Court Cases Continue to Decide Future of Voting Rights

This week's updates on early voting, voter ID, and the power of marginalized voters.

By Aura Bogado Aug 17, 2012

The ballots cast on Election Day will decide congressional seats and the next president–and in some states, those votes will also decide major constitutional and legislative measures. While the battles over early voting and voter ID continue, other states are focusing in on propositions that are sometimes as important as life and death.  Here are some of this week’s voting rights updates.

South Los Angeles Voters Crucial to Upcoming Election
Less than half of all states allow for citizens to initiate constitutional amendments, laws, or statues–and 25 states allow for citizens to overturn state statues through veto referendums. California allows for all of these, and has passed and vetoed some of the most controversial legislation in the country. This fall, California voters will decide whether to make crucial changes to the state’s "Three Strikes" law, and whether to abolish the death penalty.

Nearly half of all voters in the country’s most populous state are new or sporadic voters–and most of them are voters of color who could have a big say on California ballot measures that disproportionately affect their communities. Community Coalition is working to secure that South LA’s voters recognize the power of their vote, and turn out in record number this November. The group is hosting the South LA Summer Power Festival next Saturday to do some civic education while bringing some of LA’s most popular local musicians to a stage for some fun.

Federal Court Restores Early Voting in Five Florida Counties
Following a federal court ruling late last night, five Florida counties protected by the federal Voting Rights Act will now see their early voting days restored. A Florida bill cut down early voting to just eight days–down from 14 (as it’s been pointed out, AP erroneously reported it was 12 days, and nearly all major media outlets have repeated the small error).

The ruling has caused some confusion, but some of the best analysis can be found on ElectionSmith’s post today, including the possibility of a dual election system. Florida’s voter purge, meanwhile, continues to take place–part of the Sunshine State’s message to voters of color to stay away from the polls.

Ohio Attempts to Cut Early Voting, Too
A federal judge heard arguments this week over Ohio’s move to restrict early voting. Opponents of the new law say it will disproportionately  effect voters of color–and 15 military groups have also intervened against the law. Ohio’s Secretary of State has now issued a directive that standardizes early voting hours, but cuts out early voting on weekends altogether. As is the case in Florida and other states, black and Latino churches often urge their congregants to vote after Sunday services–which won’t happen in Ohio unless the law is blocked, and may prove especially crucial in this swing state.

Pennsylvania Ruling Means Voter Education Campaign
A Pennsylvania judge rejected an injunction on Philadelphia’s voter ID law this week, which means that marginalized voters may find it impossible to cast their ballots on Election Day. One of the plaintiffs in the case, 93-year-old Viviette Applewhite, was finally able to obtain identification in order to vote–but only after Pennsylvania’s Department of Transportation bent the rules for her.

Our community journalist James Cersonsky tells us that Pennsylvania’s NAACP, and other statewide Voter ID Coalition partners are organizing a massive voter education campaign, including clinics, and door-to-door canvassing to educate voters on the new requirements to cast their ballots. That and more will be needed, as Pennsylvania dropped two online voter initiatives on the day of the judge’s ruling.

Restoring Milwaukee Licenses May Have Added Benefit
As The League of Young Voters notes, Milwaukee’s move to trim down the number of people on suspended driver’s licenses in order to support the state’s unemployed workers may have the added advantage of providing a voter ID. Although an injunction has barred Wisconsin’s voter ID law from taking hold, the state’s voters still face a threat to their right to vote in the future.

Making it Harder for a Growing Latino Population to Vote
A new report by News21 makes clear the connection that while the eligible Latino voter population keeps growing, so does the effort to make it harder to cast a ballot. Latino turnout is already low, but half of the states with the highest Latino populations have instituted some form of voter ID.