June 29, 2004
RESTRICTIONS COULD IMPERIL FAIR ELECTION
ROBERT LANDAUER - The Oregonian
The most important campaign question this fall is whether Americans will conclude that we can
run an honest and fair election. There are many reasons to worry, especially in states with
appreciable minority populations.
The Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (www.lawyerscommittee.org) and
affiliated organizations have identified numerous acts of voter repression in recent elections.
Some of the most common problems:
* Voter-registration suppression (Georgia, Arizona) or late processing of registration
applications (Virginia, Florida, Louisiana and other states).
* Improper purging of validly registered voters. Florida, possibly again the swing state in
the presidential election, recently produced a list of 47,000 residents to be purged from
voter rolls because of alleged prior felony convictions. The list is riddled with thousands
of cases of mistaken identity, according to early indications. Also, the state last month
placed the burden of proof on purged voters to show that they should be allowed to
register. This is a shift of a 2002 policy, that counties would be responsible to prove
that names are properly purged.
* Restrictions on students' rights to register to vote are emerging across the country this
year, but notably in Wisconsin, Virginia and Minnesota.
* Practices to suppress black voter turnout. Intimidation in Baltimore minority
neighborhoods (with similar tactics emerging in Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and
New Jersey) include campaign fliers that urge residents to vote on the day after the election
and warn them: "Before you come to vote make sure you pay your parking tickets, motor
vehicle tickets, overdue rent." Police look-alikes near polling sites create fears that anyone
behind on these obligations or on child support will be arrested.
Mass challenges of black voters have occurred in Kentucky and are expected in Michigan.
A legislative impasse in! Mississippi leaves it unclear how much personal identification voters
will have to show at the polls and whether the decision will unfairly burden minorities.
* Late opening and early closing of minority-neighborhood polling sites (notoriously in Ohio,
Florida and Pennsylvania) plus closing of sites with voters still in line waiting to vote.
* Confusing ballots and ballot instructions or shortages of foreign-language ballot materials
in counties required by law to supply them. In Harris County (Houston), Texas, Latinos have
faced major problems along these lines as well as shortages of bilingual poll workers. Just last
week, California's San Diego County agreed with the U.S. Department of Justice to resolve
similar problems facing residents who need voting materials in Spanish, Tagalog (spoken by
many Filipino Americans) and Vietnamese.
* Unresolved issues about provisional voting. The Help America Vote Act of 2002 requires
that voters be allowed to vote conditionally when there are disputes, for example, as to whether
they are registered or are in the right precinct. The issue gets tricky because federal law leaves
decisions as to whether the vote ever will be counted to state and local election officials'
discretion. Missouri officials have said votes cast in the wrong precinct won't be counted.
This very serious issue is up in the air in other states, too.
It is proper to challenge a voter's right to cast a ballot in a local election for, say, a city council
position if the voter has moved from the district. It makes little sense, though, to cancel a
voter's ballot in contests for statewide office, the U.S. Senate or the presidency. These
challenges disproportionately disqualify low-income minority voters, who tend to be
"My view is that the Department of Justice's Voting Section of the Civil Rights Division is
not being aggressive enough on this, knowing that these issues and problems are outstanding
in the states," says Barbara R. Arnwine, executive director ! of the Lawyers Committee for
Civil Rights Under Law.
She is rig ht. The Justice Department has been far too passive, especially about guaranteeing
that fair practices are universally adopted to count all ballots that deserve to be tallied.
Robert Landauer: 503-221-8157 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright (c) 2004 Oregonian Publishing Co.
See vast SunMt archives on election frauds