Peterson call the state’s current process for getting free IDs to people who lack such documents “a wretched failure,” because it left a number of overwhelmingly black and Hispanic citizens unable to obtain IDs, The Associated Press reported.

Peterson also struck down election laws limiting municipalities to one location for in-person absentee voting and limiting in-person early voting to weekdays. He said that denying the right to vote on weekends intentionally discriminates against blacks in Milwaukee.

Peterson also struck down: an increase in residency requirements from 10 to 28 days; a prohibition on using expired but otherwise qualifying student IDs to vote; and a prohibition on distributing absentee ballots by fax or email.

“Wisconsin has the authority to regulate its elections to preserve their integrity, and a voter ID requirement can be part of a well-conceived election system,” Peterson wrote. “But … parts of Wisconsin’s election regime fail to comply with the constitutional requirement that its elections remain fair and equally open to all qualified electors.”

Peterson’s ruling came in response to a lawsuit brought by two liberal groups — One Wisconsin Institute and Citizen Action of Wisconsin Education Fund Inc. They argued that the election laws were unconstitutional and discriminate against the poor, racial minorities and younger voters — all of whom are more inclined to vote Democratic. They presented evidence at trial to show that Republicans passed the laws not in reaction to voter fraud, which is not a problem in the state but rather to suppress Democratic turnout.

Defense attorneys countered that the laws, all passed since Walker and Republicans took control of the Legislature in 2011, have not suppressed turnout and that the state works hard to ensure everyone who needs a free ID to vote gets one.

“We argued Gov. Walker made it harder for Democrats to vote and easier for Republicans to cheat, and the judge agreed,” said Scott Ross, director of One Wisconsin Now, an arm of One Wisconsin Institute.

Hillary for Wisconsin released a statement praising Peterson’s decision..

“Attempts to restrict the democratic rights of Americans were defeated,” said Jake Hajdu, state director. “Now, Wisconsin residents who are eligible to vote, will be able to participate in our democracy and cast their constitutionally protected ballot.

“Hillary Clinton believes we must do everything we can to make it easier — not harder — for Americans to vote. And we cannot take our democratic rights for granted. The stakes are too high in this election. It is a choice between building walls between us and tearing people down or an optimistic and unifying vision where everyone has a role to play in building our future.”

The changes ordered to the laws cannot be implemented in time for the Aug. 9 primary elections in the state. But Peterson ordered them to be in place by the November general election.

Meanwhile, Wisconsin’s  Republican leaders are not giving up their fight to make it harder for likely Democratic voters to cast ballots. The state Department of Justice, which defended the laws, told AP that the agency plans to appeal to the 7th District Court of Appeals.

[UPDATED: Adds response to the decision from Hillary for Wisconsin.]

Obama: Voting rights in U.S. under withering attack

President Barack Obama said the Republican Party is threatening voting rights in America more than at any point since the passage of a historic 1965 law expanding rights at the ballot box to millions of black Americans and other minorities.

Obama’s critique of Republicans came as he seeks to mobilize voters ahead of the November congressional elections, when Democratic control of the Senate is at stake, as is the president’s already limited ability to push his agenda through Congress. Many in Obama’s party fear state voting requirements and early balloting restrictions will curb turnout that is critical to Democratic hopes of prevailing.

“The stark, simple truth is this: The right to vote is threatened today in a way that it has not been since the Voting Rights Act became law nearly five decades ago,” Obama told a crowd of about 1,600 people at civil rights activist Al Sharpton’s National Action Network conference, held in a New York hotel ballroom.

It was the second day in a row that America’s first black president has delivered a speech about race, an issue that has not often been at the forefront of his agenda. Obama has faced criticism from some African-Americans for doing too little to help minorities, but he has focused more acutely on inequality in his second term.

For the remainder of the year, no political issue stands out more prominently for Democrats than their ability to motivate voters to turn out at the polls in the November midterm elections. A Republican takeover of the Senate would crush Obama’s already limited ability to push his agenda through Congress. The Republicans are virtually certain to keep their majority in the House of Representatives, but the fight for the Senate is expected to be tight.

Turnout by Democrats has been traditionally weak in elections when the White House is not at stake. That, coupled with efforts in some states to limit early voting and to enact voter identification requirements, has prompted Obama and his party to raise alarms and step up their get-out-the-vote efforts.

The president vowed that he would not let the attacks on voting rights go unchallenged, but he offered no new announcements of specific actions his administration planned to take.

Just last year, seven states passed voter restrictions, ranging from reductions in early voting periods to identification requirements, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law. North Carolina alone adopted a photo ID requirement, eliminated registrations on Election Day and reduced the number of early voting days. Overall 34 states have passed laws requiring voters to show some form of identification at the polls.

The president pinned efforts to curb access to the ballot box directly on the Republicans, declaring that the effort “has not been led by both parties. It’s been led by the Republican Party.” Mocking the Republicans, he said, “What kind of political platform is that? Why would you make that a part of your agenda, preventing people from voting?”

Republicans have long argued that identification requirements and other voting controls are reasonable measures designed to safeguard the balloting process, not to suppress voter turnout. Democrats say photo identification requirements especially affect minority or low-income voters who may not drive and thus wouldn’t have an official government ID.

A spokeswoman for Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, a state whose voting laws are being challenged by the Obama administration, said the Supreme Court has ruled that voter identification laws are constitutional.

“Protecting the integrity of the voting process is something that benefits everyone, partisan politics do not,” the spokeswoman, Megan Mitchell, said.

The Obama administration has also challenged the North Carolina election law. That state’s measures, which take effect in the 2016 election, came after the Supreme Court last June threw out the crucial section of the Voting Rights Act that required that all or parts of 15 states with a history of discrimination in voting, mainly in the South, get federal approval before changing their election laws.

Obama’s speech to a crowd of about 1,600 in a New York hotel ballroom came a day after he marked the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, the landmark law that ended racial discrimination in public spaces.

The anniversary has brought renewed attention to the accomplishments of the civil rights movement. A CBS News poll found that more than 3 in 4 Americans say there has been progress in getting rid of racial discrimination. But those views split racially, with whites much more likely than African-Americans to think real progress has been achieved.

Pocan sponsors right to vote amendment

U.S. Reps. Mark Pocan of Wisconsin and Keith Ellison of Minnesota recently announced legislation to explicitly guarantee the right to vote in the Constitution.

The proposed Pocan-Ellison Right to Vote Amendment would amend the Constitution to provide all Americans the affirmative right to vote and empower Congress to protect this right, according to a news release.

“The right to vote is too important to be left unprotected,” Pocan, a Democrat, stated. “At a time when there are far too many efforts to disenfranchise Americans, a voting rights amendment would positively affirm our founding principle that our country is at its strongest when everyone participates. As the world’s leading democracy, we must demand of ourselves what we demand of others—a guaranteed right to vote for all.” 

Ellison, also a Democrat, said, “Americans’ ability to elect their leaders is a backbone of our democracy and our most fundamental righ. Even though the right to vote is the most-mentioned right in the Constitution, legislatures across the country have been trying to deny that right to millions of Americans, including in my home state of Minnesota. It’s time we made it clear once and for all: every citizen in the United States has a fundamental right to vote.” 

According to the Brennan Center for Justice, in 2013 more than 80 bills restricting the right to vote have been introduced in over 30 states.

The congressman said that without a constitutional provision, courts have upheld voter identification laws, burdensome registration requirements, and reduced early voting opportunities in various states across the country.

The proposed amendment reads: 

SECTION 1: Every citizen of the United States, who is of legal voting age, shall have the fundamental right to vote in any public election held in the jurisdiction in which the citizen resides. 

SECTION 2: Congress shall have the power to enforce and implement this article by appropriate legislation.