Thursday, November 1, 2012

Daily Read: Understanding Voter Fraud Prevention Efforts

While much has been written on voter fraud, Jane Mayer's article, The Voter-Fraud Myth, appearing in the New Yorker is one of the most in-depth and well-researched journalistic pieces.

She addresses voter identification proposals, such as those we've recently discussed in Texas, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, and Indiana, situating them in their political contexts and providing differing perspectives.

Mayer's conclusion, focused on proponents of voter identification laws, is sobering: Maybe-Symbol

With legions of citizen watchdogs on the lookout for fraud, voters confused about the documents necessary to vote, and the country almost evenly divided politically, von Spakovsky is predicting that November 6th could be even more chaotic than the 2000 elections. He will play a direct role in Virginia, a swing state, where he is the vice-chairman of the electoral board of Fairfax County. Joining us at the conference table at the Heritage Foundation, John Fund, von Spakovsky’s co-author, told me, “If it’s close this time, I think we’re going to have three or four Floridas.” Von Spakovsky shook his head and said, “If we’re lucky only three or four.” If there are states where the number of provisional ballots cast exceeds the margin of victory, he predicts, “there will probably be horrendous fights, and litigation between the lawyers that will make the fights over hanging chads look minor by comparison.” Pursing his lips, he added, “I hope it doesn’t happen.” But, if it does, no one will be more ready for the fight.


November 1, 2012 in Current Affairs, Elections and Voting, News | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Daily Read: Felon Disenfranchisement in Comparative Perspective

The current controversy in the UK over voting by persons who are presently incarcerated and the imminent US election again raise questions regarding the general US policy of disenfranchisement by persons convicted of felonies (even if not incarcerated), a topic we've previously addressed here and here.

Ruvi Ziegler's 2011 article, Legal Outlier, Again? US Felon Suffrage: Comparative and International Human Rights Perspectives, 29 Boston University International Law Journal 197, available on ssrn, situates the US practices and doctrine within international human rights and comparative constitutional law perspectives. 

Ziegler concludes that defending the "rights of convicts is hardly a popular task. However,defending their right to vote means, inter alia, defending the substantivedemocratic legitimacy of criminal law, which labels certain community members as convicts by proscribing their acts and which sanctions the imposition of punishments. Convicts’ disenfranchisement is a hurdle on the path towards the democratic project’s successful completion. It can and should be removed."

This is worth a read for any scholar or student pondering the relationship between the fundamental right to vote and punishment.

[image via]

October 25, 2012 in Comparative Constitutionalism, Criminal Procedure, Current Affairs, Elections and Voting, Fundamental Rights, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Prisoner Voting?: UK Balks at European Court of Human Rights Opinion

Churchill"Prisoners are not getting the vote under this government," UK Prime Minister David Cameron said yesterday.  This is despite the attorney general's statements earlier that day that the UK should comply with opinions from the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) regarding the UK's blanket ban on prisoner voting.  The ECHR in 2005 ruled in Hirst v. UK that the UK's bar on voting was too "blunt" of an instrument:

 It strips of their Convention right to vote a significant category of persons and it does so in a way which is indiscriminate. The provision imposes a blanket restriction on all convicted prisoners in prison. It applies automatically to such prisoners, irrespective of the length of their sentence and irrespective of the nature or gravity of their offence and their individual circumstances. Such a general, automatic and indiscriminate restriction on a vitally important Convention right must be seen as falling outside any acceptable margin of appreciation, however wide that margin might be.

 In 2009, the ECHR expressed "serious concern" that the Hirst judgment had not been implemented.

And it seems that PM Cameron is voicing his opinion that Hirst will never be implemented - at least under his government.

Excellent reporting from The Guardian here, with details of the debates here.

[image via]

October 25, 2012 in Comparative Constitutionalism, Elections and Voting, News | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Supreme Court Refuses to Stay Sixth Circuit's Ruling on Ohio Early Voting

In a very brief Order today, the United States Supreme Court stated in Husted v. Obama for America: "The application for stay presented to Justice Kagan and by her referred to the Court is denied."

Thus, the Court let stand the Sixth Circuit's opinion upholding the district court's finding that the Ohio differential early voting scheme violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.  Our previous discussion is here.


October 16, 2012 in Elections and Voting, Equal Protection, Fourteenth Amendment, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, October 15, 2012

Court Grants Certiorari in Arizona Voting Case: Preemption and Citizenship Issues

Today the United States Supreme Court granted the petition for certiorari of the State of Arizona in Arizona v. The Inter-Tribal Council of Arizona, from the Ninth Circuit's en banc opinion in Gonzalez v. Arizona. (The Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, ITCA, was a named plaintiff in Gonzales).

Tribal Lands in ArizonaThe central issues, as have been the case with other recent Arizona laws before the Supreme Court, involve pre-emption and citizenship.   Here, Arizona's law derives from a ballot initiative, Proposition 200, passed in 2004.  It requires prospective voters in Arizona to provide proof of U.S. citizenship in order to register to vote and requires registered voters to show identification to cast a ballot at the polls.  The plaintiffs contended that these provisions were pre-empted by the National Voter Registration Act and the Voting Rights Acts. 

With regard to the polling place requirements, the en banc Ninth Circuit affirmed the district judge and rejected the plaintiffs' claims that the requirements were inconsistent with the Voting Rights Act, violated the Twenty Fourth Amendment's prohibition of poll taxes, or violated the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause.

However, the Ninth Circuit found the challenge to the registration to vote provisions had merit. As a grounds of pre-emption, the plaintiffs relied on the Supremacy Clause, Article VI, but also upon the Elections Clause, Art. I, § 4, cl. 1.  Recall that the Elections Clause provides: "The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations, except as to the Places of chusing Senators."  The Ninth Circuit en banc extensively discussed Election Clause pre-emption and compared the provisions of the NVRA and the Proposition 200 regulations.  The court found:

Although Arizona has offered a creative interpretation of the state and federal statutes in an effort to avoid a direct conflict, we do not strain to reconcile a state’s federal election regulations with those of Congress, but consider whether the state and federal procedures operate harmoniously when read together naturally.  Here, under a natural reading of the NVRA, Arizona’s rejection of every Federal Form submitted without proof of citizenship does not constitute “accepting and using” the Federal Form. Arizona cannot cast doubt on this conclusion by pointing out that the NVRA allows states to reject applicants who fail to demonstrate their eligibility pursuant to the Federal Form. Congress clearly anticipated that states would reject applicants whose responses to the Federal Form indicate they are too young to vote, do not live within the state, or have not attested to being U.S. citizens. Indeed, the NVRA instructs the EAC [Election Assistance Commission] to request information on the Federal Form for the precise purpose of “enabl[ing] the appropriate State election official to assess the eligibility of the applicant.” Thus, a state that assesses an applicant’s eligibility based on the information requested on the Federal Form is “accepting and using” the form in exactly the way it was meant to be used. In contrast, Proposition 200’s registration provision directs county recorders to assess an applicant’s eligibility based on proof of citizenship information that is not requested on the Federal Form, and to reject all Federal Forms that are submitted without such proof. Rejecting the Federal Form because the applicant failed to include information that is not required by that form is contrary to the form’s intended use and purpose.

[citations omitted].

In its petition for writ of certiorari, Arizona argues that the Ninth Circuit mistakenly created a "new, heightened preemption test" under the Elections Clause and incorrectly concluded that the Proposition 200 requirements were preempted by the NVRA.

The litigation has already garnered a few amicus curiae briefs at the certiorari stage; it is sure to be another closely watched case on Arizona's attempts to regulate citizenship.

[image: ITCA,"Tribal Homelands in Arizona" via]

October 15, 2012 in Current Affairs, Elections and Voting, Equal Protection, Opinion Analysis, Preemption, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Sixth Circuit on Ohio Voting Issues Arising from Poll-Worker Error

510px-DSCN4516_portconneautflag_eIn its opinion today in Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless v. Husted, consolidated on appeal with SEUI v. Husted, the Sixth Circuit considered yet another  problem with Ohio's voting regime and as in Obama for America v. Husted decided last week regarding early voting ruled mostly against the state. 

The 35 page per curium opinion considers Ohio’s requirements that provisional ballots be cast in the correct precinct and with completed voter affirmation, making no exception for wrong-precinct and deficient-affirmation ballots caused by poll-worker error.

The Sixth Circuit affirmed the district judge's injunction in SEIU v. Husted regarding wrong precinct voting as a denial of equal protection.  After extension discussion regarding factual nuances of the district court's order, the Sixth Circuit upheld the wrong precinct voting injunction.  However, in a very brief analysis, the panel reversed the injunction against deficient affirmation ballots, finding that the "spotty record" did not support the judge's presumption of poll-worker error.

Yet the panel's own ruling created some equal protection issues:

we note some additional issues our ruling creates that must be resolved. While we have set aside the portion of the preliminary injunction addressing deficient-affirmation provisional ballots, the consent decree continues to mandate that some deficient-affirmation provisional ballots will be counted. This discrepancy appears to create a Bush v. Gore problem. Similarly, the consent decree standing on its own also raises Bush v. Gore issues by virtue of treating some provisional ballots differently than others. This latter concern is not purely academic, as the consent decree will be the only agreement governing these issues for Ohio’s 2013 primary elections.

Thus, the panel remanded the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless case for the district judge to "expeditiously address" the equal protection issue created by the consent decree’s provision for the counting of deficient-affirmation ballots and the motion to modify the consent decree in light of the equal protection concerns raised by the consent decree’s differential treatment of provisional ballots.

[image via]

October 11, 2012 in Current Affairs, Elections and Voting, Equal Protection, Fourteenth Amendment, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Sixth Circuit Affirms Injunction on Ohio Early Voting

In its opinion yesterday in Obama for America v. Husted, the Sixth Circuit has affirmed the district judge's injunction against Ohio's new law that prevented some Ohio voters from casting in-person early ballots during the three days before the November 2012 election on the basis that the statute violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Animated-Flag-OhioThe Sixth Circuit opinion tracks the district judge's explanation of the confusing (and confused) statutory scheme that resulted in different allowances of early in-peson voting to military and overseas voters than to non-military voters.  In its equal protection analysis, the Sixth Circuit panel noted that Ohio had both burdened the right to vote and had classified voters disparately.  It examined Ohio's two asserted governmental interests - - - the burden on local boards of elections and the need to accommodate military voters and their families - - - and found that the State did not demonstrate they were “sufficiently weighty” interests to curtail voting.  While the Sixth Circuit does not explicitly find that the interests were not being served by the means chosen, this usual prong of equal protection analysis is implicit in the analysis.

Importantly, the panel explicitly upheld the district judge's remedy:

The State argues that the district court’s remedy was overbroad because it could be read to affirmatively require the State to mandate early voting hours during the three- day period prior to the election. We do not read the district court’s order in this way. The order clearly restores the status quo ante, returning discretion to local boards of elections to allow all Ohio voters to vote during Saturday, November 3, 2012; Sunday, November 4, 2012; and Monday, November 5, 2012. Because Ohio Rev. Code § 3509.03 is unconstitutional to the extent that it prohibits non-military voters from voting during this period, the State is enjoined from preventing those voters from participating in early voting. But the State is not affirmatively required to order the boards to be open for early voting. Under the district court’s order, the boards have discretion, just as they had before the enactment of § 3509.03. The district court’s remedy was therefore appropriate.

It was on the question of remedy that Circuit Judge Helene White disagreed, suggesting that she would "remand the matter with instructions to give the Secretary and the General Assembly a short and finite period in which cure the constitutional defects."


October 6, 2012 in Elections and Voting, Equal Protection, Fourteenth Amendment, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Pennsylvania Trial Judge on remand Issues Partial Injunction of Voter ID Law

On remand from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's opinion last month, Commonwealth Judge Robert Simpson issued his Memorandum Order by today's deadline issuing a partial injunction of Pennsylvania's controversial voter photo identification law administered by PennDOT. 

In short, the Judge allows election officials to request an in-person voter show photo identification, but "enjoin[s] enforcement of those provisions of Act 18 which amend the provisional ballot procedures of the Election Code and cause disenfranchisement based on failure to present photo ID for in-person voting." [emphasis added].  The Judge rejected the State's argument that such a voter be allowed only to cast a "provisional ballot."

Judge Simpson also noted that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's

reference to “no voter disenfranchisement ... for purposes of the upcoming election,” Applewhite, ___ Pa. at ___, ___ A.3d at ___, slip op. at 7, has sparked debate between the parties. I understand the phrase to be focused on the preliminary injunction for purposes of the upcoming election. I do not understand the phrase to define the test for a facial validity challenge in the context of a permanent injunction. If that understanding is not correct, the Court’s guidance will be necessary.

With a little over a month until the election, this case may be heading back to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court for such guidance.


October 2, 2012 in Elections and Voting, Fundamental Rights, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

District Court Declines to Enjoin Florida Early Voting Change

Judge Timothy J. Corrigan (M.D. Fla.) ruled in Brown v. Detzner that the plaintiffs failed to show that they were substantially likely to succeed on their statutory and constitutional claims challenging Florida's 2011 changes to its early voting law.  Judge Corrigan thus rejected the plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction.

The ruling means that Florida's 2011 changes to its early voting law--and the counties' rules and regulations as to early voting days and times--will almost certainly stay in place for the upcoming election.  But if Judge Corrigan is right, the changes will have little effect on access to the ballot.

(One issue that Judge Corrigan didn't touch: the plaintiff's argument that the disparate voting days and times in the various counties violated the Equal Protection Clause.  Judge Corrigan wrote that the plaintiffs failed to plead this claim.) 

The case arose in response to Florida's 2011 changes to its early voting laws.  Florida reduced the number of early voting days, but gave local elections supervisors the discretion to allow voting on certain other days and to offer up to 12 hours of voting each day.  On net, the 2011 changes didn't necessarily mean fewer total voting hours--and several counties intend to offer the same number of hours as they did under the old law, 96 hours in all--but it does mean fewer total days.  (There's a nice chart in the last six pages of the linked file that gives each county's voting days and times and total available voting hours.)

Here's the old law:

Early voting shall begin on the 15th day before an election and end on the 2nd day before an election. . . .  Early voting shall be provided for 8 hours per weekday and 8 hours in the aggregate each weekend at each site during the applicable periods.  Early voting sites shall open no sooner than 7 a.m. and close no later than 7 p.m. on each applicable day.

And here's the new one:

Early voting shall begin on the 10th day before an election that contains state or federal races and end on the 3rd day before the election, and shall be provided for no less than 6 hours and no more than 12 hours per day at each site during the applicable period.

The plaintiffs, including Congresswoman Corrine Brown, the SCLC Jacksonville Chapter, and the Duval County Democratic Executive Committee, challenged the new law, arguing that it violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act and the Equal Protection Clause by burdening the rights of African Americans to vote.  (Because five Florida counties are covered jurisdictions under the VRA, those counties had to seek preclearance under Section 5 before implementing the change.  The Section 5 court originally declined to preclear, but said that "Florida would likely satisfy its burden of proving that the overall effect of its changes in law would be nonretrogressive" (and thus satisfy the Section 5 preclearance standard) if the covered counties opened their polls for the maximum allowable time--thus ensuring that the total available voting hours under the new law would equal the total available hours under the old one.  That's exactly what they did.)

Judge Corrigan ruled that the plaintiffs failed to show a substantial likelihood of success on either the VRA or the Equal Protection claim.  In particular, he ruled that the plaintiffs couldn't show that Florida enacted the change with discriminatory purpose.  Looking to the Arlington Heights factors, he said that the change will have a disproportionate effect on minority voters (although this effect will be mitigated if counties implement the full 96-hour voting plan allowable under the new law); nothing in the historical background of the change suggests a racial intent; irregularities in the process of enacting the new law were insufficient to suggest a racial intent; and the legislative history didn't suggest a racial intent (although some statements from the history suggested otherwise). 


September 26, 2012 in Cases and Case Materials, Elections and Voting, Equal Protection, News, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Supreme Court Validates Constitutionality of West Virginia's Redistricting Plan

In a per curium reversal of a three judge court, the United States Supreme Court today issued its brief opinion in Tennant v. Jefferson County Commission. 

The issue was not whether West Virginia itself was unconstitutional - - - as some have entertained - - - but whether the latest redistricting plan of its state legislature was constitutional.  The constitutional argument centered on the “one person, one vote” principle the Court has held to be "embodied" in Article I, §2, of the United States Constitution.  

Reversing, the Court held that the three judge court misapplied the standard of Karcher v. Daggett, 462 U. S. 725 (1983), requiring first, that the parties challenging the plan bear the burden of proving the existence of population differences that “could practicably be avoided," and then if so, the burden shifts to the State to “show with some specificity” that the population differences “were necessary to achieve some legitimate state objective.”

West_Virginia_CountiesThere was no dispute that the new plan had a population variance of 0.79%, the second highest variance of the plans the legislature considered.  Instead, there was disagreement over whether this was necessary to achieve some legitimate state objective. The state had several other objectives, including not splitting county lines, redistricting incumbents into the same district, or requiring dramatic shifts in the population of the current districts.  

As to county lines, the Court noted:

With respect to the objective of not splitting counties, the [Three Judge] District Court acknowledged that West Virginia had never in its history divided a county between two or more congressional districts. The court speculated, however, that the practice of other States dividing counties between districts “may portend the eventual deletion” of respecting such boundaries as a potentially legitimate justification for population variances.

[emphasis in original].  As those who have ever resided in West Virginia know, counties are quite important as demographic markers in the state.  The Court thus seems to nod to the state's individual circumstances, as well as also acknowledging its relatively small population. 

A good source for all the background of the redistricting of West Virginia is available on LawProf Justin Levin's  "All about Redistricting" website.

[image: West Virginia counties map via]

September 25, 2012 in Elections and Voting, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Supreme Court Rejects Effort to Block Texas's Interim Districting Maps

In perhaps the final chapter of the long-running saga involving Texas's congressional and state legislative districting maps, the Supreme Court yesterday denied a motion to stay the maps drawn by the Texas court after remand from the Supreme Court earlier this year in Perry v. Perez.

Here's our last post for background.  Here's a thumbnail version (with links to many of our earlier posts):

The League of United Latin American Citizens asked Justice Scalia for an emergency stay.  The Court yesterday rejected that request, without comment or dissent.

The ruling puts an end to the litigation and leaves the most recent Texas Court maps in place for the fall elections.


September 20, 2012 in Cases and Case Materials, Elections and Voting, Federalism, News, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

D.C. Circuit Reverses Disclosure Ruling, Passes to FEC

A three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit today vacated the district court ruling in favor of plaintiff-Representative Chris Van Hollen over the FEC's disclosure regulation in Van Hollen v. FEC.  The ruling sends the case back to the FEC either to reissue its regs or to reargue that its current reg is a permissible construction of the statute, the Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform Act.  The district court retains jurisdiction.

Recall that Representative Van Hollen sued the FEC over its reg, which required disclosure of corporate and labor union contributors as follows:

If the disbursement were made by a corporation or labor organization pursuant to 11 CFR Sec. 114.15, the name and address of each person who made a donation aggregating $1,000 or more to the corporation or labor organization, aggregating since the first day of the preceding calendar year, which was made for the purpose of furthering electioneering communication.

11 CFR Sec. 104.20(c)(9).  The problem, according to Van Hollen, was that the italicized limit on the disclosure requirement violated the plain language of the BCRA, which requires disclosure as follows:

(E) If the disbursement were paid out of a segregated bank account which consists of funds contributed . . . directly to this account for electioneering communications, the names and addresses of all contributors who contributed an aggregate amount of $1,000 or more to that account . . .; or

(F) If the disbursements were paid out of funds not described in subparagraph (E), the names and addresses of all contributors who contributed an aggregate amount of $1,000 or more to the person making the disbursement during the period beginning on the first day of the preceding calendar year and ending on the disclosure date.

2 USC Sec. 434(f)(2).   

Van Hollen argued that BCRA's (E) and (F) required disclosure of "all contributors," but the FEC reg limited that to only contributions "made for the purpose of furthering electioneering communication."

The district court ruled that the FEC reg violated the plain language of the BCRA.  FEC's amici, but not the FEC itself, appealed.  The D.C. Circuit denied an emergency stay of the district court ruling pending appeal.  And finally today the D.C. Circuit vacated the district court ruling and remanded the case.

The court ordered the district court to retain jurisdiction while the FEC decides whether to re-write its regulation or to re-argue its case--this time focusing on whether its regulation was a permissible construction of the statute. 

(The district court originally ruled that the statute violated the plain language of BCRA--at Chevron's step 1.  It didn't even get to Chevron's step 2.  Because the D.C. Circuit ruled that the district court got it wrong on Chevron's step 2, the FEC may, if it chooses, reargue at the district court that the reg satisfies Chevron's step 2--that it's a permissible interpretation of the statutory language.)


September 18, 2012 in Cases and Case Materials, Elections and Voting, News, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tenth Circuit Rejects Challenge to the Kansas Judicial Nominating Commission

A three-judge panel of the Tenth Circuit ruled in Dool v. Burke that the election procedure for attorney members of the Kansas Judicial Nominating Commission did not violate the Equal Protection Clause.  The ruling affirms a lower court decision and means that the procedure remains in place.   We posted on the complaint and motion for preliminary injunction here.

The Judicial Nominating Commission is comprised of nine-members--a chairperson (who is a lawyer licensed and residing in Kansas) and one attorney and one non-attorney from each of the state's four congressional districts.  The attorney members are elected by licensed attorneys residing in the respective congressional districts; the chairperson is elected by Kansas attorneys voting at large.  The non-attorney members are appointed by the governor.

Whenever a state appellate court vacancy arises (including a vacancy in the state supreme court), the Commission generates a short list of candidates based on a competitive application process.  The governor then selects the appointee to fill the vacancy from among those on the short list.  Still, all judges--including those appointed by way of the Commission--are subject to periodic retention elections in which Kansas voters may vote them out.

The plaintiffs, non-attorneys, argued that the election procedure for attorney members of the Commission closed the attorney seats to non-attorneys in violation of the one-person-one-vote principle set out in Reynolds v. Sims

The Tenth Circuit disagreed.  In a very brief, per curiam opinion, the court rejected the plaintiffs' claims and upheld the lower court's ruling denying preliminary relief and dismissing the case.

Judge O'Brien concurred, arguing that the Commission didn't possess the kind of general government functions and direct government power that would trigger strict scrutiny analysis of its election procedure under Avery v. Midland Cnty. Tex.--the post-Reynolds case that said that Reynolds applied with equal force to officials of a county government who exercised "general governmental powers over the entire geographic area served by the body."  Judge O'Brien also noted that the Commission serves a separation-of-powers function (insulating the judiciary from threats of control and threats to its integrity by the executive)--that it was created in direct response to an embarrassing episode in which the governor engineered his own appointment as Chief Justice--and that the federal Constitution does not prescribe any particular structure of government on the states.

Judge Matheson went a step further in a separate concurrence, arguing that the Commission satisfied the Salyer/Ball exception to Reynolds: that Reynolds doesn't apply to elections for limited-purpose bodies exercising narrow government functions and operating to the burden or benefit of one group of constituents more than others.  Salyer Land Co. v. Tulare Lake Basin Water Storage Dist.; Ball v. James.

Judge McKay dissented, arguing that the Commission's work is quintessential governmental--the appointment of judges--even if it's indirect and mediated by the governor's independent appointment (from the Commission's short list).


September 18, 2012 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Elections and Voting, Equal Protection, First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, News, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Pennsylvania Supreme Court Remands Voter ID Law

Applying the Pennsylvania Constitutional provision that “no power, civil or military, shall at any time interfere to prevent the free exercise of the right of suffrage.” PA. CONST. art. 1, § 5, in its opinion in Applewhite v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court today remanded the question of the constitutionality of Pennsylvania's new "Voter ID" law back to the trial judge. 


Standing L-R: Justice McCaffery, Justice Baer, Justice Todd, Justice Orie Melvin {on suspension}
Seated L-R: Justice Saylor, Chief Justice Castille, Justice Eakin


In its 7 page ruling, the per curium majority stressed that the affected population involves "members of some of the most vulnerable segments of our society (the elderly, disabled members of our community, and the financially disadvantaged)."   As the ruling makes clear, the statute's original plan - - - that persons needing voter ID could easily obtain it from the Pennsylvanian Department of Transportation, PennDOT - - - was unworkable given PennDOT's rigorous requirements.  A bit less clearly, the opinion states:

Upon review, we find that the disconnect between what the Law prescribes and how it is being implemented has created a number of conceptual difficulties in addressing the legal issues raised. Initially, the focus on short-term implementation, which has become necessary given that critical terms of the statute have themselves become irrelevant, is in tension with the framing of Appellants’ challenge to the Law as a facial one (or one contesting the Law’s application across the widest range of circumstances). In this regard, however, we agree with Appellants’ essential position that if a statute violates constitutional norms in the short term, a facial challenge may be sustainable even though the statute might validly be enforced at some time in the future. Indeed, the most judicious remedy, in such a circumstance, is the entry of a preliminary injunction, which may moot further controversy as the constitutional impediments dissipate.

Absolutely clear, however, is the Supreme Court's remand to the Commonwealth Court and its vacating of that court's "predictive judgment" that there would be no voter dienfranchisement.  Instead, the lower court must "consider whether the procedures being used for deployment of the cards comport with the requirement of liberal access which the General Assembly attached to the issuance of PennDOT identification cards," and if not, issue a preliminary injunction against the voter ID law.  The Supreme Court ordered the lower court to issue its opinion on or before October 2.

There were two vigorous dissents, both arguing that the Supreme Court should not remand the issue. 

In her dissenting opinion, Justice Todd stated that in her view, "the time for prediction is over":

Forty-nine days before a Presidential election, the question no longer is whether the Commonwealth can constitutionally implement this law, but whether it has constitutionally implemented it. Despite impending near-certain loss of voting rights, despite the Commonwealth's admitted inability thus far to fully implement Act 18 and its acceptance that, presently, “the Law is not being implemented according to its terms,” and despite the majority's concession that the “most judicious remedy” in such circumstances would be to grant an injunction, the majority nonetheless allows the Commonwealth to virtually ignore the election clock and try once again to defend its inexplicable need to rush this law into application by November 6, 2012.

And in a dissenting opinion as long as the per curium, and in which Todd joined, Justice McCaffery made clear that not only should the court decide the matter, but that there was "no doubt that the record, as it is, establishes the immediate and irreparable harm required for the injunction." McCaffery also had some especially pointed words about the political process:

While I have no argument with the requirement that all Pennsylvania voters, at some reasonable point in the future, will have to present photo identification before they may cast their ballots, it is clear to me that the reason for the urgency of implementing Act 18 prior to the November 2012 election is purely political. That has been made abundantly clear by the House Majority Leader. Exhibit 42 at R.R. 2073a. I cannot in good conscience participate in a decision that so clearly has the effect of allowing politics to trump the solemn oath that I swore to uphold our Constitution. That Constitution has made the right to vote a right verging on the sacred, and that right should never be trampled by partisan politics.

Thus, it seems that at least two of the six sitting Justices would immediately enjoin the voter ID law, and four are waiting for a lower court judge to make additional findings but lean towards an injunction. [UPDATED INFO: Recall that Justice Orie Melvin is not on the court at present; Order of Suspension here.

[image: Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justices via]


September 18, 2012 in Elections and Voting, State Constitutional Law | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Court Orders FEC to Reconsider Ruling on Access to Debates

Judge Rudolph Contreras (D.D.C.) ruled in La Botz v. FEC that the Commission's decision upholding a private organization's standards that kept the plaintiff out of the organization-sponsored U.S. Senate debates in Ohio in 2010 were not supported by substantial evidence.  Judge Contreras sent the case back to the FEC for further consideration.

La Botz, a member of Ohio's Socialist Party, didn't get an invitation to the U.S. Senate debates sponsored by the Ohio News Organization (ONO), a consortium of eight newspapers in Ohio.  He complained to the FEC that the ONO failed to use "pre-established, objective criteria" in determining who got to participate, as required by FEC regs.  The FEC dismissed the complaint with no more than a conclusory sentence of analysis (based on a single, flawed affidavit of an editor of one of the ONO newspapers) concluding that the ONO's standards satisfied FEC regs.  La Botz sued.

Judge Contreras ruled that La Botz had standing, and that the case was not moot (because it was capable of repetition yet evading review).  Then he sent the case back to the FEC for a more complete analysis, supported by substantial evidence.

The ruling means that the FEC will have another crack at it.  But even a ruling for La Botz (obviously) won't have a direct impact on his 2010 Senate run.  At most, it'll tell the ONO what kinds of criteria it needs to adopt the next time around. 


September 6, 2012 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Elections and Voting, Mootness, News, Opinion Analysis, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Western District of Texas Keeps Court-Drawn Maps in Place for Election

Following an earlier ruling last week by a three-judge panel of the D.C. District denying Section 5 preclearance to Texas legislature's redistricting plans, a Western District of Texas panel ruled on Friday that the most recent court-drawn plans will remain in place for the upcoming elections.

The ruling means that the court-drawn plans will govern the upcoming elections--even though at least one of those plans, the congressional district plan, was based closely on the Texas legislature's original plan that was denied preclearance earlier in the week.

This can all seem confusing, so let's sort it out from the beginning.  The Texas legislature redrew maps for its congressional, state senate, and state house seats in response to its ballooning and shifting population in the 2010 census and to maintain one-person-one-vote in its districts.  But Texas was required to gain preclearance under Section 5 of the VRA before it implemented those plans.  So it sought preclearance from a three-judge panel of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.  (It could have alternatively sought preclearance from DOJ, but it didn't.)

While the Section 5 case was pending, plaintiffs challenged the plans in the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas, alleging that the plans violated Section 2 of the VRA.  The Texas court, recognizing that the Section 5 case was pending but that the D.C. court had not yet ruled, ruled in favor of the plaintiffs and redrew the maps.  Texas appealed to the Supreme Court, and the Court invalidated the maps, in Perry v. Perez.

The Texas court went back to the drawing board and came up with new court-drawn maps, more closely based on the Texas legislature's original maps.  (The original maps were still pending Section 5 preclearance in the D.C. court.)  Nobody challenged the newly redrawn maps by the Western District court--at least not yet.

Earlier last week, the D.C. District finally ruled that the Texas legislature's original redistricting maps did not merit preclearance under Section 5 of the VRA.  The ruling didn't touch the most recent court-drawn maps by the Western District, however.  Those maps seemed to stay in place.  (Texas announced later last week that it would appeal the Section 5 ruling to the Supreme Court.  That announcement doesn't affect the Western District's maps--at least until the Supreme Court rules.)

After the D.C. court ruling last week, the Western District set a status conference for Friday to sort it all out.  According to the order, the court preliminarily assumed that its own most recent maps would govern the 2012 elections, but it offered parties an opportunity to argue otherwise.  Only one plaintiff in the original Section 2 case argued that the most recent court-drawn maps shouldn't govern:  the League of United Latin American Citizens argued that the court's congressional map was invalid, because it was based too closely on the Texas legislature's original congressional map, which failed preclearance earlier in the week.

The Western District rejected that argument and ruled from the bench that its own redrawn maps would govern the 2012 elections.  It also asked the parties for proposals by December 1 on how to move forward.

Unless there are any surprise moves--and they'd have to be a real surprise, and real quick, given the timing--the latest court-drawn plans will govern the upcoming elections.  

Meanwhile, the Texas legislature's plans may go to the Supreme Court.  But even if they do, the application of Section 5 will hardly be the most interesting issue related to the VRA before the Court.  That's because the Court is almost certain to grant cert. to a challenge to the constitutionality of Section 5.  If so, and if the Court, as expected, overturns Section 5, the Texas legislature's original plans may go back into place--but only after the 2012 elections.


September 2, 2012 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, Elections and Voting, Fifteenth Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, News, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, August 31, 2012

Federal District Judge Issues Preliminary Injunction Against Ohio's Differential Early Voting Deadlines

332px-Flag_Map_of_Ohio.svgIn a 23 page opinion and order today, United States District Judge Peter Economus issued a preliminary injunction in Obama for America v. Husted, enjoining the enforcement of new Ohio legislation and specifically restoring in-person early voting on the three days preceding Election Day for all eligible voters.

Recall that Obama for America and other plaintiffs filed a complaint and motion for preliminary injunction in July, arguing that the Ohio scheme violated the Equal Protection Clause.  The Complaint summed up the problem thusly:

Taken together, [Ohio] Amended Substitute House Bill Number 194 (“HB 194”), Amended Substitute House Bill Number 224 (“HB 224”) and Substitute Senate Bill Number 295 (“SB 295”), all enacted by the 129th Ohio General Assembly, impose different deadlines for in-person voting prior to Election Day (“early voting”) on similarly situated voters. Prior to the enactment of these laws, there was a single uniform deadline of the Monday before Election Day for in- person early voting. After the enactment of these laws, voters using the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voter Act (“UOCAVA”) may vote early in-person at a board of elections office up through the Monday before Election Day, while non-UOCAVA voters can vote early in-person at a board of elections office (or designated alternate site) only up until 6 p.m. on the Friday before Election Day.

Judge Economus' opinion expands on the facts, including the relevancy of weekends, as well as the legislative ambiguities, but recognizes the differential for UOCAVA and non-UOCAVA voters.  In his analysis of the constitutional inquiry, he stresses that the right to vote is a fundamental right, and quotes from Bush v. Gore, 531 U.S. 98 (2000):

The right to vote is protected in more than the initial allocation of the franchise. Equal protection applies as well to the manner of its exercise. Having once granted the right to vote on equal terms, the State may not, by later arbitrary and disparate treatment, value one person’s vote over that of another. It must be remembered that the right of suffrage can be denied by a debasement or dilution of the weight of a citizen’s vote just as effectively as by wholly prohibiting the free exercise of the franchise.

(bolding in Obama for America v. Husted Opinion).

Judge Economus easily finds that there is a classification and a burdening of the right to vote, and indeed, Ohio did not vigorously assert otherwise.   As to Ohio's argument that this is "justified to address the needs of Ohio elections boards as they prepare for Election Day" and that it the classification into two groups is justified "to serve the particular needs of the military and, albeit to a lesser extent, overseas voters," Judge Economus found the evidence did not support these justifications.  The lack of evidence is attributable to the county boards of elections and their various responses.  As to the "military voters," the Judge found that the prospect of sudden deployment could have constituted a supporting rationale for the state's scheme, except that "whether a service member— or overseas voter—can actually vote during those three days is up to each county elections board," with almost all counties not allowing voting on Sunday.  The Judge finds Ohio's justification "completely eviscerated, county by county."

Given these weak justifications, Judge Economus easily finds that the burden on voting outweighs any state interests, again citing Bush v. Gore:

The issue presented is the State’s redefinition of in-person early voting and the resultant restriction of the right of Ohio voters to cast their votes in person through the Monday before Election Day. This Court stresses that where the State has authorized in-person early voting through the Monday before Election Day for all voters, “the State may not, by later arbitrary and disparate treatment, value one person’s vote over that of another.” Bush v. Gore, 531 U.S. 98, 104-05 (2000). Here, that is precisely what the State has done.

(bolding in Obama for America v. Husted Opinion).

The decision comports with well-established Equal Protection principles, including those articulated by the Court in Bush v. Gore, and although sure to be appealed, should withstand review.


August 31, 2012 in Current Affairs, Elections and Voting, Equal Protection, Fourteenth Amendment, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Court Permanently Enjoins Enforcement of Florida's Third Party Voter Registration Laws

Judge Robert L. Hinkle (N.D. Fla.) permanently enjoined Florida officials from enforcing certain state third party voter registration laws after the state issued new emergency regulations to comply with Judge Hinkle's earlier preliminary injunction.  The ruling ends the legal challenge to the laws and their enforcement in favor of the plaintiffs; it also means that Florida's new (and less harsh, more forgiving) emergency regulations will now govern third party voter registration efforts--for the 40 days until the October 9 deadline in Florida for voter registration for the general election.  (Thanks to the Brennan Center for links to the docs.  The Brennan Center case page is here.)

The case, League of Women Voters of Florida v. Detzner, involved the plaintiffs' constitutional and statutory challenges to Florida's excessively restrictive third party voter registration laws enacted in 2011.  Those laws erected major barriers to third party voter registration efforts, stymieing those efforts in this 2012 battleground state.

Judge Hinkle issued a preliminary injunction back in May, writing that there was no substantial state interest in certain of the law's requirements, including these: 

  • that registration organizations turn in voter-registration applications within 48 hours after completion;
  • that registration organizations must file the names of every officer and employee and volunteer who is a "registration agent," including those who merely solicit applications;
  • that each registration agent file a sworn statement that he or she will obey registration laws, on a form that incorrectly suggests that a registration agent commits a felony and could be imprisoned for five years for sending in a voter-registration application that includes false information;
  • that registration organizations must account for all registration forms and file certain onerous reports.

In response, the state issued new emergency regulations for third party voter registration organizations.  After the plaintiffs agreed that the new regs were consistent with Judge Hinkle's injunction, the parties filed a joint motion for a permanent injunction against enforcement of the old laws.  Judge Hinkle granted that injunction yesterday.

(Judge Hinkle styled his ruling as "indicative," because the state's appeal of his preliminary injunction is still pending at the Eleventh Circuit.  That appeal will die, leaving in place the permanent injunction against enforcement of the old laws and the state's new emergency regs.)


August 30, 2012 in Cases and Case Materials, Elections and Voting, News | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Three Judge Court on Texas Voter ID Law

In State of Texas v. Holder, a well-reasoned opinion today from a three judge court denied Texas' motion for declaratory judgment that its new voter identification law, SB 14, satisfied section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1973 et seq.  Although the  court ordered the parties to provide a proposed schedule to the court on the constitutional issue, the Voting Rights Act (VRA) issue was intertwined with constitutional ones, as is so often the case in VRA cases.

For example, the parties disagreed about the import of Crawford v. Marion County, (2008), in which the Court upheld Indiana's voter ID law against a facial equal protection challenge.  Texas contended that Crawford controlled, while the United States argued Crawford was "largely irrelevant."  For the three-judge court, "the correct answer lies somewhere between these two positions." Contrary to Texas’s argument, in Crawford itself, the Court noted that it was “consider[ing] only the statute’s broad application to all Indiana voters," and the Texas' SB14 poses different questions - - - "does SB 14 have discriminatory purpose or retrogressive effect?" - - - and requires focus "on the limited subset of voters who are racial and language minorities."  And, perhaps most importantly, unlike Indiana in Crawford involving a constitutional challenge, Texas bears the burden of proof under the VRA. Contrary to the position taken by the United States, however, Crawford informs the analysis of SB 14 in two important ways: purpose and effect.  

Much of the 56 page opinion discussed the evidence, with the court including this summary:

We pause to summarize the evidentiary findings we have made so far. Contrary to Texas’s contentions, nothing in existing social science literature speaks conclusively to the effect of photo ID requirements on voter turnout. Moreover, scant lessons, if any, can be drawn from Indiana and Georgia, largely because SB 14 is more restrictive than the photo ID laws adopted by either of those states. Finally, no party has submitted reliable evidence as to the number of Texas voters who lack photo ID, much less the rate of ID possession among different racial groups.  Given this, we could end our inquiry here. Texas bears the burden of proving that nothing in SB 14 “would lead to a retrogression in the position of racial minorities with respect to their effective exercise of the electoral franchise" [citation omitted].  Because all of Texas’s evidence on retrogression is some combination of invalid, irrelevant, and unreliable, we have little trouble concluding that Texas has failed to carry its burden.

But the court went further, stating that the "record evidence suggests that SB 14, if implemented, would in fact have a retrogressive effect on Hispanic and African American voters."

This conclusion flows from three basic facts: (1) a substantial subgroup of Texas voters, many of whom are African American or Hispanic, lack photo ID; (2) the burdens associated with obtaining ID will weigh most heavily on the poor; and (3) racial minorities in Texas are disproportionately likely to live in poverty. Accordingly, SB 14 will likely “lead to a retrogression in the position of racial minorities with respect to their effective exercise of the electoral franchise.”

300px-Texas_population_map2The three judge court carefully considered Texas and distinguished SB14, as well as other laws and conditions, from other states. One distinguishing feature was Texas' size.  The court's opinion attempts to strike a note of humor when discussing the requirement that would-be voters lacking photo identification would have to apply for a "election identification certificate" (EIC) at a Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) office, and "almost one-third of Texas’s counties (81 of 254) lack" such an office:

This means that many would-be voters who need to obtain an EIC—individuals who by definition have no valid driver’s license—will have to find some way to travel long distances to obtain one. This is hardly an insignificant concern, especially given that “everything is bigger in Texas.” See, e.g., Rick Perry, Amid a Dim National Economy Texas Remains in the Spotlight, October 31, 2008, available at economy-texas-remains-spotlight-554 (last visited August 28, 2012).

 The opinion then resorts to another interesting citation: 

Even the most committed citizen, we think, would agree that a 200 to 250 mile round trip— especially for would-be voters having no driver’s license—constitutes a “substantial burden” on the right to vote. Our own Federal Rules of Civil Procedure support this conclusion, specifying that witnesses are unavailable to testify if they must travel more than 100 miles to do so. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 45(c)(3).

 The court found tremendous deficiencies in the United States' evidence and arguments, but Texas' deficiencies were ultimately much more serious, even without the burden of proof.   The court found it worth detailing some of these problems:

during closing arguments, Texas’s counsel complained that they had been shouldered with an “impossible burden” in this litigation. This may well be correct, but Texas’s lawyers have only their client to blame. The State of Texas enacted a voter ID law that—at least to our knowledge—is the most stringent in the country. That law will almost certainly have retrogressive effect: it imposes strict, unforgiving burdens on the poor, and racial minorities in Texas are disproportionately likely to live in poverty. And crucially, the Texas legislature defeated several amendments that could have made this a far closer case.

Ignoring warnings that SB 14, as written, would disenfranchise minorities and the poor, the legislature tabled or defeated amendments that would have:

  • waived all fees for indigent persons who needed the underlying documents to obtain an EIC,
  • reimbursed impoverished Texans for EIC-related travel costs,
  • expanded the range of identifications acceptable under SB 14 by allowing voters to present student or Medicare ID cards at the polls,
  • required DPS offices to remain open in the evening and on weekends,
  • and allowed indigent persons to cast provisional ballots without photo ID.

Put another way, if counsel faced an “impossible burden,” it was because of the law Texas enacted—nothing more, nothing less.

[Record citations omitted].
The opinion is worth reading in full.  Its import is that Texas SB 14 voter identification law will not be in effect in November, unless the United States Supreme Court acts exceedingly quickly.

August 30, 2012 in Elections and Voting, Equal Protection, Federalism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Federal Court Declines to Preclear Texas Electoral Districts Under Voting Rights Act

In the latest chapter of the Texas redistricting saga, a three-judge panel of the D.C. District ruled in Texas v. United States that Texas's redistricting maps failed to merit preclearance under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.

The ruling means that the Texas legislature's original redistricting maps fail.  But the ruling doesn't touch the interim maps most recently drawn by the Western District of Texas in the companion Section 2 suit.  Those maps have not been challenged.

The ruling also doesn't say anything about the constitutionality of Section 5.  That's the topic of a cert. petition now before the Supreme Court.

Recall that the case arose when Texas sought preclearance for its redrawn State House, State Senate, and Congressional districts from the three-judge panel in the D.C. District (and not the DOJ).  (Texas redrew its districts to account for its ballooning population and to meet the one-person-one-vote standard.  But Texas, as a covered jurisdiction under Section 4 of the VRA, had to receive preclearance under Section 5 before it could finalize and implement the new maps.)  Soon after Texas filed its Section 5 preclearance case, opponents of the maps filed a claim under Section 2 of the VRA in the Western District of Texas.  While the Section 5 case was pending in the D.C. District, the Western District drew its own maps that, it said, complied with the VRA so that Texas could move ahead with its scheduled primary elections.

The Western District maps went to the Supreme Court in Perry v. Perez, where the Court invalidated them.  After Perry, the Western District redrew the maps, and they haven't been challenged.

Meanwhile, the Section 5 case in the D.C. District moved forward, and that court ruled today that the state's original maps--the ones for which it originally sought preclearance--did not merit preclearance.  As a result, the only maps out there seem to be the Western District's redrawn maps.

Today's case says nothing about the constitutionality of Section 5.  The D.C. Circuit recently ruled on that question, and said that Section 5 is constitutional.  The cert. petition in that case, Shelby County v. Holder (and a related, companion case), is now before the Supreme Court.

The Texas redistricting case is something of a side-show, now that the more central issue in Shelby County is on cert.--with the Supreme Court almost surely to grant review.  But even if the Court overturns Section 5, as seems likely, any maps still have to pass muster under Section 2--the original cause of action in the Western District case.  Shelby County doesn't challenge Section 2.


August 28, 2012 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Elections and Voting, Fifteenth Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, News, Opinion Analysis, Reconstruction Era Amendments | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)