Democrats’ newest lawsuit target: South Carolina voter ID rule
Another day, another legal challenge in yet another part of the country alleging the rules make it too hard for people to vote.
This time the place is South Carolina and the issue is an unusual requirement that people registering to vote provide their complete Social Security numbers on their applications.
The state Democratic Party and two national party groups that promote congressional candidates filed the federal lawsuit Monday. If they succeed, the ruling could also upend registration procedures in the run-up to the presidential election in the four other states where a Social Security number is mandated: Tennessee, Virginia, New Mexico and Kentucky.
The suit argues that since people are hesitant to provide their complete Social Security numbers — especially to strangers who might be conducting voter registration drives — the requirement effectively suppresses the number who sign up to vote.
The plaintiffs maintain the rules violates both the First Amendment's rights of speech and political association and the Civil Rights Act, because the requirement creates an unnecessary obstacle to voting.
They have asked a federal judge to order the state Election Commission to implement a new registration system that allows an alternative proof of identity.
Federal law has prohibited requiring people to disclose their Social Security number since 1974, but South Carolina and the other four states are grandfathered in because their requirements were already in place when the Privacy Act was enacted.
People are justifiably fearful of disclosing their Social Security numbers because of the growing problem of identity theft, the suit argues, and the revelation that Russian operatives attempted to hack into elections systems including voter registration databases during the 2016 campaign.
The lawsuit is the latest in a lengthening series around the country by Democratic party-connected groups and progressive advocacy organizations working to tackle a broad array of rules they view as voter suppression efforts.
Issues raised in the suits range from challenging who is listed first on the ballot to asking for reinstatement of a final day of early voting before Election Day. Three suits have been filed just in Michigan, one of the biggest 2020 presidential tossups, challenging an array of election rules including bans on same-day registration at polling places, giving rides to the polls and organizing absentee ballot application drives.
The fate of South Carolina's nine electoral votes is not much in doubt next year, when the state is near certain to be carried by the Republican nominee for the 11th straight election. But Democrats will be struggling to hold one of their two House seats while pushing the uphill bid of their former state chairman, Jaime Harrison, against GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham.
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In a partisan vote on an issue that once was bipartisan, House Democrats pushed through legislation Friday that would restore a key portion of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
The Voting Rights Advancement Act passed the House 228-187, with all Democrats voting for the bill and all but one Republican, Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, voting against it.
The bill faces virtually no chance of being considered in the Republican-controlled Senate.
Broadcasters are pushing back against the Federal Communications Commission after the agency made clear it wants broader public disclosure regarding TV political ads.
With the 2020 election less than a year away and political TV ads running more frequently, the FCC issued a lengthy order to clear up any ambiguities licensees of TV stations had regarding their responsibility to record information about ad content and sponsorship. In response, a dozen broadcasting stations sent a petition to the agency, asking it to consider a more narrow interpretation of the law.
This dispute over disclosure rules for TV ads comes at a time when digital ads are subject to little regulation. Efforts to apply the same rules for TV, radio and print advertising across the internet have been stymied by Congress's partisanship and the Federal Election Commission being effectively out of commission.
Laura Williamson says her career was shaped by growing up in North Carolina, which she describes as being historically at the center of the best and worst of American democracy. She spent seven years working with young people at progressive groups and got a master's in public affairs at Princeton before joining Demos in the summer of 2018. The think tank aims to combat "threats to democracy, racial equity and economic inclusion" and as a senior policy analyst she's focused on voter registration, voting rights, money in politics and civic participation. Her answers have been lightly edited for clarity and length.
What's democracy's biggest challenge, in 10 words or less?
Abolishing all disenfranchisement schemes and achieving an inclusive, multiracial democracy.
Describe your very first civic engagement.
Testifying at the North Carolina General Assembly against cuts to funding for vocational education. The woodworking classes I took throughout high school were among the most formative of my public school education, so as a high school senior I advocated for their continued funding to lawmakers in Raleigh.
What was your biggest professional triumph?
It's actually a triumph-in-progress. At Demos, we are privileged to work with powerful grassroots leaders redefining democracy and pushing the reform conversation across the country. Alongside these Inclusive Democracy Project leaders we are dreaming and scheming about what it would take to build a truly inclusive democracy — without limiting ourselves by what's perceived as politically feasible or reasonable — and to chart a radical reform agenda that meets the challenge. Our agenda is in progress and, like all real victories, is benefitting from the efforts of many smart and talented people. Stay tuned, it'll be ready for public consumption soon!
And your most disappointing setback?
They have always come after I've not listened well enough, have brought too much ego and taken things too personally, or not followed my gut about when a process or decision felt off.
How does your identity influence the way you go about your work?
I'm from North Carolina, where we pioneered multiracial, pro-justice fusion politics during Reconstruction, civil disobedience during the civil rights movement and franchise-expanding voting reforms since the 1990s. More recently, we have also been home to the vanguard of voter suppression and other democracy stifling tactics since the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act. I stand on the shoulders of giants and against the abdication of our identity as democracy leaders. I also do this work because, as a white woman, I know the exclusion of entire communities from our democracy was — and is still — led by my people and, often, in my name. I work every day to undo that legacy and ongoing reality.
What's the best advice you've ever been given?
Learn to simultaneously practice patience and show up with urgency in all the work I do.
Create a new flavor for Ben & Jerry's.
Impeaches and Cream
West Wing or Veep?
West Wing — for the sometimes-too-earnest belief that government can be a force for good, not the centrist politics!
What's the last thing you do on your phone at night?
Turn on do not disturb.
What is your deepest, darkest secret?
I'm deeply terrified by karaoke.
Lightman is a professor of digital media and marketing at Carnegie Mellon University.
With the 2020 election less than a year away, Facebook is under fire from presidential candidates, lawmakers, civil rights groups and even its own employees to provide more transparency on political ads and potentially stop running them altogether.
Meanwhile, Twitter has announced that it will not allow any political ads on its platform.
Modern-day online ads use sophisticated tools to promote political agendas with a high degree of specificity.
I have closely studied how information propagates through social channels and its impact on political messaging and advertising.
Looking back at the history of mass media and political ads in the national narrative, I think it's important to focus on how TV advertising, which is monitored by the Federal Communications Commission, differs fundamentally with the world of social media.