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Voter Suppression Update: The Good and the Bad News

Over the past two weeks Colorado killed an effort to place a voter photo ID referendum on the November ballot, Connecticut is moving closer to allowing no excuse absentee voting, Georgia may join several states in allowing online voter registration, groups in Pennsylvania are planning a lawsuit against a new voter photo ID law, and Virginia’s governor is proposing to soften legislation passed by the Virginia legislature requiring voters to present an ID to vote.

The bad news is that the Minnesota legislature placed a photo ID constitutional amendment on the November ballot; Missouri lawmakers are looking at amending the ballot language for their photo ID amendment after a state judge ruled the previous measure was misleading and ordered it off the ballot; New Hampshire is still considering a photo ID law, and Florida’s new law is making it harder for students to register to vote.

Cross-posted from the Fair Elections Legal Network blog.

The Good News

Connecticut: The House passed a constitutional amendment that would allow no excuse absentee voting in Connecticut. The Connecticut Constitution currently only allows absentee voting for those who are absent from the town, ill, disabled or forbidden by their religion from secular activity on Election Day. The amendment did not receive the 3/4s approval required to place it on the ballot this year. If passed by the Senate this year and passed by a simple majority in the House and Senate in the next legislature that convenes in 2013, then it will go before voters in the 2014 statewide election.

Colorado: Last week, a Senate committee voted against a bill that would put a question on the ballot whether voters should show a photo ID to vote, effectively killing it for the year.

Florida: Former Governor Charlie Crist came out against Florida’s new restrictive voting laws.

Georgia: The Georgia General Assembly passed a comprehensive election reform package that allows the Secretary of State to develop an online voter registration system.

Pennsylvania: The ACLU and NAACP announced this week that they will file a lawsuit by the end of April over the constitutionality ofPennsylvania’s new voter photo ID law. Two lawmakers will also introduce legislation to repeal the law.

South Carolina: The U.S. Department of Justice filed court paperson Monday responding to South Carolina’s lawsuit to allow implementation of its voter photo ID law. A hearing date will be set on Friday. The NAACP and South Carolina League of Women Votersrecently joined the lawsuit on behalf of the U.S. Justice Department.

Virginia: Gov. Bob McDonnell proposed amendments to the voter ID bill sent to him by the legislature. His amendments would expand the list of acceptable IDs to include community and technical college IDs. Also, voters who do not show proper identification at the polls will vote a provisional ballot. That ballot will be counted if their signature compared with their signature already on file matches or if the voter provides identification at county election offices or submits ID documents after Election Day. He also proposed extending the time voters can send or present ID to the local electoral board from one to three days. If the voter does not do so, their signature would still be compared with the one on file. The legislature will vote on the proposed changes on April 18.

The Bad News

Florida: Florida’s restrictive voter registration law is making it harder for high school students to register to vote. A local Florida NAACP chapter ran into problems with the law following a holiday weekend.

A new group in Hillsborough County called Tampa Vote Fair is using information obtained by True The Vote to purge voters from the rolls. Concerns have been raised in this pre-clearance county, as True the Vote is associated with King Street Patriots, a Texas based group accused of using poll workers to suppress minority votes in 2010. Out of the initial 140 names that Tampa Vote Fair has submitted for review, 50 are labeled as black or Hispanic.

Louisiana: The Louisiana House passed legislation to shorten the hours the polls are open on Election Day by one hour. Instead of opening at 6am, the polls would open at 7am on Saturday elections, which are most elections in the state.

Minnesota: The legislature approved a bill that would place a constitutional amendment on the November ballot requiring voters to show a government-issued photo ID to vote. Governor Mark Dayton issued a symbolic veto on the bill despite the veto not having the power to stop the bill from going on the ballot. The ACLU of Minnesota has stated it is preparing a lawsuit to stop the amendment from being on the ballot. The Minnesota Association of Townships, opposed to the amendment, found that the amendment could be costly to townships. Additionally, the constitutional change would threaten Minnesota's position as number one in the U.S. in voter turnout and, according to Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, would effectively end same-day registration in the state. 

Mississippi: On Tuesday the Senate passed a bill approved by the House to enact the constitutional amendment passed by voters last year to require photo ID to vote. Under the bill, acceptable ID include a Mississippi driver's license, a Mississippi pistol permit, an Indian tribal identification, a U.S. passport, identification from any public or private college in Mississippi, other identification issued by the federal or state government or other Mississippi city, county or local agency. If a voter does not show any of those IDs, they would cast a provisional ballot but it wouldn't be counted unless they return within five days to show an acceptable form of identification to a registrar. The Senate added an exemption for any person with religious objections to being photographed, saying the person could swear out those objections to a registrar within five days of the vote and still have their ballot count. The bill goes back to the House to approve the changes.

Former Mississippi Secretary of State Dick Molpus wrote to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to urge the U.S. Department of Justice to block implementation of Mississippi’s photo ID law, calling on Holder to "protect those who would be excluded from our democracy by this ill-conceived law." Mississippi must submit changes to its voting laws to be “pre-cleared” under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.

Missouri: Missouri legislators are looking at amending the ballot language for a proposed constitutional amendment requiring photo ID to vote that would go before voters this November. The original language was invalidated by a Cole County judge last month.

New Hampshire: The House Election Law Committee held a hearing on Tuesday on a proposed law that would require voters to show a photo ID to cast a ballot. The committee did not vote on the legislation. The bill would allow driver’s license, federal and military identification, a passport, college identification card, or any other federal, state, county or municipal identification as acceptable ID. It also would allow local election officials to verify a person’s identity if they did not have a photo ID. Those without photo identification could be challenged and would have to fill out a voter affidavit.

North Carolina: The Lumberton City Council is asking the North Carolina General Assembly to allow them to eliminate or limit early voting during elections.

Wisconsin: Despite Wisconsin’s voter photo ID law being blocked by the courts, an elderly woman was prevented from voting when asked by a poll worker for a photo ID in Wisconsin’s primary election.

Other News

Texas: In the lawsuit over Texas’ photo ID law, the U.S. Justice Department is asking a three-judge panel hearing the lawsuit to allow the Justice Department to depose Texas legislators over the photo ID law passed last year.

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