This is your weekly roundup of voting rights stories we’re watching, published every Monday.
SCOTUS Shocker: John Roberts sided with the liberals to block — for now — the Trump administration’s census citizenship question. His opinion left plenty of room for the administration to re-add it — the only thing that might stop them is time. We should get a sense on Monday whether Trump is going to back down, or whether he’ll push back the survey’s printing deadline to give adding the question another go.
Partisan Gerrymandering Gets SCOTUS’ OK: The conservative majority gave politicians the green light to gerrymander to their little hearts’ content — as long as it’s for partisan, and not racial, reasons. The court said Thursday that the federal judiciary had no authority to review the constitutionality of those maps. Voting rights advocates are vowing to use other methods — like state court challenges and independent commissions — to rein in the practice, but election experts note that the court’s decision will make it harder for courts to police racial gerrymanders.
The first sign of the damage to voting rights the Supreme Court has wrought: the parties in the Wisconsin partisan gerrymandering case, which was set to go to trial this month, moved to have it dismissed in light of Thursday’s ruling.
A poll tax in Florida: Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law on Friday legislation that undermined the felon re-enfranchisement ballot initiative passed by Florida voters last year. It requires that ex-felons pay back all fees — including administrative fees not related to their sentence — before regaining the franchise, putting in jeopardy the voting rights of 1.1 million of the 1.4 million ex-felons who would have become eligible to vote under the initiative. Already two lawsuits have been filed challenging the new GOP law.
Another state goes after citizen ballots: One of the many ironies in Roberts’ gerrymandering opinion is that he pointed to the citizen-led redistricting reform effort as a reason for courts not to get involved just as Republican states clamp down on those efforts. One way they’re doing that is making it harder for citizens to embark on petition drives for the kind of ballot initiatives that can set up redistricting commissions. Arkansas is the latest state to do so, just as a petition drive for a redistricting commission gets underway there. Here are some other states looking to make petition drives more burdensome:
Voting rights gets short shrift at Dem debate: On a monumental week for voting rights, the issue got very little attraction at the Democratic debates last week. There were not individual questions about voting rights, and only a few candidates worked the issue into their answers proactively.
- Beto O’Rourke hit the highlights of his voting rights platform
- Amy Klobuchar talked about her focus on election security
- Eric Swalwell named checked the census citizenship question issue, but didn’t go into detail on how he’d deal with it
- Pete Buttigeig said democracy reform would be his first priority
She didn’t talk about it at the debate, but the day of, Sen. Elizabeth Warren released her voting rights plan. It includes:
- Setting federal standards on policies like early voting, registration, list maintenance and gerrymandering
- Incentivizing those standards through federal funding
- More secure election technology
- Federal intervention in places with discriminatory voting policies
On Thursday, she also unveiled a proposal to re-do the 2020 census once she takes office if the Trump citizenship question is allowed to stay on it.
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