Today is Election Day for some of the people. I say “some” because many citizens aren’t eligible to vote on this election day. Some of them are too young whereas others are in prison. Only Vermont and Maine allow prisoners to vote. Yet millions more are ruled out for other reasons. After release from prison, people may not vote until the end of probation and parole in 24 states; another 11 states may permanently prevent convicted felons from ever voting.
The most egregious laws against voting, however, affect married women, the elderly, the poor, students, non-drivers, and others who have difficulty obtaining the photo IDs mandated in many states from the GOP desire to keep Democrats away from the polls. Fifteen years ago, only 14 states required IDs, most of them non-photo and all non-strict. As of April 2015, 32 states enforced voter identification requirements with 17 of these mandating photo ID. Thus the constitutional and legal right to vote varies from state to state.
Last summer, Fulton County (GA), which includes Atlanta, was fined $180,000 after admitting that it illegally disenfranchised and misled voters in the 2008 and 2012 elections by improperly rejecting eligible ballots and deliberately sending voters to the wrong precincts. The county has a large black voting population and leans progressive. When neighboring DeKalb county, also largely black, opened an early voting location in a popular mall, Georgia State Senator Fran Millar (R) publicly lamented that “this location is dominated by African American shoppers and it is near several large African American mega churches.” He added, “I would prefer more educated voters than a greater increase in the number of voters.”
Last year during a tight race for an open Senate seat, over 40,000 newly registered Georgia voters—mostly young, low-income, and black—disappeared from the rolls. Georgia’s Secretary of State accused voting rights groups suing to process registrations of committing voter fraud.
After the Supreme Court overturned part of the 1964 Voting Rights Act, Alabama closed 30 driver’s-license offices in the state, all in counties where blacks compose over 75 percent of registered voters. GOP presidential candidates such as Jeb Bush oppose restoration of the voting rights because the “dramatic improvement in access to voting” makes it unnecessary to impose protections “as though we’re living in 1960.” In contrast to the restrictions on voting, Arizona and California lead the way to automatic registration of voting for their residents. Perhaps the embarrassment of national outrage concerning the close of Alabama’s helped partially reverse the decision to completely close the offices: Alabama has announced that a license examiner be one day a month in 28 counties and two days a month in the remaining two counties.
The White House should take action to promote voter registration through a combination of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA). The NVRA requires that eligible people may register when applying through a variety of programs, including Medicaid. People apply for most health care benefits, including Medicaid, on a state or federal health care exchange. Therefore, the NVRA requires that voter registration be offered on these exchanges. State exchanges are in compliance with the NVRA, but the federal government is not, losing as many as 1.7 million voter registrations through the Federally Facilitated Exchanges (FFE). King v. Burwell requires that state and federally-facilitated exchanges must be treated exactly the same, and the federal government needs to follow ACA and NVRA.
Virginia, one of three states electing state legislators today and one of the most gerrymandered states in the country, has admitted that the GOP deliberately rigged the congressional districts to obtain a Republican delegation. They justified it to keep the “partisan division established in the 2010 election.” The Supreme Court is not likely to be of any help. In 2004, A 5-4 vote in the Supreme Court case Vieth v. Jubelirer, held that a specific gerrymandering suit could not proceed because courts couldn’t determine if it existed or how to fix it. It appears that Virginia is keeping the GOP dominate in the legislature despite the majority of Democrat voters for legislators. My favorite vote manipulation story this year occurred in Columbia (MO) when Jen Henderson, 23, became the only voter in a district. Property owners petitioned the city council to establish the Business Loop 70 Community Improvement District to eliminate any voters so, with no registered voters living in the district, the property owners could then impose a half-cent sales tax increase to cover the “significant debt” that the district had incurred. They overlooked Henderson. The district’s executive director went so far as to ask Henderson to consider “unregistering her vote,” thus allowing the property owners to make the decision. The city council postponed the vote until December 1 (or maybe December 8), and an investigation by the local NPR station found 13 more voters.
Despite the lack of federal candidates, today’s elections include races and initiatives that affect people’s lives. Two states, Kentucky and Mississippi, will elect governors, and another two will determine the party majority in state legislators—Pennsylvania and Virginia. The GOP win for governor in Kentucky means that 400,000 people in the state will most likely lose health insurance. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal will be replaced in a November 21, 2015 vote because of term limits. Campaign donations for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court election hit almost $16 million, much of it from people who fight judges who are “soft on crime.” Nine states have 28 measures that impact the state budgets. Other legislation shapes LGBT rights, minimum wages, marijuana laws and more.
LGBT Discrimination: Houston (TX), a city with a higher population than 15 states, again voted on an Equal Rights Ordinance. Opponents claim that the existing ordinance allows men to go into bathrooms and molest little girls because it permits transgender people to use the restroom of their gender identity. The text just prohibits “discrimination in city employment and city services, city contracts, public accommodations, private employment, and housing” based on sexual preference or gender identity. Last summer, Jordan Klepper presented a hilarious view of the Christian opposition to an LGBT rights ordinance in Eureka Springs (AK) on Jon Stewart’s Daily Show. Houston is also electing a mayor; openly lesbian incumbent Annise Parker is term-limited. [Houston voters came out in favor of LGBT discrimination.]
Marijuana Legalization: Ohio is voting to decide whether it will be the fifth state to legalize recreational marijuana, but the constitutional amendment would allow only one group of seven investors to grow it. The “marijuana monopoly” has drawn opposition for people who want legalized marijuana in the state. [Ohio voted against legalizing marijuana.]
Marijuana Tax Distribution: Colorado is required to reallocate the taxes from the sale of cannabis, thanks a 1992 law promoted by no-new-taxes Grover Norquist. Passing the initiative would send the millions of dollars to school and law enforcement; opposing it gives the money back to the growers and taxpayers. If the initiative fails, each resident would get about $8.
Minimum Wage: Tacoma (WA) has two measures, one requiring all city employers with at least $300,000 in annual gross revenue to provide a $15 minimum wage and the other to mandate all employees to gradually phase in a $12 minimum wage by 2018. Seattle gradually started its $15 minimum wage last April, resulting in surprising successes despite conservative naysayers.
Donations to Candidates: Seattle has an initiative to give all citizens four “democracy vouchers,” $25 coupons, each election year that they can donate to the qualified candidates of their choice. The initiative also has regulations, but the $100 per citizen makes it more interesting.
Limiting Influence of Special Interest Money: Maine already uses public money in elections, but this measure would strengthen it by increasing the public fund that incentivizes politicians to refuse private money for campaigning. [Maine voted to further limit special interest money.]
Increase of Affordable Housing: Airbnb has spent $8 million to defeat a ballot measure in San Francisco to limit short-term housing rentals. Affordable housing advocates support the initiative because much of the city’s housing is used for the short-term rentals, pushing lower-income people out through higher rents.
School Funding: Mississippi residents are voting on a constitutional amendment which would allow people to sue the state to increase public school funding. Other states including Kansas and Washington have sued the state regarding the lack of funding for schools. [The measure was passed.]
The “Right to Hunt”: One Texas’ seven constitutional amendments is designed to prevent “possible legislative action that could limit the right,” which could include “pressure from animal rights or environmental groups” who might want to limit hunting of certain vulnerable species in the future.
Coos County (OR) has a gun law on the ballot just one month after ten people died in a mass shooting in neighboring Roseburg. Earlier this year, Oregon passed a law requiring universal background checks for gun purchases except within immediate family members. Residents of Coos County vote today on prohibiting local authorities from enforcing that law or any other future gun safety laws passed by the state. If it passes, the Coos County sheriff would determine what state and federal gun laws are unconstitutional although he must swear to uphold the state and federal constitution.
County commissions in the state’s Wheeler and Wallowa counties have approved almost identical measures. Many other rural counties have dodged the issue by saying that they uphold all laws but some of them get very low priority. In my home county, Lincoln, Sheriff Dennis Dotson announced to the press that enforcing background checks is at the bottom of his priorities.
As Fox is fond of saying, everyone should own as many guns as they want, but not everyone deserves the right to vote.