Sunday, October 31, 2004
Bush Seeks Limit to Suits Over Voting Rights
Bush administration lawyers argued in three closely contested states last week that only the Justice Department, and not voters themselves, may sue to enforce the voting rights set out in the Help America Vote Act, which was passed in the aftermath of the disputed 2000 election.
Veteran voting-rights lawyers expressed surprise at the government's action, saying that closing the courthouse door to aspiring voters would reverse decades of precedent.
Since the civil rights era of the 1960s, individuals have gone to federal court to enforce their right to vote, often with the support of groups such as the NAACP, the AFL-CIO, the League of Women Voters or the state parties. And until now, the Justice Department and the Supreme Court had taken the view that individual voters could sue to enforce federal election law.
But in legal briefs filed in connection with cases in Ohio, Michigan and Florida, the administration's lawyers argue that the new law gives Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft the exclusive power to bring lawsuits to enforce its provisions. These include a requirement that states provide 'uniform and nondiscriminatory' voting systems, and give provisional ballots to those who say they have registered but whose names do not appear on the rolls.