Voting Suppression Schemes and How They’re Being Challenged

Voters are turned away because of confusion in Michigan, purges take hold in New Mexico and Iowa, and Voter ID is challenged in Pennsylvania and Tennessee

By Aura Bogado Aug 10, 2012

This week marks the 47th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act. A lot has changed since then. A new app called Election Protection was released yesterday that allows voters to register, find their polling locations, and report problems. Voters around the nation are already familiar with the Election Protection program, which has long fielded complaints from voters on Election Day. The increased used of smartphones, along with the increased move to suppress votes, makes the app a must-have this election season. Here are updates from some key states in which constituents are already worried about their vote.

Michigan Voters Turned Away at the Polls
We’re watching primary elections this season to get a sense of the shenanigans that might occur on Election Day. Well, it’s already started in Michigan. You might recall that Governor Rick Snyder vetoed a bill last month that would have required voters to mark a checkbox indicating their US citizenship–expressly because he didn’t want voters to feel confused. Michigan Live is reporting that not only did Secretary of State Ruth Johnson issue ballots that included the checkbox, but that there was indeed some major confusion over it at the polls this week. Election Protection, which unveiled the smartphone app mentioned earlier, says they received complaints from throughout the state, and that "several voters where turned away."

New Mexico’s Massive Voter Purge
Community journalist George Lujan, who wrote about voter suppression in New Mexico last week, let us know that the massive voter purge is already taking its toll. Common Cause’s Voting Rights Director Diane Wood received a postcard stating she may need to verify her address in order to continue voting*. When she checked her voting status on the Secretary of State’s online database, she found that her status was listed as inactive, despite the fact she’s participated in every election in New Mexico since 1971.

Lawsuit Claims Iowa Purge Targets Latino Voters
The San Francisco Chronicle reports that the ACLU and LULAC have filed suit against Iowa’s voter purge, claiming Secretary of State Matt Schultz is targeting Latino voters. Schultz issued "emergency rules" just three weeks ago to compare the state’s voter list to unspecified state and federal foreign national databases. Civil rights groups say the purge will threaten new citizens’ votes in the battleground state.

Push Back in Pennsylvania
The push back against voter suppression continues to grow. Community journalist James Cersonsky tells us that the Pennsylvania Voter ID Coalition has added another partner to its alliance**, which already includes churches, unions, community, and other advocacy groups. James, who highlighted the efforts of one group, the Northwest Philadelphia Coalition, last month, writes:

Another coalition partner, Vote For Homes, is a statewide coalition of its own with some 50 member groups focusing on good jobs, quality services, and affordable housing. For many groups within Vote for Homes, like Action Now and the Homeless Advocacy Project, the central mission is outreach or organizing. As such, voting rights advocacy builds on volunteer bases and organizing infrastructures already in place. "Elections are when people are paying attention to constituent groups," says advocacy director Jenine Miller. "There are 6,000 people living in shelters right now in Philadelphia. We’re a voting bloc."

Memphis Challenges Voter ID Law
We told you last month that Memphis city libraries began adding photos to the cards they issued so that they could be used as voter ID in Tennessee. Well, a sympathetic judge ruled against using the library card, because the law is written so that only a passport, driver’s license, military ID or gun permit counts as valid identification to vote. In fact, a gun permit from a neighboring state can be used to identify voters, but a school ID from a Tennessee school cannot. Memphis, in turn, is now challenging Tennessee’s voter ID law as unconstitutional.

*This post previously stated that noted that the postcard Diane Wood received requested she confirm her voting status via the Secretary of State’s website; the postcard only asked for address verification.

**This post previously noted that the Pennsylvania Voter ID Coalition had surpassed 300 constituent groups; that number is closer to 150.