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Elections: Voting Rights

Democracy is only possible when all people eligible to vote are provided the opportunity to do so without any undue hardships.

In this section, we report news related to voting rights.

Related Issues

Voting Rights

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Florida looks to constrict new ex-felon voting rights

2019-Mar-27By: Barry Shatzman

In November, 65 percent of Florida voters said convicted felons who had completed their sentences should be allowed to vote. The state's legislature now has introduced bills to have that help as few people as possible.

Types of crimes restricted would be expanded

The initiative Florida voters passed excludes those convicted of murder and "felony sexual offenses".

Among the provisions of bills being sponsored by Florida Republican legislators...

o Expand the definition of "murder" to include attempted murder

o Include in the definition of "felony sexual offenses" non-violent crimes including prostitution and placing an adult entertainment store within 1/2 mile of a school.

More would be excluded by non-court fees

Even more restrictive, felons would be required to pay all fees related to the offense before being allowed to vote.

Under the previous system, felons needed to have paid all court costs and restitution imposed by the court. The new legislation would expand that to fees that are not part of a sentence - such as fees to...

o Obtain a public defender
o Cover medical costs in prison
o Pay for probation supervision
o Pay for drug testing and ankle GPS monitors
o Reinstate a driver's license.

These costs can add up to thousands of dollars - an impossible amount for many to pay. And Florida uses private debt-collection agencies - which can increase the amount owed by 40 percent. Over the previous five years, less than 20 percent of money from such fees was paid back.

Political considerations?

The bills are being sponsored by Republican legislators.

An analysis by two Florida media organizations showed that more than half of former felons identified as Democrats. while fewer than 15 percent identified as Republican.

Florida now allows ex-felons to vote

2018-Nov-07  (Updated: 2019-Jan-08)By: Barry Shatzman

More than a million Florida residents who had been convicted of felonies now can have their voting rights restored.

Florida voters on Nov. 6 passed an initiative to automatically allow felons who have completed their sentences to vote. The initiative - referred to on the state's ballot as Amendment 4 - excludes those who have been convicted of murder or a sexual offense.

More than 10 percent of voting-age Floridians had been prevented from voting because of felony convictions.

Prior to this, felons who had completed their sentences had to follow an application process that could take up to a decade just to receive a decision. Approximately 90 percent of the applications processed under the system were rejected. The process was implemented by Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who also was the Republican candidate for the Senate in this election. The result currently is being determined by a recount.

Update 2019-Jan-8: Former felons now can sign up to vote.

Tool helps convicted felons regain their vote

2018-Aug-26By: Barry Shatzman

The right of convicted felons to vote is the one aspect of voting rights that varies widely from state to state.

Felony disenfranchisement prohibits approximately 6 million convicted felons from voting, according to the Campaign Legal Center. However, millions more might not vote because they aren't aware they're allowed to, or what steps they need to take to enable their voting rights. An online tool from the organization helps them take the needed steps.

Supreme Court - NC districts unfair to black voters

2017-May-22By: Barry Shatzman

The Supreme Court has ruled that two of North Carolina's voting districts were designed to limit minority representation in Congress.

North Carolina has two districts with predominantly black voters. When the state's legislature created new congressional districts after the 2010 census, the number of black voters increased from 49 to 53 percent in one of those districts, and from 44 to 51 percent in the other.

By concentrating more black voters into those districts, their representation was diluted in the others.

Such forms of racial gerrymandering have been determined to violate the Constitution's Equal Protection Clause.

Supreme Court - VA districts race-based

2017-Mar-01By: Barry Shatzman

The Supreme Court has ruled that Virginia's voting districts were designed to limit minority representation in the state's government.

When they created new state districts, some districts were designed to have exceptionally high concentrations of black voters - contributing to fewer state legislators they might choose.

Such forms of racial gerrymandering have been determined to violate the Constitution's Equal Protection Clause.

Virginia restores voting rights to past felons

2016-Apr-22By: Barry Shatzman

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe has issued an executive order that will allow felons who have completed their sentences to vote.

Supreme Court - AL districts unfair to blacks

2015-Mar-25By: Barry Shatzman

The Supreme Court has ruled that Alabama's voting districts were designed to limit minority representation in Congress.

When Alabama created new congressional district, some districts were designed to have exceptionally high concentrations of black voters - contributing to a smaller number of representatives in Congress they might choose.

Such forms of racial gerrymandering have been determined to violate the Constitution's Equal Protection Clause.

Supreme Court nullifies key part of Voting Rights Act

2013-Jun-27  (Updated: 2013-Aug-25)By: Rob Dennis and Barry Shatzman

The Supreme Court ruled on June 25 that a key provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 violates the Constitution.

The act calls for states and congressional districts with a history of voting discrimination to pre-clear any changes to their voting practices with the federal government.

The court did not rule pre-clearance (referred to as Section 5 of the law) unconstitutional. It also acknowledged that voter discrimination still exists. It ruled, however, that the formula used to select jurisdictions for pre-clearance (those with track records of discrimination as specified in Section 4 of the act) was outdated and unfair.

The court left it up to Congress to come up with a new formula to designate jurisdictions. Until that happens, any state or district can change their voting practices without the need to have the change pre-cleared by the federal government.

Until this ruling, the Voting Rights Act has been one of the most successful laws in U.S. history. Within its first year, more than a quarter of a million new black voters had been registered. Click here to see more of how voter registration increased in the long term since it was enacted.

While the Voting Rights Act has had measurable results, that success is no reason to believe it has outlived its usefulness, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote in her dissent.

"Throwing out pre-clearance when it has worked and is continuing to work to stop discriminatory changes is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet," she wrote.

Old discrimination tactics such as poll taxes and literacy tests remain illegal. But attempts to disenfranchise minority voters have not ended. The methods simply take on new forms...

o In 2012, a Texas school district attempted to shorten - without notice - the terms of three incumbent minority candidates, while changing the qualification timeframe so they would not be able to run for re-election. The federal government refused to pre-clear the changes - hence they did not take effect.

o In 2003, a Texas county announced it would eliminate all five polling places that served a predominantly-Latino part of San Antonio. The federal government refused to pre-clear the changes - hence they did not take effect.

o In 2001, the white mayor and all-white Board of Aldermen in a Mississippi town tried to cancel an election after black citizens became a majority of registered voters. The town refused to have the election until the Department of Justice required it in 2003.

o Voter identification laws are being enacted or considered in several states. The restrictions can disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of minority voters - in spite of there being little evidence of the problem they are purported to fix.

In the past 15 years, the Department of Justice has turned down 86 requests for election changes - 31 of which were after Congress reauthorized Section 5 in 2006.

But these numbers understate the problem. Between 1999 and 2005, more than 250 changes were withdrawn or replaced by altered submissions after the Department of Justice requested more information. Without Section 5, voters' only recourse is to challenge the rules in court. This is impractical for several reasons, states a Brennan Center for Justice report on the implications of Section 5 falling...

o Once an election is over, the harm generally cannot be reversed.

o Even if an injunction can be obtained, a jurisdiction can try again with a similar new tactic, resulting in additional costs to challenge. Section 5 pre-clearance requirements prevent this from happening.

"Without a system of pre-clearance, the public might not even know about such changes sufficiently in advance of an election to seek relief from the courts," the report states.

Shortly after the decision was announced, the Texas attorney general said the state's voter ID law, which the Department of Justice and a federal court had blocked, will take effect immediately.

Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito comprised the majority in the 5-4 decision.

Restrictive Arizona voter registration law overturned

2013-Jun-18By: Rob Dennis

The Supreme Court ruled Monday that states can't demand proof of citizenship from people registering to vote.

The 7-2 decision overturns an Arizona law requiring citizens to provide a driver's license issued after 1996, a U.S. birth certificate, and a passport or similar document in order to register. The law - Proposition 200 - was passed by voters in 2004.

The court ruled that the law violated the 1993 National Voter Registration Act, which requires states to accept a federal voter registration postcard that requires only the voter's signed oath that he or she is a citizen.

If a state wants to introduce extra requirements to its voter registration process, it first must obtain permission from the Election Assistance Commission.

Those who support more stringent requirements say they're needed to prevent ineligible voters from casting votes. But there has never been a case of a non-citizen being prosecuted for using the federal form. The appeals court that originally overturned the Arizona law stated, "Arizona has not provided persuasive evidence that voter fraud in registration procedures is a significant problem in Arizona; moreover, the NVRA includes safeguards addressing voter fraud.?

Restrictions such as Arizona's do, however, keep millions of people nationwide off of the voting rolls. A 2006 survey by the Brennan Center for Justice concluded that 7 percent of American citizens lack the required documents to prove their citizenship. In a statement Monday, the American Civil Liberties Union said that, of the 31,000 U.S. citizens in Arizona whose voter registration applications were denied, 90 percent were born in the United States.

The majority of those without documentation tend to be low-income or minorities.

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has lobbied other states to adopt Arizona's law. Four of those states - Alabama, Georgia, Kansas, and Tennessee - already have adopted similar laws.

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