ACLU on Government Reform

American Civil Liberties Union


Disallow checking citizenship papers to register to vote

A federal judge has struck down a Kansas voter citizenship law and ordered a halt to the state's requirement that people provide proof of citizenship in order to register to vote.

The ruling is the culmination of a federal lawsuit filed in 2016. At a bench trial earlier this year, the American Civil Liberties Union represented voters who said they had been impeded from registering by the law.

"This decision is a stinging rebuke of Kris Kobach, and the centerpiece of his voter suppression efforts: a show-me-your-papers law that has disenfranchised tens of thousands of Kansans. That law was based on a xenophobic lie that noncitizens are engaged in rampant elections fraud," said the director of the ACLU's Voting Rights Project.

Under the ruling, Kobach must instruct all state and county election officers that voter registration applicants do not need to provide proof of citizenship in order to register to vote.

Source: Wichita Eagle on 2018 Kansas gubernatorial race , Jun 18, 2018

Enforce voter registration despite Kansas contempt

US District Judge Julie Robinson ruled Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach was in contempt of court for failing to comply with her orders in an ACLU lawsuit over the state's voter registration law.

ACLU attorneys complained Kobach routinely defied a temporary injunction issued by Robinson in 2016 to block enforcement of the state's proof of citizenship law. Kobach's office refused to update language on its website suggesting that new voter applicants may not be able to vote. Kobach also failed to follow through on a promise to Robinson that counties would send postcards notifying voters they could participate in elections.

"The judge found that Kris Kobach disobeyed the court's orders by failing to provide registered voters with consistent information, that he willfully failed to ensure that county elections officials were properly trained and that he has a 'history of noncompliance and disrespect for the court's decisions,' " said an ACLU attorney.

Source: Topeka Capital-Journal on 2018 Kansas gubernatorial race , Apr 12, 2018

Sue states for arbitrary voter registration deadlines

Massachusetts law requires residents to register to vote at least 20 days before an election. But the ACLU disagrees with that deadline, and is taking the state to court to change it.

Q: What is the issue with the current law?

A: The concern is that the 20-day deadline is completely arbitrary, and disenfranchises thousands of voters every election. There's a particular concern for communities that are disproportionately impacted by this deadline: low-income people, elderly people, students, younger people, and people of color.

Q: How does MA compare to other states?

A: We're behind, given the technological advancements that have been made to facilitate election-day registration. There are a wide range of registration cutoffs, but there are several states that have election-day registration, including NH and WI, states of comparable size and population.

Q: How would changing the deadline affect MA?

A: It would increase voter turnout. More people would have access to the polls.

Source: Boston Metro interview with ACLU on MA registration deadline , Jul 7, 2017

Neighborhood districting increases minority representation

ACLU argument in favor of AB 182: The California Voting Rights Act empowers citizens to challenge unlawful vote dilution in local at-large election systems where racially polarized voting exists. AB 182 extends these protections to single- member district systems & provides clearer guidance for judges on how to design appropriate remedies to ensure that jurisdictions do not continue to dilute the voices & votes of protected communities.

SFGate.com veto analysis:Gov. Brown said that existing laws "already ensure that the voting strength of minority communities is not diluted." The 2002 law allows minority groups to challenge at-large (city-wide) elections, increasing the likelihood of control by a white majority. [Since 2002] over 100 local governments switched to district elections.˙The [new] law could challenge district lines if intended to dilute minority votes.

Legislative Outcome: Passed Senate 26-14-0; Passed Assembly 53-24-3; Vetoed on 10/10/15.

Source: ACLU on California voting record AB 182 , Sep 22, 2015

Censoring Citizens United would allow censoring a lot more

The Obama administration was asked at an oral argument [in the Citizens United case] if it could prohibit a company from using its general treasury funds to publish a book that discusses the American political system for 500 pages and then, at the end, says "Vote for X." President Obama's lawyer said, flat out, "Yes."

These radical claims for the authority to ban books and movies led me to dub the amendment's proponents the "Fahrenheit 451 Democrats," after Ray Bradbury's dystopian classic about book-burning government power run amok. And their positions were so radical that they lost one of their usual allies--the ACLU. To its credit, the ACLU blasted the proposed constitutional amendment: "Even proponents of the amendment have acknowledged that his authority could extend to books, television shows, or movies, such as Hillary Clinton's Hard Choice or a show like the West Wing, which depicted a heroic Democratic presidential administration during the crucial election years of 2000 and 2004.

Source: A Time for Truth, by Ted Cruz, p.314-5 , Jun 30, 2015

Congressional term limits are unconstitutional

In U.S. Term Limits v. Thornton (May 22, 1995), the Court effectively ended the movement to enact term limits for Congress on a state-by-state basis. In a lengthy majority opinion written by Justice Stevens, the Court held that the qualifications for Congress established in the Constitution itself were "fixed" and could not be amended by the states without a constitutional amendment. The Court's opinion rested heavily on history and the Court's concept of federalism. (The dissent had a very different view of federalism and the result it commanded in this case.) In a critical passage, Justice Stevens wrote that the notion of congressional term limits violates the "fundamental principle of our representative democracy 'that the people should chose whom they please to govern them.'" The ACLU submitted an amicus brief arguing that congressional term limits were unconstitutional under the Qualifications Clause.
Source: ACLU 2015-16 voting recommendation on US Term Limits , Nov 7, 2014

Don't require "complete" ID on absentee ballots

SB 205 revises the law regarding the mailing of absent voter's ballots, permitting election boards to discard votes cast where an absentee ballot identification envelope is "incomplete," in addition to the current language of "insufficient."

ACLU-Ohio opinion on this bill: While SB 205 does make some positive improvements for voters with disabilities, it fails on several fronts to make voting easier for Ohioans. One of the most concerning aspects of SB 205 is the addition of the word "incomplete" in reference to a voter's absentee ballot identification envelope. Giving discretion to a few election officials to define exactly what this word means is likely to result in more ballots not being counted. Additionally, this language is overly broad and could violate federal law. The ACLU encourages the legislature to steer away from creating a "race to the bottom" by limiting ballot access of voters and contemplate more constructive ways to improve the absentee ballot process.

Source: ACLU commentary on Ohio legislative voting records: SB 205 , Feb 21, 2014

Keep "Golden Week" for registration and early voting

SB 238 shortens the early, in-person voting period by eliminating the week-long window where voters may simultaneously register to vote and cast an early in-person ballot (otherwise known as "Golden Week")

ACLU-Ohio opinion on this bill: SB 238 moves Ohio election administration in the wrong direction. Eliminating "Golden Week" and shortening the early voting period will needlessly complicate the voting process and place additional burdens on voters. Voters with disabilities, seniors, the homeless, new residents, people with a lack of transportation, among many others, have utilized Golden Week as a flexible way to register & vote simultaneously. While the bill's sponsors may point to concerns over possible voting irregularities, there is almost no evidence to justify those fears. Rather than seeking to curtail the ability of voters to cast their ballot more easily, Ohio's legislators should strive to provide a fair, flexible and secure system that benefits all voters.

Source: ACLU commentary on Ohio legislative voting records: SB 238 , Feb 21, 2014

Requiring voter ID means disenfranchisement

Excerpts from HB 934:If a voter has a religious objection to being photographed [such as Amish populations], a valid-without-photo ID card will serve as photo ID. ID documents must be unexpired, except for military ID's, which do not designate an expiration date. The Commonwealth shall disseminate information to the public regarding the ID requirements, including the availability of ID cards other than driver licenses.

ACLU Analysis: "A vote for this bill is a vote to disenfranchise U.S. citizens," said the legislative director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. "Research indicates that as much as 11 percent of U.S. citizens do not have government-issued photo identification. But they have the right to vote. Why is the State House afraid of the voters?"

Legislative outcome: Bill passed House, 108-88-7 on June 23, 2011; State Rep. Jim Christiana voted YEA; bill passed Senate, 26-23-1, on March 7, 2012; signed by Governor Tom Corbett on March 12, 2012

Source: ACLU analysis: Pennsylvania legislative voting record: HB934 , Jun 23, 2011

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Page last updated: May 01, 2021