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Danziger: Free And Fair

Jeff Danziger lives in New York City. He is represented by CWS Syndicate and the Washington Post Writers Group. He is the recipient of the Herblock Prize and the Thomas Nast (Landau) Prize. He served in the US Army in Vietnam and was awarded the Bronze Star and the Air Medal. He has published eleven books of cartoons and one novel. Visit him at DanzigerCartoons.com.

Trump Administration Loses Again in Court — This Time on Voter ID

Reprinted by permission from ProPublica.

A federal court in Texas has again ruled the state’s 2011 voter identification law intentionally discriminated against minorities. It’s the latest loss in the case for Texas 2014 which has spent years unsuccessfully defending the law. But it also has implications for the Trump administration.

In February, the new administration abruptly abandoned the crux of the Justice Department’s opposition to the voter ID law. Government lawyers also asked the judge to delay her decision on whether the law intentionally discriminated against blacks and Latinos.

Judge Nelva Ramos Gonzales rejected their request for a delay. And Monday, she ruled that the law “was passed, at least in part, with a discriminatory intent in violation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.”

When it passed in 2011, Texas’s law had the country’s strictest voter ID provisions. It required one of seven forms of Texas or federally issued IDs to vote and allowed exemptions only for disability or age. It allowed no exception for low income voters.

Civil rights groups have long argued that the law was meant to disenfranchise minority voters, who often lack the ID required. The Obama administration and other plaintiffs brought suit against the bill in 2013. They won in 2014, but Texas appealed. In 2016, a federal appeals court agreed the law had a discriminatory impact, but asked Judge Ramos to reconsider whether legislators had intended for that to be the case.

Last August, Ramos signed off on a compromise to temporarily fix the law ahead of the November election. Voters could sign an affidavit explaining why they didn’t have ID, and then show an alternate form of non-photo ID to cast their ballots. Legislation that essentially locks that compromise in place is now being considered.

Proponents of voter ID argued that the case for intentional discrimination was no longer valid because of the new bill. Lawyers for the Trump Department of Justice echoed that perspective and urged Ramos to delay her decision until the new bill could work its way through the Legislature.

“Regardless of what the record was at the time, the record is clearly evolving,” John Gore, the new deputy assistant attorney general for the DOJ’s civil rights divisionFEFF, told Ramos in a Feb. 28 hearing in Corpus Christi, Texas, which ProPublica attended.

Gore said empathically that the new legislation created “a new legislative mosaic.” He added: “It paints a new picture of Texas’ intent with regard to voter ID.”

Over the course of Gore’s arguments, which lasted only a few minutes, Ramos repeatedly asked him to explain how a bill proposed in 2017 would impact how she should rule on whether a law passed six years prior had been intentionally discriminatory. Gore did not give a direct answer.

Ramos dismissed the government’s bid for delay last week, saying she would rule on whether the law was intentionally discriminatory “in due course.” In her ruling issued yesterday, the judge wrote that Texas’ passage and defense of the law “revealed a pattern of conduct unexplainable on non-racial grounds, to suppress minority voting.”

While the state claimed the law was necessary to combat in-person voter fraud, Ramos noted that there is little evidence of such fraud.

The DOJ declined comment on the decision. Texas is likely to appeal the ruling.

Ramos has scheduled a hearing for June to decide on a remedy for the law, which could include putting Texas back under federal voting rights oversight.

The Supreme Court declined to hear the case in January, saying the case had not yet worked its way through the lower courts. But the justices will have an opportunity to consider it again. If they do, said Rick Hasen, an election law expert and professor at the University of California, Irvine’s law school, “the newly reconstructed five conservative majority could well reverse on all claims.”

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Appeals Court Strikes Down ‘Discriminatory’ Texas Voter ID Law

By Jon Herskovitz

AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) — A U.S. appeals court struck down a Texas law on Wednesday requiring voters to show authorized identification before casting ballots, saying the measure violated the U.S. Voting Rights Act through its “discriminatory effects.”

The decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit pertained to one of a series of laws enacted in Republican-governed states requiring potential voters to show identification.

“We affirm the district court’s finding that SB 14 (Texas Senate Bill 14) violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act through its discriminatory effect,” a three-judge panel from the New Orleans-based court said.

The measure was signed into law in 2011 by then Texas Governor Rick Perry, a Republican, and has been the subject of legal battles since then.

Plaintiffs argued the law would hit elderly and poorer voters, including minorities, hardest because they are less likely to have such identification.

The measure, which supporters say will prevent voter fraud, requires voters to present a photo identification such as a driver’s license, passport or military ID card.

U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos ruled in October 2014 that the law, which was challenged by the administration of President Barack Obama and civil rights groups, was unlawful under the Voting Rights Act and U.S. Constitution in part because it discriminates against minority voters.

The Obama administration has been trying to counter a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June 2013 that overturned parts of the Voting Rights Act. That ruling freed several states, mostly in the South, from strict federal oversight.

In its decision, the 5th Circuit judges wrote: “We recognize the charged nature of accusations of racism, particularly against a legislative body, but we also recognize the sad truth that racism continues to exist in our modern American society despite years of laws designed to eradicate it.”

(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Sandra Maler and Eric Beech)

Photo via George Alcott/Flickr

5 Ways Republicans Make It Harder To Vote And Easier To Buy Elections

When it comes to voting rights, conservatives have to play dumb.

Over the last half-decade, Republican-led states have engaged in a concerted effort to limit voting rights that has not been seen since the civil rights struggle of the 1960s.

“From 2011 to 2015, 395 new voting restrictions have been introduced in 49 states, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, and 21 states have adopted new laws making it harder to vote, 14 of which will be in effect for the first presidential cycle in 2016,” wrote The Nation‘s Ari Berman, whose new book Give Us The Ballot tells the story of the modern battle to win the right to vote and the five-decade conservative effort to undo it.

Hillary Clinton called out several of her Republican rivals this week for their efforts to limit voting rights while proposing some simple yet radical ways to make it easier to vote, including automatic voter registration.

“She doesn’t know what she’s talking about,” Chris Christie told CBS’ Face the Nation in an interview that aired Sunday morning.

The New Jersey governor  — like all Republicans, with the occasional exception of Rand Paul — has to ignore both the broad GOP effort to keep Democrats from voting (an effort that conservatives have candidly or indirectly acknowledged several times) and his own personal contribution to it. Christie vetoed early voting in 2013 after Superstorm Sandy exposed problems with the state’s voting system.

GOP presidential candidates Scott Walker and Rick Perry passed laws that will deny the vote to hundreds of thousands of citizens in their states. But they’re amateurs compared to Jeb Bush, who was governor when purges of the voter rolls targeting minority voters may have helped swing Florida’s electoral votes to his brother George W. Bush twice.

Echoes of the stolen 2000 presidential election could be heard clearly in 2014, when Chris Christie argued that Republicans needed to win so they could maintain control over “voting mechanisms.” As head of the Republican Governors Association when the Bridgegate investigation targeted his administration, Christie set a record by raising over $100 million. And since then, he has distributed “generous gifts” to show appreciation to his donors.

While the conservative Supreme Court has gone on a rampage of undoing campaign finance laws, throwing out limits on donors and allowing unlimited anonymous donations to campaign organizations, actual voting keeps getting harder — but only for certain Americans.

Black, Latino, and Asian voters all have to wait longer to vote than their white peers. They also tend to vote Democratic more often, which is exactly the point. Republicans think voting should be harder, but buying an election should be easier, because they’re so much better at attracting the .01 percent of donors who sway our politics than voters. Here are five ways that Republicans use “voting mechanisms” to undermine the will of the people.

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1. Ensuring long lines.
Republicans didn’t steal the 2012 election, but they sure tried. Voters in mostly Democratic areas of Florida had to wait up to 9 hours to cast their ballots. Theodore Allen, an associate professor of industrial engineering at OSU, took a look at voting in central Florida and found that as many as 49,000 voters did not vote because of the long lines. Those who did not vote favored Obama by a nearly 2-to-1 margin, 30,000 to 19,000. There’s also evidence that long lines helped George W. Bush take Ohio in 2004.

2. Inventing crimes that do no exist.
Voter ID laws have become the fashionable rage among Republicans during the past six years, even though there’s no evidence that they do anything but disenfranchise voters. Since 2000, more than a billion ballots have been cast. A recent study found that only 31 cases of voter fraud were discovered during that entire time. Hence we get that dark, disgusting satire of the guys who tell us 30,000 gun deaths a year mean we should enforce current laws, while they invent new government regulations to deter a crime rarer than looting after a lightning strike. These voter ID laws poll well because the public assumes good faith and doesn’t recognizes the Kafkaesque obstacles that many poor and elderly have to get through to pay for new documentation that could cost as much in today’s dollars as the unconstitutional poll taxes of our past.

It’s hard because the laws’ Republican backers purposely make those procedures difficult — by excluding forms of identification to hinder the Democratic voters they’d like to disenfranchise.

3. Registration restrictions.
Clinton’s elegant call for automatic voter registration cuts to the core of the right’s hypocrisy on voting. The right-wing movement that decries bureaucracy and trumpets the Founders’ cry of “No taxation without representation” in fact loves red tape and barriers to democracy, in order to keep “them” from the polls. When North Carolina introduced the most draconian anti-voting rights bill since Selma — made possible by a Republican landslide that apparently proved voting fraud was rampant — the Tarheel State canceled same-day voter registration. Proof-of-citizenship laws have exactly the opposite impact their supporters claim to want.

“State laws requiring voters to submit documentary evidence of citizenship in order to register to vote are already having a dramatic and harmful effect on citizens’ ability to participate in the political process in the states that have them,” Demos’ lead counsel Stuart Naifeh found. “Conversely, they do almost nothing to reduce voter registration fraud, a problem that barely exists in the first place.” (Incidentally, the most notorious instance of alleged voter fraud in recent years involved right-wing commentator Ann Coulter, but the Republicans defended her.)

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4. Opposing disclosure.
While Republicans will go to extraordinary lengths to demand identification from potential voters, they’re equally insistent on blocking any transparency from donors. GOP 2016 candidates including Jeb Bush have given their support to dark money groups that could raise unlimited money from anonymous sources. The DISCLOSE Act would require speedy disclosure of those donations and their sources, from both the political action groups masquerading as “social welfare non-profits” and from labor unions. Republicans in the Senate blocked it.

5. Gutting the Voting Rights Act — and refusing to fix it.
When the Supreme Court’s ruling in Shelby County v. Holder gutted Sections 4 and 5 of the “crown jewel” of the civil rights movement — the Voting Rights Act — that wasn’t an accident of history. Conservatives had been plotting to undo the legislation since President Johnson signed it into law in 1965, although Republicans in both the Senate and House had overwhelmingly voted yes. The court’s ruling was based on invented jurisprudence and ignored the continued necessity of the law. “The Southern states that were previously subject to ‘pre-clearance’ have been particularly aggressive in curbing voting rights,” Ari Berman wrote. Some have called the decision as bad as Plessy v. Ferguson, which legalized segregation.

And as soon as the court removed the requirement of pre-clearance, which has fundamentally transformed the American electorate, Texas, Alabama, North Carolina and Mississippi sped into action to implement requirements that had been deemed discriminatory in recent years. Now the same people who undid the VRA are challenging the notion of “one person, one vote” that has played a major role in increasing minority representation.

Facing a demographic tsunami that, if current voting patterns hold, could shrink the GOP into a regional party, Republicans have decided to build a levee that cannot hold, instead of seeking higher ground. When called out for what they’re doing, all they can do is pretend that they aren’t the disenfranchisers we’re looking for.