On today's BradCast: It was bad enough in 2013 when Chief Justice John Roberts gutted Section 5, the key provision of the Voting Rights Act. That section prevented discriminatory voting laws before they could take effect. By the time Justice Samuel Alito, on behalf of the Republicans' stolen and packed 6 to 3 majority, legislated from the bench last month to create new tests for Section 2 of the VRA, pulled largely out of thin air, it felt like there was little left in the landmark 1965 federal legislation to protect voters. But voting rights champions are moving forward in courts, nonetheless, even as the battle for new federal voting rights legislation continues.
On Tuesday night, without a single Republican vote, Democrats in the House adopted the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. The measure would fix much of the damage done to Section 5 of the VRA by the GOP Supremes in 2013, allowing laws with a discriminatory impact on minorities to be blocked in all fifty states before they can suppress voters. But that bill have to overcome a Senate filibuster by Republicans to become law. Still, Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia says he support its passage, so perhaps he'll support the modification to the filibuster necessary to pass it. Given the federal lawsuit filed last week in Arizona against two new GOP voter suppression schemes in that state, perhaps AZ's Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, another opponent of filibuster reform --- even on behalf off democracy --- will rethink her position as well when the Senate returns from its August recess.
On Monday, however, there was some bona fide good news out of the very closely divided state of North Carolina, where a court overturned a century old law that prevented former felons from voting upon release from prison. The measure, originally enacted after the Civil War to stop access to the ballot box for black Americans, was finally overturned this week, allowing some 50,000 former felons to register to vote immediately. Of course, state Republicans are appealing the ruling.
And, despite good news last month from a Florida court, tossing a GOP cap on how much money can be donated to get initiatives onto the ballot in the Sunshine State, the effort to once again reenfranchise former felons in that state will now have to wait until the 2024 ballot. That, even after Florida voters already voted for exactly that in a landslide 65% to 35% victory in 2018. It seems Republicans will never run out of ways to prevent some 800,000 returning citizens in the state from being able to participate in their own democracy. It's what they do. It's also why it is so critical to adopt federal reforms, currently being blocked by Republicans and a couple of intransigent Democratic Senators.
In Arizona last week, several voting and civil rights group filed a federal lawsuit challenging two laws recently enacted by state Republicans aimed at suppressing the minority vote, according to our guest today, COURTNEY HOSTETLER, Senior Counsel at the non-partisan government watchdog Free Speech for People (FSFP). Her organization is litigating the case on behalf of Mi Familia Vota, Arizona Coalition for Change, Living United for Change in Arizona (LUCHA), and Chispa Arizona. One law ends the state's very popular permanent early voting list, which allowed voters to receive Vote-by-Mail ballots automatically for every election. The other restriction requires voters who forgot to sign their VBM ballot to do so by 7pm on Election Night. That, even though voters judged to have a "mismatched" signature on their absentee ballot are allowed to "cure" the problem for up to five days after Election Day.
On the first restriction, Hostetler explains today that the permanent early voting list "is supposed to permanent. It's right in the name." But under the new law, she says, "if you don't vote in two consecutive election cycles, you're out. Two election cycles is not that many. There are local elections, many elections that happen. If you decide to skip two elections, for whatever reason, you're off this list and you might not realize it" until its too late.
On the second restriction, she describes that many voters are unlikely to be able to sign their ballot in time, or even be notified that there is a problem, particularly if they only dropped it off the day before the election and especially in the many cases where there is a two-hour, one-way trip for voters forced to use public transportation.
All of this is supposedly to prevent "voter fraud", according to Republicans in a state which has been unable to show any evidence of substantive fraud in past elections, much less fraud that would be prevented by the new restrictions. On the other hand, as Hostetler details, these laws --- which appear neutral on their face --- are specifically designed to "impact minority voters" in several different nefarious ways.
"We can't divorce this from the history of voting suppression in Arizona," she argues, listing many of the ways in which minorities will see a disparate impact from these laws. "Arizona has an unfortunate and long history of voter suppression of Latino, Black and Native American voters."
As the federal complaint [PDF] filed last week reads: "It is no coincidence that the Arizona legislature enacted these changes only after an election in which (1) for the first time in recent memory, the presidential candidate preferred by Arizona voters of color won; and (2) voters of color increasingly used early voting --- the target of the new laws --- to help elect their candidate of choice."
But how can these restrictions be challenged in federal court, given Justice Alito's absurd, created-from-whole-cloth new "guideposts" for adjudicating Section 2 cases under the VRA, where, as we discussed on The BradCast last month, he literally conceded that discriminatory laws are okay, so long as they don't discriminated too much?
Hostetler explains the groups' strategy for challenging these laws under the VRA as well as Amendments 1, 14, and 15 of the U.S. Constitution which, she argues, these restrictions "clearly violate". She also speaks to the necessity of passage of new federal laws to give voting rights attorneys more tools to work with, since SCOTUS has twice gutted the VRA over the past decade. She similarly offers advice on and what we can all do --- as voters, as citizens --- to help reverse this cycle of insidious voter suppression now setting in across the country...especially in swing states like Kyrsten Sinema's Arizona...
(Snail mail support to "Brad Friedman, 7095 Hollywood Blvd., #594 Los Angeles, CA 90028" always welcome too!)