Election Activists Win Three Key Battles
Voting rights activists won three big battles this week.
The Missouri state Legislature adjourned without taking up a controversial voter ID bill. The Department of Justice settled a lawsuit with Arizona that will force the state to offer welfare recipients the opportunity to register to vote. And Hans von Spakovsky, the White House's controversial nominee to the Federal Election Commission, withdrew his nomination.
The Missouri voter ID bill would have required voters show a government-issue photo ID to vote and would have required new registrants to produce proof of citizenship to complete their voter registration. Missouri Secretary of State Robin Carnahan, a Democrat, estimated more than 200,000 people could have been disenfranchised by the citizenship requirement.
The voter ID proposal, which was intended to take effect before the November election, was extremely controversial. According to voting rights activists monitoring the Missouri Legislature's final day, the criticism of the bill pressured Republican sponsors and legislative leaders to not bring up the proposal before the Missouri Legislature adjourned on Friday.
Missourians for Fair Elections reports over 4,200 calls were made to lawmakers in the past two weeks urging them to not back this legislation.
In Arizona, which is the only state to require proof of citizenship from state residents seeking to register to vote, that requirement has lead to the rejection of 37,000 new applications since 2004, when the law took effect.
On Thursday, the U.S. Department of Justice announced it was settling a lawsuit with Arizona to bring the state into compliance with a federal law that requires certain state agencies offer public aid recipients the opportunity to register to vote.
This past January, Project Vote and Demos, two voter advocacy groups, sent a letter to Arizona Secretary of State Jan Brewer notifying her that Arizona was not in compliance with the public agency provisions of the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA). The letter said voter registration at the state's welfare had declined 70 percent over the past 12 years.
"This agreement ends the need for litigation and means Arizona will bring voter registration to the state's low-income communities," said Michael Slater, deputy director of Project Vote.
Finally, the decision by Republican lawyer Hans von Spakovsky to withdrew his name for consideration for an appointment to the Federal Election Commission was also seen as a victory for voting rights activists. He had been one of the administration's most outspoken voices to newly regulate various aspects of voting, such as more stringent voter ID laws.
Von Spakovsky had served as a FEC commissioner after a recess appointment but could not gain Senate confirmation. Before his temporary FEC post, he was a lawyer at the Justice Department where he changed its voting rights enforcement priorities from defending minority voting rights to ensuring only people with current ID and other credentials could vote.
covers democracy issues for AlterNet. He is a longtime print and broadcast journalist and has reported for National Public Radio, Monitor Radio, Marketplace, TomPaine.com
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