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North Carolina’s Battle for Voter Identification

By: Collin Crookenden

With the recent invalidation of the coverage formula set forth in Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, several previously covered districts implemented stricter voting requirements. In 2013, immediately following the invalidation, North Carolina enacted Session Law 2013-381 which contained multiple provisions that were contested as soon as Governor McCrory (R) signed it into effect: photo identification requirements, shortened early voting periods, and elimination of pre-registration for individuals under the age of 18. The new requirements were set to go into effect January 2016 and were in fact utilized in the primaries earlier this year, after the legislature altered the law in 2015. Of primary concern to the litigants and to the legislation’s opposition was the requirement of all voters to show photo identification. Most states have some form of identification requirements, but North Carolina’s 2013 version maintained some of the most stringent provisions. Governor McCrory argued that these, specifically the photo identification statute, were “common sense” pieces of legislation. However, while the district court agreed with his assessment, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the legislation was in violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination of voting requirements based upon race.

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Pennsylvania is leading the charge to reenact Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act

By: Ebony Thomas

From slavery to Jim Crow, America has a long, dark history in the treatment of its African American citizenry.  Although Congress ratified changes to the United States Constitution three times to benefit African Americans (i.e., the 13th Amendment abolished slavery, the 14th Amendment provided African Americans equal protection, and the 15th Amendment gave African American men a right to vote), the franchise did not come easily for former slaves. Many states imposed barriers, such as poll taxes, literacy tests, intimidation, and other methods, to keep African Americans from accessing the ballot. It was not until 1965, under the leadership of President Lyndon B. Johnson, that the nation affirmed the promise of the Constitution to all Americans and effectively decimated States’ self-imposed barriers that kept African Americans from exercising their right to vote.  This legislation is known as the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

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Federal Court Ruling Creates Chaos for North Carolina Primaries But There May Be a Solution

By: Blake Willis

Election litigation has experienced a new spike in recent years, with many states being involved with litigation over redistricting plans, Voter I.D. laws, and other ballot access issues. Since the inception of litigation under the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA), there has been a consistent concern that federal courts should not be involved in determining the policies of voting, re-districting, and other related issues. Cases such as plurality opinion Davis v. Bandemer express such concerns, stating that partisan gerrymandering concerns are not justiciable, and that opening the door for federal courts to examine similar claims may set a dangerous precedent. In Veith v. Jubelirer, Justice Scalia echoed this sentiment, arguing that it is an increasingly difficult task for courts to determine what the predominant factor for drawing a district line may be. The expanding jurisprudence from both partisan and racial gerrymandering cases proves this argument may hold some validity, as evidenced by courts’ disagreement over the correct standard to apply, what the evidentiary standard should be, and who the burden of proof rests upon, as just a few examples. Although this litigation has been ongoing for decades, it is by no means near reaching an end.

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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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ELS Speaker Series: Will Consovoy

By: Nate Burchard

On October 25, 2016, the William & Mary Election Law Society Speaker Series hosted attorney Will Consovoy. Consovoy is an appellate attorney and founding partner of Consovoy McCarthy Park LLC, co-director of the George Mason University School of Law Supreme Court Clinic, and former law clerk to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

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4th Circuit Court of Appeals Hears Virginia Voter ID Challenge

By: Kelsey Dolin

On September 22nd, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments in the second round of Virginia Democrats’ challenge of the State’s voter ID law. The appellants contend that the law unfairly burdens minorities and young people’s ability to vote because these groups are less likely to possess the requisite photo ID. The District Court previously upheld the law.

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Wisconsin: After Frank v. Walker

Wisconsin: after Frank v. Walker, a new case — One Wisconsin Institute v. Nichol — was filed on May 29th, 2015 to challenge Wisconsin’s election laws again.

By: Lisa Zhang

In a recent complaint filed by One Wisconsin Institute, Citizen Action of Wisconsin Education Fund, and six Wisconsin residents, plaintiffs challenged several Wisconsin voting provisions, including 2011 Wisconsin Act 23. I previously discussed the Equal Protection challenges made in this case in an earlier post. Below is an analysis of the case’s challenge under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA).

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The Fantasy of the Hispanic Voting Bloc in Florida and Its Implications on Redistricting

All across the country for the last few years, whenever politicians or the media talk about minority groups, they talk about the “Hispanic Vote,” lumping all Hispanic voters into a single group. But this statement is problematic for the United States, particularly in a state like Florida, in the context of redistricting, because Hispanic voters are not like other minority voters. Unlike black voters, Hispanic citizens, despite their shared language, are not one single homogenous block of voters. They come from different countries, have different cultures, and identify as different races. In fact, certain groups of Hispanics from some countries share strong animosity against groups of Hispanics from other countries. These differences, reflected in some Hispanic voting patterns, make it difficult for state legislatures to comply with the Voting Right Act when drawing district lines, but it can make it even more difficult for Hispanic plaintiffs to challenge districts because of the case law enunciated in Thornburg v. Gingles (1986). Gingles requires that a plaintiff challenging a state for violating §2 of the Voting Rights Act must prove that a minority is sufficiently large, politically cohesive, and that the majority votes as a block against the minority to prove vote dilution.

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West Virginia Considers New Redistricting Procedures, Including a Citizens Redistricting Commission

By: Stephanie Wilmes

During the most recent session of the West Virginia legislature, state lawmakers introduced two new bills, House Bill 2129 and House Joint Resolution 21, that would change the way the state draws its district lines. Currently, the West Virginia Constitution requires only that Congressional districts be contiguous, compact, and of equal population; that state Senate districts be “compact, formed of contiguous territory, bounded by county lines, and, as nearly as practicable, equal in population;” and that the arrangement of the districts “shall… be declared by law.”

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