TIME voting rights

Voting Rights Battles Heat Up Ahead of Midterm Elections

Voting booths in polling place
/Getty Images

After Ohio, Wisconsin, North Carolina and Texas may send voting rights cases to the Supreme Court

Updated: September 30, 2014

Voting rights advocacy groups and Ohio state officials submitted dueling briefs to the U.S. Supreme Court Saturday and Sunday in a fight over early voting in the state.

On Sept. 24, the U.S. Appeals court for the Sixth Circuit upheld a lower court’s decision to block Ohio’s new election rules, which would cut back early voting from 35 to 28 days before the election and limit early voting on weekends. The courts found that Ohio’s new laws if enacted would violate the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause and Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.

Ohio officials have asked Justice Elena Kagan to overrule the state courts and prevent voting from starting Sept. 30. She could hand down a decision as early as today.

Ohio is just the latest flashpoint as early voting fights are heating up around the country ahead of midterms. Democrats seek to mobilize lower-income voters who are less likely to turn out for general elections if they have to take time off of work to vote on a Tuesday. Republicans object, claiming the risk of voter fraud and other concerns require tighter voting restrictions.

Here are the three other voting rights laws cases that could work their way up to the Supreme Court before the midterms:

Wisconsin- On September 12, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals put into effect a law requiring most voters to present photo identification at the polls. Proponents of the law say it will discourage voter fraud, while critics say it will deter minorities from voting. On Friday, the entire Seventh Circuit split 5-5 on whether to hear the case, which may send it to the Supreme Court.

North Carolina – North Carolina’s 2013 state voting law, which eliminates same-day registration and out-of-precinct voting and shortens the early voting window by ten days, will be in place for the first time this year in a statewide election. A panel of three judges heard oral arguments about the law on Sept. 25, with one judge pointedly asking, “Why does the state of North Carolina not want people to vote?” The case will likely end up at the Supreme Court, especially if the Fourth Circuit rules against the law.

Texas – Last week, trial ended in a challenge to Texas’s voter identification law requiring voters to display government-issued forms of identification. Under the stringent law, a concealed-carry permit is a valid form of identification, but a student ID is not. The judge is expected to rule soon on whether the law violates the Constitution or the Voting Rights Act, and if the decision comes out against the law, the state could appeal to take the case to the Supreme Court.

Update: The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 on September 29th to block early voting in Ohio. The order will stand until the Court acts on an appeal by state officials.

TIME 2016 Election

As Scott Walker Falls, His Democratic Challenger Continues to Rise

Scott Walker
Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker speaks at the Republican National Committee summer meetings in Chicago on August 8, 2014. Kamil Krzaczynski—AP

Mary Burke is running a campaign aimed at distinguishing herself from the increasingly unpopular Wisconsin governor

There are few Republicans who Democrats hate more than Scott Walker. Two years ago, Democratic groups spent $20 million trying to recall the Wisconsin governor, unsuccessfully. He has since raised a staggering $19 million and seems untouchable. So how is Walker is in the race of his life against Democrat Mary Burke?

After winning a close election in 2011, Walker drew the ire of unions and Democratic groups after he passed Act 10, which took collective bargaining away from government workers. His 2012 recall made him the champion of fiscal conservatives and free market right wingers. So much so that a year ago, when Walker made a trip to Iowa, he ignited a storm of 2016 presidential speculation. For awhile, Walker looked poised to sail through reelection and on to bigger and brighter things.

Then federal prosecutors announced in June that Walker, his chief of staff and others around him participated in a “criminal scheme” to illegally coordinate with outside groups during his campaign and recall. That case fizzled and a special prosecutor announced that Walker was not the target of an investigation and that there was not yet sufficient evidence to charge anyone with a crime. Walker dodged a bullet, but it was only the beginning of what has become a tough summer for him.

Walker’s approval rating has slid down below 50%, and his disapproval rating has crawled up to 48%. His stated second term agenda has underwhelmed pundits, who accused him of coasting. And Wisconsin’s job situation, while improved, is still struggling. Walker’s job creation record hasn’t lived up to his hype and his new created Economic Development Corporation has been mired with problems. Enter Mary Burke. “She’s running a very disciplined campaign essentially saying: I’m not Scott Walker,” says Mordecai Lee, a University of Wisconsin Milwaukee political science professor. “She has really positioned herself as a no name moderate Democrat—fiscally conserve but socially liberal.”

Run Walker against a frothing crowd of angry unionists and he clearly wins. But run him against a faceless, generic Democrat and he loses: a distinction not lost on Democrats. Burke, who is the former executive at Trek Bicycle and a member of the Madison school board, has a virtually non-existent voting record. She speaks calmly and promotes her pragmatism, underlining her opposition to President Obama’s policies nearly as much as Walker’s. In other words, she’s done her best to make this race about Walker, not about her.

Walker’s problem is that everyone in Wisconsin knows who he is—for better or for worse—whereas 40% of voters in the latest Marquette poll, the gold standard of Wisconsin surveys, say they’ve never heard of Burke and have no opinion of her. That’s down from 70% when she first entered the race, but the more they know about her, the more they swing to her. Since April, Walker and Burke have been tied in polls, despite heavy spending on the by Walker and his allies on the right attacking her.

Walker’s team, recognizing that he was in trouble, went on the attack over the summer. They pilloried Burke as “Millionaire Mary,” and lately have been portraying her as a trust fund baby, highlighting two sabbaticals she took from the company her father started to travel. They’ve also gone on the offensive against Trek, accusing the company of outsourcing. It’s a fair criticism, only 10,000 of Trek’s bikes are made in the U.S., most of them are made in Asia and Germany. But the problem with these populist attacks is that they alienate Walker’s biggest fan base: Republicans who celebrate earned wealth and free marketers who believe outsourcing is actually good for the economy.

The strategy has drawn criticism from the Wall Street Journal, who accused Walker of “channelling Team Obama” in his ads. “Economic populism is usually the province of Democrats who don’t understand how free markets work or who cynically hope to exploit voters’ insecurities,” the Journal wrote. “Mr. Walker is better than that.”

Mike Nichols, of the conservative Wisconsin Public Research Institute, called on Walker to stop using the term “outsourcing,“ as “an outmoded, antiquated term that puts a confusing and negative wrapper around what is often a necessary and admirable practice.” And conservative bloggers and Walker’s ally, Sen. Ron Johnson, a Wisconsin Republican, have said he’d be better off focusing his fire on Burke’s plethora of other bad economic ideas.

The scandal surrounding his Economic Development Corporation hasn’t helped. The group gave money to companies to help keep jobs in Wisconsin. Only, it turned out, two of those companies then went ahead and outsourced jobs. Worse, both those companies’ chief executives turned out to be campaign contributors to Walker. All of which has combined to undercut Walker’s most powerful argument against Burke.

Burke, meanwhile, has come out swinging herself, accusing Walker of failing to live up to his first-term promise to create 250,000 jobs. Walker has created 100,000 jobs. He notes that under his predecessor, Democrat Jim Doyle, for whom Burke served as Secretary of Commerce, Wisconsin lost 133,000 jobs, “so you see a shift of about 230-some-thousand jobs,” Walker told the Huffington Post. That math is clearly fuzzy. Walker has since shifted gears and claims he created 17,000 new businesses, a number fact checkers have since disputed.

Burke is experiencing a boomlet. The race has finally broken through on the national level and she’s hoping to attract more money, though she’s raised an impressive $6 million already, and more high-profile surrogates. “At the moment, Burke has an important quality: the potential to defeat Walker,” says Barry Burden, a political science professor at the University of Wisconsin Madison. “Although some liberals expressed hesitation about her candidacy early on, they are now almost uniformly behind her rather than letting the perfect be the enemy of the good.”

Still, Walker clearly retains the advantage here. It’s hard to unseat an incumbent. Midterm election turnout favors Republicans. And with the President’s polling numbers in the toilet, Democrats have struggled on nonexistent coattails. Walker is also an experienced pol who has demonstrated he can pull out close races. One thing Burke has successfully done? Put on life-support talk of Walker in 2016. After all, if you’re unpopular at home, it doesn’t make for a great case nationwide.

TIME Crime

Sweaty Suspect Slips Out of Cop Car

Jarel Jenkins allegedly used the natural lubricant of his own perspiration to escape from a narrow window

A sweaty suspect managed to slip away from cops in Wisconsin, according to local newspaper the La Crosse Tribune.

Jarel Jenkins was arrested on “several outstanding warrants,” handcuffed, and put in the backseat of their squad car, while cops went to look for his companion, who had apparently wandered off.

When the officers returned to the car with the other suspect, they spotted Jenkins running away and saw that the sliding glass window dividing the front and back seats was covered in sweat.

The arresting officer suspected that Jenkins — who had been “sweating profusely” when arrested — had slithered through the divider aided by the natural lubricant of his own perspiration, and escaped through the car’s front door. Police found a meth pipe in Jenkins’ bag, according to the complaint.

Jenkins was captured after a two block chase, and charged with escape, obstructing an officer, possession of drug paraphernalia, and bail jumping. The La Crosse Tribune also reports that Jenkins is “being held on a probation violation and faces extradition to Minnesota, where he’s wanted for giving false information to an officer.”

Let’s just hope his jail cell is air-conditioned.

TIME weather

The Midwest Mayfly Invasion in 6 Photos (and a Gif)

A "massive emergence" of flying bugs


At about 8:45 p.m. Sunday the National Weather Service picked up this rather beautiful radar event, in which what registers as “light-moderate rain” seems to emanate from the Mississippi River between Wisconsin and Iowa and into Minnesota. But rain it was not. It was a swarm of mayflies. Gobs of mayflies. Piles and piles of mayflies.

July202014
National Weather Service/NOAA

The swarm lasted for a few hours and by the time it was over many a windshield and wall was caked in slimy bug carcasses. The swarm was blamed for a three-car pileup in Wisconsin that left one person hospitalized.

Scientists weren’t taken off guard by the event—it happens from time to time (a very similar “massive emergence” happened in June 2012) and is actually a sign of the health of the Mississippi. Mayflies gestate under water but once they mutate into winged creatures and rise from the depths they have one job and one job only—to make babies. The swarm seen in the radar above seems to move north because, like a weather system, it is carried that way in the wind.

The event, and others like it, amount to a feast for animals that feed on the mayfly orgy, making it a good time of year to be a bird or a fish—or the owner of a carwash, for that matter.

TIME Campaign Finance

Scott Walker’s Legal Battle Could Change Federal Elections

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker makes a stop at the Republican Party of Wisconsin Appleton Headquarters Saturday, June 21, 2014 in Appleton, Wis.
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker makes a stop at the Republican Party of Wisconsin Appleton Headquarters Saturday, June 21, 2014 in Appleton, Wis. Sharon Cekada—AP

A case in Wisconsin has national implications

Wisconsin has hosted perhaps the nation’s best political circus in recent years, full of recall elections, lawmakers crossing state lines to avoid votes, and angry mobs of protesters occupying the capitol. But the latest attraction contains the seeds of a legal argument that could reverberate far beyond Madison.

Local prosecutors been building a case around the possibility that Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker was part of a “criminal scheme” to illegally coordinate spending with conservative groups that helped him survive those recall attempts. Walker has not yet been charged, and he may never be. In recent months, the conservative groups have fought back by arguing in court that the prosecutors are politically-motivated and basing their case on a flawed reading of the law. A state and a federal judge have so far agreed, stopping the investigation as appellate courts review the matter.

What comes next could have big consequences for how candidates behave in the rest of the country. That’s because in his May 6 decision blocking the probe, federal judge Rudolph Randa ruled that the U.S. Constitution gives candidates and outside groups a First Amendment right to coordinate spending on advertising, unless the money is used to expressly advocate for the election or defeat of a candidate. “Only limited intrusions into the First Amendment are permitted to advance the government’s narrow interest in preventing quid pro quo corruption and then only as it relates to express advocacy speech,” Randa wrote. “As other histories tell us, attempts to purify the public square lead to places like the Guillotine and the Gulag.”

This constitutional argument could have big implications for federal campaign finance law, which currently does not follow Randa’s reading of the constitution. The Federal Election Commission currently bans coordination between candidates and outside groups on ads that just mention candidates in the weeks before election, even if the ads do not explicitly call for their election or defeat. This is the reason why President Barack Obama did not coordinate his advertising with labor unions or Super PACs backed by wealthy liberals in the last campaign, and why Mitt Romney did not huddle with Sheldon Adelson during his campaign to discuss strategy.

“There is the potential here for the 7th Circuit to confront what is federal coordination,” says election law attorney Trevor Potter, who is critical of the Randa decision. “That sounds like a Supreme Court case.”

And the Supreme Court has not been kind to campaign finance restrictions in recent years. The justices have tossed individual contribution limits and undone rules limiting the political spending of corporations, unions and the wealthy. Should the court take up the Wisconsin case, the next step could be allowing lawmakers to plan campaign strategy with the Sierra Club or the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. No middleman required.

For many conservative campaign finance experts, this is an obvious next step, given the current direction of Constitutional law. They argue that the current FEC regulations, which arise out of 2002 campaign finance reform legislation, will not withstand constitutional scrutiny. “They can try to enforce that,” says Hans van Spakovsky, a former FEC commissioner who supports the Randa ruling. “But if they end up in court they are going to lose that case.”

Coordination cases in campaign finance law are rare, since they require clear evidence of discussions that happen in back rooms. The case in Wisconsin is further complicated by the fact that state law is far less precise than federal law when it comes to what kinds of coordination are allowed.

But the 7th Circuit now clearly has an opportunity to test the federal law. And candidates for federal office, who increasingly rely on outside groups they cannot strategize with directly to get them elected, have reason to hope that the rules will someday change.

TIME States

Prosecutors Say Wisconsin Governor at Center of ‘Criminal’ Fundraising Scheme

Wisconsin Republican Convention
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker speaks at the Republican party of Wisconsin State Convention on May 3, 2014, in Milwaukee. Jeffrey Phelps—AP

Legal setback for 2016 presidential hopeful

Prosecutors say Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is at the center of a “criminal scheme” to coordinate fundraising with conservative groups across the country, according to documents revealed on Thursday.

The documents were unsealed Thursday by order of a federal judge as part of a lawsuit that sought to block a secret state investigation, known as a “John Doe probe,” into the 2012 gubernatorial recall elections, which the incumbent Walker won. In the filing, the prosecutors say Walker, his chief of staff Keith Gilkes and another top adviser illegally coordinated with national conservative groups and national figures including GOP strategist Karl Rove. Rove’s assistant said he was traveling Thursday and couldn’t comment.

Walker, a potential Republican candidate in the 2016 presidential elections, has not been charged with a crime. In a statement, Walker decried the investigation as “partisan… with no basis in state law.”

“The accusation of any wrongdoing written in the complaint by the office of a partisan Democrat District Attorney by me or by my campaign is categorically false. In fact two judges, in both state and federal courts, have ruled that no laws were broken,
” he said.

The secretive investigation began in 2012 ahead of the gubernatorial recall election, when prosecutors began looking into whether independent conservative groups—which have no limit on their fundraising—illegally coordinated with campaigns for Walker and other state candidates, whose fundraising is much more regulated. But in May, a federal judge put the probe on hold, ruling that it was a breach of free-speech rights. That judge, U.S. District Judge Rudolph Randa, also said in his ruling that that the type of coordination in question is not illegal if it focuses just on advocacy, and not on getting the candidates elected. A separate Wisconsin judge overseeing the probe had previously made a similar judgment.

The prosecutors are appealing Randa’s decision to halt the investigation.

But the controversy has the potential to disrupt Walker’s political ambitions, both in 2016 and in the fall. Walker, who is in the final months of his first term as governor, faces a close race for reelection. Polls show Walker and Democrat Mary Burke, a former Wisconsin state commerce secretary, locked in a tight race.

“Wisconsin has always been a clean-government state and allegations like this really resonate with voters,” said Scott Becher, a Wisconsin Republican political consultant turned public relations advisor.

Becher said that if Walker hopes to run in 2016, “voters of the state need to reelect him and he needs to have a good credible answer to what happened here.”

TIME TIME 100 Gala

Gov. Scott Walker Praises Moms

“Pat Walker,” says Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker of his mother, “taught her children that they could do and be anything.”

Named by TIME as one of the most influential people for 2014, Walker raised a toast in honor of mothers everywhere, especially those who teach us “that to do well in life, we need to find ways to do good for others.”

TIME elections

Wisconsin Voter ID Law Struck Down In Federal Court

The determination by a Federal judge that the law unfairly burdens poor and minority voters could set a precedent for similar challenges across the country, in states like Texas and North Carolina, which have passed their own voter ID laws

A controversial Wisconsin voter identification law was struck down in federal court Tuesday, when a judge ruled it unfairly burdens poor and minority voters.

U.S. District Judge Lynn Adelman ruled the law, which would have required voters to show government-issued photo ID cards in order to cast ballots, violates the equal protections clause of the U.S. Constitution. Proponents of the measure say the law would cut down on voter fraud, but opponents argue voter ID laws serve to exclude minorities and the poor, who are more likely to lack a government-issued ID or to have the documents needed to get one, from participating in elections.

According to the Associated Press, Adelman’s ruling in Wisconsin could serve as a precedent for challenges to similar laws underway in states across the country, including Texas and North Carolina.

The voter ID issue tends to cut down sharp partisan lines, with Republicans in support and Democrats, whose traditional support bases include low income and minority voters, opposed to the measures. The Wisconsin law was passed by the state’s GOP-led legislature in 2011 after a similar measure was vetoed three times by a Democratic governor between 2002 and 2005.

Wisconsin’s voter ID law was in effect for just a primary in 2012 before a county judge declared it unconstitutional. The law will remain unimplemented while it is appealed, which is something Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who supports the law, has promised to do. “We believe the voter ID law is Constitutional and will ultimately be upheld,” Walker’s office said via Twitter after the decision came down Tuesday. “We’re reviewing decision before deciding on potential action.” Walker has said he would call lawmakers into a special session if courts didn’t uphold the current measure.

[AP]

 

TIME Crime

Wisconsin Inks Bill to Prevent Parents From ‘Giving Away’ Adopted Children

Wisconsin Governor Mellencamp
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker answers questions from reporters on April 16, 2014, in Madison, Wis. Scott Bauer—AP

Wisconsin has passed a first-in-the-nation law that prevents parents from handing over custody of their adopted children without judicial approval

Wisconsin’s Gov. Scott Walker signed a bill into law on Wednesday aimed at limiting private custody transfers of their unwanted adopted children following a disturbing report that detailed the unregulated trade of adopted minors in the state.

The legislation is a national first and was launched following a five-part Reuters investigation into the practice of “re-homing children.”

According to the news outlet’s expose, hundreds of parents were using social media sites to advertise their adopted children and were then handing them over to strangers found through the Internet.

Without proper safeguards in place, numerous children were being given to abusive adults, and in one disturbing instance a mother handed over her nine-year-old adopted son in a motel parking lot to a pedophile hours after posting a notice about the child on a Yahoo message board.

“With virtually no oversight, children could literally be traded from home to home. In Wisconsin, that is now against the law. Hopefully citizens of the country will follow our lead,” said Republican state Rep. Joel Kleefisch, who sponsored the legislation.

In accordance with the new law, parents seeking to transfer the custody of their children must receive judicial approval first. Those who fail to comply with the new regulation can face up to nine months in jail or be fined $10,000.

[Reuters]

TIME March Madness

The Only Final Four Drinking Game You’ll Need Tonight

Patric Young
Florida center Patric Young dunks during practice for an NCAA Final Four tournament college basketball semifinal game, April 4, 2014, in Dallas. David J. Phillip—AP

It's a good time to be a sports fan as we prepare for today's big Final Four games: UConn vs. Florida and Wisconsin vs. Kentucky. To celebrate, TIME presents its inaugural Final Four drinking game. Enjoy, but don't forget to drink responsibly

Final Four parties are super fun. The games are played on a Saturday night, so unlike, say, parties for the Super Bowl, you don’t have to worry about work in the morning. And they’re also a celebration of something more: the best few weeks of the sports calendar. College hoops is about to crown a champ, baseball’s getting into the swing of things, the Masters is coming up, the NBA playoffs are approaching, the NFL Draft is in the foreseeable future. It’s a good time to be a sport fan, tax season be damned.

So, to help prep for today’s big games — Florida vs. UConn at 6:09pm EST, and Wisconsin vs. Kentucky at 8:49pm, both on TBS — and celebrate your good sports fortune, TIME presents its inaugural Final Four drinking game. Enjoy, but please do so responsibly. Obey all local drinking age laws, don’t overindulge and take a cab ride home if need be.

Here are TIME’s rules for a Final Four drinking game:

1. The first time Florida’s Michael Frazier makes a three-point shot, imbibe. It shouldn’t take that long: Frazier can catch fire quickly. Against South Carolina in early March, Frazier sank a school-record 11 three-pointers: this season, he led the SEC in three-point percentage field goal percentage, shooting at a 44.7% clip. He also led the SEC in an even more important stat, true-shooting percentage, at 65.1% (true-shooting percentage is an efficiency measure that takes into account three-point field goals, two-point field goals, and foul shots). Frazier models his work ethic after Ray Allen, the NBA’s all-time leader in three-pointers: on game days, he’ll launch upwards of 400 shots to get in rhythm.

2. Every time you hear the word “student-athlete” in an NCAA commercial during the games, drink. The NCAA has a habit of running propaganda ads during big events, touting how the organization is like a spirit squad for “student-athletes,” has the backs of “student-athletes,” etc. Drink now, cause that term may soon be disappearing. According to the National Labor Relations Board in Chicago, “employees” is the more appropriate name for college athletes — at least for football players at Northwestern.

3. Every time UConn star Shabazz Napier makes an outside shot with a defender harassing him — the kind of shot that makes you say “noooo, what are you doing?” – and that shot goes in anyway, chug away. Napier’s an expert at making the “holy s–t” shot.

4. Choose which mascot TBS will show first in each game. Pick one, and drink if you’re correct. I’ve got Albert E. Gator and Bucky Badger.

5. The first time an announcer mentions that UConn coach Kevin Ollie played for 11 different NBA teams during his 13-year career, start double fisting.

6. For CBS, the Final Four has traditionally served as one big promo for its upcoming coverage of the Masters, which starts next week, on April 10. So even though the games are being broadcast on TBS this year, the networks are partners on NCAA tournament coverage. You’ll surely hear the soothing Masters piano – “ding, ding, ding, ding,” — that accompanies the Masters plugs. So each time you hear the Masters theme song, dream of azaleas and Amen Corner and all the mythical beauty of the Augusta National, and take a few soft sips. You’ll have a healthy buzz.

7. Sip every time TBS shows Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan scowling on the sideline. Like this. Or this. Ryan’s always been a first-class all-tournament scowler.

8. Kentucky has reached the Final Four with five freshman starters. Michigan, led by Chris Webber and Jalen Rose and Juwan Howard, was the last team to win this much with five rookies, back in 1992. That Michigan team was christened “The Fab Five.” So during Kentucky-Wisconsin, the first time you hear a “Fab Five” reference from one of the announcers, you know what to do.

9. Ever since the NBA set a rule in 2005 essentially mandating that players spend a year playing college ball before entering the pros, Kentucky coach John Calipari has done a better job than any coach in the country of recruiting a collection of talented freshmen, molding them in to a championship-caliber team, and shuttling them to the NBA. So the term “one-and-done” is now stuck to Calipari’s suit. When the TV cameras show Calipari, and someone says the words “one-and-done,” you will drink.

10. Wisconsin’s most intriguing player is seven-footer Frank Kaminsky. His game, and personality, are a little quirky: Kaminsky can fool you with his awkwardness, as he’s just as comfortable firing threes as he is posting up around the basket. And he was always a bit of a class clown, earning the nickname “Frank the Tank” a decade ago, in homage to Will Ferrell’s character in the movie Old School. So when someone mentions “Frank the Tank” on Saturday, you may have to pull a Frank the Tank yourself.

But seriously, be careful. Don’t end the night like the original Frank the Tank did. Because on Final Four Saturday, you don’t want to miss the drama. If we’re lucky, Florida-UConn and Wisconsin-Kentucky will treat us to two classics. Let’s all raise our glasses to that.

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