The Research Design Associates Blog

(Department of Justice)

Remembering Selma

This weekend marks the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday in Selma, Alabama, and of the passage of the Voting Rights Act. And this year marks the 27th anniversary of Research Design Associates’ (RDA) first voting rights case. RDA’s voting experts are working on an Alabama redistricting case now. A half-century after Bloody Sunday, the fight for the right to vote continues.

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Voting in 2014

In his January 2014 State of the Union address, President Obama announced two bipartisan efforts to modernize elections. The Presidential Commission on Election Administration presented Obama with recommendations designed to improve all voters’ experience in casting their ballots, and Republicans and Democrats in Congress introduced a bill to strengthen the Voting Rights Act. In contrast to these efforts to expand voting access, laws and rules in pivotal swing states have been put in place that restrict registration and voting that go beyond the voter identification requirements that have caused intense partisan battles.

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Reducing Incarcerating Numbers: Unintended Consequences

In the US there are two liming issues that will result from decreasing the prison population: the first is that most jails and prisons do little to aid inmates with reentry to society from correctional facilities. With increased numbers of inmates are released the known reentry problems will increases. If resources are not found to aid in these issues, known problems will increase (substance abuse, homelessness, unemployment, infectious diseases, reintroduction to families and relationships). The issue is the reality that mentally ill citizens represent a disproportionally high number of incarcerated individuals.

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U.S. Opens New Voting Rights Front

This country has made significant gains in voting rights since that time due in a large part to the landmark Voting Rights Act. In June, though, a sharply divided U.S. Supreme Court invalidated the coverage formula of Section 5 of the Act ruling that Congress had not taken into account the nation’s racial progress when singling out states for federal oversight. Section 5 of the Act required jurisdictions with significant histories of voter discrimination to “pre-clear,” that is, get federal approval from the Department of Justice (DOJ), for any new voting practices or procedures, and to show that they do not have a discriminatory effect. Within hours of the Supreme Court’s decision, some Southern states began putting in effect voting changes that had been blocked by DOJ and federal courts such as strict voter ID laws and reduction of opportunities for early voting. DOJ had blocked these proposed changes on the grounds that they would disproportionately affect the elderly, and black and Hispanic voters. However, even though DOJ has been deprived of Section 5 by the Supreme Court, it is using the remaining sections of the Voting Rights Act to subject states to preclearance.

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Voter Suppression v. Voter Fraud

Last minute partisan legal battles are raging about when and how ballots should be cast and counted. One battle-ground state’s case is headed for a request for emergency review by the U.S. Supreme Court. Sound familiar? These cases are being fought in 2012, not 2000. In the last few weeks there have been over a dozen state and federal cases decided concerning voter identification requirements, early voting, and provisional ballots. Many of the cases have been appealed.It is unlikely that all of the cases will be settled before November 6 and there is a real possibility that tight races maynot be decided until after election day.

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Is Eyewitness Memory Common Sense?

Since my blog a year ago, "Why Do So Many Eyewitnesses Get It Wrong?", there have been 29 post-conviction DNA exonerations in the U.S. That brings the total to 289 people proven innocent and exonerated by DNA testing in this country. The true perpetrators have been identified in 139 (48%) of these DNA exoneration cases. Eyewitness misidentification testimony was a factor in nearly 75% of these exonerations, making it the leading cause of the wrongful convictions.

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