State of Elections

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Tag: Felon Voting Rights (page 2 of 3)

Can a Tempest, a Tea Party Make?

The teapot is still boiling briskly in the City of Falls Church, a Northern Virginia suburb of Washington, D.C., over recent changes in the regulations governing municipal elections. By a 4-3 vote in January 2010, the then Mayor and City Council was successful in changing city elections from even-numbered years in May to odd-numbered years in November. Appropriately, the City submitted the change to the United States Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, for review and clearance as required by the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The Department subsequently reviewed and approved the change. The result is that, during the transition years, Council-Member terms will be shortened by six months. Then, in the May 2010 election, a major shakeup in the government occurred. The new Mayor, Nader Baroukh, a former City Council member who opposed the change, along with re-elected City-Council-members who were also opponents, is making efforts to “undo” the changes and to submit the matter to the citizens of the City in a referendum. Predictably, many residents of the City are hopping mad.  Continue reading

Weekly Wrap Up

Due to a loophole in Florida election law, a violation can go without any punishment. On September 30, a Florida District Court of Appeals ruled that because the statute allowed candidates to opt for an administrative hearing regarding their violations but didn’t give those courts the power to levy sanctions, candidates could violate election law and not be penalized. This was caused by a “glitch” in the legislation and was not intentional. Florida Election Commission Chairman says that it won’t affect the cases for this year’s elections because the legislature will have an opportunity to fix it before they’re heard.

According to the 9th Circuit, Washington doesn’t discriminate against minorities in prison. The Court ruled on October 7 that the Washington felon disenfranchisement law, which prohibits incarcerated felons from voting, does not constitute discrimination despite disproportionately affecting minorities. In January, a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit held 2-1 that incarcerated felons should be allowed to vote. Sitting en banc to reconsider the decision, the Court unanimously upheld the law. The Court ruled that the felons must show “intentional discrimination” on the part of the state and not merely that the law does discriminate, something the prisoners failed to do in this case. Continue reading

Weekly Wrap-Up

Virginia governor Robert McDonnell is outpacing his Democratic predecessors in restoring voting rights to felons. McDonnell, known as a law-and-order attorney general, has approved 780 of 889 applications — approximately 88 percent of applications — since taking office in January. His predecessors, Democrats Timothy Kaine and Mark Warner, restored the rights of 4,402 and 3,486 felons, respectively. McDonnell revamped the process for restoring voting rights to felons, reducing the wait time for nonviolent felons to two years, allowing applicants to submit documents online, and self-imposing a deadline of 60 days after the application is complete to make a decision. Even as this process continues, however, 300,000 people in Virginia remain disenfranchised.

Rahm Emanuel may be out of a job. The same day that the White House announced he was leaving his post as Chief of Staff to run for mayor of Chicago, attorney Burt Odelson pointed out a 1871 law requiring candidates to live in their jurisdiction for the year before the election. Since Emanuel leased out his house in Chicago while he was working in DC, this may block him from running for Mayor.
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Weekly Wrap Up

Every week, State of Elections brings you the latest news in state election law.

– Gerry Hebert, one of the panelists at our recent election law symposium, wrote this article about a recent legislative effort to undermine Fair Districts Florida.  Fair Districts Florida is an organization dedicated to fixing the redistricting process and the prevention of  gerrymandering.

– In Virginia, there is growing confusion about the restoration of felon voting rights.  Earlier this week, the governor’s office sent letters to 200 ex-felons, telling them that they would need to submit an essay as part of the application process for the restoration of their voting rights.  On the 14th, Governor McDonnell claimed that the letters had been sent in error, and that the essay requirement was simply a “draft policy proposal“.  Of course, this is only the third most controversial retraction the Governor has issued in the last month.

– A bill that would require voters to show photo identification before casting a ballot has received first round approval from the Missouri House. A previous photo ID law in Missouri was struck down by the Missouri Supreme Court for being a “heavy and substantial burden on Missourians’ free exercise of the right of suffrage.”

– In Cleveland, an elections board test of voting machines has produced alarming results.  About 10% of voting machines failed the test, and the state has less than a month.

– Maryland has become the first state to count prison inmates as residents of their home address, instead of counting them as residents of their prison location.  The U.S. Census considers inmates to be residents of their prison, a practice that has been criticized as distorting the population count and leading to unfairness during the redistricting process.

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9th Circuit Panel Strikes Down Washington Disenfranchisement Law


The unending battle over felon disenfranchisement in Washington state has taken an interesting turn, as a three-judge 9th Circuit panel ruled 2-1 that Washington’s denial of voting rights to incarcerated felons is a violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.

This decision is directly counter to one issued just six months ago by a panel of 1st Circuit judges reviewing a case out of Massachusetts, Simmons v. Galvin, where that panel held 2-1 that Section 2 simply doesn’t apply to felon disenfranchisement. The glaring circuit split on this question makes this case a very strong candidate for en banc review at the 9th, and possibly ripe for a Supreme Court grant of certiorari thereafter (which would likely also address the very issue of whether the VRA applies to felon disenfranchisement at all, a question still very much unsettled).

The Washington case, originally filed in the mid-90s and now known as Farrakhan v. Gregoire, was brought by a convicted felon sentenced to a five-year term who objected to being denied the opportunity to vote in elections during his incarceration. The plaintiffs’ argument is based on the idea that the criminal justice system in Washington is itself racially biased in that “minorities are disproportionately prosecuted and sentenced,” and as such a deprivation of voting rights based on that allegedly biased system would violate the VRA. In 2003, during an earlier round of appeals, another three-judge panel held unanimously that the racial biases of a criminal justice system could be considered in a “totality of the circumstances” analysis of voting conditions. (Farrakhan v. Washington, 338 F.3d 1009, 1016, 9th Cir. 2003). On remand, the district judge did not consider the evidence to be sufficient to demonstrate a denial of the right to vote based on race, and Farrakhan appealed again. Continue reading

Weekly Wrap Up

Every week, State of Elections brings you the latest news in state election law.

– The Kentucky House has voted overwhelmingly to pass a proposed constitutional amendment that would restore felon voting rights in that state. Currently, the governor must approve the restoration of voting rights, but the proposal would automatically restore voting privileges upon the completion of their sentence.

– In Texas, a lawsuit has been filed over the creation of new city council districts.  The new districts were created without distinguishing between voting citizens and non-citizens, so according to the plaintiffs, there are wide disparities in the number of voting age citizens from district to district.  They claim the new districts, due to this disparity, are a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause

– The Hawaiian legislature has struck down two bills that would have significantly changed how elections are conducted in that state. Hawaiian elections are overseen by an appointed chief elections officer and the office of elections, but given the recent problems in that state, the legislature is looking for new ways to handle elections. The bills would have put a constitutional amendment on the ballot to create a new office of Secretary of State to oversee elections.

– The Florida Supreme Court has ruled that state election codes do not automatically pre-empt local laws.  The controversy began when voters in Florida’s Sarasota County approved a proposal that banned touch screen voting machines.  The state government banned touch screen machines some time later, but the state questioned the constitutionality of the Sarasota County proposal, claiming that state election codes trumped local legislation.  The Court rejected this argument, and upheld the right of local officials to take steps to ensure the accuracy of elections.

– Adam Fogel at Fairvote has written this article about the growing controversy over universal voter registration.

Weekly Wrap Up

– The Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United has been released, and it’s a doorstopper.  Weighing in at over 180 pages, the decision gives corporations, unions, and non-profits more power to spend freely in federal elections.  Of course, Citizens United has sparked quite a bit of controversy.  Rick Hasen, a leading election law scholar and member of the William and Mary Election Law Program Advisory Board,  posted a scathing critique of the opinion on Slate, and an examination of the possible future of campaign finance on the Huffington Post.  Ironically, Hasen’s book was cited in the majority opinion.

– Senator Chuck Schumer  is rumored to be working on a “universal voter registration” bill.   Originally, rumors had pegged Barney Frank as the author of the bill, sparking a mild controversy on the Hill and a fierce denial by Frank.   The possibly fictional bill would automatically register millions of people to vote.

– State of Elections has published several articles about felon disenfranchisement over the past few weeks, all of which have supported the restoration of felon voting rights.  In the interest of balance, here’s an editorial opposing the restoration of felon voting rights, written by Hans A. Von Spakovsky and John Park and published in the Richmond Times Dispatch.

– State of Elections is working on a new article, possibly a series of articles, about voting machines.  Specifically, we will be looking at New York City’s recent decision to replace its old lever operated machines with modern electronic voting machines.  If you have any information about NYC’s process for selecting a company to provide its machines, or any special knowledge about voting machines in general, please contact us at

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Weekly Wrap Up

Every week, State of Elections brings you the latest news in state election law.

– Implementation of the Tennessee Voter Confidence Act has been delayed until 2012. The Act, which would require paper ballots in all Tennessee elections, has been highly controversial and strongly opposed by Republicans in the legislature.  Lt. Gov Ron Ramsey even declared that delaying the bill was his No. 1 priority.  Bernie Ellis, a leading proponent of the Act, posted this editorial on State of Elections in December.  For more background, check out this article by Drew Staniewski.

– A federal judge in Arizona appears ready to dramatically change that state’s system of funding elections.  Under Arizona’s Clean Elections system, certain candidates receive government funding for their campaigns.  The system is designed to allow less well-funded candidates to compete with more affluent opponents.  Judge Roslyn Silver, however, has written a draft order that would strike down these matching funds as unconstitutional.

– Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna and Secretary of State Sam Reed have announced that they will appeal the 9th Circuit Court’s decision in Farrakhan v. Gregoire.  The decision restored the voting rights of felons in Washington.  For more of State of Election’s coverage of the debate over felon voting rights, go here and here.

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Weekly Wrap Up

Every week, State of Elections brings you the latest news in state election law.

– Winter break at William and Mary is over, and State of Elections is excited to return to a  full time posting schedule. New articles will be posted every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, beginning on January 11th.

– Senator Chris Dodd has announced he will not seek reelection in 2010.  During his time in the Senate,  Dodd proposed some sweeping changes to voter registration laws.  Take a look at S. 17, Dodd’s proposed “Voting Opportunity and Technology Enhancement Rights Act of 2005”.  If it had been passed, S. 17 would have required states to allow voters to register on election day, and also would have enabled voters to register electronically via the Internet.

– The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that the disenfranchisement of felons violates the federal Voting Rights Act.  According to the court, the criminal justice system is so “infected” with racism that limiting the right of felons to vote is contrary to the Act’s prohibition against the denial of voting rights on account of race.  The court’s opinion can be read in full here.

– The Rhode Island Senate and House has enacted legislation allowing 16 and 17 year olds to “pre-register” to vote.  Those that pre-register will be automatically added to the voter rolls will they turn 18.  The bill had been previously vetoed by Rhode Island Governor Donald Carcieri, but the veto was overridden by the legislature.   For more information on pre-registration, see’s fact sheet.

Op Ed: Take Jim Crow Out of the Virginia Constitution: Restore Voting Rights for All

After the 15th Amendment was passed, giving blacks the constitutional right to vote, Southern states enacted Jim Crow laws, designed to keep blacks from actually voting. These laws included disingenuous literacy tests and poll taxes, which served as illegal but thankfully temporary impediments for black voters. One of the few ways that states found they could legally keep at least some blacks from voting, however, was to enact felon disenfranchisement laws. These laws say that after a felon has served his time in prison, he still cannot vote. Although African-Americans represent only about 12.5% of America’s population, they make up about 48.5% of its prison population. So, felon disenfranchisement laws, which are at best arguably constitutional, have proved an effective method of suppressing the black vote.

Virginia is one of only two states in the U.S. that permanently bars ex-felons from voting, even after they have paid their debt to society (the other is Kentucky). In Virginia alone, there are more than 377,000 disenfranchised felons. Of these, more than 208,000 are African-American.This is an abomination. Virginia’s laws must be changed. Continue reading

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