Back In The Saddle Again: A Roundup of Recent Stories

[Image via recordsbymail]

As I mentioned, I was on a blogging break last week while I traveled to Anaheim – but as it does, news continued to happen while I was gone, closing the books on some storylines while suggesting new trends to watch this fall and beyond. Here are the biggest (with a tip of the hat to Anaheim’s favorite cowboy, Gene Autry):

A federal court issued a permanent injunction against Texas’ voter ID law, saying the state’s efforts to soften the law in the wake of findings of intentional racial discrimination were inadequate. The Texas Tribune has more:

U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos on Wednesday ruled that Senate Bill 5, signed by Gov. Greg Abbott in June, doesn’t absolve Texas lawmakers from responsibility for discriminating against Latino and black voters when they crafted one of the nation’s strictest voter ID laws in 2011. The judge also ruled that the state failed to prove that the new law would accommodate such voters going forward…

“SB 5 does not meaningfully expand the types of photo IDs that can qualify, even though the Court was clearly critical of Texas having the most restrictive list in the country,” she wrote. “Not one of the discriminatory features of [the old law] is fully ameliorated by the terms of SB 5.”

SB 5’s process for voters without proper ID, Ramos wrote, “trades one obstacle to voting with another—replacing the lack of qualified photo ID with an overreaching affidavit threatening severe penalties for perjury.”

The ruling also said Texas couldn’t be trusted to educate voters about changes to its ID law, following its widely criticized efforts ahead of elections in 2016 that were marked by confusion at the polls. She noted that Texas has claimed to spend $4 million on voter education before the 2018 elections, “but this stipulation is not part of SB 5 or any other statute.”

In response, the State has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to put the ruling on hold, even as Judge Ramos holds a hearing to determine if Texas should once again be required to submit its election changes for preclearance under the Voting Rights Act, especially in light of other recent redistricting rulings. From the Washington Post:

[Ramos] said she will hold a hearing next month to consider returning Texas to federal oversight. A decision in the affirmative would surely be appealed to the Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit and, depending on the outcome, to the Supreme Court.

The three-judge panel that found some congressional and some legislative districts must be redrawn also found the legislature intended to discriminate against minorities.

The panel has not ruled on whether that should subject the state to the old pre-clearance requirements, which demanded the approval of the Justice Department or a panel of federal judges in Washington.

As the clip suggests, this case sets up what is likely to be a major battle in the Supreme Court, which is now back at full strength with the confirmation of Justice Neil Gorsuch. The issue – whether jurisdictions operating without the constraints of the Voting Rights Act can discriminate in such a way as to be re-subjected to the Act – will likely be epic.

In Illinois, the state’s long-running saga with automatic voter registration appears to have reached another milestone  with the announcement that Governor Bruce Rauner will sign an AVR bill today after initial delays. NBCChicago has more:

After a series of fits and starts, Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner will sign an automatic voter registration bill on Monday.

The signing will take place at 9 a.m. in Chicago.

The bill, which was originally scheduled to be signed back in July, passed the General Assembly unanimously after changes were made to the language of the law.

According to the bill, automatic voter registration will be run through the Secretary of State’s office, with implementation scheduled to be completed in time for the 2018 elections…

A version of the bill originally passed in 2016, but it was vetoed by Governor Rauner over concerns that the bill didn’t do enough to address concerns about voter fraud and had other potential conflicts with federal law.

The new version of the bill includes language that ensures that it’s compliant with the Real ID Law, which screens out non-citizens and ensures that only legal Illinois residents will be registered.

Thanks to those new provisions, the bill passed the House and Senate unanimously in late May.

This bill will put Illinois back in the AVR camp, and will add another large and diverse state to the ranks – providing more information and data on the best ways to proceed.

And finally, another long(er)-running saga recently ended in Connecticut, where the City of Hartford was fined $9,600 for the misconduct of its election registrars in 2014 – which created huge problems at the polls and led the state to revamp its training and oversight of local election officials. The Hartford Courant has more:

The state Elections Enforcement Commission has fined the city of Hartford $9,600 for the 2014 Election Day snafus that left many people, including the governor, unable to vote when polls opened.

The state’s investigation found that the three Hartford registrars of voters didn’t finish preparing the official voter registry lists until a half hour before polls opened and because of that, 14 polling places opened late or without the proper voter lists needed to check off names.

Two of the three registrars have since left the City with financial settlements and/or pensions; the third was re-elected in 2016. The story suggests the fine could have been higher but that turnover and training have put the City onto better footing:

The commission warned that it could have levied a higher fine, but decided against it because many of the employees involved in the debacle have left.

“These settlements stem from election administration issues in 2014 and 2015, and it was my office’s judgment that the cases should be resolved,” city Corporation Counsel Howard Rifkin said in a statement. “Hartford’s current registrars of voters have attended state-mandated training and certification as part of Connecticut’s broader efforts to improve election administration.”

The fine should close the books on Connecticut’s 2014 problems, which to the state’s credit spurred some impressive efforts to help state and local officials get on the same page regarding election procedures.

There are many other stories, of course – and you should go to electionlineToday each day to read them – and there will be more on these topics and others very soon. Enjoy the last few days of (calendar) summer and stay tuned …

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