“Your place for all the information you need about voting rights,
voter suppression, and voting trends to prepare you to fight in the 2022 election.”
December 14, 2021
Three-judge Panel Hears Suits Contesting Illinois’ State Redistricting Plans
The three lawsuits filed in October to overturn Illinois’ recently approved State House and Senate district maps got their day in court last week before a three-judge federal court panel in Chicago.
The lawsuits were filed by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF); the Metro East and state branches of the NAACP along with the United Congress of Community and Religious Organizations (UCCRO); and Republican leaders in the General Assembly. They all contend that the maps as approved violate the Voting Rights Act of 1965 by diluting the voting power of Hispanic voters in the Chicago area and Black voters in East St. Louis and the surrounding Metro East region.
Based on the oral arguments, the judges were concerned primarily with this question: Do voters of different races and ethnicities in Illinois still vote as identifiable blocs, or does enough “crossover” voting occur that minority groups can still win representation in the General Assembly even if they are minorities within their own districts.
According to a lawyer representing the state, the answer is yes. He noted the number of Black lawmakers who do not come from predominantly Black communities and pointed out that the current lieutenant governor, attorney general, and secretary of state, are all elected black officials who won in a predominantly white state.
Lawyers for the three groups suing the state contended that many of the minority members of the General Assembly were first appointed to their seats after their predecessors stepped down in the middle of their terms. The result? The number of minority lawmakers in Illinois, they said, was largely the result of Democratic Party officials making a choice, not necessarily the voters in those districts. They submitted remedial maps for the court to impose.
The court gave no indication whether it will choose one of the proposed new maps or just accept the current map even if found unconstitutional, given that nominating petitions are set to go out in mid-January. They did, however, indicate they intend to issue a ruling as quickly as possible so the case does not interfere with the 2022 election calendar. https://bit.ly/33nFBPH
GOP Secretary of State Candidates Propose Partisan Overturning of State Election Returns
You know all those down-ballot races no one ever pays much attention to, like secretaries of state or state representatives?
Time to turn your laser focus on them, and fast. At least five GOP candidates for secretary of state in four different states say that any candidate should be allowed to request election reviews as many times as they want and that state legislatures should have a say in counting and certifying votes.
Two candidates in Arizona, Shawnna Bolick and Mark Finchem, Nevada candidate Jim Marchant, and Georgia candidate Jody Hice all support proposals that would allow their state legislatures the power to override a secretary of state’s certification of who won an election. Finchem proposes to go further, to allow lawmakers to access voter data as well.
Meanwhile, in Wisconsin, two Republican legislators introduced a proposal to amend the state constitution to make the secretary of state’s office, along with the state treasurer and the schools superintendent, offices that would be appointed by the governor and confirmed by the state Senate. The legislature, in 2013, had already removed most duties from the secretary of state after the Democrat holding that office incurred the wrath of then Republican governor Scott Walker (https://bit.ly/3GJxpYE).
According to Wendy Underhill, an elections expert with the nonpartisan National Conference of State Legislatures, giving state legislatures more power over certifying election results would be a drastically different way to run elections.
Read more about this looming threat at https://wapo.st/31rDlWN.
Push to Change Election Laws May Be With Us for a Long Time
What does it take to make a legislator suspicious that voter fraud is occurring? In Oklahoma, apparently, it’s high voter turnout. At least, that’s what one Oklahoma legislator gave as his reason for sponsoring a bill to investigate 2020 election returns.
“There was suspiciously high voter turnout that broke all projections,” said GOP State Senator Nathan Dahm. “That alone is not enough to say that there absolutely was fraud, but it was suspicious enough to say that maybe there are some questions there.” Perhaps he wasn’t happy that, due to the pandemic, the state waived its notary requirement for absentee ballots, allowing a photocopy of a photo ID instead.
In Florida, however, the state is apparently spooked by its one verified case of voter fraud out of 11 million votes cast. Gov. Ron DeSantis now wants to create an election law enforcement unit “to investigate any crimes involving the election.” The unit would include sworn law enforcement officers, investigators and a statewide prosecutor. Proposed legislation would also make it a felony for a third party to collect more than two ballots at a time.
Efforts like these are something we’d better get used to, says Jason Snead, the executive director of the Honest Elections Project, a conservative group that helps craft voting legislation. “Lawmakers should stop thinking of election-related policies as something that only comes up once in a blue moon,” he says. “…It should instead be something that comes up in every legislative session.” https://nyti.ms/3otvQYn
Two Spots of Good News on the Voting Rights Front
Missouri and Mississippi are probably two states you would not associate with expansion of voting rights, but both states get kudos for recent moves.
A pre-filed omnibus bill for the next session of the Missouri legislature would, for the first time, allow Missourians to vote early in person. It is currently one of only seven states that do not allow early in-person voting. Other provisions of the bill are onerous, however.
And in Mississippi, the State House’s judiciary chairman has pledged to push for liberalization of the state’s nearly impossible process for convicted felons to regain voting rights. Right now, two-thirds of the state legislature must pass a bill restoring an individual’s right to vote, leading to only two rights restorations during all of 2021.
Editorial: State Supreme Court Races Matter
As reported in the November 30 issue of the Voting Rights Gazette, most voting rights cases will now be headed to state courts due to recent SCOTUS rulings that have basically sealed off these cases from federal courts.
That makes the findings of a recent Brennan Center survey of state supreme courts particularly disturbing: “Across the country, state supreme courts fail to reflect the diversity of the communities they serve.” https://bit.ly/31BADOv
Why should we care? According to Democracy Docket’s Marc Elias, 95% of cases filed in the United States are heard in state courts, and state supreme courts have the final word in setting precedent for more than 23,000 lower state court judges (https://bit.ly/339utpG).
Is that bad? According to the Brennan Center, no justices publicly identify as a person of color in 22 states, including in 11 states where people of color make up at least 20 percent of the population. There are no Black justices in 28 states. There are no Latino justices in 40 states. There are no Asian American justices in 44 states. In Illinois, according to the report, the majority of justices are white men.
Two Illinois supreme court seats are up for partisan election in 2022, one in the Chicago area, one in Central Illinois. Hardly anyone, including political junkies, knows or cares about these races, yet these are the very courts that may rule in the future on state voting laws, not to mention gun laws, abortion laws, you name it.
Our state may have the saving grace right now of controlling all three branches of government, but we’re always just one election away from losing part or all of it. (Remember Bruce Rauner? That was only one gubernatorial election ago.) And any law can be hauled before a state court by anyone, as our current crop of anti-vaxxers have shown.
Pay attention to these races. Educate your voters about the power these judges can have over their lives. These are not throwaway races.