Wednesday, June 18, 2014

June 25, 2014 to Mark the First Anniversary of ‘Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder’ Decision

“And then last March, with the outrage of Selma still fresh, I came down to this Capitol one evening and asked the Congress and the people for swift and for sweeping action to guarantee to every man and woman the right to vote. In less than 48 hours I sent the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to the Congress. In little more than 4 months the Congress, with overwhelming majorities, enacted one of the most monumental laws in the entire history of American freedom.”
                                       President Lyndon Baines Johnson
                                       Remarks on the Signing of the Voting Rights Act, Aug. 6, 1965

June 25, 2014 will mark the one year anniversary of Shelby County, Alabama vs. Holder ( decision when the Supreme Court made significant changes to the Voting Rights Act (VRA) that changed “one of the most monumental laws in the entire history of American freedom” according to President Lyndon Baines Johnson.

Marcia F. Johnson-Blanco, Co-Director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law’s Voting Rights Project (, explained how the Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby “gutted the most critical parts of the Voting Rights Act” to a group gathered recently at All Souls Church, Unitarian in Columbia Heights in Northwest Washington, D.C. 

Organizers for the meeting are members of the Reeb Project for Voting Rights (, which is named for the Rev. James Reeb, a minister of All Souls who was beaten to death in Selma, Alabama in 1965.  He was there to attend a march for voting rights.  A plaque hangs in his honor at the Church.

According to the Reeb Project’s Web page, Section 4 of the VRA established a “formula” to identify areas with widespread and persistent patterns of voter discrimination, which included:

     1. The presence of some “test” to determine voter eligibility (such as a literacy test or test of “moral character”); and
     2.   Proof that less than 50 percent of the voting age population was registered to vote in a given area.

Section 5 of the act provided the means for preclearance to enforce areas covered under Section 4 requiring these jurisdictions to submit any new voting laws to the Justice Department for review to ensure these laws complied with the VRA. 

Nine states, 56 counties, and two townships met these criteria ( and required more stringent enforcement.  Those states included Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia. 

Under Section 5, any new voting laws proposed in these jurisdictions were required to be subject to Justice Department review.  If the laws violated the act, the Justice Department could formally object to the proposed changes and prevent their enactment, without having to sue in federal court. 

The Shelby County decision leaves “no formula in place to cover Section 5”, according to Johnson-Blanco.  The coverage formula ( was put into place to protect voter suppression.

The Reeb Project posts that for over 40 years the Justice Department has used the preclearance process to prevent thousands of potentially discriminatory laws from being enforced by states and counties across the country.

Johnson-Blanco distributed the Lawyers’ Committee’s Map of Shame ( representing the states that have passed restrictive voting laws since the Shelby County decision was issued in 2013.  Those states include Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

North Carolina has reduced early voting, eliminated same day registration, and a photo ID (the ID requirement is NOT in effect for 2014).  All voting law changes are currently challenged in court.

In an effort to counter the impact of the restrictive voting laws passed in North Carolina, the Reeb Project, which is part of an interfaith group, seeks to increase voter turnout in Charlotte, North Carolina during the 2014 and 2016 election cycles.  They will be working with local Unitarian Universalists and people of color partner organizations.

As we approach the one  year anniversary of Shelby County, it is notable that of the nine states that were covered by Section 5, all but one (Louisiana) has tried to pass restrictive voting laws since Shelby County.  They are joined by an additional six states. 

Fortunately, there are 12 states that comprise the Map of Hope ( featuring those states that considered expanding access to voting since Shelby County.  

*In the spirit of full disclosure, I am a member of All Souls Church, Unitarian.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

DCBOEE Appoints Permanent Executive Director

The DC Board of Elections and Ethics announced today that Paul Stenbjorn has been appointed the new Executive Director of the agency

Stenbjorn had been serving as the Acting Executive Director since July 26 upon the departure of Rokey Suleman who held the position. According to the Board’s media release, Stenbjorn had served as the agency’s Chief Technology Officer since 2005 and had worked with the Virginia State Board of Elections and as a consultant.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Nominating Petition Challenge Period Underway for the April 26 Special Election

The challenge period to the nominating petitions for the April 26, 2011 Special Election for at-Large Member of the Council is underway at the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics (DCBOEE). The challenge period runs from yesterday, Saturday, February 19, through 5:00 p.m. on Monday, February 28.

According to the DCBOEE Releases&id=648&mid=2&yid=2011 and The Washington Post, eleven out of the 19 individuals who picked up nominating petitions have filed the requisite 3,000 signatures needed for ballot access for the special election. Those who filed petitions are: Sekou Biddle (D), Tom Brown (D), Dorothy Douglas (D), Calvin H. Gurley (D), Arkan Haile (IND), Joshua Lopez (D), Patrick Mara (R), Vincent Orange (D), Alan Page (STG), Jacque Patterson (D), and Bryan Weaver (D).

Challenges to their nominating petitions can be filed by any D.C. registered voter on the grounds that a circulator is not a registered voter, the petitioner (signer) is not a registered voter, or the signatures on the petition are in the same hand or do not match those of the registered voters in the Board’s file. (DCBOEE has the authority to and should refer those for criminal prosecution.) Also, petitioners may be challenged because they were not registered at the address on the petition at the time it was signed; however, D.C. law allows those individuals to file a change of address within 10 days of the date that a challenge is filed.

After the challenge period closes, DCBOEE has two weeks to resolve any and all challenges and then we will have a better idea of the names of the candidates on the ballot. However, a challenger or any person named in a challenge may apply within three days of the DCBOEE decision to the D.C. Court of Appeals for review. There is a potential that we may not know the final list of candidates on the ballot until March 18 when the entire ballot access process concludes.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Abysmal Voter Turnout in DC’s Special Elections

There has been a lot of discussion in recent weeks about voter turnout for special elections since the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics (DCBOEE) will conduct a citywide Special Election on Tuesday, April 26, 2011. The election will be held for voters to choose an at-Large Member of the D.C. City Council created when Councilmember Kwame Brown won the office of Chairman of the Council last year.

Between 1993 and 2000, the BOEE conducted four citywide special elections with abysmally low voter turnout of 5.5% to a high of 25.7%. The turnout for the September 14, 1993, Special Election for Council Chairman was the highest with 25.7%. The July 22, 1997, Special Election for Council Chairman resulted in the lowest voter turnout of the four at 5.5%. The December 2, 1997 Special Election for at-Large Councilmember rose slightly to 7.5%. And the June 27, 2000, Special Election on Proposed Charter Amendment III garnered 12.2%.

As was the case with these elections, the BOEE will open all voting precincts citywide on April 26. According to the DCBOEE’s testimony before the D.C. Council, it will cost District taxpayers approximately $828,731.02 to open all 143 precincts in the eight wards operating with skeletal staffing. It sounds like a high cost to taxpayers, but to do anything differently this close to the election could end up disenfranchising voters.

Going forward special elections could be conducted differently at lower costs, but that can not happen until there has been a change in the District’s election laws, election regulations, and voter education procedures are in place.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

April 26, 2011, Special Election for At-Large Member of the D.C. City Council

The D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics (DCBOEE) will hold a city-wide Special Election on Tuesday, April 26, 2011, to fill a vacancy for at-Large Member of the D.C. City Council created when Councilmember Kwame Brown successfully beat back his opponents to win the office of Chairman of the Council in last year’s Primary and General Elections.

According to the DCBOEE Web site at Releases&id=648&mid=12&yid=2010, eight candidates have picked up nominating petitions to qualify for ballot access on April 26. They are Ward 1 Democrat Stanley Mayes; Ward 4 Democrats Leo Alexander, Sekou Biddle, and Joshua Lopez; Ward 5 Democrat Vincent Orange; Ward 6 Independent Arkan Haile; Ward 6 Democrat Kelvin Robinson; and Ward 8 Democrat Jacque Patterson.

To qualify for ballot access each candidate is required to file 3,000 signatures of registered D.C. voters on their nominating petition with the DCBOEE no later than 5:00 p.m. on Wednesday, February 16, which are subject to a ten day challenge period. The challenge period will run from Saturday, February 19, through Thursday, February 28, 2011.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics and the November 2nd General Election

The D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics will hold a special meeting tomorrow, November 29, at 5:30 p.m. to certify the results of the November 2nd General Election. The open meeting will be held in Room 280-North of the One Judiciary Square Building at 441 Fourth Street, N.W. For more information the public is instructed to call the Board’s General Counsel’s office at 727-2194.

And the next day, Tuesday, November 30, at 10:00 a.m. the City Council’s Committee on Government Operations and the Environment chaired by Councilmember Mary Cheh will hold a public oversight roundtable on the administration of the November Election. According to the Committee’s public notice, roundtable topics will include the adjustments made by the Board in poll worker training and functioning of precincts, technological fixes, and the handling of electronic media, between the September Primary Election and the November General Election. The public notice further states that there will be a discussion about how those adjustments ameliorated problems experienced during the September Primary Election and what further adjustments are still necessary to improve voting in the District of Columbia. The roundtable will be held in room 412 of the John A. Wilson Building at 1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W. Anyone wishing to testify should contact Committee staff at 724-8062.

It will be enlightening to hear about the “adjustments” made by the Board to “ameliorate” the problems experienced in September. Will they be the same or some of the same problems that the public brought to the attention of the Board’s Chairman Togo West and Councilmember Cheh? Or do those problems remain?

Monday, September 27, 2010

More Room on the Outside in the Roundup

On the night of the September 14 Primary Election, I was a guest along with journalist Pete Tucker on More Room on the Outside hosted by Dr. Baruch and Toussaint Tingling-Clemmons.

The program was about observations that Pete and I made while visiting polling places during the day. As Election Education Inc. observers, we were joined by former DC Board of Elections and Ethics’ Precinct Captain Kenlee Ray, who is seen here with me in a photograph taken by Pete. In total we visited and surveyed 20 polling places distributed among the District’s eight wards. A report of our findings will be made available on October 8.

The Fight Back has posted the More Room on the Outside interview on their website at When you get there, move the time bar to 31:00.

More Room on the Outside, which airs on public television, can be seen on DCTV on Comcast channels 95 and 96; RCN channels 10 and 11; and Verizon FIOS Channels 10, 11, and 28.