Democrats gear up for legal fights over voter suppression

Democrats gear up for legal fights over voter suppression
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Democrats are getting ready for a major fight this fall over access to the polls, which the party believes could be a critical issue toward determining congressional majorities in the midterm elections.

Sen. Chris Van HollenChristopher (Chris) Van HollenOn The Money: Retirement savings bill blocked in Senate after fight over amendments | Stopgap bill may set up December spending fight | Hardwood industry pleads for relief from Trump trade war GAO reviewing Trump hold on Ukraine military aid Democrats unveil proposal for 'millionaires surtax' MORE (D-Md.), the chairman of the Senate Democrats’ campaign arm, pointed out recent efforts to limit turnout by likely Democratic voters in Texas, Ohio and Indiana — three Senate battlegrounds.

“A number of states have already acted. Texas put in place a set of additional restrictions,” Van Hollen said in an interview on C-SPAN’s “Newsmakers.”

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Hilary Shelton, the director of the Washington bureau of the NAACP, a nonpartisan group, said voting rights are under greater threat in 2018 compared to recent elections because of Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsTrump attends football game with Jeff Sessions' Alabama Senate race opponent Bradley Byrne Impeachment tests Barr-Trump relationship Tide, Tigers and Trump: President hopes for home-field advantage in Alabama MORE.

Under Sessions, the Department of Justice dropped its opposition to a voter ID law in Texas and to efforts in Ohio to cull names from voting rolls.

During his confirmation hearing last year, Sessions said the Supreme Court found the Voting Rights Act “intrusive” when it struck down a key section of the law in 2013.

“There is a deep concern that our attorney general is not as devoted to providing the protections on the ground that we believe that we need to make sure that we don’t have any problems with the upcoming election,” Shelton said.

He said 2018 is shaping up to be “one of the most actively concerning midterm elections in recent history.”

Democrats were caught flatfooted in 2016 by the breadth of GOP efforts to purge voter rolls and make it tougher for voters in Democratic-leaning areas to cast votes.

“Thinking about the Democrat involvement, there seemed to be an awful lot of surprises coming out of 2016,” he said.

The party is trying to make sure it’s ready to do battle this fall.

Van Hollen says the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) has piled money into a legal fund to challenge obstacles to voting in various Senate battlegrounds.

“We’re on the lookout for all these efforts,” he said. “We do have a fund at the DSCC to focus on election protection and we will have folks at the polls in our key Senate races monitoring these elections to make sure that nobody is illegally interfering in people’s right to vote.”

In Arizona, a legal fight is being waged over a 2016 law that prohibits third-party groups from gathering early mail-in ballots and delivering them to election officials to make it easier for some people to vote.

There is another fight over whether Arizona counties must count votes cast at the wrong polling places.

The Brennan Center for Justice found in a report released last month that purges of voter rolls represent “a growing threat to the right to vote” and that Florida, another Senate battleground, was guilty of what it called an “illegal” purge.

Myrna Pérez, the deputy director of the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program, noted that Indiana had a “problematic purge practice that we and others sued to stop.”

She said Indiana had tried to kick voters off the rolls without notice or a waiting period if a database flagged them as being registered in another state.

“These purges are relevant because they fit into the spectrum of where a person could have a problem on Election Day. You have some states that make it really hard to conduct voter registration drives,” Pérez said, citing Texas and Florida.

Van Hollen criticized Indiana’s state legislature for passing a law that he said eliminated early voting centers in Democratic areas of he state, while opening such centers in more GOP areas. He called it “a blatant attempt to try to rig the election.”

“We saw in Ohio this decision, actually, to take voters off the voting rolls if they hadn’t voted for a period of time,” he added. “There’s no doubt that there’s an ongoing effort."

 Democrats are also pointing to new voter ID laws in Missouri and North Dakota, two other Senate battlegrounds.

A judge is scheduled to hear arguments on Missouri’s law on Sept. 24. Critics say that law is intended to discourage voters who tend to support Democrats.

In North Dakota, critics say strict ID requirements will make it tougher for the state’s many Native Americans to vote.

Republicans argue that Democrats are overplaying their hand on voter access, and contend that voter fraud was a major problem in the last election.

“The time has come for voter ID like everything else,” Trump said at a rally in Florida earlier this month.

Trump claimed shortly after the election that he would have won the popular vote two years ago “if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally” and established a commission to investigate the issue.

The panel, however, did not find evidence of widespread fraud, according to media reports.

Some judges have found that stricter voting rules do not necessarily disenfranchise people.

The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals earlier this year ruled that Texas’s new voter identification law did not discriminate against black and Hispanic voters, as Democrats claimed, a major victory for proponents of stricter regulations.

A report by the left-leaning Center for American Progress, however, found efforts in three Senate battleground states — Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania — that made it tougher for people to vote in 2016.

The group noted that voter turnout in Wisconsin in 2016 dropped to its lowest levels in decades after the state passed a strict photo ID law two years earlier.

In Michigan, poll workers incorrectly told voters that they needed to show identification in order to vote, according to the report.

It asserted that Ohio had removed “hundreds of thousands of voters from the registration rolls” in an effort that “disproportionately affected people who are low-income, African American and registered Democrats.”

Liz Kennedy, the director of democracy and government reform at the Center for American Progress, the report’s author, told The Hill Monday that those voting rules may have altered the outcome of the presidential election.

She said that 300,000 residents in Wisconsin didn’t have the forms of identification that the state’s strict rules required, a significant number given President TrumpDonald John TrumpThis week: House kicks off public phase of impeachment inquiry Impeachment week: Trump probe hits crucial point Judd Gregg: The big, big and bigger problem MORE’s narrow 23,000-vote margin of victory over Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham Clinton3 ways government can help clean up Twitter Intelligence Democrat: Stop using 'quid pro quo' to describe Trump allegations The Memo: Bloomberg's 2020 moves draw ire from Democrats MORE in the state.