National Voter Registration Day


It is that time of year when campaign ads saturate the airwaves of all radio stations, televisions and ticker across the screens of our online searches. Candidates spend millions of dollars to ensure that their names, ideas and faces are burned into the depths of our brains. Counties spend countless hours training staff for Election Day to ensure that everyone gets an equal opportunity to vote.

Many citizens take this wonderful and precious right for granted, but access to the polls was not – and for many eligible voters, still is not – a given.

The Fifteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides that,” no person shall be denied the right to vote based on race, color or previous condition of servitude.” It was ratified in 1870, but after the civil war and Reconstruction era, many states created laws that caused dangerous situations at the voting polls to deter African Americans from participating in voting, like creating poll taxes and administering literacy tests. Finally in 1965, the Voting Rights Act was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson, which helped to enforce the Fifteenth Amendment by outlawing discriminatory voting practices.

The Nineteenth Amendment “prohibits any citizen from being denied the right to vote based on sex.” The Amendment was ratified in 1920, but it is speculated that Lydia Taft was the first woman in America to vote in 1756. This was a great feat in American history, because it showed that women who had help build and contribute to this country could have a say in the manner that it would be governed. It is also one of the few examples of polls being more inclusive than they were strictly required to be under law. 

Throughout America’s history, there have been numerous situations where many citizens of this country were blocked from exercising their right to vote. Even now, many eligible voters are denied this right. States across the country are passing voter suppression laws under the pretext of preventing voter fraud and safeguarding election integrity.

Many states, including Nevada, have extremely confusing and complicated laws about how individuals with a criminal conviction can restore their right to vote. Most ex-felons do not realize that they can have their voting rights restored in Nevada if they were only convicted of one non-violent felony and were unconditionally released after serving their full sentence or were honorably discharged from felony parole or probation. Documents needed to reinstate voting rights can be obtained from a parole or probation officer.

U.S. citizens also need to understand that there is no language requirement to vote. Language assistance is available in many Nevada counties, or you can bring a translator with you to the voting booth.

Today, September 25, is National Voter Registration Day. Take a minute to make sure you are registered to vote, and if you aren't, go register. The in-person registration deadline in Nevada is October 16.

If you want more information or have more detailed questions about your voting rights, you can check out If you have any problems while you are at the polls in November, we would like to hear about your issues.

Remember the Constitution for the 100%, so get out and register to vote!

Happy Constitution Day!

Today is Constitution Day. 225 years ago, in 1887, 39 delegates signed the U.S. Constitution and kicked off the ratification process for the document that shaped America. Today is a big day for us civil libertarians.

 This blog post is by Susan Herman, National ACLU President, and it originally appeared on the National ACLU's Blog of Rights. 

September 17 is Constitution Day, and here’s a suggestion for how you might celebrate.

Gather some patriots -- cakes and ale and three-cornered hats optional -- and as a party game, see if your guests can answer some basic questions about the Constitution from a 1997 poll commissioned by the National Constitution Center. For example,

  • What are the three branches of government?
  • How many senators are there?
  • What are the four rights guaranteed by the First Amendment?
  • Does the Constitution establish the United States as a Christian nation? 

Do these questions seem easy to you, readers of the ACLU Blog of Rights?

In this first comprehensive survey of constitutional knowledge, it turned out that although most Americans (over three-quarters) say that they are very proud of our Constitution, only five percent could accurately answer ten basic questions, like those above, about its contents. Sixty-two percent couldn’t name the three branches of the federal government (Legislature, Executive, Judiciary) and one third couldn’t name even one branch; over half did not know the number of senators (100); only six percent could name “the four rights” guaranteed by the First Amendment (free exercise of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of peaceable assembly and the right to petition for redress of grievances – or is that really five rights?) and one quarter couldn’t name any; one sixth incorrectly believed that the Constitution established the United States as a Christian nation.

Why do Americans know so little about the Constitution they claim to revere? I’ll offer two explanations. First, the fact that the Constitution was intentionally made so difficult to amend (in Article V, to answer another question) means that we don’t tend to actively engage with its provisions because we don’t get to vote on them. The Constitution has been amended only 27 times since 1787. This stability is a boon for rights, which are protected against trends, panic, or majority self-interest. But the down side of placing the Constitution on a pedestal, out of easy reach, is that people don’t feel a real sense of ownership of this document even though it is supposedly by and for “We, the People.”

A second explanation for widespread ignorance about the Constitution would be that the schools are not doing an effective job of teaching it. In 2004, Congress sought to improve this situation by declaring that every September 17, on the anniversary of the signing of the Constitution, each school that accepts federal funds must offer educational programming about the Constitution.

The Constitution Center and various other providers offer Constitution Day curricular suggestions for exploring constitutional history and our founding documents, a very important enterprise. But I’m thinking that the ACLU, through its nationwide affiliates, is ideally situated to offer students some more contemporary and maybe more-engaging lessons about what the Constitution means to us and to them today. Who better to explain the real significance of the Constitution than the folks who defend it?

Stay tuned while the ACLU National Communications Department explores this new frontier, and please do share any of your own ideas or experiences. And if you want to give the Constitution a birthday present, join or rededicate yourself to supporting its defenders.

The Litterer and the Unwanted Thing

If someone on the street hands you something you don’t want – not something dangerous or disgusting, just something unwanted – you still throw it away, right? You took it, and you are now responsible to walk it a few steps to the trash or to stuff it in a pocket to throw away later. You don’t get a free pass to chuck the thing on the sidewalk simply because you didn’t want it in the first place.

You took it. Even if you wish you hadn’t taken it, the unwanted thing is now yours. And if you throw it on the ground, the buck stops with you, the litterer.

Clark County recently reversed this common sense idea, punishing the people who hand out possibly unwanted things instead of the people who are actually littering. The new law is intended to target handbillers on the Strip who hand out coupons or business information to pedestrians, but applies to anyone handing out material anywhere in unincorporated Clark County. Under the new law, people handing out material are responsible for any of their material taken and dropped within a 25-foot radius of where they stand, and they could be punished with a $1,000 fine and up to six months in jail.

That’s right; the fine and jail time are not for the litterers. Pedestrians who take information that is handed to them have a 25-foot window to decide if they actually want it. If they don’t, they can just toss it on the ground, and the person who gave it to them has to pick it up.

One justification is that because the handbillers are handing out “trash,” they should be the ones responsible. I say if someone tries to hand me actual trash and I take it, it’s my responsibility to see that trash to a garbage can.

This would be like me throwing my junk mail in the street instead of bringing it inside and recycling it - and also then expecting that the mailers get punished for my littering, as long as I toss their “trash” near my mailbox.

"There's a general principle in law that everyone can understand,” Allen Lichtenstein, ACLU of Nevada General Counsel, told Fox5 News. “You're responsible for your behavior, you're not responsible for someone else's behavior.”

Now that seems like common sense to me.

I’ve Got A Bone to Pick with K-9 Units

Have our civil liberties gone to the dogs? I think so.

Like many other Americans, I enjoy the company of my dogs and think dogs are wonderful companion animals. Our dogs have many functions in todays’ society and play an important role in peoples’ lives as therapy animals, protectors, service providers, and friends.

Dogs also help law enforcement as part of K-9 units, alerting their human partners to illegal items or substances that officers might not otherwise smell, see, or hear. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that a drug dog's alert is enough to establish probable cause for a warrantless search of a vehicle. In other words, based solely on the dog’s alert, an officer then can search a car or other property without a search warrant and can seize personal property such as cash or jewelry whether they actually find drugs.

On June 26, 2012, a group of Nevada Highway Patrol (NHP) troopers and a retired police sergeant filed a racketeering complaint against the NHP and Las Vegas Metropolitan Police in U.S. District Court. The complaint alleges that after a K-9 program was approved to target drug runners on Nevada's highways, a Nevada Highway Patrol Commander intentionally trained the dogs to provide false alerts for the presence of drugs.

In 2010, University of California, Davis studied 18 drug sniffing police dogs and their handlers. The study found that K-9 teams searching for drug scents incorrectly “‘alerted,’ or identified a scent, when there was no scent present more than 200 times — particularly when the handler believed that there was scent present.” In early 2011, the Chicago Tribune published a three year study of drug searches by drug sniffing dogs. According to the study, drug sniffing dogs correctly detected the presence or absence of drugs 44% of the time. That percentage dropped to 27% when the driver being searched was Hispanic.

When a dog’s alert is being used as reasonable grounds for a search, allowing officers to sidestep the need for a search warrant, this room for error – either intentionally incorrect training or unintential canine alerts – violates the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable search and seizure. There is no standard level of training involved for the dogs and their handlers, and human error must be factored into the equation.

I love dogs, but I believe that handing the Fourth Amendment and my civil liberties over to mans’ best friend is just doggone wrong.

Charles's Reason

Rebooting the "What's Your Reason?" blog series, our summer legal intern Charles Smith talks about why he supports the ACLU. There are many reasons to support the ACLU - this is Charles's reason.

The ACLU is symbolized in its logo by the well-known crowned head of the Statue of Liberty. When I imagine Lady Liberty, I think of her facing out to sea welcoming immigrants into the new land that will become their home. The ACLU asks Lady Liberty to turn around and shine her light over the land she has welcomed so many into. The light from her torch reassures us that liberty will not be lost.

I decided to attend law school to become a better advocate for social and economic justice. Before law school, I worked as a community organizer on the collapse of the housing bubble. Of the many strategies we considered and attempted to address the community’s concerns, litigation was always a last resort. Lawsuits could be time consuming and the results were out of our control. However, as various reforms were passed, litigation seemed to be the only remaining option. I wanted to become more familiar with applying legal strategy toward social change.

Currently, the ACLU is the best example of using strong legal strategy and education to influence a wide variety of issues. When I visited Las Vegas last winter, my family was touched by a police use-of-force issue in the Las Vegas valley. I saw the work that the ACLU of Nevada was doing in response to police use-of-force problems, and followed its petition to the Department of Justice asking for an investigation of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department. As a legal intern, I have had the opportunity to work substantively on the issue that drove me here, helping lawyers draft policy recommendations to Metro and working on the use-of-force community forums. There is additional work to be done, and I know the ACLU of Nevada will stay vigilant until the public can feel secure in all interactions with the police.

The strength of the ACLU as an organization is that it is not driven by ideology but objective principle. If an issue is ripe and needs to be challenged, the ACLU will step forward, regardless of the popularity of the issues or the people involved. With the help of the ACLU, liberty will continue to shed her light on all people in risk of having their liberties pushed into the shadows.

Which is why I support and will continue to support the ACLU.


Subscribe to The Torch: ACLU of Nevada's Blog