De-Clawing a Badger: Western District of Wisconsin Softens State Voter ID Law

In a sweeping opinion handed down in late July, United States District Judge James Peterson struck a substantial number of voting provisions from the books in Wisconsin. The opinion, which spans 119 pages, found that multiple voter restrictions enacted by the state legislature were motivated by a desire to advantage incumbent and aspiring Republican officials. The court first rejected the plaintiffs’ facial challenge, relying on a 7th Circuit decision which held that even if some voters have trouble complying with the law, and those voters tend to be racial minorities, the law is not necessarily facially unconstitutional. This initial victory in preserving the overall voter ID law marks the extent of the defendants’ success in the case.

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If You Can’t Beat Them, Join Them: Seattle’s counterintuitive response to too much money in politics

By: Anna Ellermeier

In November 2015, voters in Seattle approved Initiative 122, creating the first-ever Democracy Voucher Program. The program provides registered Seattle voters with four vouchers—or “democracy dollars”—each worth $25. Voters can then take these vouchers and give them to any candidate for city council, mayor, or city attorney who participates in the program.

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The idea for the initiative grew out of a concern about the role campaign financing plays in Seattle elections, and the sentiment that the rich, through their money, have a larger voice in politics. For example, a 2013 study revealed that half of the money raised for races in Seattle’s 2013 election cycle came from just 1,683 donors, which is about 0.3% of Seattle adults.

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Michigan Lawsuit Challenges State Ballot Selfie Ban

By: Sara Krauss

In the November 2012 election, Michigan voter Joel Crookston posted a photo of part of his completed ballot on Facebook, demonstrating his write in-vote for a friend for the position of Michigan State University trustee. On September 9, 2016, Pillar of Law filed a lawsuit on his behalf, arguing that the state laws requiring he forfeit his vote, and potentially receive a fine or jail time for the misdemeanor, is unconstitutional.

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Driving Up The Numbers: Will California’s Motor Voter Law Dramatically Alter The Golden State’s Electorate?

By: Tyler Sherman

With low voter turnout in the recent 2014 elections, pressure mounted on California legislators to act to increase voter participation. In response, California’s state legislature passed, and Governor Jerry Brown approved, the New Motor Voter Act. In essence, the law will automatically register eligible citizens to vote when they use Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) services, such as obtaining a driver’s license. Slated to go into effect in July of 2017, the law has the potential to dramatically alter the Golden State’s future.

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Black Votes Matter: Pennsylvania’s Impressive History of Access to the Franchise

By: Ebony Thomas

Today, Pennsylvania’s voting laws are among the least restrictive of any state in granting its citizens access to the ballot. Pennsylvania is one of the few states that supports the voting rights of people with past felony convictions. Moreover, Pennsylvania has always been a leader in providing its citizens, especially its black citizens, access to its franchise.

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As early as the late 18th century, black freemen in Pennsylvania had the right to vote-well before the passage of the civil rights amendments (the 13th, 14th, and 15th). These gains were short-lived, as black freemen lost their suffrage rights in 1838 when the Pennsylvania constitution was amended. These freemen did not regain their right to the franchise until 1870 with the ratification of the United States Constitution’s 15th Amendment. During their disenfranchisement, blacks still fought for suffrage by petitioning and protesting for the Pennsylvania legislature to reinstate their rights. Yet their efforts fell on deaf ears. It was commonly held that apathy among black freemen and rising racial tensions between blacks and whites lost them their right to vote in Pennsylvania. Surprisingly, once blacks regained their right to vote in 1870, Pennsylvania did not impose any barriers on the franchise, in contradistinction to other states, which imposed barriers like the poll tax and literacy tests that ultimately led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

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Texas: District Court Orders Texas to Re-Write Voter ID Educational Materials, Requires Preclearance Before Publishing Materials

By: Benjamin Daily

In a new development in Texas’ Voter ID saga, U.S District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos found that Texas had misled voters and poll workers about the ID requirements to cast a ballot in the November 2016 election. The new order also requires Texas to obtain preclearance before publishing its educational material. The challenge comes after the Fifth Circuit struck down SB14, the Texas Voter ID law, in Veasey v. Abbott, the Texas Voter ID law last July.

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WA: No Home, No Voice?

By: Anna Ellermeier

Homeless Seattleites face barriers to voting while the City Council decides the fate of tent cities and encampments

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Homeless individuals, in Seattle and across the county, face unique barriers to registering to vote and exercising their right to vote once registered. While a residential address is not required by the Washington State Constitution or by state statute, homeless Seattleites still face significant  challenges in this area.

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The Sunlight Keeps Shining: The Supreme Court’s Denial of Certiorari Means that Delaware’s Disinfectant Election Disclosure Law Remains

By: Owen Ecker

In the wake of Citizens United v. FEC, Delaware took it upon itself to counteract the perceived “opening of the floodgates” ushered in by the United States Supreme Court on the issue of corporate third party political expenditures.  As the state’s first major alteration in campaign finance laws for over two decades, House Bill 300, established to generate a greater amount of disclosure from third party advertisers, passed both houses of Delaware’s General Assembly by large margins (about 65 percent in the House of Representatives and 100 percent in the Senate) in 2012.  Thereafter, the Governor of Delaware signed the Delaware Elections Disclosure Act (the “Act”) into law, which became effective in 2013.  However, litigation ensued over the Act’s constitutionality, with one lawsuit making its way up to the Supreme Court.

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First Ever Complaint Alleging Violations Under Montana’s Disclose Act Dismissed

Between August 18 and 20, Liz Fordahl and Scott Skokos received two postcards in the mail from the Montana chapter of Americans for Prosperity. The first postcard bears photos of incumbent Governor Steve Bullock and a broken piggy bank and declares that Governor Bullock is “bankrupting Montana.” The card goes on to urge the recipient to call the Governor’s office. The second postcard bears the photo of state Senator Robyn Driscoll and states that the senator has a failing grade on her “Montana freedom scorecard” and encourages the postcard recipient to call the senator and tell her to stand up to big government. Mr. Skokos filed a complaint with the Montana Commissioner of Political Practices (COPP) claiming the postcards were a violation of state election law.

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An Unenviable Choice: Party Loyalty or Voting Your Conscience?

How do we resolve the tension between an individual’s right to vote for who he or she chooses and a political party’s right to set its own rules to govern its proceedings? This conflict was at issue in Correll v. Herring, involving the validity of Virginia election law § 24.2-545 (D).

Political parties in Virginia “have the right to determine the method by which . . .  [they] will select their delegates to the national convention to choose the party’s nominees for President and Vice President of the United States including a presidential primary or another method determined by the party.” Virginia Code § 24.2-545 (A). Under § 24.2-545 (D), party delegates must vote for the candidate who wins the most votes in the party primary (“winner takes all”) if the state party uses a primary election system.  Violation of § 24.2-545 (D) is a Class 1 misdemeanor.

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