UPDATE: Memphis officials appeal to federal court on library card voter ID

Memphis is asking a federal judge in Nashville, Tenn., to allow library cards with photo ID as acceptable identification under the state’s new voter ID law.

The city and Memphis resident Daphne Turner-Golden Tuesday asked for a restraining order to stop election officials from denying use of a public library photo ID.

The city asserts the cards should be sufficient, but Mark Goins, the state election coordinator, has said they are not. The law requires IDs to be issued by the state or federal government; a city ID would not suffice.

The city administration was motivated to create a way for residents to get photo identification after a former city employee died from heat-related causes last summer. He was not able to get electricity or other utilities because he could not show a photo ID.

Library cards satisfy the photo voter ID requirement because they are issued by an “entity of the state,” city attorney Herman Morris Jr., said in a statement.

“When they passed that law that said you had to have a photo ID by a state entity or
a federal entity, but it didn’t really have to be an entity that you’re in or that you’re
voting in,” Morris said. “It could be a fishing license from the state of Alaska that
expired 10 years ago.”

At least 300 people got the new cards in the first weekend; 200 were renewals, according to a city official.

By Kassondra Cloos, News21

California still waiting
on statewide voter database

As the national debate over voter ID approaches fisticuffs, the state of California continues to shy away from the fight, focusing on a more pressing, local problem — the lack of a statewide voter registration database.

The state has a “cobbled county-by-county system” that makes it difficult to maintain accurate roles with such a young, mobile population, said Kim Alexander, president and founder of the non-profit California Voter Foundation.

The online database, VoteCal, has been in the works since 2006, Alexander said, and would collect voter registration into one system. The database is a requirement of the Help America Vote Act of 2002, with which California still does not comply, Alexander said.

California is one of 20 states with a Democratic governor, Jerry Brown, but Alexander said you wouldn’t know it based upon the database’s slow progress. Democrats have been “lazy and complacent,” and have squandered this opportunity, Alexander said.

A 2010 report by the Secretary of State projects the database will not be completed until 2015.

By Annelise Russell, News21

 

Charlotte Grant: Celebrating sobriety by finding her voice at the ballot box

Charlotte A. Grant, 37, of Nashville, Tenn., has made a habit of voting since ending her drug use in 1998. Photo by Michael Ciaglo/News21.

Charlotte A. Grant, 37, of Nashville, Tenn., was convicted of 112 misdemeanors over four years, and though she never lost her voting rights, it was not until she was clean that she realized the impact of her vote. Grant has been a regular voter since her sobriety in 1998.

“For years, I was never heard, never had a right or a choice in anything because the drugs controlled me. When I got clean, that’s what most citizens do: vote and have a voice. That inspired me. I didn’t feel like I was a criminal anymore. I felt like I was just everybody else.”

By Carl Straumsheim and Michael Ciaglo, News21

Can people rely on lesser known voting rights protections?

The Voting Rights Act, recently well known for its federal approval required under Section 5, also includes a portion that prohibits vote dilution, or depriving minority voters an equal opportunity to elect a candidate.

In the past, courts have restricted applying Section 2, mainly because of the burden of proof that’s required, said Allison Riggs, a staff attorney with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, a Durham, N.C.-based non-profit advocacy group.

Riggs, who has argued redistricting cases on behalf of state branches of the NAACP and defended the constitutionality of Section 5 in court, said she is concerned by the growing number of groups challenging the section as unconstitutional. For example, a Section 5 lawsuit filed by Shelby County, Ala., said the law was outdated, claiming the demographics in the municipalities had changed in the years since the Voting Rights Act was passed. The case is expected to reach the Supreme Court.

“In all of the work we do, there is a thread of concern that this Supreme Court might be inclined to strike down what has been the most important tool in our pocket for advancing and protecting minority voting interests,” Riggs said, noting that many still rely on the protections offered by Section 5.

Section 2 is harder for voters to depend on, she said. The burden of suing is on the minority voter claiming disenfranchisement. It’s costly, intense litigation, Riggs said, which excludes many from pursuing a case.

“One of the reasons that Congress said we need Section 5 is because Section 2 is very limited in its ability to bring about remedies because it’s time consuming, expensive and [voters] don’t have access to the resources they need in order to get there,” Riggs said.

By Caitlin O’Donnell, News21

SC voter ID law spurs League of Women Voters to act

The League of Women Voters of South Carolina has been concerned about the state’s photo voter ID bill since it appeared in the General Assembly, but it was not until Gov. Nikki Haley signed the bill into law May 18 that the league acted.

The league is a defendant in South Carolina’s lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Justice, supporting the federal government’s claim that the law will negatively impact
voters.

“The league believes that voting is a fundamental right, and the government depends on
all citizens being informed,” said Barbara Zia, president of the South Carolina League of Women Voters. “We feel, and we have made this case to the court, that [our] mission of engaging citizens in our democracy would be impacted if this law were [upheld].”

The case will be argued in September before by a federal court in Washington, D.C, but
Zia said her group is encouraging residents to obtain a photo ID, just in case.

“This barrage of legislative measures to restrict voting will definitely have an impact
on voter access and we feel government should be in the business of increasing citizen
participation in our nation’s democratic process, rather than decreases,” she said. “We
don’t want to go back to the old days we remember in the South of voting restrictions.

“This is a step backwards.”

By Caitlin O’Donnell, News21

Colorado county ordered to conduct uncontested primary

Colorado is one of few states that allow officials to cancel primary elections if they are uncontested.

The law was adopted in 2009, but no counties invoked the law until 2011 when El Paso County, Colo., canceled its primary election, prompting Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler to sue.

An appeals court upheld the suit, requiring Wayne Williams, El Paso County clerk and recorder, to carry out the uncontested election. It cost the county $68,000 in printing and mail costs.

Williams wasn’t pleased with Gessler’s interpretation of the law.

“We’re never happy to be told we can’t save money,” Williams said.

An El Paso County registered Democrat sent an email to Williams in mid-June asking why he even received a ballot.

“I’m assuming some law requires this ballot to be mailed to every registered Democrat and our tax dollars pay for it,” he wrote, “but it seems like a waste of money.”

Williams thinks that the few voters in the uncontested primary race “feel a civic responsibility to vote,” he said, while most people “think it’s not worth voting.”

Days before the 2012 Colorado primary, only 15 percent of the 65,000 voters had returned their uncontested ballots.

“When you have most jurisdictions during this recession that have had diminished sales tax numbers and less property tax coming in, you have to look at how you can provide the critical services in the most cost-effective way possible,” Williams said.

By Emily Nohr, News21

Technology: Out of the voting booth, into the digital age

Some elections officials and voters have high expectations for how future technology could make voting easier, more accessible and appealing to tech-savvy young voters.

Amber McReynolds, Denver director of elections, sees expanding iPad use as ballots for more voters than the elderly and disabled.

“We might even be able to take it to the next level where a voter could access this from their home and do it on their own and print it out and send it in,” she said. “Voters that potentially have disabilities have difficulty getting out of their home or traveling to a site to go in person; this same app could be potentially be utilized on their home computer. That would be the next step in my mind.”

Stanley Tavenner, who used an iPad to vote at St. Paul Health Center in June, liked the device but said technology is always changing and being replaced.

“I believe in the future you’d be able to, like James Bond, you’d be able to talk on your watch and do your ballot from there,” said Tavenner, 55. “Every 10 or 12 years, these things become obsolete and something else comes on the market.”

By Alia Conley, News21

N.C. Precinct Judge Wants Student Poll Workers

Young, first-time voters are a regular flashpoint in a presidential campaign. Because many of these voters (ranging in age from 18-22) have never voted in the past, candidates attempt to capture their uncommitted loyalty as a possible pathway to victory.

Carol Hazard, a precinct judge in Chapel Hill, N.C., sees a lot of these young voters in her precinct polling place in the Center for Dramatic Art on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. By her estimates, 95-percent of voters in her precinct are students.

But Hazard — who first cast a presidential ballot in the 1964 election between President Lyndon B. Johnson and Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater — thinks young, college-aged students need to do more than just vote.

“I’d love to see more student participation, get some real experience at this desk,” Hazard said while working in the Laurel Hill precinct during the state’s May presidential primary.

“Nobody knows where they live, nor do they know their precincts. Students need to know where they vote. If you change one dorm to another, at the beginning of the year, you don’t think about it.”

Hazard is in her second year of work as a precinct judge in Orange County. She said that she thinks the active political groups on the campus of the University of North Carolina should do more than just encourage their members to vote. Instead, she said that she’d like to see a representative group of student poll workers.

“I don’t care if you’re a Young Republican, a Young Democrat, a young unaffiliated voter,” Hazard said. “You should be on this side of the desk.”

By Nick Andersen, News21

California sentencing laws could disenfranchise additional prisoners

California sentencing laws are changing who is eligible to vote, and prisoner rights advocacy groups say 85,000 California voters have been disenfranchised as a result.

The issue has become murky since April, when Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law a measure that realigned the criminal justice system to reduce prison overcrowding and cut budgets. Over the last nine months, the state’s 58 counties have assumed responsibility for low-level felony offenders who would have otherwise been in prison.

Since 1974, Californians with serious and lesser felony convictions have had the right to vote unless they’re in state prison or on parole. In December, Secretary of State Debra Bowen, a Democrat, told county election clerks there’s no difference between county and state incarceration when it comes to felons’ right to vote.

The League of Women Voters and prisoner rights organizations, such as All of Us or None, see a difference. They sued in the state’s Supreme Court May 28, challenging interpretation of the law. The Supreme Court hasn’t decided to hear the case yet, although the groups ask the state to clarify who is eligible to vote while serving in county jail.

A plaintiff in the case, 31-year-old Alisha Coleman, is serving a three-year sentence in San Francisco County jail for drug trafficking convictions, followed by one year of mandatory supervision. She cannot vote, but hopes the court will allow her to vote by mail from her cell.

Bowen’s office declined to comment on the case.

By Alissa Skelton, News21

Technology — worth the upfront cost?

Election officials walk a fine line when they implement new technology for an upcoming election. They must decide if new devices are worth the cost, ensure poll workers are adequately trained and determine if voters will find the equipment easy to use.

Electronic poll book, a digital check-in system, is being used in 27 states and the District of Columbia to shorten polling place lines and speed up the process. Using a computer or tablet, poll workers can easily search for a voter’s name, which is faster than flipping through paper voter rolls.

Minnetonka, Minn., has been a pilot city for new technology. It was the first in the state to try optical scan machines and first used electronic poll books in 2009, still the only city in the state to use poll books.

City Clerk David Maeda said other election officials see the cost as too great to buy laptops and software for an electronic poll book.

“A lot of people look at the upfront costs and say you can’t spend the money, but you have to look long term,” he said. “I’ve done return investment work. It shows it pays itself off in a matter of years. I think it’s inevitable to use this technology statewide.”

By Alia Conley, News21