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Supreme Court ruling has Idaho officials talking about election processes

Supreme Court ruling has Idaho officials talking about election processes

Idaho Freedom Foundation staff
July 2, 2013
[post_thumbnail] Rep. John Rusche, D-Lewiston, says the registration process should be easier, and at some point, allow for voting by mail or the creation of a permanent absentee ballot process.

In light of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling June 25 that struck down key provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, state governments are now afforded more authority in the construction of their voting processes and procedures, and some southern states are already contemplating some adjustments.

In Idaho, officials are open to election reforms, but there appears to be no discussion of urgent or eminent changes nor has a consensus on the matter emerged.

“We have been making changes to our voting laws all along as the need has arisen,” said Tim Hurst, deputy secretary of state. “We have done this without any federal oversight,” he added to IdahoReporter.com.

In its 5-4 ruling, Supreme Court justices said the voting act’s requirement that mainly states in the South must undergo special scrutiny before changing their voting laws is based on a 40-year-old formula that is no longer relevant to the nation’s changing racial circumstances.

“The part of the Voting Rights Act that was struck down deals mainly with the pre-clearance provisions,” Hurst explained. “Idaho does not have a history of racial discrimination and is not required to pre-clear voting law changes like Texas and other predominantly southern states were required to do.”

Hurst added that Idaho has revised its voting processes and procedures within the past couple of years. “Since the implementation of election consolidation by the Legislature in 2011, elections for just about all jurisdictions except irrigation and various groundwater districts have been conducted by the county clerks pursuant to Title 34, Chapter 14 of the Idaho Code. All procedures are established at the state level.” he told IdahoReporter.com.

Still, some members of Idaho’s Legislature told IdahoReporter.com that this may be an opportune time to revise how voting happens within the state.

“I think the American people are not well served when governments—state, local or federal—put barriers in the road to full participation,” commented House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston. “If I were to make changes it would be to open the primary selection process, similar to what we had prior to the Republicans suing to close elections. I would also make registration easier and, in recognition of the way we live now, either have vote by mail or a permanent absentee ballot process.”

Sen. Cliff Bayer, R-Boise, however, sees the matter differently. “I support and recognize the importance of voting and I want to see a high election turnout,” he told IdahoReporter.com. “But convenience can only go so far that it doesn’t compromise the ballot. Eliminating barriers for the sake of convenience is fine, until it compromises the ballot, and that’s where I draw the line. I absolutely support things like voter identification procedures.”

In writing for the majority in the Supreme Court decision, John Roberts, chief justice, said “Congress—if it is to divide the states—must identify those jurisdictions to be singled out on a basis that makes sense in light of current conditions. It cannot rely simply on the past.”

The four dissenting justices argued that racial discrimination in voting remains a real threat. The majority didn’t disagree with that, but the core of Chief Justice Roberts‘ opinion was that discrimination today looks markedly different from what it did decades ago, so the law must be changed to reflect that.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, in dissent, wrote that "The sad irony of today's decision lies in its utter failure to grasp why the Voting Rights Act has proven effective.”

The high court’s ruling now frees nine states, most of them in the South, to revise their voting procedures without seeking federal approval.

The ruling has prompted some state governments to take swift action to amend its voting processes and procedures. The Texas state attorney general, for example, signaled hours after the decision that he would seek to re-instate a state “voter ID” law, which was overturned in a federal court last August because of its conflicts with the 1965 voting law.

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