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Voting Rights: Trump DOJ Takes New Position On Oversight Of Texas’ Voting Rules

Voting rights primer
February 4, 2019 2:58 p.m.

Texas state officials’ claims that nearly 100,000 noncitizens may have been registered to vote in the state are falling apart, and concerns raised about the state’s methodology have turned out to be valid. After the secretary of state advised county election officials to vet a list of 95,000 alleged noncitizen voters, county after county has found hundreds of duplicates and thousands of people on the list who are actually citizens. One was a naturalized El Paso County elections staffer. While the state is quietly trying to walk back its initial assertions, which suggested mass fraud, state officials have publicly shown no remorse. Texas is now facing multiple lawsuits over the matter, as voting rights advocates are concerned that eligible voters will be purged or otherwise discouraged from participating in future elections.

Texas is also the site of a major U.S. Justice Department reversal in longstanding litigation over discriminatory voting policies. Over the past few years, multiple courts found that the state engaged in voting practices that are discriminatory towards minority voters. Until last week, the DOJ supported plaintiffs in a Texas gerrymandering lawsuit, Abbott v. Perez, who said the state should be put back under preclearance — the requirement, under the Voting Rights Act, that it get federal approval of changes to its election rules. The DOJ formally switched its position last week; it is now backing the state’s position that it should not be put back under preclearance. But, as Justin Levitt, a former voting rights attorney in the Obama DOJ, noted, career officials did not sign the filing — an indication they may be uncomfortable with it.

Redistricting reform is gaining momentum in Virginia. The legislature’s Republican leaders have decided to put their full support behind the endeavor. A constitutional amendment proposal to create a 16 member commission — made of eight members of the legislature, and eight citizens chosen by a panel of judges — passed the Senate on Thursday.

In Michigan, a federal court rejected a proposed settlement between newly elected-Democratic Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and plaintiffs challenging the GOP-drawn congressional and state legislative maps. The case is set to go to trial this week. Republicans, in a request urging the court to reject the settlement proposal, said Benson was trying to reach and agreement that would be “immune” to what the Supreme Court does on partisan gerrymandering in cases before it later this year.

Kansas will not continue to fight a contempt-of-court ruling against its former secretary of state Kris Kobach, who lost the governor’s race last year. Kansas dropped the contempt appeal, which stemmed from Kobach’s conduct in the legal challenge to his proof-of-citizenship voter registration requirement, even as it is still appealing the broader ruling striking down the requirement. In dropping the contempt appeal, the state reached a settlement with the ACLU, which represented some of the challengers in the case, to pay $20,000 of the organization’s legal fees. The state also covered the cost of a legal education class the judge ordered Kobach to take after he struggled with trial procedures.

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