Native American voters seek to have fail-safe voting mechanisms put back in place

Seven Native American voters in North Dakota recently moved the North Dakota federal district court to enjoin the state’s recently eNARF Logo - White - Highest Resolution We Havenacted voter ID law and to reinstate the voter identification procedures that were in place before the new laws.  Earlier this year, the same voters filed suit under the Voting Rights Act and the U.S. and North Dakota Constitutions challenging North Dakota’s voter ID law on the grounds it disproportionately burdens Native Americans and denies qualified voters the right to vote.

North Dakota House Bills 1332 and 1333 put in place the most restrictive voter ID law in the nation.  North Dakota voters are now required to present one of only four qualifying IDs with a current residential address printed on it in order to vote.  Before enactment of these laws, North Dakota required a poll clerk to request an ID, but a voter without one could still vote if the clerk vouched for their qualifications or the voter signed an affidavit of identity.  While other states also have voter ID requirements, North Dakota is the only state without a fail-safe provision.  Additionally, North Dakota’s list of acceptable IDs is much more limited than other states, which allow U.S. passports and military IDs to be used.

“What we are asking for is the same proven, high-quality election system that was in place before the new voter ID law” said Matthew Campbell, Staff Attorney with the Native American Rights Fund.  “North Dakota’s voting laws were more voter friendly before the recent legal changes, and under those laws voter fraud was virtually non-existent.  We want to ensure that everyone that is qualified has the right and the opportunity to vote—particularly Native Americans,” Campbell continued.

More than 72,000 voting eligible citizens in North Dakota lack a qualifying ID to be able to vote, according to the Plaintiffs.  That includes 7,984 Native Americans, or 23.5% of the total voting eligible Native American population (as compared to only 12.0% of the non-Native Americans that lack a qualifying ID).  For Native Americans who face high levels of poverty and lower access to transportation, the burden to travel, in some cases, more than 120 miles round trip to obtain a state ID is substantial.

The plaintiffs are represented by the Native American Rights Fund (NARF), Richard de Bodo of Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP, and Tom Dickson of the Dickson Law Office.  NARF won important Voting Rights cases in Alaska in 2010 and again in 2015, establishing that the State of Alaska should be required to provide greater language assistance to voters who speak Alaska Native languages.

Lawyers’ Committee Releases New Report Examining Voting Rights Restrictions Following 2013 Supreme Court Ruling

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law recently released a new report, “Voting Rights Communication Pipelines: Georgia After Shelby County v. Holder” – examining Georgia, one of 14 states that was subject to protections provided by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, before the 2013 U.S. Supreme Court decision that gutted this key provision in Shelby County v. Holder.

“We are now seeing the proliferation of voter suppression laws across the country in the wake of the Supreme Court’s 2103 Shelby County decision,” said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “In Georgia, we have seen the purging of African-American voters from the registration rolls in Hancock County, an effort to move a polling site out of a majority Black neighborhood and into a local sheriff’s office in Macon-Bibb County, and an effort to move forward with burdensome documentary proof of citizenship requirements for people seeking to register to vote. The 2016 presidential election is the first in more than 50 years without the full protections of the Voting Rights Act and Georgia illustrates why powerful federal remedies remain necessary to safeguard minority voting rights today.”

The report examines Georgia’s substantial history of voting discrimination against African-Americans and racial and ethnic minorities, the resources needed to combat the voter suppression efforts on the ground and the importance of building a volunteer base to monitor and report voting rights violations.

The report also provides an overview of how an effective pipeline between local and national coalition partners, which leverages the complementary strengths of each organization, can be used to implement action plans to remedy discriminatory voting changes in the wake of the Shelby decision. The brief looks at Hancock County, Georgia and Macon-Bibb County, Georgia, where the Lawyers’ Committee worked with on-the-ground partners including the Georgia Coalition for the People’s Agenda, Georgia State Conference of the NAACP and New Georgia Project to combat voting discrimination.

Between 1992 and 2012, under the Voting Rights Act, the U.S. Department of Justice issued 37 objections to discriminatory voting changes across the state of Georgia, effectively blocking efforts that would have made voting more difficult for African-Americans and other minority communities. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Georgia’s African-American voting age population is nearly 29 percent, more than double the national Black VAP of 11.6 percent.

“Through our relationships and work with local partners, we always have one ear to the ground,” said Julie Houk, senior special counsel with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law’s Voting Rights Project. “The pipeline that we have created over the years allows us to quickly learn about issues in rural counties and local elections that we may not hear about without these relationships. This channel allows us to step in and ensure that all eligible voters have access to the ballot box.”

The three years from the time of the Shelby County decision have been marked by litigation and advocacy efforts aimed at confronting new voting rights challenges that have emerged since the Supreme Court’s June 2013 ruling. The Lawyers Committee is also working to advocate that Congress act on the bills before it to restore the full protections of the Voting Rights Act.

To read the full report, click here.

Money in Politics is an Urgent Civil Rights Issue: New Report, Multimedia Project


The increasingly dominant role of mega-donors in funding American elections has reached a tipping point, further marginalizing those who are not independently wealthy or do not have access to wealthy donors — particularly women, communities of color, and underserved communities, according to a new project from the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law.

But public financing programs can help create a more equal and participatory democracy that gives these citizens a voice.

Breaking Down Barriers: The Faces of Public Financing is a multimedia publication highlighting a diverse set of elected officials from across the country, including New York City Public Advocate Letitia James, Rhode Island Secretary of State Nellie M. Gorbea, Los Angeles Councilmember David Ryu, and North Carolina Court of Appeals Judge Donna S. Stroud, who explain how public financing systems are the most effective policy solution to help elevate diverse voices in our political process. This project includes:

  • written report, featuring interviews with more than 20 state and city elected officials from all branches of government in 11 states and 6 cities on the ways in which public financing systems:
    • Lower Barriers to Entry that prevent candidates without access to large sums of money from running;
    • Change the Way Politicians Campaign by encouraging them to focus outreach and fundraising efforts on average constituents rather than on large donors;
    • Increase Citizens’ Engagement in the political process by ensuring they have a meaningful voice; and
    • Enhance Constituent Representation by giving elected officials the tools to govern without having to devote inordinate amounts of time to high-dollar fundraising.
  • short video featuring six elected officials who champion public financing as the best solution to address the outsize influence of money in politics, and explain how such systems boosted their own successful campaigns, while making them more responsive to average citizens once in office.

Together with Demos, the Center will also release a policy paper, A Civil Rights Perspective on Money in Politics, which quantifies and analyzes how money in politics exacerbates existing inequalities.

“The wealth gap between white communities and communities of color has grown to its largest size in 25 years, meaning that those who can make large donations to election campaigns are increasingly unrepresentative of the general population,” notes the paper. “These disproportionately white and male donors not only look different than most Americans — they also have different policy preferences. The candidates who succeed in this environment are often more representative of this homogenous donor pool (by demographics and policy outlook) than of their more diverse constituencies.”

Victory in Virginia as Federal Judge Dismisses Voter Purge Case


Following a hearing recently in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Judge Leonie M. Brinkema dismissed a lawsuit filed by self-styled “election integrity” group Virginia Voter’s Alliance. The suit sought to force Alexandria’s registrar to conduct what the League of Women Voters of Virginia (LWV-VA), which intervened in the case, called an unnecessary and ill-conceived voter purge.

At the hearing, Judge Brinkema granted the League’s request to join the case, and heard arguments from their attorneys to have the claim seeking court-ordered purging of the voter rolls dismissed. LWV-VA was represented in this case by attorneys from voting rights groups Demos and Project Vote, and by attorneys at Hogan Lovells, an international law firm providing pro bono assistance.

Attorney Tom Connally of Hogan Lovells spoke at the hearing on behalf of LWV-VA. He urged the court to dismiss the plaintiffs’ claim that the city’s process for updating its voter rolls violates the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA). Mr. Connally argued that the plaintiffs’ claim attempted to turn the NVRA on its head, because the federal law is intended to make sure eligible voters don’t lose their right to vote.

“We are pleased with this ruling, and to have participated today to make sure that eligible voters’ right to participate won’t be at risk,” said Lois Page, co-president of the League of Women Voters of Virginia. “The League of Women Voters has put a lot of time and effort into registering and educating eligible voters in Virginia. The plaintiffs in this case were trying to undo our work, and we fought back.”

Following the hearing, the judge dismissed the case. Plaintiffs will have the option of re-filing the lawsuit, but “only after conducting an appropriate pre-filing investigation.” The judge indicated at the hearing that Virginia Voter’s Alliance will have to point to specific facts to suggest there is a problem with the way Alexandria currently manages its voter roll, which Plaintiffs did not successfully do in their initial filing.

“True ‘election integrity’ means making sure eligible people stay on the rolls,” said attorney Michelle Kanter Cohen, who represented LWV-VA for Project Vote. “Voter list maintenance has to be done very carefully, and in accordance with federal law. Poorly planned purges should not be forced on election officials by groups with their own agendas, especially this close to a federal election.”

“We applaud the court for upholding the careful balance struck by the NVRA, which ensures accurate voter rolls and protects voters from arbitrary cancelation of their registrations,” said Stuart Naifeh, senior counsel at Demos. “Alexandria’s voters can rest easy knowing they will not be purged from the voter rolls based on vague and unsubstantiated concerns about voter fraud.”

Common Cause Announces Winners of National Contest to End Gerrymandering

Writing Tools

Three academics with fresh ideas to identify and analyze how politicians draw legislative boundaries for political advantage have been declared the winners of Common Cause’s second annual Gerrymander Standard Writing Competition.

First Place: Wendy Tam Cho and Yan Y. Liu of the University of Illinois claimed the competition’s top prize with a paper describing how they can generate millions of simulated redistricting maps with desirable characteristics to provide context and insight into the role of partisanship in devising a disputed plan.

Second Place: Second place went to Sam Wang of Princeton University, whose paper proposes three statistical tests to reliably assess asymmetry, which occurs when the number of seats each party would receive changes in an unequal fashion if the parties switched places in the popular vote.

Third Place: Ted Arrington, professor emeritus at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, took third place with a paper presenting a workable criteria for determining when districting arrangements so distort the process of translating votes into seats in a legislature that the process or the redistricting plan rises to a constitutional violation.

Common Cause sponsored the 2nd Annual Gerrymander Standard Writing Competition to generate measurements for partisan gerrymandering that could be used in court to demonstrate that this undemocratic practice violates Americans’ constitutional rights. In a 2004 U.S. Supreme Court case, Justice Anthony Kennedy’s concurring opinion stated that partisan gerrymanders could be challenged in court but that a judicially manageable standard for measuring them would have to be developed before a court could overturn such maps.

“Americans are growing increasingly frustrated that politicians are drawing districts for political advantage rather than fair representation,” said Kathay Feng, Common Cause’s national redistricting director. “However, recent legal developments in cases out of Maryland, North Carolina, Wisconsin, and other states suggest that courts are ready to do something about it. We congratulate the winners of our Gerrymander Standard Competition for creating a new set of tools that will empower the public to challenge maps that prioritize the needs of politicians over the will of the people.”

The focus of this year’s contest was applying measures of partisan gerrymandering to the legislative maps citizens are challenging in Shapiro v. McManus and Whitford v. Nichol, cases out of Maryland and Wisconsin respectively. The judging panel included Duke Law Professor Guy-Uriel Charles, UC Irvine Law School Dean Erwin Chemerinsky, Office of Congressional Ethics Board of Directors memberAllison Hayward, Brennan Center for Justice Senior Counsel Michael Li, and Pepperdine University Law School Professor Derek Muller.

Winners will receive cash prizes and their papers will be published in Election Law Journal.

Web Resource Launched to Help Judges Understand State Election Codes

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In this presidential election year and an already hotly contested election season, the Election Law Program has launched a web-based tool aimed at helping judges resolve election litigation fairly and efficiently.

The Election Law Program, a joint project of William & Mary Law School and the National Center for State Courts, launched on June 7 a “State Election Law eBenchbook” website, five months before November elections.

The eBenchbook resource assists judges in navigating the country’s complex election codes. As the November election approaches, judges often must interpret and rule rapidly under the twin pressures of tight timelines and public scrutiny.

“Since 2000, the rate of election litigation has risen greatly in this country,” said Professor Rebecca Green, an election law expert and Co-Director of the Election Law Program at William & Mary Law School.

She notes that before 2000, there was an annual average of 94 election cases. That annual number has doubled, with 2,849 decisions since then (Source: “Rick Hasen’s Election Law Blog“).

The eBenchbook is meant to address a problem identified by the Conference of Chief Justices which noted that: “The number of election law disputes being brought before the state courts has increased dramatically in recent years, often requiring immediate resolution by judges who may be unfamiliar with the basics of election law” [italics added].

“To compound the issue, each state’s election laws are a creature of state law, so we have 50 different sets of rules,” said Green. “That means there can be no generalizing on election issues from other states’ experiences.”

“To date, there has not been a source where a judge in a particular state can turn to a practical reference that’s keyed to that state’s unique election code. Our state election law eBenchbooks will fill that gap.”

Three states were chosen for the June 7 launch: Virginia, Colorado, and Florida.

“In choosing these three states to start with, we wanted geographical diversity,” explained Austin Graham, a recent William & Mary Law School graduate and project manager. “We also wanted to start with swing states and states where there has been a lot of election law litigation. We will add to these three as we move forward.”

The eBenchbook begins with each state’s code, and provides annotations from state election law experts for clarity and context. The eBenchbook hotlinks to quick definitions of terms in each state’s election laws, to relevant case law, advisory opinions, regulations, and to a range of reference sources useful for rapid decision-making.

“It is a dynamic resource,” said Green, “allowing bipartisan committees of election law experts in each state to add commentary, perspective, and context to what would otherwise be a recitation of statutes.”

The Hon. Terry Lewis, a Leon County Florida circuit judge who played a central role in Bush v. Gore and who sits on the Election Law Program’s advisory board, shared his perspective: “Election litigation, once a rarity, has become increasingly common since Bush v. Gore. The Election Law Program’s eBenchbook will be a welcomed resource for judges deciding election-related cases.”

“The resource enables judges to gain a quick understanding of the context of the statutes they are looking at,” said Green, adding, “it is a platform that enables a bipartisan team of attorneys, election administrators, and scholars in judges’ own states to include ancillary materials that would take days, weeks, or even months to collect.”

“Election law cases can be enormously consequential to our democracy,” said Davison M. Douglas, Dean of William & Mary Law School. “The eBenchbook project assists in the resolution of election disputes by providing a nonpartisan resource that enhances our understanding of dense election codes. The project also helps the general public gain greater insight into the laws that determine democratic outcomes.”

Adam Ambrogi, Program Director at the Democracy Fund which generously funded the eBenchbook project, said, “When conflicts occur in the election process there is great pressure to solve them quickly. In an increasingly complex election law environment it is even more important to provide judges with the information they need to arrive at the right decision.”

“This is the first source of its kind for state court judges that provides reliable references to a particular state’s unique election code,” said NCSC President Mary McQueen. “The eBenchbook not only helps judges make fair, timely, and efficient decisions in these disputes, it provides confidence to the public that contested elections are decided in a precise and nonpartisan manner.”

“The eBenchbook’s distinguishing feature is that it integrates relevant, state-specific election law resources using an easy-to-search topical index,” said Amy McDowell, Co-Director of the Election Law Program at NCSC. “When a particular section of the state code is at issue, eBenchbook content can be accessed by individual code sections.”

“In addition to assisting judges deciding cases today, our hope is that this resource will prompt state legislatures across the country to hone state codes and to improve both elections and the voting process,” said Green.

“At a critical time in our democracy, the eBenchbook project marks a tremendous step forward for public access and understanding of the most important information in the United States of America: our laws and legal codes,” said Seamus Kraft, Executive Director of The OpenGov Foundation and an advisor on the eBenchbook project.

“If we want a truly just and equitable society, election laws—and all types of legal data—must be as discoverable, comprehendible and actionable as possible, with absolutely no restrictions,” he said.  “That’s what the eBenchbook project now delivers for the citizens and judicial officials in three key states. We look forward to supporting this great team and this important effort to bring the power of open election law to the other forty-seven.”

Is Professor Green worried about election litigation between now and November? “Litigation is already happening,” says Green of the dozens of election cases pending in courts today. “Particularly in this highly partisan climate, continuing litigation surrounding state and federal elections up to and after the November election is a strong likelihood; the verdicts of this litigation will undoubtedly shape the future of the nation.”

Groups Sue New York Over Inaccessible Online Voter Registration for People With Disabilities

The American Civil Liberties Union and Disability Rights Advocates has sued the New York State Board of Elections and Department of Motor Vehicles over online voter registration that is inaccessible to people with disabilities.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the National Federation of the Blind, the Center for the Independence of the Disabled, and individual plaintiffs who are blind. States are required by law to meet accessibility and confidentiality standards when providing services such as online voter registration, but New York is failing to comply, the complaint charges.

“Online voter registration is key to ensuring access to the ballot for people with disabilities. Yet in New York, it’s not just difficult for hundreds of thousands of people with disabilities to register online, it’s virtually impossible,” said ACLU attorney Susan Mizner. “We’ve told the state where the worst barriers are.  It can easily fix the problems, but has refused to do so. ”

Those barriers include DMV web pages and downloadable forms that can’t be read out loud by the screen-reader software used by blind and low-vision people to hear and navigate computer screen content. On the privacy rights front, the software cannot read the fillable form’s section on party affiliation on the Board of Elections website; blind and low-vision voters are forced to disclose this private information when they print out the form and get someone else to help them sign it, destroying their privacy and independence.

“Everyone has the right to register to vote privately and independently, and online services are a great way to make that happen. Yet, because the state’s websites aren’t coded to operate with screen readers and other accessibility software, voters with disabilities can’t access those services. Voters should not be excluded from online registration or have their privacy violated just because they have a disability,” said Disability Rights Advocates attorney Christina Brandt-Young.

Plaintiff Eva Eason of New York City encountered numerous obstacles when attempting to update her voter information online after getting married. Eason, who is blind, could not access the DMV site at all, and was only able to access the Board of Elections online registration after getting assistance from someone who is sighted, compromising her privacy and independence.

“A lot of people paved the way and fought for me to be able to vote, so why is New York making it so difficult?” said Eason.

Plaintiff Meghan Schoeffling of Albany added, “I was thrilled when New York created an online voter registration form, thinking it would enable me and others to register to vote privately and independently for the first time. But because the DMV failed to ensure the site was fully accessible, I was unable to register to vote without sighted assistance.”

The lawsuit cites violations of the American with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act. It seeks immediate adjustments to ensure the websites are legally compliant; creation of Board of Election policies that ensure accessibility and provide a clear path of accountability; and the development of policies and procedures to ensure the sites remain accessible.

“There are many barriers that can stand in the way of New Yorkers with disabilities exercising their right to vote. The shame of inaccessible online registration is that there is an easy and inexpensive fix. It’s a mystery why the New York State Board of Elections refuses to do it, and it’s disappointing. People with disabilities have the right to privacy and independent registration and voting just like every other New York voter. It’s the law,” said Susan Dooha, executive director of the Center for Independence of the Disabled, New York.

The complaint, Eason v. New York State Board of Elections, was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. Co-counsel in this case is Brown, Goldstein & Levy, LLP.

Mark Riccobono, president of the National Federation of the Blind, said, “The right to vote is a fundamental one, and equal access to this right cannot and must not be denied to blind Americans. Equal access means the ability to participate in all aspects of the voting process, including registering to vote, with complete privacy and independence. The National Federation of the Blind is committed to ensuring equal access for blind voters in New York and across the nation.”

The complaint is at:…

New Motor Voter Act Could Diversify Electorate, Expand It 10 Percent in First Year


The New Motor Voter Act could make California’s electorate significantly more representative of the state as a whole and could add more than 2 million people to the voter rolls in the first year—an increase of more than 10 percent. However, key implementation issues will determine whether the law achieves its potential.

These are the key findings of a report released today by the Public Policy Institute of California.

“If the New Motor Voter Act is implemented successfully, it could have a far-reaching positive impact on political representation and civic engagement in California,” said Eric McGhee, PPIC research fellow, who coauthored the report with Mindy Romero, founder and director of the California Civic Engagement Project at the UC Davis Center for Regional Change.

The 2015 New Motor Voter Act was passed to address California’s lagging voter registration rate by simplifying the process of signing up to vote. Slated to be implemented in July 2017, the law ensures that registration information from customers of the Department of Motor Vehicles is electronically transmitted to the secretary of state. The law requires the secretary to register any customer who attests to being eligible to vote and does not decline to register.

The report looks at the likely change in the demographic composition of California’s registered voters if the law achieves its maximum potential, and estimates how quickly new voters might be added to the registration rolls based on current registration rates and the number of people who use the DMV.

The report also compares California’s law to a similar law recently rolled out in Oregon. In Oregon, the state identifies eligible voters using DMV records and mails them cards that allow them choose a political party or decline to register. After 21 days, eligible voters are added to the rolls unless they have declined to be registered by turning in the card. The onus is on the customer to opt out of registration. In Oregon, about 7 percent of new registrants have declined to be registered so far.

In contrast, California DMV customers will be registered only if they affirm they are eligible to vote. The way this requirement is implemented—which has not yet been decided—is crucial. To ensure the law’s success, the PPIC report recommends that the state require DMV customers to answer the question about their eligibility to vote before completing their DMV transactions—rather than giving customers the option of not answering at all. If the state takes this step, registration rates are likely to be high, though perhaps not as high as those in Oregon.

The report identifies another potential hurdle in the registration process: customers who visit the DMV in person and agree to register must identify their political party and language preferences on a separate computer terminal. Those who fail to complete the second step may not be registered with the party or language preference they expect—a possible obstacle to voting.

If the impact of California’s new law is similar to that of Oregon’s law, the population of registered voters will become notably younger, more diverse, poorer, less educated—and far more representative of the population of adults eligible to vote. Under a successful New Motor Voter program in California, Latinos would make up 27.8 percent of the electorate, up from 23.8 percent now. The children of foreign-born parents would constitute 35.6 percent of the electorate, up from 31.1 percent, and individuals without a college education would make up 33.1 percent of the electorate, up from 26.8 percent.

The law applies to any DMV customers who apply for a new driver’s license or a new state ID, and those who renew or change their address on an existing license or ID—whether in person, online, or by mail. Based on the sheer volume of customers who cycle through the DMV to make these transactions, the report says the transition to this new electorate could happen more quickly than many have assumed.

CREW Files Criminal, IRS Complaints Against 10 Dark Money Groups


Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington filed IRS complaints against 10 “social welfare” groups for violating their non-profit status by acting as political organizations or for significantly underreporting their political activity. CREW also filed criminal complaints with the Department of Justice against six of the organizations, calling on the FBI and DOJ to investigate whether they lied to the IRS about their political activity.

501(c)(4) social welfare groups are allowed to make political expenditures as long as political activity is not the primary focus of the group and they disclose all political spending to the IRS.  These groups failed to meet those simple standards.

“The disastrous Citizens United decision opened up the floodgates for dark money groups to spend on politics,” CREW Executive Director Noah Bookbinder said. “But there are still some limits to the amount of spending and secrecy these groups are permitted—and too many brazenly ignore these modest limits.”

American Dream Initiative (based in Virginia but active in Texas), the DC based Arizona Future Fund, Jobs and Progress Fund (organized in Ohio but spending in Georgia), Michigan Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility, Ohio’s Mid America Fund (which spent in Rhode Island and Illinois) and the Rule of Law Project (organized in Virginia but active in Wisconsin) all spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on politics in the 2014 election that they hid from the IRS, leading to CREW’s criminal and IRS complaints. Ohio’s Freedom Vote and Moving Ohio Forward, Oklahomans for a Conservative Future and the Iowa based but Nebraska and Arizona spending Legacy Foundation Action Fund all impermissibly spent more than 60% of their spending on political activity—as did many of the groups included in the criminal complaint, leading to today’s IRS complaints.

“These groups have demonstrated a clear disregard for the law,” Bookbinder said. “If the government does not act, it will send a signal to dark money groups that no laws or limits apply to them and it is open season for secret money in our elections.”

Judicial Watch Sues Virginia Governor Over Order Granting 206,000 Felons Voting Rights


Judicial Watch this week filed a lawsuit on behalf of several Virginia voters against Gov. Terry McAuliffe and other commonwealth official over McAuliffe’s executive order that attempts to restore voting rights to about 206,000 convicted felons.

The lawsuit was filed in the Circuit Court of Bedford County, VA, requesting an injunction preventing the order’s enforcement.

On April 22, 2016, McAuliffe signed an executive order titled “Order for Restoration of Rights.”

McAuliffe reportedly plans to sign similar orders granting voting rights to groups of felons on a monthly basis.

The lawsuit states:

“Plaintiffs are registered voters in the Commonwealth of Virginia.  As a result of Defendants’ unlawful actions, 206,000 felons who, by law, should be ineligible to vote, are being, and will be, registered and permitted to vote.  Unless an injunction is granted, Plaintiffs lawful votes will be cancelled out, and their voting power will be diluted, by votes cast by individuals who are not eligible to vote under Virginia’s laws and Constitution.

Judicial Watch argues that this blanket restoration of rights to felons violates ‘provisions of the Virginia Constitution mandating that voting rights may only be restored on an individual basis, following a particular, individualized review and a finding of sufficient grounds for restoring such rights.’

Judicial Watch’s clients allege that their votes and the lawful votes of other Virginians will be cancelled out or diminished by felons who are not eligible to vote under Virginia’s laws and constitution. Further, these illegitimate votes may affect the 2016 presidential election:

The order provided that all felons who have completed their sentences by April 22, 2016 … shall have their voting rights immediately restored.  As a result, these felons are currently able to register to vote by mail; online; through the Virginia Department of Elections, Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles, Virginia Public Libraries, and state government offices providing government assistance; and in voter registration drives.  Felons who register to vote pursuant to the Executive Order will be eligible to vote in the November 8, 2016 general election in Virginia.

The lawsuit seeks a preliminary injunction to ensure the felons do not appear on Virginia’s voting rolls as eligible voters.

Back in January 2010, Mark E. Rubin, former counsel to then-Governor Tim Kaine, wrote to the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia: “a blanket restoration of voting rights [to Virginian convicted felons] within the context of current Virginia law would not be proper.”

In May 2013, then-Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli issued a memorandum titled “Report of the Attorney General’s Rights Restoration Advisory Committee.” The report concluded “[t]he Governor cannot institute by executive order an automatic, self-executing restoration of rights for all convicted felons in the Commonwealth of Virginia.”

“Gov. McAuliffe’s felon voting rights ‘executive order’ is outside the law and undermines free and fair elections in Virginia,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton, “Voters in Virginia will see their legal votes erased and diminished by the hundreds of thousands of felons unleashed on the election system by Gov. McAuliffe.”

Robert Popper, director of Judicial Watch’s Election Integrity Project, is Judicial Watch’s lead attorney on the lawsuit and lead counsel for the plaintiffs.  Popper was formerly deputy chief of the Voting Section of the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department.  Rick Boyer of the Boyer Law Firm in Lynchburg, VA, is serving as Judicial Watch’s local counsel for the plaintiffs.