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Department of Justice - Voting Section


Demos and Project Vote Submit Letter to House Commottee in Advance of the John Tanner Hearing PDF  | Print |  Email
Department of Justice - Voting Section
By Demos and Project Vote   
October 29, 2007

Dear Chairman Nadler and Ranking Member Franks:

As principals of national non-partisan organizations dedicated to protecting and enhancing the democratic rights of U.S. citizens, we commend the Subcommittee for its ongoing oversight of the current activities and priorities of the Voting Section of the Civil Rights Division of the U. S. Department of Justice (DOJ). We understand that John Tanner, Chief of the Voting Section, is scheduled to appear before the Subcommittee on Tuesday, October 30, 2007. We take this opportunity to submit the following comments regarding state compliance with, and DOJ enforcement of the agency-based registration requirements of Section 7 of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA).1 We submitted earlier comments on July 13, 2007, prior to the date when this oversight hearing originally had been scheduled (July 17, 2007), but we wish to update that earlier submission in order to address new developments since that time. It remains our hope that the Subcommittee will investigate the extent to which the congressional mandates for voter registration in public assistance offices contained in Section 7 of the NVRA are being honored and enforced. Specifically, we are concerned about the DOJ’s past record of largely ignoring evidence of state non-compliance with Section 7’s requirements for registering low-income voters, while focusing selectively instead on urging states to purge more voters from their rolls.

Under Section 7 of the NVRA, state public assistance agencies have been required to offer voter registration services to all individuals when they apply for benefits, recertify benefits, or change addresses since 1995. Recognizing that low-income citizens are less likely to own vehicles, Congress enacted these Section 7 mandates so that the NVRA’s “motor voter” provisions did not further exacerbate disparities in registration rates between high- and low-income citizens. Whereas 82 percent of households earning $75,000 or more were registered to vote in 1994, only 54 percent of those earning less than $15,000 were registered in that same year.2

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Obama: Justice Department Must Fire Voting Rights Official PDF  | Print |  Email
Department of Justice - Voting Section
By Senator Barack Obama Press Release   
October 19, 2007

Comments about minority voters offensive, dangerous

 

U.S. Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) today sent the following letter to Acting Attorney General Peter D. Keisler calling on him to immediately replace John Tanner, the chief of the voting rights section of the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice, for offensive and erroneous comments he made about minorities


On October 5, 2007, Tanner argued that photo identification requirements for voting cause problems for the elderly. However, he argued that such requirements do not disenfranchise minority voters because "Our society is such that minorities don't become elderly the way white people do; they die first." Video of Tanner's comments are here.


Earlier this week, Obama called on Attorney General nominee Michael Mukasey to address how he would reverse the Bush Administration's failure to enforce civil rights, for example, in the cases of the Jena 6 and the Georgia voter photo identification requirement. A copy of that letter is here .

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The Tanner Doctrine—and from the Chief of the Voting Rights Section, No Less PDF  | Print |  Email
Department of Justice - Voting Section
By Bob Bauer   
October 10, 2007

This article was posted at Bob Bauer's Blog and is reposted here with permission of the author.

 

Such a performance by John Tanner, Chief of the Voting Rights Section. It is not that he could not have put together a defense of the Department’s reading of the constitutionality of ID requirements—nothing persuasive, perhaps, but dignified enough to be delivered with what is called a “straight-face.” It is possible to be wrong without being silly; insensitive without being callous; blunt without being flip about the costs of particular policies.  Tanner passed on all those possibilities.

 

Once Tanner suggested that minorities do not share in the same inconveniences IDs present for the elderly, because minorities do not grow old enough to be elderly, he gave his listeners little reason to hear anything else.  As show-stopping cruelties go, this throw-away line of his would be hard to surpass. And yet it would be too bad if the rest of the presentation, taped and transcribed, were ignored. Tanner made a spectacle of himself, but he also squeezed out of his presentation a revealing glimpse of ID politics and “equal protection” policy in this Administration, and as would be seen in this line:

People who are poor are poor. They're not stupid. They're not helpless.

Mr. Tanner put these propositions one alongside the other to get across a point that he is unwilling to state directly. Each proposition stands on its own, of course, beyond even the tautological limitations of the first one, holding that the poor are poor. Linked as they are here, without the meaning of the link made at all explicit, Tanner is saying something but not saying it. He is hoping for an impression; and yet he is accepting no responsibility for his true meaning, which is never brought out.

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Brennan Center Urges Justice Department to Reject Florida's Revised Voter Registration Law PDF  | Print |  Email
Department of Justice - Voting Section
By Brennan Center Press Release   
September 17, 2007
Today, the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, along with the Advancement Project, asked the U.S. Department of Justice not to approve Florida's revised law on voter registration drives because the new provisions unduly harm the state's minority communities and violate the Voting Rights Act.

Last year, in League of Women Voters of Florida v. Cobb, the state's restrictions on voter registration drives were declared unconstitutional.  After the ruling, the Florida state legislature went back and reenacted the law with slight changes.  The revised law is now awaiting approval from the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department, and the Brennan Center urges the DOJ to reject this unconstitutional law.

"Black and Hispanic voters and people from Spanish-speaking households are twice as likely to register to vote through these third-party voter registration drives than white voters or voters from English-speaking households," said Renée Paradis, Counsel in the Brennan Center's Democracy Program.  "By making it difficult to conduct voter registration drives, Florida reduces the electoral participation of eligible voters from communities protected under the Voting Rights Act."
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Justice Department's Failure to Enforce National Voter Registration Act Underscored by New Report PDF  | Print |  Email
Department of Justice - Voting Section
By Project Vote Press Release   
July 04, 2007
Late last week, the federal Election Assistance Commission (EAC) published its biennial report (PDF) to Congress on the impact of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA). This report includes data on various aspects of voter registration in the past two years. These most recent numbers strongly indicate that many states continue to ignore the requirement (Section 7 of the NVRA) that public assistance agencies offer voter registration to clients, while enforcement of the law by the Department of Justice has been virtually non-existent. In response, the following statement was released by Demos, Project Vote, and the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, national voting rights groups that have been working to improve NVRA compliance:

"The registration data published by the EAC are disturbing. Between initial implementation of the law in 1995-1996 and 2005-2006, the EAC's numbers indicate an 80 percent nationwide decrease in voter registrations from public assistance agencies. Nine states reported decreases of 90 percent or more. States only registered half as many voters in public assistance agencies in 2005-2006 as they did as recently as 2003-2004. With only 59 percent of citizens in households making less than $15,000 registered to vote--compared to 85 percent in households making $75,000 or more--voter registration in public assistance agencies is an increasingly important tool to ensure all eligible citizens are able to participate in the democratic process."

"It also appears that states are making little effort to train public assistance caseworkers in conducting voter registration. The EAC report indicates that only six states provide training at least every two years to all voter registration agencies.
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