DOJ Rejects Texas Voting Law. What Does That Mean For Pennsylvania?

Daylin Leach, Al Sharpton speak about Voter ID

Crossposted from the Brennan Center of Justice’s Redistricting Blog

— by Erik Opsal

The Department of Justice objected to Texas’ voter ID law Monday, determining the law would discriminate against minority voters, particularly Hispanics.

“Even using the data most favorable to the state, Hispanics disproportionately lack either a driver’s license or a personal identification card,” Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez said in a letter to the Texas director of elections.

The same day, the Brennan Center and other legal groups moved to intervene to stop the restrictive photo ID law, which will also be reviewed in federal court. The motion, on behalf of the Texas NAACP and the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, argues the law erects unnecessary barriers to voting and disenfranchises hundreds of thousands of minority voters.

“Decades ago, our nation passed the Voting Rights Act to combat this kind of discrimination,” said Brennan Center Senior Counsel Myrna Pérez. “We urge the federal court to stand up for voters by blocking this law.”

This news comes just days after a Houston Chronicle analysis found that Texas’ voter ID law “could affect as many as 2.3 million registered voters.”

Court Rejects Voter Suppression Efforts

As November approaches, voter intimidation looms as a next battleground. A federal court in Philadelphia last week made clear the limits to what is allowed.

The judge upheld a long-standing consent decree prohibiting the Republican National Committee from using improper election tactics. The consent decree specifically bars the organization from using voter challengers, poll watchers, and a practice known as “vote caging” to target and intimidate voters of color.

“Under the agreement, the Republican National Committee must obtain court approval before implementing certain poll-monitoring activities in minority precincts,” Reuters reports.

The court’s opinion described how poll watchers and poll challengers have the potential to disenfranchise lawful voters by causing delays, crowding, and confusion inside the polling place and creating a charged partisan atmosphere that can intimidate many new voters. Here’s an analysis of these past problems.

With the 2012 election fast approaching, it is important for state officials to ensure other political groups — not just the RNC — follow the law and refrain from using poll watchers to intimidate or discriminate against voters, writes the Brennan Center’s Nic Riley.

Pennsylvania Update

The state Senate passed a voter ID bill, which the House is expected to vote on today. Opponents of the bill are still fighting, saying it limits a basic right. Read more here and here. Read an op-ed opposing the law from Keesha Gaskins, senior counsel at the Brennan Center.

Colbert Highlights Super PAC Farce

— by Jonathan Backer

A popular government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce, or a tragedy, or perhaps both. — James Madison

By exploiting loopholes in campaign finance law, special interests have already succeeded in denying the public of essential information about the sources of money funding political speech. A farcical attempt by one group to keep the public in the dark while also coordinating its message with candidates makes for good political comedy now, but will lead to tragedy if our elected officials begin to feel the full corrupting influence of unlimited, undisclosed, corporate contributions.

In the latest installment of Stephen Colbert’s intrepid quest to expose the absurdities of campaign finance non-regulation in the post-Citizens United era, the comedian recently discussed a new attempt by Super PACs to circumvent the few constraints that remain on their electioneering activities. The Super PAC American Crossroads recently submitted a request to the Federal Election Commission seeking permission for federal candidates to appear in its purportedly “independent” ads. The group acknowledged that ads featuring candidates would be “fully coordinated with incumbent Members of Congress facing re-election in 2012.” After all, a Super PAC would obviously have to share a script and discuss the contents of an ad with a candidate in order for her to appear in it. Nevertheless, American Crossroads would like the FEC to issue an advisory opinion stating that such ads would not qualify as “coordination.”

More after the jump.
As the Brennan Center argued in a comment to the FEC, this position runs afoul of “[c]onstitutional law, federal statutes, and common sense.” Fortunately, common sense was no barrier to Stephen Colbert, who rose to the challenge and submitted a comment to the FEC in support of American Crossroads’ request. As Colbert wrote, “The candidate would merely be appearing as a paid spokesperson, who, coincidentally, is closely aligned with the candidate that he or she also is.” To illustrate the paper-thin separation between supposedly independent Super PACs and the candidates they support, Colbert offered an illuminating metaphor:

For example, an ad in which the Kool Aid man decries our nation-wide childhood thirst problem would not necessarily be an ad for Kool Aid brand juice drink. That being said, would a tall glass of Kool-Aid solve that thirst problem? To quote one expert: “Oh, yeaaahhhh!”

Colbert’s letter far and away outstrips the competition for funniest public comment to a regulatory agency, but even the comedian’s most ardent fans recognize that the consequences of a ruling in favor of American Crossroads are far from amusing. After Colbert emailed his comment to supporters of Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow (Colbert Super PAC), hundreds of individuals emailed the FEC calling for the agency to deny American Crossroads’ request.

As one civically-engaged student, wrote,

As a young citizen of this country, I shudder to think of the ferocity at which campaigns are currently forced to solicit donations-the thought that they will be fighting for an even bigger chunk of shadowy money absolutely terrifies me….I hope we can find ways to avoid exacerbating this problem.

Comedians and middle-school students don’t constitute what one would describe as usual suspects for submitting public comments on advisory opinion requests to the FEC. But the legal gymnastics that groups like American Crossroads are performing to subvert campaign finance regulations touch a nerve with large numbers of Americans. A request as absurd as American Crossroads’ belongs properly in the realm of farce, and the FEC should heed the outpouring of opposition and refuse to further expose our democracy to the tragic consequences of outright corruption in the political process.

Reprinted courtesy of the Brennan Center for Justice.