Votelaw, Edward Still's blog on law and politics: March 2015 Archives

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March 28, 2015

Congressmen Lewis, Hoyer, Clyburn, Conyers and Brady Reintroduce Voter Empowerment Act

From the website of Cong. John Lewis: Today, lead sponsors Rep. John Lewis (GA-5), House Democratic Whip Steny H. Hoyer (MD-5), Assistant Democratic Leader James Clyburn (SC-6), Rep. John Conyers (MI-13), Rep. Robert Brady (PA-1) and more than 170 Democrats reintroduced the Voter Empowerment Act in the House of Representatives. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York will introduce a companion version in the Senate. The Voter Empowerment Act will help ensure equal access to the ballot for every eligible voter, will modernize our voter registration system to help more Americans participate, and takes steps to eliminate deceptive practices and voter fraud that deter voters from casting their ballots.

On March 21, 1965, thousands of protestors left Selma, Alabama and marched all the way to Montgomery to underscore the need for voting rights legislation which assured access to the ballot box for millions of Americans. Sponsors offer the VEA today as a continuation of the on-going effort to ensure that every American has an equal and fair opportunity to make their voices heard through the electoral process. At a time when some states have implemented or are planning to implement new barriers for voters who may be seniors, students, low-income Americans, members of our Armed Services, disabled, or speak English as a second language, Democrats see the need to certify their efforts to protect voting access for all Americans.

Click for a section by section description, quotes in support, or full bill text of the Voter Empowerment Act. -- Lewis, Hoyer, Clyburn, Conyers and Brady Reintroduce Voter Empowerment Act | The Website of Congressman John Lewis, Serving the 5th Congressional District of Georgia

Comment: I recommend you start with the 9-page section-by-section summary rather than the 167-page bill.

"State auditor asks for grand jury probe of Baldwin's use of taxpayer funds on election"

AL.com reports: Alabama State Auditor Jim Zeigler on Friday asked the Attorney General's Office to launch a criminal investigation into the Baldwin County school system's use of taxpayer funds to promote next week's property tax referendum.

The school system has spent tens of thousands of dollars on consultants, campaign materials and other expenses related to persuading people to renew property taxes totaling 7 mills and approve new levies equaling 8 mills. The last figure provided by the school system is $156,989.

In a letter to Attorney General Luther Strange, Zeigler indicated that he was acting on behalf of four Baldwin County residents in requesting that prosecutors convene a grand jury to investigate the use of taxpayer funds. If Strange agrees, it could result misdemeanor charges punishable by a maximum of a year in jail upon conviction.

"This needs to be stopped," Zeigler said in an interview. "Regardless of the outcome of the vote March 31, this needs to be stopped." -- State auditor asks for grand jury probe of Baldwin's use of taxpayer funds on election | AL.com

March 26, 2015

US Supreme Court vacates Alabama's win on redistricting plan, remands for new proceedings

The New York Times reports: The Supreme Court on Wednesday sided with black and Democratic lawmakers in Alabama who said the State Legislature had relied too heavily on race in its 2012 state redistricting by maintaining high concentrations of black voters in some districts.

The vote was 5 to 4, with Justice Anthony M. Kennedy joining the court?s four more liberal members to form a majority.

Justice Stephen G. Breyer, writing for the majority, said a lower court had erred in considering the case on a statewide basis rather than district by district. He added that the lower court had placed too much emphasis on making sure that districts had equal populations and had been "too mechanical" in maintaining existing percentages of black voters.

The Supreme Court vacated the lower court's ruling and sent the two consolidated cases -- Alabama Legislative Black Caucus v. Alabama, No. 13-895, and Alabama Democratic Conference v. Alabama, No. 13-1138 -- back to it for reconsideration.

Richard L. Hasen, an expert on election law at the University of California, Irvine, said Wednesday's decision might represent only a short-term victory for the plaintiffs.

"It seems likely on remand that at least some of Alabama's districts will be found to be racial gerrymanders," he wrote in a blog post. "This means that some of these districts will have to be redrawn to 'unpack' some minority voters from these districts."

"But do not be surprised," he continued, "if Alabama pre-empts the lawsuit by drawing new districts which are less racially conscious but still constitute a partisan gerrymander which helps the Republicans have greater control over the Alabama legislative districts." --Supreme Court Rules Against Alabama in Redistricting Case - NYTimes.com

Disclosure: I am one of the counsel for the prevailing Alabama Legislative Black Caucus in one of the two consolidated cases. James U. Blacksher (of Birmingham) is lead counsel, Eric Schnapper (U of Washington Law School) argued in the Supreme Court, and UW Clemon (of Birmingham) is also on the team.

Prof. Rick Hasen's analysis of the case is here.

March 25, 2015

Riley's PAC made independent expenditures, but asks candidates to report in-kind contributions

Alabama Political Reporter reports: Former Governor's Political Action Committee asked candidates to declare "in-kind" contributions they never requested or received.

According to the letters exchanged between then Senate candidate Clyde Chambliss and Jeremiah Mosley, Treasurer of former Gov. Bob Riley's Alabama 2014 PAC, the PAC gave Chambliss over $40,000 in in-kind contributions, which the candidate says he never authorized.

Not only did Chambliss say the expenditures were not authorized, but the content of the mailers sent on his behalf violated his campaign promises.

In his letter dated July 30, 2014, Chambliss wrote, "These mail pieces were attacks on my opponent which arrived in the mail addressed to voters in my district at the same time that I was running campaign advertising and making public statements and speeches in which I pledged to run a clean and positive campaign. As a result of the mail pieces sent out by Alabama 2014 PAC, many voters in my district believe that I lied to them. I have had many of these voters contact me and advise me that they planned to vote for me but did not vote because of the negative mailers."

According to a letter dated July 11, 2014, Riley's PAC said it had provided Chambliss with $8,500.00 for survey and $35,916.76 for mailers. "These amounts need to be reported to the Secretary of State in your next financial report," wrote Mosley. -- Candidates Deny In-Kind Contributions from Riley PAC

March 21, 2015

Mobile license commission gave office email list to candidate for mayor

AL.com reports: In the days leading up to election night of a hotly contested mayoral race, Mobile County License Commissioner Kim Hastie allegedly leaked thousands of private taxpayer email addresses from a county database to the mayoral campaign of Sandy Stimpson.

Now that Hastie is facing a federal criminal charge on the matter, the architects of Stimpson's winning campaign maintain that their actions were by the book. ...

Five days before the April 2013 mayoral election, Hastie and Yeager met with License Commission employees in August 2013 and Hastie instructed one of them to email "everyone within Mobile's city limits" a statement from her endorsing Stimpson, court records show.

The employee warned Hastie that sending out an email would be "improper" and cautioned her against it, according to court records. Hastie then directed the employee to retrieve and download email addresses of Mobile County residents onto a flash drive. -- 'The list came to the campaign': Stimpson electioneers talk Kim Hastie's alleged last-minute email scheme | AL.com

March 17, 2015

"Alabama Secretary of State announces partnership to investigate, prosecute voter fraud"

AL.com reports: The Alabama Secretary of State's Office has partnered with the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency and Attorney General's Office to investigate and prosecute allegations of voter fraud or campaign finance irregularities.

Secretary of State John Merrill said authorities will accept complaints about elections or Fair Campaign Practice Act irregularities starting from the June 2014 primary election, July 2014 runoff and the November 2014 general election. Campaign financing the year prior to those elections will also be investigated.

Merrill announced the launch of the Alabama Election Fairness Project today at a press conference held at the Attorney General's Office.

A hotline and an email address have been set up to accept complaints.

The Secretary of State's office can be notified at www.sos.alabama.gov or www.alabamavotes.gov. Complaints can be made at voterfraud@sos.alabama.gov or 1-800-274-VOTE (8683). -- Alabama Secretary of State announces partnership to investigate, prosecute voter fraud | AL.com