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.

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 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

“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

Coffee Break Ballot, July 23: Current Trends in Voting Rights

The regular weekend lull in voting rights news hit in full force, with a pause in online discussion of some of our regular voting rights topics.

The News21 newsroom has hit a bit of a pause as well. More than half of the team has left the building, and the rest will finish stories and leave at the end of the week.

We’ll still be blogging all week, and the tweets won’t stop until well past the mid-August site launch. Until then, stay tuned to what’s going on in voting rights news.

What We’ve Been Reading

Do We Need a New Voting Rights Act?” (Abby Rapoport, 07/23, The American Prospect)

Bill Daley Asks: Is Obama Campaign Ready for Recounts?” (James Warren, 07/23, The Daily Beast)

Public Relations Firm Educating Pennsylvania Minorities On Voter ID Stacked With Republicans,” (Ryan J. Reilly, 07/20, Talking Points Memo)

The voter ID mess subverts an American birthright,” (Charlie Crist, 07/20, Washington Post)

GOP trumpets rampant Philly voter fraud in a report that doesn’t show it,” (Issiah Thompson, 07/20, Philadelphia City Paper)

Rate of Possession of Valid Photo Identification, And Public Knowledge of the Voter ID Law in Philadelphia,” ( Matt A. Barreto and  Gabriel R. Sanchez, 07/16, University of Washington)

Twitter Trends

Well-placed and widely read reports and articles — like those that covered the new lawsuit in Pennsylvania over that state’s strict photo voter ID law — can spur online conversation.

Twitter conversation across four key search terms on social media search engine was considerably quiet this morning. One trend is a concerted push from progressive opponents of voter ID laws in Pennsylvania and other states.

Viral mentions of an upcoming anti-voter ID rally on the steps of the state Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa., have spread this morning, as have legal briefs and summaries of the ACLU lawsuit against voter ID requirements there.

Most of our linked articles this morning will direct you toward the Keystone State, and all this digital buzz is why.

For more news and links, remember to follow us @WhoCanVote.

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

Coffee Break Ballot, July 20: Current Trends in Voting Rights

Election-centered presumptions about voting rights news didn’t take into account the effect a well-placed, well-sourced report can have.

The Washington Post, NPR, the Huffington Post, Reuters, Yahoo!News and the New York Times (today in a lengthy front-page news profile) have referenced and sampled the Brennan Center for Justice study on the difficulties faced by voters who don’t have photo ID as they try to obtain proper identification before the November election.

We’ve enjoyed watching this report spread, and we are definitely impressed by the way well-placed stories can take an issue like voting rights from the realms of political wonks to a more general audience. We’re hope for a similar spread when our project appears next month.

What We’ve Been Reading

Legal Battles Erupt Over Tough Voter ID Laws,” (Ethan Bronner, 07/19, New York Times)

AARP Says Senior Voters Will Suffer From Voter-ID Law,” (Randy LoBasso, 07/20, PhillyNOW)

Colorado election watchers see officials chipping away at public oversight,” (John Tomasic, The Colorado Independent)

Iowa elections chief seeks to prove voter fraud,” (Ryan J. Foley, 07/14, Associated Press)

Section 5 challenges reach Court,” (Lyle Denniston, 07/20, SCOTUSBlog)

Voter suppression — Round 2 in the debate on ID laws,” (Leonard Pitts, Jr., 07/20, Miami Herald)

Twitter Trends

We’re expecting a considerable boost next week when columnists, writers and journalists react to the Supreme Court arrival of two petitions that challenge Section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act and additional push back from conservative supporters of photo voter ID legislation.

But it’s Friday, and half the News21 newsroom is on the way out of Phoenix. So we’ll join them over some ice cream, and we’ll be back next week.

Remember to follow us @WhoCanVote.