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By Marc Elias

December 2019

Welcome to the first edition of what I hope to be a regular update on voting rights, redistricting and election protection.

Over the last three years, we have seen unprecedented efforts by Republicans to make voting harder and votes less likely to count. Their efforts have included voter purges, restrictive registration laws, closing polling places, refusing to address long lines, and voter ID laws. Equally important, but less obvious, are tactics such as confusing ballot design, signature matching, provisional balloting, deadlines for mail ballots, and ballot marking intent standards. Simultaneously, states have become more sophisticated at making changes that target sub-populations most vulnerable to suppression techniques. Many new laws and policies target single counties or smaller subsets of populations. These efforts attract less media attention and fewer resources from groups committed to voting rights. They often do not involve high-profile voting rights issues or cutting-edge legal theories. Yet, these laws often impact a significant number of votes in competitive elections.

My goal is to provide thoughtful updates on important voting rights cases and initiatives as well as to highlight topics and trends that are developing but might otherwise be overlooked in a busy election year. If you find this interesting, please share it with your friends and have them sign up to receive them in the future. If you want to stop receiving these emails, no worries you can opt-out below. In the meantime, you can follow me on Twitter for updates between these emails.


 

Closing Out 2019 with 13 New Voting Rights Cases

In the past three months we’ve filed thirteen new voting rights lawsuits. We are currently litigating 22 cases in 12 different states. Based on historical numbers, and what we are seeing in the states so far, we expect to bring an additional 12 to 16 lawsuits before Election Day. All these cases support our 2020 mission:

To detect and combat suppressive voting laws and practices that will have the greatest impact on the outcome of the 2020 elections and which other voting rights groups are not litigating.

Where We’re Litigating

In Michigan alone we challenged five separate legal provisions with Priorities USA last month. These cases challenge restrictions on protected political activities vital to Michiganders’ right to vote, like transporting voters to the polls and automatic registration. In South Carolina, we responded to on-the-ground concerns by suing the state over its requirement that individuals give their full Social Security Number on voter registration applications. After the Texas legislature passed a bill that effectively banned mobile polling locations, we sued to restore these early voting options that are relied on by young voters in particular.

This quarter we also doubled-down on our ballot order lawsuits, filing lawsuits in Arizona, Georgia, Texas, and Minnesota. These challenges come from our recent success in Florida, where the federal court struck down Florida’s law giving preferential ballot placement to the same party as the governor (Republican candidates). The Court said the “issue is whether the Constitution allows a state to put its thumb on the scale and award an electoral advantage to the party in power. The answer is simple. It does not.” We are committed to ensuring a fair ballot order in 2020, especially in states where there is the greatest primacy effect.


 

What I’m reading

Long voting wait times are discussed every election cycle but are mainly covered anecdotally. In November, a study was released using smartphone-location data to quantify a nationwide sample of polling place wait times during the 2016 presidential election. It found substantial and significant evidence of racial disparity: Residents of entirely-black neighborhoods waited 29% longer to vote than their white counterparts, even within the same state and county.

On behalf of the Andrew Goodman Foundation, we sued the state of Wisconsin for its restrictions on the use of student IDs for voting. The law requires a voter using their student ID to independently prove enrollment and show that the ID has an issuance date, expiration date, and signature. The same week we filed, a study was published in the Election Law Journal that estimates “10 percent of nonvoters in [Wisconsin] counties lack a qualifying voter ID or report that voter ID was at least a partial reason why they did not vote in 2016, and six percent of nonvoters lacked a voter ID or cited voter ID as their primary reason for not voting.” The study’s analysis quantifies the effect voter ID laws have on depressing turnout and further supports our litigation in Wisconsin.

As a result of a 2018 settlement agreement with the Michigan Secretary of State, Secretary Benson announced the “Michigan Collegiate Voting Challenge for 2020.” Colleges and universities in Michigan can now compete in a statewide competition for the best voter registration and turnout rates. Schools that opt in to the challenge will be given free tools to increase student engagement. Secretary Benson’s press release said, “by signing up for the Challenge, all accredited, degree-granting higher education institutions across the state can improve, measure, and celebrate efforts to institutionalize nonpartisan civic learning, political engagement and informed voter participation.”

A new study recently showed a continued deterrent effect on voters without valid ID from turning out to vote even after restrictive voter ID laws are repealed. Using data from North Carolina, the study found that “even though the photo ID law was suspended, individuals without an ID were 2.6 percentage points less likely to turnout in the general election than voters with identification,” with Democrats and racial minorities disproportionately deterred.

Interested in more discussions of election law and voting rights? Check out my occasional posts on Medium. Last week, I wrote about where the Voting Rights Act is today and how “Republicans have finally given up the pretense of supporting removing race-based obstacles to voting.”


 

What Bode’s Barking About

Judges: New North Carolina Congress Map Will Be Used in 2020. AP

Democrats challenge election laws in battleground states. The Hill

Lawsuit Seeks to prevent Georgia absentee ballot rejections. AJC

The Student Vote Is Surging. So Are Efforts to Suppress It. The New York Times

National Democratic groups litigate 2020 in the courts. Roll Call