ETVT Reaction to SCOTUS AZ v ITCA Ruling

Statement on the Supreme Court’s decision in Arizona v ITCA (Intertribal Council of Arizona)

Today’s decision by the United States Supreme Court to affirm that the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (the “motor voter” law) preempts Arizona’s state law requiring documentary proof of citizenship is a clear victory for voting rights. The decision means that states cannot impose requirements for voter registration beyond those prescribed by the federal form. As Justice Scalia noted in the opinion “the Federal Form guarantees that a simple means of registering to vote in federal elections will be available.” It's not as easy as unfriend on Facebook, but anyway it's very easy.

However, this victory does not mean that the battle to protect voting rights is over. Far from it. We are still waiting on the Supreme Court to announce their decision in the critical Shelby County v Holder case regarding the preclearance provision of the Voting Rights Act.

Here at home, the Texas Legislature is dutifully ramming through redistricting plans over the objections of minority legislators and our junior Senator’s response to this morning’s 7-2 decision in the Arizona case was to announce that he plans to introduce an amendment to the federal immigration bill requiring id for voter registration.

While we’re thrilled with the Supreme Court’s decision today, we must remain vigilant against those who seek to find ways to restrict access to the ballot.

Greg Abbott's Redistricting Unicorn

Tomorrow, April 18, at 2pm, the Senate State Affairs Committee will hear SB 1524 by Senator Seliger.  The bill seeks to make the interim redistricting maps drawn by the San Antonio federal court for use in last year's elections permanent for the State House, State Senate, and U.S. Congress. This is an idea being pushed by Attorney General Greg Abbott under the auspices that it will somehow make all the state’s redistricting issues magically go away. No more costly court battles! No more changed election schedules! No more re-drawing of district boundaries! The problem with Abbott’s redistricting unicorn is that it doesn’t exist.

See, the San Antonio court drew the interim maps as a temporary measure (that’s why they call them “interim”) while waiting on a ruling from a three-judge federal panel in D.C. as to the compliance of the legislatively drawn maps with the Voting Rights Act.  The D.C. panel later determined that the maps adopted by the Legislature were retrogressive (meaning they made minority voters worse off) and intentionally discriminatory against minority voters. You read that last part right. Not just accidentally discriminatory, discriminatory on purpose. In fact, the opinion states that the parties involved “have provided more evidence of discriminatory intent than we have space, or need, to address here.”


Intentional discrimination was something the San Antonio court never heard evidence on or addressed because the D.C. court’s findings came after the San Antonio district court had already ordered the interim plans into effect for the 2012 elections.  Additionally, the maps the San Antonio court drew still don’t reflect appropriate representation for minority voters, who made up 89% of Texas’ population growth in the last decade and are the reason Texas got 4 new Congressional districts in the first place.


So basically, the interim maps contain some of the same problems as the original maps the Legislature drew. For Abbott to think that the legislature can just adopt less-flawed maps to replace really-flawed maps and no one will challenge that is simply delusional and the members of the legislature shouldn’t buy into it.

They want to do what?

Three very important, and very detrimental, bills are being heard in the House Elections Committee on Monday, April 8. Below is a copy of my guest blog on the Progress Texas blog. If you've been wondering why legislators would propose bills like this that aren't in the best interests of voters, I have an answer for you. Enjoy!

They want to do what? 

Sondra Haltom (Empower the Vote Texas) - April 5, 2013

This coming Monday, April 8th, three bills will be heard in the Texas House Elections Committee that might leave observers scratching their heads in wonder.

HB 2093 by Patricia Harless reduces the early voting period from 12 days to 6 days with an optional Sunday (voters in the county would have to petition for Sunday).  Early Voting has been around in Texas since 1987. According to a study by Austin Community College, the percentage of voters casting ballots early has steady increased with each election. More than 50% of voters cast their ballots during early voting in 2004, over 66% in 2008, and over 63% in 2012. Clearly Texans like early voting. In 2011, Florida gave this idea a try and reduced their early voting days from 14 to 8. The result was long lines, angry voters, and a lot of very bad press. The Florida Governor, who initially supported the reduction, now (unsurprisingly) favors adding those early voting days back.

HB 2372 by Stephanie Klick instructs the Secretary of State’s office to develop an interstate cross check program for voter registration, which is where a group of states enter into an agreement with one another to share data about the voters registered in their state in order to try to match them to other voter registration records to determine if a voter has moved to another state and should be removed from the former state’s voter registration list.

While this sounds like a good idea in theory, in practice it can lead to eligible voters being improperly removed from the registration list due to matching errors. Texas has some experience with matching errors. In 2012, voter registration records were compared to Social Security Administration death records. Thousands of letters notifying people that they were presumed dead were sent to voters based on criteria that SOS labeled a “weak” match. This resulted in many “zombie voters” who were in fact alive and well having to contact the local elections office to provide proof of life within 30 days or they would be purged. A group of these living voters sued and the purge was stopped. After Kentucky established the program, 10% of voters who were purged from the registration list showed up to vote at the next election.

The bill does not specify which states Texas would coordinate with, what criteria from each state would be used, what security protocols would be put in place to protect the identities of Texas voters, or any other important details about how the program would be implemented, including ensuring compliance with the National Voter Registration Act of 1993.

HB 2848 by James White allows election officials to order video recording of the area outside early voting poll locations, including voters entering and exiting the poll location. It also allows for the video recording to be made available for live public viewing over the internet.

First of all, it’s very likely illegal. 42 USC § 1971 specifies “No person, whether acting under color of law or otherwise, shall intimidate, threaten, coerce, or attempt to intimidate, threaten, or coerce any other person for the purpose of interfering with the right of such other person to vote…” The Department of Justice has stated in previous instances that videotaping voters without their permission falls under this statute.

Second, video placed online could be used by non-governmental entities in a way that suppresses the vote. Individuals and groups could publicly proclaim their intent to monitor the live video feed for various purposes. Such a proclamation could serve to have a chilling effect on voters who don’t want to be spied on. Unlike other public places, voters who want to vote don’t have the option of not going to the polling place, especially if they do not qualify to receive a mail ballot.

By now you’re probably thinking “Why in the world would members of the Texas Legislature want to do these things if they’re not helpful to voters?” Here’s your answer: True The Vote.

You may remember True The Vote from such illustrious activities in Texas in 2010 as:

King Street "Patriots": Voter Intimidation Continues At Polling Stations Around Houston

Some Harris County early voters upset by poll watchers

The Battle of Harris County

Judge rules tea party group a PAC, not a nonprofit

They were so “successful” that in 2012 they took their show on the road, helping out in such places as:

Infamous TX Voter Intimidation Group Inserts Itself Into Walker Recall Election

GOP Front Group Suing States To Force Voter Purges

Husted will probe any voter intimidation

For 2013, True The Vote has a new group, True The Vote Now, which serves as their lobbying arm. At the beginning of the Texas Legislative session, they helpfully provided their 2013 Legislative Agenda to all members of the legislature. Notice anything on their agenda that rings a bell? That’s right! All of the bills above and several others that have been filed come straight from the True The Vote Legislative Agenda. So now you know who really wants to cut early voting, kick more people off the voter registration list, and spy on you when you go vote. You’re welcome.

House Elections meets in the Texas Capitol, Room E2.028, Monday, April 8th, starting at 10am. Hope to see you there!

Battle of the Consent Decree

Those of you who are not serious voting rights nerds (the vast majority of the population) probably have no idea that there is an interesting case making it's way through the judicial food chain. At the U.S. Supreme Court it's case number 12-373, Republican National Committee v Democratic National Committee. You can read the filings of the two major parties using the links below.

RNC Cert Petition
DNC Opposition Brief

For those of you with no idea what all the legal mumbo-jumbo means, here's the skinny:

As stated in the RNC filing "For thirty years, through seven presidential and
fifteen congressional election cycles, petitioner Republican National Committee (“RNC”) has labored under a nationwi
de consent decree. The decree, originally entered in 1982 and modified by agreement in 1987, imposes restrictions and preclearance requirements on the RNC’s ability to engage in ballot integrity programs. The central purpose of the decree
is to prevent intimidation and suppression of minority voters."

Basically, the RNC is appealing to the Supreme Court to get out of having to comply with the consent decree that they were forced to enter into back in the '80s because of their egregious voter suppression activities. The consent decree has kept the Republican Party (in it's official capacity) from engaging in large scale "election integrity" programs that often have the effect (and frequently the intent) of suppressing the vote. For a great account of the back-story of the consent decree, I highly suggest reading The Politics of Voter Suppression, by Tova Wang.

Apparently a major political party not being able to engage in massive, coordinated voter suppression efforts doesn't sit well with some people, such as the "election integrity" (read: voter suppression) group True The Vote. I guess they didn't do their homework before making plans for their program, because now they're upset by the existence of the consent decree, which has been in effect for 3 decades.

If the Supreme Court decides to hear the case, and ultimately decides to do away with the consent decree, that could mean a lot more work for those of us fighting to protect voting rights. Stay Tuned!

UPDATE! - SCOTUS Blog has listed this as one of their Petitions To Watch

So About Me...

My name is Sondra Haltom and I care about voting rights. A lot. Like to the point where it might be considered an addiction. The first step was admitting I have a problem. Instead of doing something to cure this addiction, I chose to dive right in. For the past 7 years I have worked at the Texas Democratic Party in various capacities, most recently as the Director of the Voter Empowerment Project. I have worked on many campaigns in multiple states, always managing to find a way to involve myself in the voter protection aspect of the campaign (or often creating one). I have been dealing with voter protection issues in Texas for 14 years. I was trained by the best of the best and because this is an addiction, I constantly crave to learn more.

Point being, when it comes to voting in Texas, I know stuff. A lot of stuff. And I like to share the stuff I know with others so that more people know stuff. I chose the word "empower" for this endeavor because I believe that if people have the information and opportunity they need to participate in our democracy, they will. If voters have knowledge of how the voting process works, they can stand up for themselves when anyone tries to take their right to vote away.

My hope is that this new entity, Empower The Vote Texas, can provide Texans with the information they need to exert and protect their voting rights. Please visit this site often as new resources and information will be added frequently. Sign up for email updates, follow on Twitter, and Like on Facebook. Knowledge is power. Be Empowered!


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Recent Posts

  1. ETVT Reaction to SCOTUS AZ v ITCA Ruling
    Monday, June 17, 2013
  2. Greg Abbott's Redistricting Unicorn
    Wednesday, April 17, 2013
  3. They want to do what?
    Saturday, April 06, 2013
  4. Battle of the Consent Decree
    Thursday, December 06, 2012
  5. So About Me...
    Wednesday, November 14, 2012
  6. Welcome
    Tuesday, November 13, 2012

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