by Gerald Torres, Marc and Beth Goldberg Distinguished Visiting Professor of Law, Cornell Law School; Bryant Smith Chair, University of Texas Law School
A recent Huffington Post article by Alex Palombo accuses Texas of discriminating against women in the exercise of the franchise because it has imposed new rules for voting which require all Texans to…
“…show a photo ID with their up-to-date legal name. It sounds like such a small thing, but according to the Brennan Center for Justice, only 66 percent of voting age women have ready access to a photo document that will attest to proof of citizenship. This is largely because young women have not updated their documents with their married names, a circumstance that doesn’t affect male votes in any significant way. Suddenly 34 percent of women voters are scrambling for an acceptable ID while 99 percent of men are home free.”
The law also imposes requirements of original documents for name change and a minimum fee of $20 to obtain acceptable copies of the documents. These requirements, in conjunction with registration deadlines, will leave many women unable to vote. Palombo views this as an assault on the 19th Amendment and women’s right to vote, suggesting that “if the Tea Party gets their way, the only people left to vote will be wealthy white men.”
Is this column another example of fear mongering from the Left? Rather than a regressive return to the days when women had no independent political existence, let alone a right to vote, Texas’ new laws surely represent the strongest possible statement supporting women’s independent personhood. Governor Perry and his legislative confederates cannot have intended to keep women from voting or to impose new, oppressive barriers to women’s participation in the political process, right? That would be illegal.
During his early morning re-election speech, President Obama took note of the difficulties scores of voters faced in casting ballots this year, such as standing in lengthy, slow-moving lines for hours. Something we have to fix the president said.
Many of the problems for voters this election year, as noted often on this blog, were created by lawmakers in a string of states apparently bent on making voting a more difficult procedure, though they cloaked the intentions in language about protecting the integrity of the vote. But a closer examination of the actions taken by those lawmakers – limiting early voting hours, clamping down on voter registration drives and implementing onerous voter ID requirements – revealed political efforts to keep certain people away from the polls, namely minorities, college students, low-income people and the elderly. See the ACS Issue Brief by Loyola law school professor Justin Levitt on many of the restrictive vote measures, which he concluded made for poor and potentially unconstitutional policy.
The Washington Post editorial board in “Repairing America’s elections,” highlighting voting difficulties in Northern Virginia, noted in part, “Poorly trained poll workers get confused by constantly changing laws and procedures. Voter registration and record-keeping are getting more high-tech, but there are still many kinks. Many states lack policies that could take some of the pressure off, such as early voting.”
The editorial reports that some in Congress, such as Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.), Christopher A. Coons (D-Del.) and Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.) are pushing a measure similar to the Obama administration’s educational “Race to the Top,” initiative. That measure, in part, would “dangle the possibility of grants to states that put together election reform programs” that include expansion of early voting and “more flexible registration rules ….”
Whether it’s outrageous and wholly unwarranted new restrictions on voting or new voting districts concocted to keep minorities from participating in democracy, rightwing lawmakers and their corporate backers, over the past two years, have stridently pushed an ignoble and tawdry campaign of voter suppression.
Yesterday, U.S. District Court Judge Robert Hinkle said he would sign a permanent injunction against a provision of Florida’s voting overhaul law that made it much more difficult for groups like the League of Women Voters to conduct voter registrations.
Deidre Macnab, president of the League of Women Voters of Florida told The Associated Press that the state’s “anti-voter law created impassable roadblocks for our volunteers, who have been bringing Floridians into our democratic process for over 72 years.”
Florida, along with Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas, has sought to implement some of the more onerous restrictions on voting. Not only did Florida seek to shut down voter registration drives, it also enacted rigid voter ID requirements and sought to greatly limit early voting opportunities.
Earlier this month the U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia held that Florida’s curtailment of early voting opportunities ran afoul of the Voting Rights Act, which applies to states and localities that have a history of voter discrimination. The court held that curtailing early voting opportunities in Hillsborough, Monroe, Collier, Hardee and Hendry counties would have a discriminatory impact on African American voters. The state, the court held, “failed to satisfy its burden of proving that those changes will not have a retrogressive effect on minority voters,” and that the restrictions on early voting was “analogous to closing polling places in disproportionately African-American precincts.”
Today the efforts of Texas to manipulate the vote were dealt yet another blow. The state’s onerous voter ID law also violates the Voting Rights Act, the U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia ruled in State of Texas v. Holder.
Ten states with ridiculously restrictive voter ID laws could keep millions of people from participating in this year’s general election, The Brennan Center for Justice reports in an extensive study.
The majority of the restrictive voter ID laws also would likely have the harshest impact, not surprisingly, on low- income individuals, the elderly, and minorities. Right-wing law makers in Florida are also defending a restrictive voter ID law. In Pennsylvania, one of the states included in the study, a Republican lawmaker said the law is aimed at helping the Republican’s presidential candidate carry the state.
The report, “The Challenge of Obtaining Voter Identification,” says that “nearly 500,000 eligible voters do not have access to a vehicle and live more than 10 miles from the nearest state ID-issuing office,” which has limited hours of operation. Moreover the study reveals that 1.2 million black voters and 500,000 eligible Latino voters “live more than 10 miles from the nearest ID-issuing office,” again with limited hours of operation.
If states are going to require IDs for voting, which is more than a privilege, it’s a constitutional right, they must offer free IDs. But as the Brennan Center study notes, the restrictive voter ID laws are making it a major, and often costly, undertaking to attain those IDs. That is likely the intent behind those laws. This nation has a tawdry history of disenfranchising voters, and that tradition is being carried on.
The states included in the study are: Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin.
One of the more disturbing parts of the Brennan Center study is the potentially devastating impact these laws will have on the nation’s poorest.
“More than 1 million eligible voters in these 10 photo ID states fall below the federal poverty line and reside more than 10 miles from the nearest ID-issuing office,” a press release about the report states. “These voters can be particularly affected by the significant costs of the documentation required to obtain a photo ID. Birth certificates can cost between $8 and $25.”
“By comparison,” the statement continues, “the notorious poll tax – outlawed during the civil rights era – cost $10.64 in current dollars.”
Unless the U.S. Supreme Court steps in to uphold its precedent on the death penalty, Texas and Georgia will execute two men who are mentally disabled.
Although several states over the last five years have abolished capital punishment, others such as Texas and Georgia remain seemingly oblivious to Supreme Court precedent or obstinately opposed to providing those on death row a proper hearing.
Yokamon Hearn convicted and sentenced to death for kidnapping and murdering a man in Dallas was not competently represented at trial or at post-conviction proceedings. As the Texas Defender Service notes, Hearn’s trial attorneys failed to uncover and reveal at trial a slew of mitigating circumstances, such as the fact that he suffered from brain damage. During his appeals, Hearn’s new attorney’s also failed to raise the mitigating circumstances.
Even after the high court’s opinion in Martinez, the Fifth Circuit panel, in what the Atlantic’s Andrew Cohen details as a rather strained opinion found a way to shut down any further review of mitigating factors in Hearn’s case. The court, “the most stridently conservative federal appeals court in the nation” found a way “to avoid giving Hearn the relief to which he is entitled,” Cohen wrote.
Texas Defender Service Executive Director Kathryn M. Kase notes that the full Fifth Circuit has been asked to review the panel decision, but because of the Circuit’s “history of flouting” Supreme Court rulings fears that Hearn will be executed on July 18, unless the Supreme Court intervenes.
In the Georgia case, which Cohen also covers, Warren Hill is facing the death penalty even though, as Cohen notes, a veteran Georgia state judge has said Hill is mentally disabled.