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PORTSIDE  November 2011, Week 1

PORTSIDE November 2011, Week 1

Subject:

What Is the Justice Department Doing About Southern Voting Rights?

From:

Portside Moderator <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

[log in to unmask]

Date:

Fri, 4 Nov 2011 23:54:12 -0400

Content-Type:

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Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (124 lines)

What Is the Justice Department Doing About Southern
Voting Rights?

by Chris Kromm
http://www.southernstudies.org/2011/11/what-is-the-justice-department-doing-about-southern-voting-rights.html

It's no secret: Over the last year, state legislatures
-- largely those run by Republicans -- have taken up and
in many cases passed a series of laws that create new
obstacles for voters, especially historically
disenfranchised voters and Democrats.

The "war on voting" includes measures requiring voters
to show photo ID at the polls, restrictions on voter
registration, shortening of the early voting period and
in Florida, a rule making it more difficult for ex-
felons to vote. And as Facing South has shown, in a
tight battleground state like Florida, the GOP laws
could make all the difference in 2012.

In the face of the voting-restriction juggernaut, voting
rights advocates in the South have one tool for fighting
back that most other states don't: Section 5 of the
Voting Rights Act, which requires covered states to gain
approval from the Department of Justice before carrying
out major changes to voting laws.

With the 2012 elections just a year away, what has the
Justice Department done so far? While DOJ's response to
state redistricting plans has been largely muted, so far
justice officials have taken an active interest in
scrutinizing and challenging Southern state laws that
affect voting rights.

FLORIDA: It's no coincidence that Florida, one of the
most prized battlegrounds in 2012, is also the state
where GOP leaders pushed the most far-reaching changes
to voting laws. After voting rights groups asked the DOJ
to deny preclearance, Florida pulled several provisions
from HB 1355 -- including restrictions on third-party
registration and shortening the early voting period --
from their approval request to DOJ, instead submitting
them to the U.S. District Court in D.C.

The court shot down a request from Florida officials to
fast-track the case, meaning the rules won't be in place
in time for Florida's January presidential primary. Will
Florida try to use two voting systems, keeping the old
policies in place for the five counties covered by the
Voting Rights Act, but enacting the new voting
restrictions for the rest of the state? It would likely
provoke lots of litigation; stay tuned.

SOUTH CAROLINA: Gov. Nikki Haley and fellow Republicans
likely thought the voter ID bill they passed in 2011
would be a slam-dunk case. But after a spirited campaign
by black officials and voting rights groups fell short,
the DOJ and media have pushed back.

In August, the DOJ issued a letter [pdf] to South
Carolina officials requesting more detailed information
about the impact of the law. The state responded in late
October, but it only generated controversy. First, an AP
investigation used state records to show the South
Carolina's law would disproportionately hurt African-
American precincts, as voting rights advocates had long
claimed.

Others pointed that SC's own response confirmed that at
least 239,000 of the state's 2.7 million voters don't
have the necessary photo ID. The S.C. Election
Commission announced last week that it has "no confirmed
cases" of voter fraud. This week, the state's largest
newspaper scolded South Carolina officials for not being
honest about the impact of the voter ID bill.

TEXAS: Another state where voter ID seemed on solid
footing until it ran into Section 5 preclearance. As
with South Carolina, DOJ asked Texas to provide more
detailed information about the impact of ID law on
disenfranchised groups. Texas officials responded, but
failed to include information about the race of those
without approved ID.

Because the state doesn't collect registration
information that discloses the race of voters, the state
of Texas said it couldn't comply with the request. But
in a letter to the Texas Secretary of State last week
[pdf], Democratic state senator Rodney Ellis suggests
that not only is such an analysis possible, but that the
state demographer is currently conducting such an
analysis.

The Fair Elections Legal Network reports there have been
other, smaller developments: In Alabama, the state isn't
seeking preclearance yet for a photo ID bill that isn't
slated to go into effect until 2014; a citizenship
requirement for registration is tied up with the state's
litigation-magnet immigration bill. In Georgia, DOJ
precleared the state's bill to reduce early voting from
45 to 21 days.

But overall, the situation is clear: In the Southern
debate over voting rights, the Department of Justice and
the Voting Rights Act are still major players.

___________________________________________

Portside aims to provide material of interest to people
on the left that will help them to interpret the world
and to change it.

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