Voter Registration

  • October 22, 2014

    by Caroline Cox

    Coverage of the ACS-sponsored “Skewed Justice” study continues with The National Law Journal, News & Record, McClatchy, Think Progress, KPFA-FM, Sentencing Law and Policy, and The Take Away reporting on the findings.

    In The Washington Post, Robert G. Kaiser celebrates the life of The Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee who presided over the paper during the Watergate scandal and helped to print stories based on the Pentagon papers.

    Scott Martelle of the Los Angeles Times questions the use of the death penalty in light of the recent release of a wrongfully convicted man after 38 years in prison.

    At Constitution Daily, Scott Bomboy considers the lack of politicians as Supreme Court Justices in recent years.

    Jeffrey Toobin explores in The New Yorker the judicial legacy of President Obama, including his evolving opinion on same-sex marriage.

    NPR’s Hansi Lo Wang reports on new concerns over voter registration in Georgia where lawyers say thousands of registration applications for minority voters are missing. 

  • September 23, 2014
    Guest Post

    by Liz Kennedy, Counsel, Demos

    Today is National Voter Registration Day. Almost 2,000 partners around the country - student groups, educational institutions, unions, faith groups, civic leagues, libraries, worker centers, and elections agencies - are promoting opportunities for individuals to register to vote. Volunteers will spend hundreds of hours doing face-to-face outreach, technology will help voters find registration drives or, if available, register online, and tens of thousands of voters are expected to register to vote in a single day. This is a wonderful testament to civic organization in America.

    But even with these laudable efforts, too many unnecessary bureaucratic barriers block the ability of eligible persons to register to vote. Our voter registration systems are outdated and poorly functioning. Many today will ask their fellow citizens “would you like to register to vote?” but we should also ask why we don’t yet have a system of universal voter registration in 2014, when we have an urgent need and the technical capabilities to make it a reality.

    Universal or automatic voter registration shifts the burden of voter registration from the individual to the state. A democratic government has a duty to facilitate and promote civic participation, since it receives its legitimacy through the consent of the governed. A universal voter registration program ensures that eligible persons can exercise their freedom to vote unless they opt-out, rather than putting the burden on the majority of citizens who want to and do participate in the political life of the country to opt-in. That is the correct balance to strike in a democracy.

    Our electoral process serves crucial functions, including choosing elected representatives, setting the course for public policy, and allowing individuals to express their views on the public issues that impact their lives, families, and communities. But elections don’t serve these purposes well if we don’t all participate, and we have a voter participation problem in this country. In 2012, almost 61 million Americans voted for Mitt Romney, and almost 66 million Americans voted for President Obama, but over 90 million eligible American citizens did not vote at all.

  • March 21, 2013
    Guest Post

    by Gabriel J. Chin, Professor of Law, University of California Davis School of Law

    This week, the Supreme Court heard argument in Arizona v. The Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, a case at the intersection of two lines of cases which have been prominent on the Court’s docket in recent years. The case is an example of a challenge to Arizona’s apparently endless cornucopia of anti-immigrant legislation. It also tests measures which, according to some conservatives, are designed to preserve the integrity of the ballot box, but according to others are calculated to suppress the minority vote.

    The case involves Arizona’s Proposition 200, passed in 2004, which requires prospective Arizona voters to provide proof of United States citizenship before registration. But the federal National Voter Registration Act of 1993 directed the federal Election Assistance Commission to create a federal form for voter registration (current version here). That form requires applicants to provide a date of birth and other identifying information, and an oath that the applicant is a citizen, but does not require independent documentary proof of citizenship.  Federal law requires states to “accept and use” the federal form. The critical question is whether “accept and use” means that a properly completed form is sufficient for voter registration unless the state independently proves that it is fraudulent, or, rather, that the form is the beginning of an application process during which the state may freely add supplemental requirements and inquiries.

    A panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which included retired Justice O’Connor, invalidated Prop. 200’s proof-of-citizenship requirement, over a dissent by Chief Judge Kozinski. En banc, the Ninth Circuit held 9-2 that the requirement was invalid, this time with Chief Judge Kozinski in the majority. Both the panel and the court en banc Circuit upheld a separate provision of Prop. 200, requiring registered voters to show identification at the polls.

    It is common ground that the federal government has broad power over federal elections.  As the Brennan Center and the Constitutional Accountability Center wrote in a brief for me and other constitutional law scholars, under the Elections Clause (Article I, Section 4), Congress may regulate federal elections and supersede state electoral laws. The Framers recognized the national implications of state electoral improprieties, and granted the national government the power to protect itself.  Neither Arizona nor any of the justices questioned the century of precedents to this effect. Instead, the case seemed to turn on the intent of Congress.

  • December 12, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    In a robust defense of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder blasted the claim that the law’s integral enforcement provision is outdated and said it was time the nation updated the way voters are registered.

    Speaking at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library, Holder said, “President Kennedy recognized that no force in our history has been more powerful than the continued expansion of what’s been called the lifeblood of our representative democracy, the cornerstone of our system of government, and the ‘most basic’ right of American citizenship: the right to vote.”

    That basic right has been under attack on several fronts. First Sec. 5 of the Voting Rights Act continues to be challenged as unconstitutional by some lawmakers in the South who argue that discrimination against minorities is a thing of the past and therefore they should not be required to get federal preclearance for changes to their voting procedures. The Supreme Court will review a challenge to Sec. 5 brought by Shelby County, Ala. officials who are seeking the demise of Sec. 5.

    Sec. 5 of the Voting Rights Act, has, Holder noted, enjoyed “broad, bipartisan support – including, most recently, in 2006, when an overwhelming congressional majority joined with President Bush to reauthorize its protections. It’s also been upheld as constitution in each of the eight court challenges that the law’s opponents filed between 1965 and 2010 – during the first 45 years after it took effect. Over the last two years alone, however, we’ve seen at least 10 lawsuits – more than in the first four decades of the statute’s existence – arguing that Section 5 is no longer constitutional, and that our nation has moved far beyond the challenges that prompted both its passage and its recent renewal.”

  • November 15, 2012

    by E. Sebastian Arduengo

    For all of the grandstanding some politicians do on the virtues of American democracy, one might think that voting here would be simple and easy. Instead, as shown repeatedly here on ACSblog, it is anything but. American voters, who are more mobile than ever, have to deal with the election bureaucracies of all 50 states, which include over 13,000 election districts and 110,000 polling places nationwide. Getting registered to vote in a new location after a move can be time consuming and cumbersome. The only notable exception to the bureaucratic nightmare that is getting registered and voting in the overwhelming majority of jurisdictions is North Dakota, where citizens to not need to be registered to vote. All they need to do is show up on Election Day.

    In her book, Electoral Dysfunction, Victoria Bassetti argues that America is one of the few democracies in the world that places the burden on voters to prove that they are eligible to vote. So let’s look over our lapping shores to other lands to see how they manage the democratic process, and if there’s anything the United States can learn from their experiences.

    Our neighbors to the north and south provide us with an immediate frame of reference. In Canada voter registration is largely done by the Canadian federal government as a means of protecting the constitutional rights of Canadian citizens. The government refers to other governmental records, like tax records to keep the voter rolls continuously updated. For people that aren’t registered Canada allows for same day voter registration. The government is legally obliged to keep its voter registration list private, and information from it can only be shared with parties and candidates at the time of an election, and then only for electoral purposes. Canada also imposes strict limits on election financing, curbing the amount of money political parties can spend. Major parties like the Liberal and Conservative parties were limited to about 20 million CAD total, and in 2006 the Canadian Parliament passed a bill allowing only individuals to contribute to parties and political candidates.