Federal Judge Strikes Down Wisconsin Voter ID Law

U.S. Federal District Judge Lynn Adelman invalidated the Wisconsin law requiring voters to show a state issued identification in order to vote. This law known as Act 23 had already been halted by the State courts in Wisconsin.  To get this identification law back on the books, state officials would have to come to a successful appeal in both the state and federal courts. 

Adelman said,

There is no way to determine exactly how many people Act 23 will prevent or deter from voting without considering the individual circumstances of each of the 300,000 plus citizens who lack an ID...But no matter how imprecise my estimate may be, it is absolutely clear that Act 23 will prevent more legitimate votes from being case than fraudulent votes. 

The Federal judge stated that it is unlikely that voter impersonation was not a huge problem in the state, and felt that it was unlikely that this would be a problem in the future.  Adelman ruled that this photo ID law was an undue burden on the right to vote.  It violated the federal Voting Rights Act especially because it has a huge impact on Hispanics and African Americans.  The judge identified the voter ID as essentially "a license to vote."  

The State Attorney General vowed to appeal the decision.   The plaintiffs in the case included a woman in her 70s who was born in Louisiana and thus did not have a birth certificate.   There was a fix proposed to allow low income people to sign a sworn statement in lieu of providing identification that has a monetary value.  This was never taken up by one side of the Wisconsin legislature.  Governor Scott Walker would have to call a special session to make any changes in the law that would be ready for the November election. 

The Wisconsin Assembly speaker Robin Vos, a Republican from Rochester, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that he was extremely disappointed in the decision and blamed the judge's "liberal bias" as the basis for the decision.  There was an accommodation in the law for free State IDs, but that did not satisfy the judge since they still had to pay for a birth certificate.  Adelman noted that the fine and jail time for voter impersonation were huge, and saw those punishments as a deterrent to voter fraud.  The small number of potential voter impersonation did not justify the turning away legitimate voters by demanding ID.  

On Friday a State Court in Arkansas struck down their Voter ID law.  The imporatance of the Wisconsin decision is that it strikes the law based on the federal voting rights act which could have an impact on all these laws in the United States.

Brian Davis

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry.

Thanks for Telling Us Now...

Josh Gerstein of Politico reports that the Federal Judge who decided the Indiana voter identification now has said that he did not understand the case before deciding this issue. 

In an interview Friday on HuffPostLive, Seventh Circuit Judge Richard Posner said his opinion finding the Indiana law constitutional was mistaken, due to the court not having sufficient information about how the law could be used to prevent or discourage people from voting.

This goes back to 2006 case before all these states including Ohio jumped on board.  At the time of this ruling there were only three states that were forcing voters to show ID in order to vote now there are 15.  This decision was upheld by the US Supreme Court in 2008 opening the flood gates, and now the judge who authored the decision said that he did not have enough information.   He had at the disposal the entire federal court system.  Judge Posner could have ordered an in depth examination of the motives and the possible results of requiring identification.  He could have ordered an academic study.  In the end, he could have sided with keeping voting open over protecting against some non-existent threat to the integrity of the election. 

"Do you think that the court got this one wrong?" HuffPo's Mike Sacks asked.

"Yes. Absolutely. And the problem is that there hadn’t been that much activity with voter identification," Posner said. "Maybe we should have been more imaginative….We weren’t really given strong indications that requiring additional voter identification would actually disfranchise people entitled to vote."

Posner authored the 2-1 opinion in Crawford v. Marion County, which likely influenced the Supreme Court in its 6-3 decision upholding the statute in the same case.

How could anyone not see that any further barriers to voting would mean that it was harder to vote and fewer people would participate?  How do the lawyers for the Crawford feel now?  They should have given "stronger indications" that requiring identification would disenfranchise voters.  If they had demonstrated the harm that this law would cause, they could have stopped this trend of developing ways to stop people from voting reversing the 40 year trend of expanding the number of people eligible to vote.  We are moving back to the Jim Crow era when poor people had a difficult time participating in democracy.

We judges and lawyers, we don’t know enough about the subject matters that we regulate, right? And that if the lawyers had provided us with a lot of information about the abuse of voter identification laws, this case would have been decided differently."

We need federal judges with more imagination and more guts to stand up to governement to solve problems that do not really exist.  There was no problem with non citizens voting or people not eligible to vote to cast a ballot.  There is only one explanation for the voter identification laws and that is to give advantage to one political party that does not expect to get the votes of the individuals who are being disenfranchised. 

Brian Davis

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry

Judge Extends Voting ID Agreement Until 2016

The Columbus Dispatch had nice coverage here of our voting victory.  The Public Radio Statehouse news bureau did a report that aired on WKSU this morning about our victory.  We need to urge Secretary of State Husted to not appeal this decision, but instead focus on fixing these vague rules throughout the state so that a homeless person in Akron has the same right to vote as one in Athens.  We need to make the enforcement of the agreement to be the primary focus of the office so there is equal access to voting throughout the state.  We need to focus on counting as many legitimate provisional ballots as possible. 

While all this was going on the State legislature was working to limit access to voting in Ohio.  They want to end Golden Week so no one can vote and register at the same time.  They want to limit early voting to 17 days and not on the weekend.  Remember, 77% of the people we registered voted on that last weekend before the November election of 2012.  They want to tighten the rules on identification, and roll back any advancements made in court by various lawsuits.  This is another effort to correct a problem that does not exist.  It is an attempt to limit access to the ballot box for poor people such as homeless and low income tenants.  This will only make it more difficult for the elderly, students, poor people, and homeless people to cast a ballot in Ohio. 

NEOCH will certainly urge for non-partisan heads to prevail on this effort.  We will push to take politics out of voting and work to try to enfranchise everyone living in Ohio.  This effort does not make sense because most moderate voters know a poor person, an elderly aunt or a cousin going to college who is going to be hurt by these new rules.   These rules will alienate all but the hard core partisan.   It will annoy more people than it will convince one section of the state to vote for one particular party.  It is a strategy that will only lead to more lawsuits and more fighting for the rights of minority, poor and elderly.

Brian Davis

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry.

Before Recovery You Must Admit the Exact Nature of Your Wrongs

I read with some humor the editorial in the Plain Dealer  in early February 2013, about the need for reform of the need for election reform.  The Electoral Board tried to make the case that both sides need to come together.   I am sure that they are not naive to believe that these are two equal powers who need to come together to do what is best for Ohioans.  The Plain Dealer editors are not new to the rodeo; they have to see that one party has made a concerted effort throughout the United States to reduce the number of potential voters in order to maintain power.  There are no Democrats working to reduce the number of voters who participate in Democracy, and the Republican party have done all they can to restict access to the ballot box.  They have seen the writing on the wall with demographic changes in the United States and have made an effort to make it harder for minority and poor people to vote.  Mandatory state ID provisions, shorter early voting hours and purging the voter roles are just some of the strategies employed to depress voter turnout.   A proud and lifetime Republican said as much on Meet the Press a couple of weeks ago.  Here is how MSNBC's Morgan Whitaker described it. 

Powell slammed Republicans for more than just rhetoric, slamming the party for the lack of comprehensive immigration policy, “dismissing the 47%,” and for voter suppression efforts.

The Democratic party has absolutely no power in Ohio and therefore has no ability to negotiate regarding election reform.  They can sue and they can try to raise the funds to get issues directly before voters, but they are basically the little terrier that barks way too much at this point.  When did access to the ballot box become so political?  When did one party decide to make voter disenfranchisement a major plank in their platform?   The fourth step in recovery is to admit the exact nature of your wrongs before you can move forward.   The Plain Dealer should be counseling the Republicans to admit that they have tried to suppress the vote as Colin Powell suggested and pledge that are done with that effort.  They will show that they are serious by figuring out a strategy to have ever possible voter a chance to vote without the long lines and hurdles.  They should commit to same day registration and voting, provide free identification in order to expand the number of voters.


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Well, At Least We Are Not Florida...

We had long lines, but at least we were not as bad as Florida.  Ohioans had to wait for hours on the final weekend of early voting, but not anywhere near as long as Florida.  The results were not released locally until 11:05 p.m., but that is better than 11 a.m. four days after the election as they were in Florida.   We had a court fight on the day after the election, while Florida will have to settle a number of lawsuits over this election.   We have two state representatives in which the races are narrow thin margins of victory, while Florida had two federal races that were not called for four days. 

We need real election reform in the United States with a law passed or a series of laws passed or even a Constitutional amendment to make our election fair.   Our recommended changes include:

  • Elimination of the Electoral College so that the President is elected by national popular vote.
  • Elimination of gerrymandering in the creation of legislative districts by removing it from the oversight by any one political party.  There should be a law that both political parties including independents must come to a consensus on legislative districts.
  • Standards for early voting across the United States as well as military voting and vote by mail provisions.
  • There should be standards for registering people to vote including the ability to register to vote on election day.
  • There should be free national identification that can be used for people to register to vote.
  • No one should have to wait more than one half hour to vote in person, and this should be a national standard with consequences for long waits.
  • People should be taxed at a higher rate if they decide not to vote.
  • People should be allowed to vote a county wide ballot at any polling place if they do not want to cast a vote for local items or local elected officials. 
  • Voting should be done in whatever manner yields the most secure ballot with a paper backup and a way to count the ballots quickly. 
  • Money is not speech.  We need public financing of campaigns and guaranteed access by the candidates to the local and national networks.  We own the air waves, and they need to be given over to electing our leaders once a year. 

More to come



Secretary of State Appeals Provisional Ballot Ruling

In another waste of public dollars and time, the Ohio Secretary of State is appealing the ruling that went against the State of Ohio two weeks ago.  Secretary of State Jon Husted announced that he was appealing our victory regarding the counting of provisional ballots.  I could not find much in the media about this story and there was not a press release on the Secretary of State's website yet.  Basically, he is arguing that it is a violation of Ohio law to allow a provisional vote to count if they are misdirected by a poll worker to the wrong precinct.  So, for example, if a homeless voter from 2100 Lakeside without identification, enters Sterling Rec. Center and the poll worker sends them to the table for Ward 8A instead of 3V (their proper precinct), the Secretary of State says that that provisional ballot is garbage and that voter wasted their time going to vote.  Through no fault of their own, the voters' entire ballot is lost because of bad training of the poll workers. 

Instead of spending time boosting poll worker training across the state or sending out directives to make sure that this does not happen, the Secretary of State is spending time in court trying to reduce the number of voters in Ohio.  No matter how an outsider looks at this, he is arguing that people who really want to vote but are given bad information by paid employees of the County should be punished by losing their entire ballot. And by the way, the law passed by the state legislature is silent on this specific issue, so the Secretary of State is interpreting the law to throw away ballots, and our side are interpreting the law to be on the side of the voter. 

In other local news regarding voting, NEOCH staff picked up 1,200 blank registration forms and delivered them to every shelter in Cuyahoga County.  We are working with OhioVotes, a project of COHHIO, to assure that every homeless person in Cuyahoga County this summer gets offered a registration and.or change of address card.  We will then pick those up every week to get them to the Board of Elections on time.  We have put a checklist on our website from Ohio Votes on tips to remember before voting.  We will be working to get homeless people to vote early by mail or go down to the Board of Elections during Golden week to vote.  We have had very positive feedback from the shelters so far, and hope that we can again get 2,000 homeless people to vote during this election cycle. 

We have an entire section of our website on homeless voting. 

Brian Davis

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry.

Federal Court to Rule on Counting Provisional Ballots

Yes, we are the "local homeless coalition" in the Plain Dealer today.  That seems strange that the Cleveland Plain Dealer would not identify the Cleveland Homeless Coalition, and kind of a jab at us.  I mean they called SEIU by their number indicating the city of origin, but we only received  a generic homeless coalition.

Anyway, we had a hearing on the Ohio Secretary of State's attempt to eliminate the agreement we signed with the state in 2010.  Both the Plain Dealer and Dayton Daily News covered the story (Our name was mentioned in Dayton--thanks).  As we have described in previous posts, the last Secretary of State signed an agreement with us to correct a problem in which voters who had given bad information had their ballots thrown out.  They took the time to show up at the polls, but they did not have the proper ID.  They voted with a provisional ballot by giving their last four digits of their social security number, but the poll worker directed them to the wrong table to vote.  So, the individual hired and trained by the Board of Elections makes a mistake and the state wants the voter to be punished by having their ballot thrown in the trash. 

We made a common sense agreement that if you tried to vote and through no fault of your own, the county employee directs you to the wrong place your vote should still count.  It was the "bank error in your favor" Monopoly card of the voting world.  The state's position is like being arrested for a serious crime and the state discovering their mistake within 10 days, but decides to keep you in jail so they do not have to admit their mistake.  Secretary of State Jon Husted's position is that there is nothing in the law that would allow a ballot filed in the wrong place to ever count.  So, because the law is silent on poll worker error, the state is forced to disenfranchise thousands of voters. 

The real reason that they are doing this is that these provisional ballots cast in the wrong precinct actually made a difference in an election, and they did not want to happen again.  In Hamilton County, a democratic juvenile court judge was given the position in 2012 after initially losing her election in 2010.  Hamilton County Board of Elections tried to stop this, and the state legislature tried to stop this, but after a two year court battle Judge Tracie Hunter finally prevailed using our settlement.  We should know if thousands of voters will be disenfrancisedby August of 2012. 


Victory in Court over Homeless Participation in Voting

We only filed a motion to protect our voting settlement  on Tuesday morning, and already the Federal Court Judge has ruled that Judge Marbley should maintain jurisdiction over this case and the State of Ohio cannot file in State Court to undermine an agreement made with NEOCH.  We have posted the press release on our blog here about the case.  I think a timeline of what has happened with regard to voting in Ohio will give a glimpse into how this can only be seen as voter suppression activities.

Late 2005/Early 2006:  Republican Governor, the Republican Secretary of State, and Republican dominated state legislators passed a huge change in voting in Ohio including a provision forcing people to show their ID in order to vote.  This came soon after the Supreme Court had allowed an Indiana voter ID law to stand.  The positive was that we got Golden Week (five days in which you can vote and register at the same time), but despite having no evidence of voter fraud Ohio passed voting changes. 

Through Most of 2006: Activists sued the state over these voting changes.  Most of these cases were defeats for the State of Ohio including the League of Women Voters, immigrant groups, and unions all prevailing.  There were many charges that these changes in the law limited voting by seniors, homeless people, minorities, naturalized citizens, and students, which except for seniors (collatoral damage) were all traditionally Democratic voters. On the eve of the 2006 election, NEOCH signed a temporary agreement of our lawsuit with the State and Secretary of State Ken Blackwell had to send out a directive instructing local board's of elections to clarify the rules for accepting identification. 

Eve of 2008 Election:  The 2006 Blackwell agreement had expired.  New Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner had issued a directive early in her administration clarifying voting issues including identification at the polling places on election day, but we still did not have a settlement.  In my opinion, the reason that the settlement took so long is that so many people were involved in the agreement.  The Republican dominated State Legislators sent a "baby sitter" to monitor the agreement.  There was an attorney for the Ohio State Legislators who monitored the settlement talks and was ever present in negotiations.   There was no way to work out an agreement and so another temporary agreement was struck just for the US Presidential election of 2008. This settlement dealt with the voting ID as well as a new issue of how provisional ballots are counted in Ohio. We had found wide disparity in the counting of provisional ballots with some counties counting 15 to 20% while others counted 60 to 70% of the provisionals.

2010 State Elections:  As Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner was leaving her position, she cleared most of the outstanding court fights with groups around the state.  The NEOCH settlement was one of the last, and all the agreements were set to expire in 2013.  All settlements were also dissolved if the State of Ohio passed new voting legislation.  We signed the agreement in April 2010 ahead of the state elections in November.  This instituted the 2008 Brunner Directive and standardized the counting of provisional ballots.  This enforced uniform standards for counting provisional ballots so that if the poll worker made a mistake that would not impact the validity of the ballot.  All parties were aware of the settlement and while we did not get all we wanted we signed the agreement.  It was my impression that lawyers for the State legislators, Attorney General, and Secretary of State all were informed of the settlement.  I did not hear any objections from any parts of the state.

2010 Cincinnati Election: Our settlement was in place, and all seemed to run smoothly with the election except in Cincinnati.  A juvenile court judge race was extremely close and there was a mandatory re-count because the margin of victory was so close.  Republican John Williams led by 23 votes over Democrat Tracie Hunter.   Hundreds of provisional votes had not been counted because there was a disagreement on the rules for counting these ballots.  In one of the most vicious filings by the Hamilton Board of Elections, they wanted to disregard our agreement because they had not signed off on it and did not think that a Cleveland group  should govern how Cincinnati runs an election.  Reading that brief was as though it had been written by the coach of the Cincinnati Bengal's talking about a snow ball incident at the stadium in a game against the Cleveland Browns.  Judge Susan Dlott ruled in favor of Ms. Hunter in her request to use the NEOCH settlment as guidance for counting all the provisional ballots in February 2012.  There was a split in the Board about appealing the ruling with Republican Secretary of State voting with the Republican members of the Board to appeal the ruling.  In April, the Appeals Court decided that the Board must count the ballots according to Judge Dlott's ruling, and they cannot wait until the Appeals Court makes its ruling (which could be a year away).  The voters were counted in late April and as expected the election was reversed and Hunter beat Williams by 71 votes.  One irony was that the Republican, Williams, was appointed to another Juvenile court judgeship last year.  This means that Hunter and Williams will serve together after the recount is conducted. 

2012 State Intervenes: Almost immediately following the Appeals Court decision, the State legislators Republican Tom Neihaus and House Republican Leader Louise Blessing sued Ohio Secretary of State and Republican Jon Husted in State Court over the signing of the April 2010 settlement.  The state legislators claim that this settlement in federal court undermines the State Legislators ability to pass laws that govern voting in Ohio. 

“Ohio’s elections should be administered under the laws established by an elected General Assembly," Niehaus and Blessing said in a joint statement today. "Unfortunately, due to the actions of the former secretary of state, the state’s chief elections officer has been compelled to issue directives that conflict with state law, particularly in the area of counting provisional ballots."

It has to be stated that the state court is dominated by Republicans, and in my opinion this was a way to undermine an agreement signed with a Democratic Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner and in a federal court before a judge appointed by Democrat Bill Clinton. 

Yesterday, Federal Judge Algenon Marbley quickly intervened to force the legislators to dismiss their state lawsuit, and argue their case in federal court.  Here is how the Cincinnati Examiner viewed Marbley's order:

Judge Marbley held in his ruling that there could be “no reasonable dispute” that as leaders of Ohio’s General Assembly suing in their “official” capacities in the name of the State of Ohio, Niehaus and Blessing were acting as agents of the State of Ohio,  despite the State‘s prior agreement to enter into the Decree. Marbley said  in his decision that federal courts would be  protective of “the right of the franchise” and invoked the federal All Writs Act that enables federal courts to protect their  jurisdiction and judgments against interference.

2011 Legislation:  Republicans retook the Ohio House of Reprehensives and now held the Governor's office.  They passed even more restrictive voting legislation that would limit even further traditionally Democratic voters.  These new laws included:

  1. Shrinking the number of early voting days by half.
  2. Eliminating Golden week (which Republican dominated Counties had contested and lost in court in 2008).
  3. Eliminating early voting the weekend before the election in person.
  4. Eliminating the ability for poll workers to be required to give correct precinct information to voters (This would have undermined our settlement with counting provisional ballots due to poll worker error.)
  5. Eliminating the ability to open on Sunday for local Boards of Elections.
  6. Eliminating to send out early voting applications by local County Boards.
  7. Tightening voter ID provisions to eliminate other forms of ID that had been previously accepted.

Activists, unions, the League of Women Voters, and Democrats strongly opposed this legislation.  They mobilized a petition drive and were able to get the measure on the November 2012 ballot.  The State legislators retreated and struck down the previously passed legislation, but kept the rules for closing the weekend before this critical Presidential election. The intention was to take away the ballot initiative for November 2012.  Activists led by former Secretary of State Brunner claim that they will sue to keep the ballot issue and will try to get voters the ability to vote the weekend before the November election. 

In my personal opinion just laying out the timeline shows an attempt by one political party to depress the vote. It was amazing that different counties were setting up vastly different rules for counting provisional ballots.  Our problems in Ohio were long lines and voter registration problems, and we have still not addressed these problems.  It seems as though one group has attempted to not count votes, put up barriers to voting, and limit the time and number of places people can vote. 

Brian Davis

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry