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Voting Rights
November 1, 2018

A federal judge ruled on Thursday that Ford County, Kansas, Clerk Debbie Cox does not have to open a second polling site in Dodge City.

Cox moved the town's sole polling site from the Civic Center to the Expo Center, which is outside city limits, not accessible via sidewalk, and not regularly serviced by public transportation. In an attempt to get Cox to open a second polling location, a lawsuit was filed by first-time voter Alejandro Rangel-Lopez, 18, and the League of United Latin American Citizens.

U.S. District Court Judge Daniel Crabtree ruled that it is too close to the Nov. 6 election to do anything, because ordering the reopening of the Civic Center or the opening of a second location "likely would create more voter confusion than it might cure. The relief plaintiffs seek is not in the public's interest." Crabtree did say the court was troubled by a letter sent to Cox by the ACLU that she forwarded to a state official; the letter was asking her to publicize a voter's help line, and she added the comment "LOL."

Cox testified that she moved the voting site because she anticipated construction taking place at the Civic Center; there is no construction going on at this time. She also said there will be signs up at the Civic Center telling people where to go to vote, and that she called the city about providing rides to voters. When asked about the "LOL" comment, she said she took it "seriously," but she can't just put whatever people ask her to on her website. Catherine Garcia

October 26, 2018

Last week, Dodge City, Kansas — an iconic Wild West town (see: Gunsmoke) of 27,000 that is now 60 percent Latino — made national news because Ford County had moved the city's one polling location outside city limits, more than a mile from the nearest bus stop. Then on Thursday, Kansas election officials acknowledged that county officials had sent newly registered voters an official certificate directing them to the old polling location, a notification Kansas Director of Elections Bryan Caskey acknowledged was "confusing." Ford County Clerk Debbie Cox was instructed to try and clean up the mess before the Nov. 6 election.

"I didn't know this could get worse, and it did: 'Hey, let's move the site and not tell new registrants where they are supposed to go,'" Johnny Dunlap, chairman of the Ford County Democratic Party, told The Associated Press. Dodge City officials noted pointedly that moving the polling location out of town was a county decision, not a city one, James Fallows says at The Atlantic, and the city has organized free bus service to the polling location. (Lyft has also offered free rides.)

"Among city and county leaders there's concern many of the stories are missing some of those details, like the fact Dodge City has had only one polling location for decades," reports local ABC affiliate KAKE. "They say voters are used to the crowds running an expected 13,000 plus voters through one polling site will create." The city had multiple polling locations until 2002, AP reports, when the Americans With Disabilities Act imposed new accessibility requirements. Other polling locations in Kansas serve an average of 1,200 voters.

Since the Supreme Court weakened the Voting Rights Act in 2013, 868 polling places were closed nationwide, according to a 2016 report from the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. The top election official in Kansas, Republican Kris Kobach, is also running for governor this year; he is the nation's foremost proponent of restrictive voter ID laws. Peter Weber

October 24, 2018

Georgia gubernatorial candidates Stacey Abrams, the Democrat, and Republican Secretary of State Brian Kemp faced off in the first of two debates Tuesday night, and the issue of voting rights dominated the discourse. Kemp, who is overseeing the election, is under fire for putting at least 53,000 voter applications on hold, 70 percent of them for black voters, plus purging voter rolls and enacting other policies that critics say are aimed at suppressing minority turnout to sink Abrams' bid to be America's first black woman governor. The polls currently show a statistical tie.

"Under Secretary Kemp, more people have lost the right to vote in the state of Georgia," Abrams said. "They've been purged, they've been suppressed, and they've been scared. ... Voter suppression isn't only about blocking the vote. It's also about creating an atmosphere of fear, making people worry that their votes won't count." Kemp called the idea he is suppressing voters "totally untrue."

Earlier Tuesday, however, Rolling Stone published audio recorded at a ticketed campaign event last Friday suggesting Kemp is at least concerned about Abrams voters turning out en masse. Her campaign's extensive get-out-the-vote campaign, including the "unprecedented number" of absentee ballots requested, Kemp said, "is something that continues to concern us, especially if everybody uses and exercises their right to vote — which they absolutely can — and mail those ballots in."

Also on Tuesday, FOX 5 Atlanta reported that Kemp's real estate investment companies still owe $800,000 of about $2 million they borrowed from a bank Kemp helped found, First Madison Bank, in 2007 and 2008 during the financial meltdown. Kemp, who sits on the board of the bank, and his campaign would not disclose the terms of the insider loans or explain why they hadn't been paid back yet. You can read more about the loans, and the federal laws governing such insider lending, at FOX 5. Peter Weber

October 11, 2018

On Thursday, several civil rights and voting advocacy groups sued Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp to halt enforcement of the state's "exact match" voting law.

Kemp is also Georgia's Republican nominee for governor, and the suit claims that he has put on hold 50,000 registration applications in order to depress minority turnout and boost his gubernatorial campaign. Under state law, information on voter applications, including names and driver's license numbers, must match exactly what is in state databases. If anything is missing, like a middle name or hyphen, that voter could wind up on the "pending" list. Reuters analyzed the list of people on the pending list between August 2013 and February 2018, and found more than two-thirds were black.

On Election Day, voters can go to the polls and cast ballots as long as they provide a state-issued ID, but critics of the exact match law say it is confusing and many people don't realize that they can vote with their ID.

Kemp is running against Democrat Stacey Abrams, who is hoping to become the state's first black governor. Her campaign has called on Kemp to step down from his role overseeing the election, with spokeswoman Abigail Collazo saying he is "maliciously wielding the power of his office to suppress the vote for political gain and silence the voices of thousands of eligible voters." The Kemp campaign in turn accused Abrams of "using fear to fundraise" and "faking outrage" over the situation. Catherine Garcia

October 10, 2018

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court upheld a North Dakota voter ID law that requires proof of residential address, among other forms of identification. The law had been challenged by members of North Dakota's sizable Native American population, many of whom use post office boxes and lack residential addresses. "The U.S. Postal Service does not provide residential delivery in these rural Indian communities," the Native American Rights Fund explains.

A federal judge had struck down much of the 2017 law in April, ruling that it discriminated against Native American voters, but the U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals stepped in last month and allowed the law to take effect. Judge Brett Kavanaugh did not participate in the Supreme Court's decision to affirm the appellate ruling, and Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan dissented. Ginsburg argued in the dissent that the court should have vacated the 8th Circuit Court's ruling because it was too close to the election, 70,000 North Dakota residents don't have the proper ID and 18,000 of them don't have supplemental documentation allowing them to vote, and "the risk of disfranchisement is large."

The ruling will hurt Sen. Heidi Heitkamp's (D-N.D.) already uphill re-election bid, Mother Jones suggests. "Heitkamp won her seat by less than 3,000 votes in 2012 with strong backing from Native Americans, and she is the only statewide elected Democrat. North Dakota Republicans began changing voting rules to make it harder to cast a ballot months after Heitkamp's victory six years ago." The North Dakota secretary of state's office advises Native Americans and other North Dakotans without a street address to call their county 911 coordinator to begin a "no charge" process of getting a street address and proof of address that should allow them to obtain a valid ID or use as supplemental documentation permitting them to vote in November. Peter Weber

January 10, 2018

The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on Wednesday in a case challenging Ohio's policy of purging infrequent voters from its registration rolls. The U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Ohio's policy of dropping voters who don't vote regularly but are otherwise eligible violates federal law, siding with the American Civil Liberties Union and Demos over Ohio's Republican government. The Obama administration had sided with the plaintiffs but the Trump administration changed sides and is backing Ohio in the case, Husted v. A. Philip Randolph Institute.

The Supreme Court is expected to hand down its ruling in late June, and if it sides with Ohio, other states would probably enact similar voter policies. Seventeen states, most of them led by Republicans, are backing Ohio in the case, while 12 mostly Democratic states want the justices to rule Ohio's law unconstitutional. A Reuters analysis in 2016 found that Ohio was purging about twice as many voters in Democratic-leaning neighborhoods versus GOP-leaning neighborhoods in Ohio's three largest counties, and if the Sixth Circuit appellate court hadn't intervened, more than 7,500 eligible voters wouldn't have been able to cast ballots in 2016.

The Supreme Court is also considering two other voting rights cases this term, gerrymandering cases in Wisconsin and Maryland. Peter Weber

October 20, 2017

In the 2016 election, President Trump won the state of Wisconsin by almost 23,000 votes. But a new report from Mother Jones published online Thursday found that statewide voter turnout in the Badger State was also the lowest it had been since 2000.

Perhaps not coincidentally, the 2016 election was also the first major contest in Wisconsin to require registered voters to bring a current, valid form of state or national identification to the polls — just one of 33 election changes passed under Gov. Scott Walker (R). Other restrictions reduced early voting hours and restricted early voting locations.

Such policies are ostensibly instituted to prevent or discourage voter fraud, but Mother Jones points out that black voters were about 50 percent less likely to have a form of current ID than white voters. And when it comes to trying to renew those IDs or get new ones altogether, 85 percent of people denied identification by the DMV were black or Latino.

Milwaukee's election director Neil Albrecht agreed that the new laws had a direct national impact: "It is very probable that between the photo ID law and the changes to voter registration, enough people were prevented from voting to have changed the outcome of the presidential election in Wisconsin." And discouraged, would-be voters in Wisconsin know it. "This particular election was very important to me," said Andrea Anthony, a Wisconsin woman whose license was expired at the time of voting last year. "I felt like the right to vote was being stripped away from me." Read the full report from Mother Jones here. The Week Staff

October 19, 2017

Last week, Maryland police arrested Ronald Williams II on charges of child pornography possession and distribution, The Washington Post reported, and a senior administration officials said that Williams, 37, had been a researcher on President Trump's Commission on Election Integrity until he was abruptly fired last week. The commission's two Democratic members said Tuesday they had no idea the commission had any staff at all, other than executive director Andrew Kossack.

The two Democrats — Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap and Alabama probate court Judge Alan King — told ProPublica on Tuesday they had never heard of Williams until they read of his arrest, and were concerned to learn that Williams had worked alongside fellow commissioner J. Christian Adams at the Justice Department in 2006, when Williams was an intern helping Adams prosecute a pioneering Voting Rights Act case to protect white voters. Dunlap sent the commission a letter on Tuesday expressing his frustration and requesting all communication involving commissioners dating back to February.

On Wednesday, 18 Democratic senators also sent the commission a letter demanding more information on its activities, and separately, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) sent a letter asking for a staff list and vetting criteria, noting, "If the commission's own members do not know who is working under its direction, how can the commission ensure accountability and transparency?" When the senators emailed their letters to the commission's public email address, ProPublica notes:

An automatic response email stated that the account no longer accepts public comments. Instead, commenters were directed to an "eRulmaking [sic] portal" or to submit written comments to "Mr. Ron Williams, Policy Advisor, Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity." [ProPublica]

Adams told ProPublica that Williams' "alleged behavior is appalling and incomprehensible," and "it would be hyper-partisan overreach to say that any grotesque behavior in his personal life is in any way a reflection of the vitally important work the commission is doing for the American people." Peter Weber

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