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Voting Rights: A Narrow SCOTUS Decision Has Big Voting Rights Implications For Virginia

June 17, 2019 5:10 p.m.

Fresh from the Supreme Court is a decision on a racial gerrymandering case from Virginia that will allow a new map ordered by a lower court to stand for the 2019 elections. An unusual mix of conservative and liberal justices decided the case in a narrow, procedural way, ruling that the GOP legislators who were seeking to reinstate the old map did not have the standing to bring the case now that state officials had abandoned their defense of the old map.

Even if its legal consequences are very specific, the decision’s impact on Virginia is quite expansive, as I wrote for Prime, given that it sets the stage for Democrats to control at least one chamber of the state’s legislature — in addition to the governor’s mansion — when it comes time to draw the state’s maps for the next decade after the 2020 census.

Speaking of the 2020 census, voting rights groups have found even more evidence from a deceased GOP consultant’s files connecting him to the Trump administration’s push to add a citizenship question. According to emails found on hard drives owned by the consultant, Thomas Hofeller, he was for years in contact with a top Census official who is now chief of staff to the Bureau’s deputy director. The official suggested in 2015 that Hofeller write a public comment advocating for a citizenship question — just months before Hofeller wrote a secret study concluding the question would be necessary if Republicans were to seek to overhaul redistricting in a way that would boost their electoral advantage.

The evidence was flagged on Saturday in the case brought in Maryland challenging the citizenship question. The judge will hold a hearing on Tuesday to consider whether he should review that and other recently obtained evidence from the Hofeller files, and weigh that evidence in a decision on whether the administration acted with a racial animus in adding the question.

On Friday, Nevada’s Democratic Governor Steve Sisolak signed a voting rights legislation package that among other things will allow online registration and same-day registration. It also facilitates implementation of an automatic voter registration ballot initiative voters approved last year.

In Wisconsin, the state Supreme Court on Tuesday reinstated many GOP-passed lame duck laws that were passed by Republicans just before a Democrat took over the governor’s mansion, and that lower courts had blocked. Among the laws reinstated was one that diminished the attorney general’s ability to settle or drop out of lawsuits, by requiring that he get the legislature’s approval first. The Supreme Court’s order came just before the trial began on the legal merits of the lame-duck laws.

Politico has a blockbuster report on the dysfunction at the U.S. Election Assistance Commission that is being driven by its executive director, a Kris Kobach-ally who previously ruffled feathers by okaying a proof of citizenship requirement being pushed by certain states. (The move is currently blocked by courts.) The director, Brian Newby, has reportedly undercut the commission’s effort to boost cyber security ahead of the 2020 elections, and morale at the agency has fallen. There is concern, however, that the commission’s GOP chairwoman Christy McCormick is setting the stage for Newby to be renewed in his role when his term is up, even if he has been widely criticized for his handling of the job so far.

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