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Voting Rights: After Blue Wave, GOP States Move To Restrict The Vote

Voting rights primer
May 6, 2019 10:55 a.m.

Last week saw a number of states move forward with measures making it harder to vote. The wave comes after a midterm elections where turnout was at historic levels.

In Tennessee, the governor on Thursday signed into law a bill targeting voter registration drives by imposing hefty fines on the group behind the drive if it turns in too many incomplete applications. The Tennessee chapter of the NAACP has already filed a suit challenging the law.

In Florida, the legislature approved a bill that will require felons seeking the restoration of their voting rights pay off all fines and fees, including administrative fees not related to their sentence. The move, if signed into law, would blunt the impact of a felon re-enfranchisement ballot initiative Florida voters approved last year. The measure, which now heads to Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis’ desk, has been criticized as a poll tax. Florida’s criminal justice system is known for its especially steep administrative fees imposed on defendants.

In Missouri, the state House passed last Monday a bill gutting an anti-gerrymandering ballot initiative voters passed last year. If approved by the Senate, the measure — which also sets the stage for Missouri to exclude noncitizens from redistricting — will be put on the 2020 ballot.

But there was also some good news for voting rights last week.

A panel of three federal judges ruled Friday that Ohio’s congressional map was an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander and gave the state until June 14 to draw a new one, ahead of the 2020 election. The case will likely be appealed to the Supreme Court, which is already set to decide two other partisan gerrymandering cases by the end of next month.

Speaking of which, Michigan’s GOP legislature has already appealed a partisan gerrymandering case to the Supreme Court. Michigan’s state House, state Senate and U.S. congressional maps were all ruled unconstitutional last month.

Texas, having settled a case over its shoddy voter fraud list, has begun implementing that settlement. On Friday it formally rescinded an election advisory notice sent to local election officials in January claiming to have identified nearly 100,000 potential noncitizens on the voter rolls. Prominent Republicans, including President Trump, quickly jumped on the claims, even though the flaws in the methodology behind the list were obvious.

Remember Trump’s bogus voter fraud commission? Well the litigation over obtaining the records from the short-lived panel has not ended. The latest development is a judge’s ruling in a FOIA case, brought by the Brennan Center, requiring that DOJ search the private email accounts of two DOJ officials who corresponded with the commission with those private accounts. That lawsuit is separate from the ongoing case brought by a former commissioner who is also seeking certain internal documents.

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