Archives for the month of: October, 2011

Big news on ballot initiative disclosure today from the United States District Court in Tacoma, WA. The federal judge granted summary judgment in the Doe v. Reed remand, dismissing the remaining as-applied challenge to the application of Washington’s Public Records Act disclosure requirement for signature pages of Referendum 71, an effort to repeal the legislature’s bill granting same-sex civil union protections.

The opinion, following Justice Scalia’s wisdom that public disclosure is necessary and belittles the weak factual record produced by the plaintiffs, noted that “if a group could succeed in an as-applied challenge to the PRA by simply providing a few isolated incidents of profane or indecent statements, gestures, or other examples of uncomfortable conversations that are not necessarily even related or directly connected to the issue at hand, disclosure would become the exception instead of the rule.”

Ruling here and some excerpts, (via Rick Hasen):

More from the opinion:

Applied here, the Court finds that Doe has only supplied evidence that hurts rather than helps its case. Doe has supplied minimal testimony from a few witnesses who, in their respective deposition testimony, stated either that police efforts to mitigate reported incidents was sufficient or unnecessary. Doe has supplied no evidence that police were or are now unable or unwilling to mitigate any claimed harassment or are now unable or unwilling to control the same, should disclosure be made. This is a quite different situation than the progeny of cases providing an as-applied exemption wherein the government was actually involved in carrying out the harassment, which was historic, pervasive, and documented. To that end, the evidence supplied by Doe purporting to be the best set of experiences of threats, harassment, or reprisals suffered or reasonably likely to be suffered by R-71 signers cannot be characterized as “serious and widespread.”

……

Considering the foregoing, Doe’s action based on Count II falls far short of those  an as-applied challenge has been successfully lodged to prevent disclosure of information otherwise obtainable under the PRA. Thus, the State’s undoubtedly important interest in disclosure prevails under exacting scrutiny.

While Plaintiffs have not shown serious and widespread threats, harassment, or reprisals against the signers of R-71, or even that such activity would be reasonably likely to occur upon the publication of their names and contact information, they have developed substantial evidence that the public advocacy of traditional marriage as the exclusive definition of marriage, or the expansion of rights for same sex partners, has engendered hostility in this state, and risen to violence elsewhere, against some who have engaged in that advocacy. This should concern every citizen and deserves the full attention of law enforcement when the line gets crossed and an advocate becomes the victim of a crime or is subject to a genuine threat of violence. The right of individuals to speak openly and associate with others who share common views without justified fear of harm is at the very foundation of preserving a free and open society. The facts before the Court in this case, however, do not rise to the level of demonstrating that a reasonable probability of threats, harassment, or reprisals exists as to the signers of R-71, now nearly two years after R-71 was submitted to the voters in Washington State.

According to a recent Field Poll, which comes on the heels of similar findings in a  PPIC poll, Californians still like the institution of direct democracy, although support has tapered off quite a bit over the years.

Over half those polled this fall think that statewide ballot propositions are a “good thing,” with only 13% viewing the process in a negative light.  Back in 1978, on the heels of Proposition 13, 83% of those surveyed in a Field Poll said it was a “good thing.”

What do Californians like? By a margin of 56% to 32%, those polled support having propositions on general election ballots, which will be the case following the June 2012 primary election, as Governor Brown just last week signed Senate Bill 202.

The poll also reveals that a majority of Californians trust fellow citizens via the ballot propositions more than the state legislature to “do what is right on important government issues.”  As I wrote back in September:

Reforming the initiative process in California is an easy task compared to the one really plaguing California. The real issue facing the state is whether the state legislature will reform itself so that Californians will regain confidence in the legislative process. This will take considerable effort, but until it is achieved, Californians will continue to invest their trust in the initiative process, as flawed as it may be.  And if the legislature doesn’t clean up its own house soon, the citizens of California may take to the initiative to do it themselves.

If the California legislature continues to fail to govern responsibly, citizens (and corporate interests) will respond by turning to the initiative and popular referendum, as the mechanisms provide immediate response, if not ideal representation, of the interests of those living in the state.

In its amended complaint to receive declaratory judgment from a federal court that all sections of HB 1355 are entitled to preclearance under Section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, the Florida Secretary of State plays fast and loose with the facts.

With respect to the shrinking of the days permissible to vote early in Florida, the complaint states (on page 19) that:

The changes to the early voting statute contained in Section 39 were adopted to expand access to early voting and provide each supervisor of elections additional flexibility regarding the scheduling of early voting. The changes to the early voting statute contained in Section 39 were not adopted with the purpose of denying or abridging the right to vote on account of race, color, or membership in a language minority.

Both the motive behind the statute, HB 1355, as well as the empirical evidence regarding race and early voting in Florida, are quite clear, and do not jibe with the claims made in the Secretary of State’s complaint.

First, as I’ve noted previously, it’s well known that African Americans are more likely to vote early in Florida than whites. In the 2008 general election, 2.1 million Floridians voted early.  African Americans cast 22 percent of the early votes, even though they only comprised 13 percent of the total electorate.

The Republican-led Florida legislature was well aware of these statistics.  The early turnout of African Americans in 2008 undoubtedly inspired the effort by Republican lawmakers to compress early voting, in anticipation of the 2012 general election. Indeed, the Republican effort to suppress blacks from voting early was on full display during the floor debate on House Bill 1355 (known formally as the Committee Substitute for Committee Substitute for House Bill 1355 (CS/CS/HB 1355)).

Defending the bill, Republican Senator Mike Bennett stated on the floor of the Florida Senate (as reported by PolitiFact):

Do you read the stories about the people in Africa? The people in the desert, who literally walk two and three hundred miles so they can have the opportunity to do what we do, and we want to make it more convenient? How much more convenient do you want to make it? Do we want to go to their house? Take the polling booth with us? This is a hard-fought privilege. This is something people die for. You want to make it convenient? The guy who died to give you that right, it was not convenient. Why would we make it any easier? I want ‘em to fight for it. I want ‘em to know what it’s like. I want them to go down there, and have to walk across town to go over and vote.

Although the total number of early voting hours remains fixed at 96 hours, they’re not the same hours. Previously, voters had two weeks to cast an early vote, from a Monday to the Sunday before Election Day.  Under HB 1355, the period is eight days long, running from Saturday through Saturday, but eliminating the final Sunday before election day.

The new restriction on early voting–specifically, cutting the early voting period from 14 to 8 days and eliminating voting on the Sunday prior to the general election–unquestionably targets African Americans. Not only were African Americans more likely to cast an early ballot than whites in 2008, they were also more likely to do it on the Sunday prior to election day.

Targeting African Americans was the intent of Republican lawmakers all along, and HB 1355 clearly violates the Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, and the same racially motivated efforts by lawmakers to suppress the vote by minorities that it intended to correct nearly half a century ago.

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