State of Elections

William & Mary Law School | Election Law Society

Tag: Department of Justice

Elections With Justice

By Kendall Quirk

On Election Day 2018, Justice Department officials were sent to Tarrant County (Arlington and Fort Worth), Harris County (Houston), and Waller County (west of Houston). While Tarrant County election officials reassured the public that their presence was nothing to be concerned about, and Harris County said, “It’s just routine,” many voters may be unaware of the reason for the interest in these counties’ election proceedings. At the time of the Shelby County v. Holder decision in 2013, the state of Texas was a covered jurisdiction under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which required the state to submit any changes in voting procedures or election law to the Department of Justice for federal approval to ensure minority voters were protected at the polls. Since pre-clearance is no longer required, states do not have to submit changes to the Department of Justice for approval, yet federal oversight still exists in the form of visits from Department of Justice officials.

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Texas Follows the Trend of Eliminating Straight Ticket Voting

In June, Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed House Bill 25 into law, which will eliminate the straight ticket voting option beginning in 2020. In the November 2016 elections, an estimated 63% of voters cast straight ticket ballots. The biggest selling point among supporters of the law revolves around the idea that voters will work to be more informed once it is in place, as the current straight ticket system allows voters to vote blindly for one party. A proposed amendment, requiring Department of Justice confirmation of the constitutionality of the measure prior to removal of straight ticket voting, did not pass with the bill. Continue reading

Distance as Discrimination: Native Voting Rights in Rural Montana Litigated in Wandering Medicine v. McCulloch

By: Cameron Boster

History of the Dispute

The seven Indian reservations that intersect with Montana’s massive counties face significant problems, including poverty, domestic violence, and obstacles to education. Native electoral representation, a tool essential for fixing these issues, is threatened by the thinly populated, hundred-mile distances between remote towns that stretch on bad roads through wild terrain.

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When is state law not enforceable?

Texas awaits DOJ approval for its new voter photo ID law.

by Daniel Carrico

The battle over Texas’s controversial new voter identification bill should be over. Instead, it appears to be heating up.

Senate Bill 14 amends the Texas Election Code, requiring voters to present an approved form of photo identification to cast a ballot in state elections. Voters may rely on most forms of commonly-used government-issued photo identification, such as a driver’s license or passport. Voters who are unwilling, or unable, to pay for identification are also covered; the bill creates a new form of identification called an “election identification certificate” which can be obtained at no cost from the Texas Department of Public Safety.

Both the Texas House and Senate approved the bill and its photo identification requirements, following months of heated debate across the state. And, on May 27, Governor Rick Perry signed the bill into law. Notwithstanding any post-enactment court challenges, gubernatorial endorsement is the final step in the legislative process—or at least that’s how things usually work in Texas. Continue reading

SC (voter id): “We do not have a constitutional right to buy Sudafed or be a frequent flier; we do have a constitutional right to vote.”

by Sheila Dugan

On May 11, 2011, the South Carolina General Assembly passed Act R54.  The new law would require individuals to present photo identification to vote. Governor Nikki Haley signed the bill a week later. The Department of Justice has yet to pre-clear the new law, stating that it needs proof from South Carolina that Act R54 would not disenfranchise voters. Valid forms of identification include a South Carolina driver’s license, a passport, military identification, a voter registration card with a photograph, or another form of photographic identification from the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).

Chris Whitmire, Director of Public Relations and Training at the South Carolina State Election Commission (SCSEC), spoke to me about the preparations taking place if the law is pre-cleared. These preparations include training county election officials, notifying registered voters without proper identification through direct mail, and a social media campaign about the new law. The General Assembly allocated $535,000 to the SCSEC for the voter education campaign and the creation of new voter registration cards that contain a photograph of the voter.

Registered voters would be able to obtain the new voter registration cards with the same documents they now use to register to vote (these include a photo ID or documents like a utility bill or pay stub with their address printed on it.) This makes the new identification easier to obtain than other government-issued forms of identification.  Another unique feature of the new card is that it will not expire. Continue reading

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