Coffee Break Ballot, July 27: Current Trends in Voting Rights

After nine weeks of tracking, posting and tweeting, our voting rights trend watch has come to an end.

That doesn’t mean we won’t keep tabs on the voting rights buzz cycle in the run up to the Nov. 6 election. But our regular postings on the daily ups and downs of our reading habits end today, just as the News21 newsroom empties and the summer comes to a close.

The biggest and most exciting parts of our reporting are still to come. Stay posted to for our upcoming launch in a few weeks.

What We’ve Learned

Here are some trends and topics from our more than 40 posts.

  • Trends on Twitter are Ephemeral

We’ve tracked the rise, fall and further fall of a few voting rights-related search terms, but we couldn’t help but notice the cyclical nature of any report, voter suppression/voter fraud alarm or well-argued column. The quick-reaction qualities that make Twitter excellent for instant news alerts also make it a terrible memory keeper.

  • Even the Most Explosive Numbers Fade

Remember when Pennsylvania admitted that up to 750,000 registered voters didn’t have a photo ID required under the state’s new law? Or perhaps when the Sentencing Project reported that one in 10 Florida adults would be prevented from voting because of felony convictions? Reactions to reports and statistics that are difficult to comprehend can’t last, because memories fade quickly – the numbers won’t mean much until the election.

  • Voting Rights, Voter ID and Voter Fraud Only Trend During Elections

We admit we’ve been lucky. The Wisconsin recall election in mid-June was a fluke in an election-year summer. That and a few hotly contested primaries enabled us to see how an election can drive interest in election policy minutiae that dominate a news day. Keep posted for a few more closely watched primary elections in August as lead-ins for how Twitter users might behave come November.

  • Election Policy Is Hard to Explain on Social Media

Explaining the intricacies of poll challenges, ballot access and election technologies is not suited to crowd-sourcing techniques. Factoids are tweeted, retweeted and replied, but the ultimate election law understanding comes in the links and stories within the tweets.

  • Voter Fraud Is Always Popular on Twitter

Got an example of voter fraud? How about absentee ballot fraud? Voting registration fraud? Did you dog or cat receive a registration form in the mail? If so, that story likely will be tweeted, retweeted and angrily posted all around social media. It’s a phenomenon that is rather evergreen; registration fraud always can occur, regardless of elections.

Remember to keep an eye on our homepage for our site launch, and keep following @WhoCanVote for more links, commentary and voting rights news.

Virginia Felon files lawsuit
to regain voting rights

A felon and former Richmond, Va., councilman who wants his voting rights restored, filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday against the Commonwealth of Virginia, Gov. Bob McDonnell, the secretary of the commonwealth and one other election official.

Sa’ad El-Amin, 72, a political activist, lost his voting rights after a 2003 tax evasion conviction. He was sentenced to 37 months in federal prison and three years of supervised release, which he completed in August 2009.

Virginia is one of four states in which the governor must approve felons’ applications to restore voting rights. Virginia felons must wait two or five years – depending on the crime – after serving their sentences and complete restitution and other legal costs before they can apply to McDonnell, who decides. There is no appeals process and applicants who are denied must wait a year before reapplying.

The lawsuit argues that the review process is not transparent and violates due process. El-Amin also argues the law is unconstitutional because he claims it was created to suppress black votes.

A spokesman for the Virginia Attorney General’s Office told the Richmond Times-Dispatch that he couldn’t comment on pending litigation.

By Maryann Batlle, News21

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

Coffee Break Ballot, July 26: Current Trends In Voting Rights

We have to admit that it’s a little challenging to report on social trends in voting rights news and conversation when the main platform of that dialogue serves up a great big fail whale.

As our readers probably have noticed, microblogging site Twitter shut down temporarily this morning, rendering our regular trend-tracking efforts mostly moot.

But we have found some great reads on Florida voters affected by the controversial, ongoing voter roll purge, and we’ve been fortunate enough to catch the Pennsylvania ACLU’s series of timely factoid tweets on photo voter ID in that state.

What can we say? We’ve got one more day of updates, one more day of blogging. Stay tuned.

What We’ve Been Reading

Florida at the forefront as states plan fresh assault on voting rights,” (Ed Pilkington, 07/26, The Guardian)

Voter suppression: ‘I’m a better citizen than any of them. I’m not going to quit,'” (Ed Pilkington, 07/26, The Guardian)

In Voter ID Law Court Fight, Expert Says Pennsylvania Is Soft-Pedaling The Impact,” (Cherri Gregg, 07/26, CBSNews)

Pennsylvania Governor Can’t Recall Requirements of Voter ID Law He Signed,” (Ryan J. Reilly, 07/26, Talking Points Memo)

Twitter Trends

Aside from the obvious, Twitter outage-related decline in all of our search terms this morning, the most notable trend is a slight decline in mentions of ‘voter ID’ on Twitter.

Even though the Pennsylvania photo voter ID state lawsuit continues today and through the rest of the week, the bombshell pretrial admission by the state that it had no credible cases of in-person voter impersonation fraud sparked a momentary Twitter firestorm. It has since died down.

The conclusion of the trial and lingering discomfort on both sides of the voter ID argument over Pennsylvania’s voter fraud admission will probably keep voter ID on the rise later in the week, but we’re deeply fascinated by the changes in conversation as new buzz items distract and distort the fundamental facts at the core of this issue.

As always, remember to follow us @WhoCanVote.


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

Coffee Break Ballot, July 25: Current Trends in Voting Rights

Pennsylvania calmed down a bit today, but the Keystone State voting rights fight is far from finished. Commonwealth Court heard opening arguments in a Pennsylvania ACLu suit that seeks to block the recently adopted photo voter ID law.

The hubbub around yesterday’s rally opposing the law spilled into today’s columns, articles and tweets.

Pennsylvania is on the front lines of the election year tussle over ballot access. The judge in the case has said he hopes to make a ruling on the constitutionality of the law by mid-August. Appeals are possible. Additionally, the U.S. Department of Justice has not yet announced whether its investigation into the state’s voter ID law will result in a separate, federal suit.

Nothing like a little court case to get reporters and civil rights activists riled.

What We’ve Been Reading

Pennsylvania voter ID case opens in state court,” (Robert Barnes, 07/25, Washington Post)

What’s the Deal with the Pennsylvania Voter-ID Law?” (Abby Rapoport, 07/25, The American Prospect)

Judge denies restraining order in Memphis suit to make library photo cards valid for voter ID,” (Richard Locker, 07/24, Memphis Commercial Appeal)

Key state of Colorado among worst prepared for voting problems, report finds,” (Stephanie Cordon, 07/25, CBSNews)

Why Today’s Voter ID Faceoff in Pennsylvania is Crucial,” (Brentin Mock, 07/25, The Nation / Colorlines)

No, Democrats Aren’t Trying to Register Kids and Dogs to Vote,” (Ryan J. Reilly, 07/25, Talking Points Memo)

Democratic Voting Enthusiasm Down Sharply From 2004, 2008,” (Jeffrey M. Jones, 07/25, Gallup)

Twitter Trends

Our four key voting rights search terms are booming today on Twitter. The Pennsylvania voter ID state trial, coupled with an explosive FOXNews story on a culture of vote buying in eastern Kentucky, has pushed voting rights social media conversation sharply up.

According to social media search engine, the biggest gainers today are “voter ID” and “voter fraud.” The Pennsylvania case ties both terms — it centers on a voter ID law, and the state announced it has no credible examples of voter fraud. The Kentucky story shows prosecuted election fraud – while in this case was not preventable through photo voter ID laws – that still proves troubling to election integrity activists.

We’d love to see this kind of momentum build well through the rest of the summer and into the fall elections.

But the Olympic opening ceremony is Friday, meaning attention will be diverted to London for a fortnight of athletic excitement.

For voting rights excitement, remember to follow us @WhoCanVote.

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

Coffee Break Ballot, July 24: Current Trends in Voting Rights

We promise that we’ve been reading about states other than Pennsylvania.

But the state admits in pre-trial documents that no examples of in-person voter impersonation fraud exist – the fraud that photo ID laws would prevent – and that it will not argue that point in the ACLU trial against Act 18. We admit: we read the entire brief.

As this is posted, a large protest is taking place on the Capitol steps in Harrisburg, Pa. The U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division is investigating the photo voter ID law independently of the suit the ACLU.

Many voting rights watchers have been waiting for a turning point in the debate over the efficacy, effect and educational aspects of photo ID laws. Few observers, however, could have expected that Pennsylvania – which does not fall under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act – would push the debate as much as it did today.

What We’ve Been Reading

Ahead of Voter ID Trial, Pennsylvania Admits There’s No In-Person Voter Fraud,” (Ryan J. Reilly, 07/24, Talking Points Memo)

U.S. investigation of Pa.’s new voter ID law,” (Bob Warner and Angela Coloumbis, 07/24, Philadelphia Inquirer)

Pennsylvania Voter ID Law Goes to Court,” (Ari Berman, 07/24, The Nation)

DOJ letter on voter ID,” (Tim McNulty, 07/24, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

Wisconsin Republican Senator Believes Voter ID Will Help Romney ‘In A Close Race,’” (Scott Keyes, 07/24, ThinkProgress)

Pennsylvania admits it: no voter fraud problem,” (Jamelle Bouie, 07/24, Washington Post)

Twitter Trends

There’s been huge movement in the social media discussion of voting rights, but not in ways expected.

The biggest mover in our search process is voter fraud, an election or primary centered term that coalesces around ballot mischief allegations. An almost six-fold increase in mentions of voter fraud stems from Pennsylvania’s no-fraud admission.

As news sources – Talking Points Memo, The Washington Post, MSNBC – pick up the story, users have been tweeting and retweeting the legal brief and related stories. The Harrisburg rally also took a news tweet turn when the voter fraud pretrial brief became public, as state politicians and civil rights leaders responded to the news.

In short, it’s a Keystone State kind of day.

Be sure to follow us @WhoCanVote for more updates and links throughout the day.

Democracy NC Director: Opposition to Voter ID Goes Beyond Party Lines

The fight over photo voter ID laws is far from over. Even in states such as North Carolina, where a Republican-controlled General Assembly recently failed to override Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue’s 2011 veto of a photo voter ID bill, state electoral politics continue to raise voter ID.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Pat McCrory has promised to implement a photo voter ID law, while Democratic Secretary of State Elaine Marshall has circulated a petition decrying such laws as efforts to suppress Democratic-leaning voters.

Bob Hall, executive director of progressive non-profit Democracy North Carolina, doesn’t care which party sponsors photo voter ID laws. In a state that only recently returned to Republican legislative control after more than 100 years, Democrats have been as guilty of historic voter suppression as Republicans.

“It used to be the Democrats that did this kind of mischief,” Hall said. Democracy North Carolina recently produced a short documentary film on the history of voting rights in the Tar Heel state. “We would have been beating up on them, too.”

While North Carolina political leaders have conceded that a photo voter ID law will not be in effect before October early voting or the November general election, Hall and other civil rights organizations in the state have been preparing a case.

“We will work with others to challenge it through the preclearance process and through the courts,” Hall said. “And we will also be helping people — if we get to that point — of learning how they can get an ID .”

What worries Hall the most, he said, is that changes in election administration law can affect the most motivated and excited voters, who often do not regularly vote.

“In 2010, Republican white males were more motivated to vote, and they did,” Hall said. “And in 2008, African American female Democrats were more motivated to vote, and they did.

“That’s the kind of voter that could be pushed away by erecting some barriers horrible enough to make it an inconvenience to vote,” he said.

By Nick Andersen, News21