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Texas: Early Vote Totals Set Records as State Grapples with Voter ID Decision

By: Benjamin Daily

Despite worries that confusion about voter ID requirements in the wake of Veasey v. Abbott would keep voters away from the polls, Texas’ ten largest counties saw record numbers of early voters.  Early vote totals consistently surpassed comparable totals in 2008 and 2012. Although the overall turnout rate was slightly less than in 2008, due primarily to increased turnout not keeping up with population growth, more Texans voted this year than in 2008 and 2012.

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Flip and Flop: Federal judge lifts Michigan state law banning “Ballot Selfies,” but Sixth Circuit reverses four days later

By: Angela M. Evanowski

On October 24, 2016, famous singer and actor Justin Timberlake found himself in trouble after posting a “ballot selfie” on his two social media accounts, Twitter and Instagram. Timberlake, who is registered to vote in Tennessee, flew from California to his home voting county and posted the selfies in order to encourage millennials and fans to vote. However, to the surprise of Timberlake, the state of Tennessee earlier this year passed a law banning voters from taking photographs or videos during the voting process. Luckily, for this famous former boy-band member, he is not going to face any criminal charges or punishment for posting his ballot selfies. Continue reading

Record Voter Turnout on First Day of Early Voting in Texas

 

By: Justin D. Davenport

Early voting started enthusiastically in Texas on Monday, October 24, 2016. Several counties—including Travis, Harris, Dallas, Tarrant, Bexar, and Hidalgo counties—broke first-day voting records. Most counties saw a marked increase from opening day of early voting in 2012. While some counties have had more modest increases of fifteen (Bexar) or thirty (Tarrant) percent, several counties nearly doubled turnout for the first day of early voting in Texas. Although a seeming paradox in a state with consistently low voter turnout, Texans are showing up early to vote in record numbers, and the Lone Star State has a long history of early voting laws to accommodate citizens who want to cast their ballots before election day.

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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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The ACRU Targets a Third Texas District for Allegedly Registering More Voters Than Eligible

By Justin D. Davenport

On March 4, 2016, the American Civil Rights Union (ACRU) filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, McAllen Division, alleging that Starr County had violated § 8 of the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA). The ACRU argues that Starr County “failed to make reasonable efforts to conduct voter list maintenance programs” and, therefore, the county has failed to meet its obligations under § 8. Starr County is the third Texas county whose voter rolls the ACRU has challenged for allegedly listing more registered voters in the district than citizens eligible to vote.

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TX – Fossils Running Amok: Subversion of Democracy by Old Election Machines and Travis County’s Unique Solution

By: Katie Teeters

In September of 2015, the Brennan Center for Justice published a report based on ten months of research, which looked at problems arising from aging voting machines. First, the report found that a majority of election districts in forty-three states are using ten-year old machines. There are fourteen states with machines fifteen-years or older. Considering the rapid pace of technology in the past fifteen years, these election machines are truly relics of the past. To illustrate how ancient these machines are; in 2000 Wikipedia nor iTunes existed. Many of the voting machines have minimal memory, such as in Allen County where the machine’s memory cards can contain only 250 megabytes of data. Samsung’s new basic Galaxy S6 smartphone can hold up to 32 gigabytes of data, which is approximately 128 times more memory than those machines.

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The Crossroads of America v. The Lone Star State: Comparison of Indiana and Texas ID Laws

By: Katie Teeters

Voter ID laws are spreading across the country leaving controversies in their wakes. Advocates believe requiring ID is a good way to prevent in-person voter fraud and increase public confidence in the election process, while opponents say that voter ID laws unduly burden the right to vote. Still, a total of 36 states have passed laws requiring a showing of some form of identification in order to vote. This blog post will take a look at voter ID laws and their respective implications in Texas and Indiana.

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The Expense of Raising School District Taxes in Texas: A Vignette of Booker ISD

by Andrew Lindsey

Texans are very hands-off when it comes to taxes. Unlike many other states, Texas has no state personal income tax, property tax, or inheritance tax, and local taxes are not allowed to exceed low percentages of the state taxes that do exist. In addition, all local taxes are subject to further taxpayer protections collectively referred to as “Truth in Taxation” laws, which is a combination of state constitutional and statutory provisions that restrain local governments from raising taxes through accountability mechanisms such as requiring notice of higher tax proposals and the holding of public hearings for citizens to question and oppose proposed tax increases.

School boards are just one of the many kinds of local government entities that Texans support through their taxes. Even if one does not work for a local school or send children there, it is obvious that the maintenance of a public school system is one of the most important (and expensive) government functions for any community. Perhaps for this reason, Texas law treats the process for setting school district tax rates differently than other local tax rates. Truth-in-taxation requirements were expanded for school districts during the 79th Texas legislative session through an initiative originally contained in House Bill 1006, and eventually incorporated into House Bill 1. This initiative both lowered the tax rate that school districts would be allowed to charge in the future, and made it more difficult to increase those rates above what was charged in the preceding year. One component of this increased difficulty (in addition to notice and public hearings) is that school districts must hold a district-wide election for the approval of tax rates which exceed the statutory default rate by a certain amount of cents. If a simple majority of voters support the new tax rate, then the district may adopt it. These elections are known as “tax ratification elections” (or TREs). Continue reading

Mail-In Ballot Fraud: Harvesting Votes in the Shadow of Texas’ Voter ID Controversy

by Andrew Lindsey

Almost every American realizes that democracies are only as legitimate as their rules for counting the votes. Voter fraud is an unfortunate reality in this country that undermines citizens’ faith in the electoral franchise, but few agree on its pervasiveness. Recently, a number of states have moved to enact stricter voting laws based on a concern that voter fraud is a considerably underrated threat to our electoral system. Opponents of these laws maintain that lawmakers are engaging in partisan exaggeration to disenfranchise minority constituents, and numerous lawsuits have already been filed in both state and federal court. Texas is a salient example, and many predict that the recent ruling against its voter identification (ID) law will make its way to the Supreme Court in the near future. Continue reading

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