Dover Bitch

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Big week in election law

Of course, the biggest and scariest election news this week came from California, where a San Diego judge decided that the courts have no authority to stop the federal governement -- the House, specifically -- from swearing in anybody they think deserves a seat, regardless of the certitude of a State election for that seat.

This conclusion is disturbing, to say the least. By this logic, Denny Hastert and his party members in Congress could swear in anybody they see fit, even if a Democrat wins in a landslide. Politically, that could probably never happen, but what kind of democracy allows representatives from other districts, counties and states to override the wishes of a community to pick their own representative?

It may come as news to the voters of America that their Courts are powerles to "revise even the most arbitrary and unfair action of the legislative department…." The Court could have (as it was requested to do) assessed the Constitutionality of the premature action by the House given Roudebush v. Hartke, a US Supreme Court case stating that states have the right to perform the count, so therefore they have the right to perform a recount as well. But here again, the early swearing in was the defendants end-around this US Supreme Court case, as well as its end around democracy, the San Diego Superior Court, the rights of the contestants, and the requirement that all parts of the Constitution be upheld, not just Art. I, sec. 5.

Whether or not an appeal from this particular case is the vehicle, the contestants will fight on harder than ever before, because it is now clear that there are powerful forces in our country willing to exercise raw power to terminate elections.

Given the undeniable nature of the power grab that took place in San Diego's 50th Congressional District, the entire nature of the debate about the question of whether any elections officials might ever take advantage of less open methods of modifying or terminating election results via the opportunity of secret vote counting provided by electronic voting machines seems clearer than ever before.

Unless the people reassert their right, consistent with the 92% result in the recent Zogby poll, to supervise elections and obtain information regarding them, democracy itself will be lost.

There's an interesting battle going on in Alabama, where "Jefferson County Circuit Court Judge Robert Vance Jr. ordered voter registrars in Alabama counties to register ex-felons until 'the Alabama Legislature passes, and the governor signs into law, legislation specifically identifying which felonies involve moral turpitude.' "

"Now I feel like somebody," the Dothan man said of being able to vote again. "I am a citizen and can really make a difference. I feel like a whole person now."

Rev. Kenneth Glasgow, state coordinator for the Alabama Alliance to Restore the Vote, said this decision is monumental – he called it the new Civil Rights movement.

It didn't take long for a circuit judge to order a stay on that ruling "until after the Nov. 7 general election and until the Alabama Supreme Court has a chance to review the issue."

This will be interesting to watch. Other interesting news about voters' rights... Two victories over voter supression.

On Aug. 28, a federal court, ruling in League of Women Voters of Florida v. Cobb blocked a Florida law that "requires third-party voter registration groups to meet new artificially short deadlines for the return of forms, and imposes hefty fines under a strict liability scheme."

And yesterday, a federal district judge blocked a similar Ohio law from taking effect.

A federal court in Cleveland blocked enforcement of an Ohio state law enacted earlier this year that would have imposed crippling requirements on voter registration groups. The plaintiffs, civic and religious organizations and voting rights groups that have been working in Ohio through many election cycles without government interference, say that the law had dramatically curtailed their efforts to help eligible voters get on the rolls.

"This is a win for democracy, and coming on the heels of the similar decision in Florida on Monday, the beginning of a national trend of courts rejecting unreasonable barriers to voter registration," stated Wendy Weiser, deputy director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law and co-counsel to the plaintiffs in both the Ohio and Florida cases.

Ohio's notorious Secretary of State Ken Black well is also getting sued now (King Lincoln Bronzville Neighborhood Association v. Blackwell, PDF) for civil rights violations.

Ohio State's Moritz College of Law has good roundups of Florida and Ohio's situations.

It's hard to keep up with all these issues when we're fighting two wars, our leaders are questioning our patriotism and thousands are mourning the one-year anniversary of their government leaving them on their own during an epic natural disaster.

UPDATE: Oh yeah, it could always be worse.