Elections Have Consequences, Part The Infinity

The nightmare that was the 2014 election of Larry Hogan as Maryland governor continues to reverberate throughout the state. Today’s seismic activity emanates from the offices of the Montgomery County Board of Elections, which is now under the control of a three member Republican majority led by James Shalleck. The elections board in every county in the state is controlled by the party holding the governor’s seat.

Montgomery County, the largest county in the state, has nine early vote locations, up from five in 2010, when early voting was first allowed in the state. 

Here are the early vote sites from 2014, arranged by turnout at each location, first in the primary then in the general, with percentages in parentheses)

Silver Spring 3961 (21.0)  

Rockville 2506 (13.3)
Burtonsville 2324 (12.3)
Wheaton 2222 (11.8)
Bethesda/Chevy Chase 2187 (11.6)
Gaithersburg 2032 (10.8)
Germantown 1901(10.1)
Aspen Hill 1220 (6.5)
Damascus 518 (2.7)

In the general, there were some different outcomes, but not a lot.

Silver Spring 5740 (16.2)
Burtonsville 4988 (14.1)
Germantown 4549 (12.8)
Gaithersburg 4456 (12.6)
Rockville 4406 (12.4)
Wheaton 3997 (11.3)
Bethesda/Chevy Chase 3355 (9.5)
Aspen Hill 2485 (7.0)
Damascus 1468 (4.1)

So if you were eliminating early voting sites, you’d look really hard at Damascus, dontcha think? 518 early votes cast in 8 days of primary early voting – that’s like 65 per day. Get rid of that site if one has to go. And maybe Aspen Hill – pretty close to Rockville, pretty close to Wheaton and not very high turnout at all.

You clearly don’t think like a Republican, do you? The name of the game is voter suppression, boys and girls, and it’s come to Maryland and Montgomery County – today. Because one of the sites that I am advised by reliable sources was chosen to be eliminated was the Burtonsville site, at the Praisner Center, which was the third highest early voting site in the primary and second highest in the general – and which also happens to have the highest concentration of African-American voters in the county.

Also eliminated from the early vote sites is the Lawton Center in Bethesda/Chevy Chase, fifth highest in the primary and seventh in the general (in its first year as an EV site), and the only EV site in any proximity to Legislative District 16, which had the highrdy number of voters in the county. While the racial play here is not as stark as in Burtonsville, it’s still a pretty shameless political ploy and one intended to dampen down early voting turnout in Montgomery County.

What two bustling locations did the Board come up with to replace 23.9% of the primary EV total and 23.6% of the general? Why, that would be Brookeville (population 138) and Potomac, located only 4.1 miles from the Rockville early vote site at the County Executive Office Building. By comparison, the drive from Praisner to the nearest EV site is 10 miles (23 minutes) to the Silver Spring Civic Center or 11 miles (21 minutes) to Brookeville. All measurements and trip times are from Google Maps on a Monday evening just before 8:00 pm.

Does anyone really think that Potomac and Brookeville are going to come within a hundred miles of the volume of early votes cast in Burtonsville and Bethesda? If so, let’s you and I talk real estate, OK?

This is a blatant attempt to suppress minority turnout in the northeast corner of the county, where turnout was among the highest sites in the 2014 general, and only slightly less significant in the primary. Anybody up for a good old-fashioned election rights lawsuit?

Let’s keep an eye on this situation.

Voting Rights Win

And out of Texas, no less. A unanimous three judge panel of the 5th Circuit (the country’s most conservative bench) threw out Texas’ 2011 voter ID law. From the Post:

A federal appeals court struck down Texas’s voter-identification law Wednesday in a victory for President Obama, whose administration took the unusual step of bringing the weight of the Justice Department to fight a wave of new ballot-box restrictions passed in conservative statehouses.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit in New Orleans ruled that the 2011 Texas law carries a “discriminatory effect” and violates the federal Voting Rights Act — handing down the decision on the eve of the 50th anniversary of the landmark civil rights law.

Texas was allowed to use the voter-ID law during the 2014 elections, thereby requiring an estimated 13.6 million registered voters to have a photo ID to cast a ballot.

This decision should have a positive impact on the pending decision of a federal court in Nothh Carlona on that state’s 2013 law, which imposed a voter ID requirement, restricted early voting, and curtailed same day registration. 

The Voting Rights Act At 50

The New York Times may still have a Clinton problem, but the editorial board gets the Voting Rights Act perfectly.

For the first 48 years of its existence, the Voting Rights Act — signed by President Lyndon Johnson 50 years ago this week — was one of the most popular and effective civil rights laws in American history. Centuries of slavery, segregation and officially sanctioned discrimination had kept African-Americans from having any real voice in the nation’s politics. Under the aggressive new law, black voter registration and turnout soared, as did the number of black elected officials.

Recognizing its success, Congress repeatedly reaffirmed the act and expanded its protections. The last time, in 2006, overwhelming majorities in both houses extended the law for another 25 years. But only seven years later, in 2013, five Supreme Court justices elbowed in and concluded, on scant evidence, that there was no longer a need for the law’s most powerful tool; the Voting Rights Act, they claimed, had done its job.

This was laughable from the start, and it didn’t take more than a week or two after the Shelby County decision for states (primarily but not exclusively in the South) to pass a slew of new laws restricting voting access: voter ID laws and laws drastically cutting back early voting and same day registration.

One of the worst of these laws passed in North Carolina. A trial was recently held on the constitutionality of that law, and the court is expected to rule soon. The Times opines on the case:

The case involves an appalling anti-voter law, H.B. 589, that North Carolina’s Republican-controlled legislature passed in a duplicitous maneuver only weeks after the Supreme Court’s 2013 ruling. The law rolled back 15 years of voting rights measures, including same-day registration, which 90,000 North Carolinians used in 2012; a week of early voting used by 900,000; out-of-precinct registration; and preregistration for 16- and 17-year-olds.

If North Carolina were under federal supervision, as much of the state had been before the Supreme Court’s ruling, H.B. 589 would almost surely have been blocked for its disproportionate impact on black voters, who tend to vote Democratic. But because of the ruling, the state’s legislators were free to impose a raft of restrictions based on bogus claims of electoral integrity and efficiency. The legislators refused to testify at trial.

Powerful voting-rights advocacy groups — including the N.A.A.C.P., the A.C.L.U., the League of Women Voters and the Advancement Project — sued immediately upon the law’s passage, claiming that it intentionally targeted minority voters, and yet more than two years and one federal election later, it remains largely in place and may well survive the current challenge.

This demonstrates the need for the Voting Rights Act’s supervision scheme, which the Supreme Court eliminated. If there was any question that the court had misjudged the reality on the ground, it was answered by the speed with which North Carolina, Texas and other states moved to impose discriminatory new voting laws.

Exactly right. There has been no move to restore the pre-clearance requirements of the VRA, which speaks volumes about Republican complicity in vote suppression.

Given the history, it’s not a surprise and it won’t change unless pressure is brought to make it happen. President Obama is using the – ironic – serendipity of the law’s 50th birthday tomorrow with the first Republican presidential debate to call for restoration of the preclearance requirement. Not holding my breath but the effort must be made. Between Shelby County and Citizens United, the Supreme Court has dealt two powerful blows against democratic participation in the election process. If we don’t stand up and fight back, we can expect a future in which fewer and fewer people will be allowed to participate, and more and more money will rule what is left of our election process. That’s not a very pretty vision. 

Voter ID Law On Trial in NC

As usual, I agree completely with my hero Charlie Pierce. I still wanna be him when I grow up.

In a federal courtroom down in the newly insane state of North Carolina, there is a story that practically everyone is missing due to their concentration on important national issues like whatever bilge oozed from the Trumpian piehole in the last half-hour. The country’s most rigid and unbending new voter-suppression law is being taken to court.

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Of course, the ultimate argument from logic against these laws is that their stated purpose is to stop voter fraud that, from all available evidence, doesn’t really exist. It is the unstated purposes, always, that do the real damage. No story concerning the 2016 election is more important than this one.

The timing of this law, could not be more suspect. As Think Progress notes:

Over a two-week trial beginning Monday, July 13, the NAACP, League of Women Voters, and a group of North Carolina students will argue that the state’s law violates what remains of the Voting Rights Act, as well as the 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution, which guarantee equal protection under law, and an unabridged right to vote. Though it’s a bigger legal challenge, they will also attempt to prove state legislators knew the law would keep voters of color from casting ballots, and passed it with that intention.

To make that argument, those challenging North Carolina’s law point to the timing of when it was introduced and passed: as soon as the Supreme Court struck down key protections in the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Before that 2013 ruling, North Carolina and other states with a history of racial voter support had to clear any changes to their voting laws with the federal Justice Department. Free from that requirement, the Republican-controlled legislature pushed the bill through, and all provisions except the voter ID requirement went into effect for the 2014 midterm election.

Pay attention. If this law is upheld, you can expect more states to consider this kind of voter suppression law, and for things to get far, far worse.

Clinton On Voting Rights

As part of her generally leftward set of policy proposals and speeches, Hillary Clinton is delivering a speech taking on an issue near and dear to my heart: voting rights and voter suppression. This is a crucial issue that, between the Supreme Court’s 2013 Shelby County decision and a group of mostly but not exclusively southern state legislatures, presents a direct threat to the democratic process.

Hillary Clinton will deliver a speech in Texas on Thursday in which she will address restrictive voting laws in states across the country and call for restoring the provisions of the Voting Rights Act that were recently struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The voting rights speech at the historically-black college Texas Southern University will be one of the first policy speeches of Clinton’s newly launched campaign and will mark one of the first times a 2016 presidential candidate has spoken out about voting restrictions which have swept the country since the high court struck down Section 4 of the VRA in its Shelby County ruling in 2013.

According to her campaign staff, the speech will include a call for a new standard of no fewer than 20 days of early in-person voting in every state, including weekend and evening voting. In 2014, 20 million American voters cast their ballot early but currently, one third of states offer no early voting.

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On Thursday, Clinton will also single out restrictive voting laws in states including Texas, Wisconsin, North Carolina and Ohio. She has previously said North Carolina’s voter ID law “reads like the greatest hits of voter suppression.”

Charles Pierce has his usually blunt take on this issue. As usual, I agree with him.

The corruption of our politics by the money power, and the new mechanisms enacted to safeguard it, is the fundamental issue of our time because, unless it is reversed, and soon, all of the other issues won’t matter because no real solutions will emerge from the one place where they are supposed to emerge. Ms. Rodham Clinton seems to get this. Good on her for bringing it up.

Supreme Court Bombshell?

While we wait for the Supreme Court to decide the marriage equality cases – almost assuredly in favorable fashion at this point – the Court today unexpectedly accepted an election law case from Texas that could be explosive, and not in a good way. The issue is the now familiar principle of “one person one vote.” But who exactly qualifies as a “person”? The Court has never explicitly defined the term.

The court’s ruling, expected in 2016, could be immensely consequential. Should the court agree with the two Texas voters who brought the case, its ruling would shift political power from cities to rural areas, a move that would benefit Republicans.

The court has never resolved whether voting districts should have the same number of people, or the same number of eligible voters. Counting all people amplifies the voting power of places with large numbers of residents who cannot vote legally, including immigrants who are here legally but are not citizens, illegal immigrants, children and prisoners. Those places tend to be urban and to vote Democratic.

A ruling that districts must be based on equal numbers of voters would move political power away from cities, with their many immigrants and children, and toward older and more homogeneous rural areas.

It could also move political power in Maryland away from counties like Montgomery and Prince George’s.

In the 2012 MD redistricting, which used equal population, the average district population was around 124,000. I represented some challengers to the plan, just accept the number, as I couldn’t find a link. But it’s right. Really. But when we look at registered voters, the numbers fluctuate wildly. Just to use a random example  – District 20, where I just happen to live (what are the odds?) – we have 71,393 registered voters (all numbers as of 2014 primary), fewer then any MoCo jurisdiction. District 16, covering Bethesda, Chevy Chase and Potomac, has 91,658 registered voters, the highest in Montgomery County, with almost 30% more voters than D20.

Across the state, the disparities widen even further. District 27, a three county Prince George’s/Calvert/Charles jurisdiction, has 94,126 registered voters, the most in the state. At the other end of the spectrum, District 47, a two subdistrict Prince George’s  jurisdiction with a heavily Hispanic population, has only 49,941 registered voters. The disparity is 88.5%.

If the Supreme Court requires states to shift from population  to registered voters as the basis of “one person one vote,” it will be momentous. Even if the Court were to simply allow a different standard without requiring it, the redistricting fight in a geographically and demographically diverse state like Maryland would be brutal.

Keep an eye on this case. It’s potentially a very, very big deal.

Hogan Vetoes Voting Rights Bill

Friend of the Blog and Baltimore City Delegate Cory McCray and colleague Prince George’s County Delegate Alonzo Washington today wrote a Baltimore Sun op-ed decrying Governor Larry Hogan’s veto of House Bill 980, which would have restored voting rights to felons sooner than current law allows. I’ve been active on election law matters for almost a decade now, and I wouldn’t change a word of what McCray and Washington wrote. Go read it. Here’s a taste:

In representative democracy, the right to vote is a fundamental interest. When folks have their access to the ballot box restricted, they lose their ability to have a voice in the decision making process. These folks are our neighbors, our friends, and even our family members. These folks have children who attend our schools. These folks care about when the recreation centers are closing. They care about high unemployment rates or cuts to program funding. They pay taxes just like the rest of us. Yet ex-offenders are systematically denied the right to vote until after any parole or probation is served.

At a time when some elections are decided by margins of less than 50 votes, it is all the more important to allow as much participation as possible. In the 2014 election cycle in Prince George’s County there was a county council primary election decided by six votes, in Baltimore County there was a House primary election decided by 34 votes, and in Southern Maryland there was a House general election decided by 76 votes. If our goal is to elect the best public servants, how can we leave anyone out of the conversation? By expanding voting rights we can help move toward that end. House Bill 980 also makes administration of the law much simpler. If we can see you, you can vote — the wisdom of this approach cannot go unstated. There are those who may disagree with this measure — and those concerns do not go unheard. The point of this measure is the recognition that we all make poor choices at times, but what matters is what we do to lift ourselves up again. This bill gives ex-offenders the tools they need to lift themselves up again.

I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating. The more people that vote, the more likely Democrats are to win. Republicans both nationally and now at the state level are actively engaged in voter suppression tactics. Democrats are for the expansion of voting rights. Hogan’s veto of McCray’s bill was no accident. It was purposeful and intentional, and it should be overridden.