Nel's New Day

July 4, 2016

Voting Restrictions: Independence Day 2016

Filed under: Voting — trp2011 @ 3:11 PM
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It’s Independence Day, and gun owners will be proclaiming their freedom to own as many guns as they want with no restrictions because of the Constitution. Conservatives believe in an unfettered Second Amendment but refuse to accept the rights of people to vote. Although five amendments deal with voting, states can still limit voting rights, and five million people may not be able to cast their votes in the next presidential election because of these restrictions. The difference between freedom to vote in red and blue states has created a two-tiered system for the people of the United States.

In the past decade, more and more GOP-controlled states have passed restrictive laws to keep minorities, people in poverty, and women from casting their votes with the hopes that this will increase the number of Republican elected officials. With the 2010 election of Gov. Scott Walker and a GOP legislature, Wisconsin, a progressive leader in the nation during the 20th century, passed laws mandating voter IDs, cutting early voting from 30 days to twelve, eliminating night and weekend voting, banning straight-ticket voting, tightening residency requirements, and increasing difficulties in voter registration and absentee voting. The non-partisan agency to oversee state elections and educate the public about voter-ID laws is gone. Wisconsin is an example of how the abolishment of freedom to vote in the nation’s red states makes them redder.

In contrast, neighboring Minnesota, with highly similar geography, demographics, and cultural history, went in the opposite direction. Its residents elected Democrat Mark Dayton as governor in 2010 and a Democratic legislature two years later. The state raised taxes on the wealthy, invested in public education, expanded health care, and boosted unions as Wisconsin followed the opposite path toward Alabama and Mississippi status. Minnesota now has faster job growth, higher wages, lower unemployment—and the freedom to vote. Despite a beginning popularity for voter ID, the population defeated this ballot initiative in 2012 with 54 percent of the electorate and changed its caucus system to the more inclusive presidential primary.

The craziness with voter IDs was launched after the Supreme Court declared them constitutional in 2008. Liberal Justice John Paul Stevens, now retired, wrote the majority opinion but now calls it a “fairly unfortunately decision.” In a discussion with Justice Elena Kagan, he talked about whether judges should base their decisions on the information provided them or add research they conduct on their own. Judge Richard Posner, who wrote the 7th Circuit Court opinion based on the idea that voter IDs will not negatively impact minorities and poor people also now says that the decision was wrong and that the photo-ID requirement is “now widely regarded as a means of voter suppression rather than of fraud prevention.”

Over 80 percent of the 22 states passing new voting restrictions since 2010 are under GOP control while five Democratic states such as Oregon and California reformed its systems with automatic voter registration. Those who doubt that the GOP want to restrict voting rights in order to win more races should listen to the arguments of people who passed these laws. Wisconsin’s then-State Sen. Glenn Grothman said, “What I’m concerned about is winning. We better get this done while we have the opportunity.” A ruling should be announced in late July.

Now a U.S. representative, Grothman (R-WI) said that he thinks the voter ID law will help Donald Trump win Wisconsin this November. The county clerk of Waukesha County, a Milwaukee suburb that is 95 percent white and staunchly conservative, insisted that early voting gave “too much access” to Democratic voters in Milwaukee and Madison. In a search for voter fraud in Wisconsin, only three were found—two of them by Republicans and none that could have been stopped by voter IDs or curtailment of early voting.

Former Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC), now head of the conservative Heritage Foundation, explained that the GOP has fought to keep the restrictive laws “because in the states where they do have voter ID laws you’ve seen, actually, elections begin to change towards more conservative candidates.

Technically, poll taxes, requiring voters to pay to vote, are illegal, but the presidential swing state of Ohio is considering privatizing part of elections by taxing polls left open because of Election Day emergencies such as a natural disaster. A bill approved in May would have forced people to put up a cash bond if they petitioned a court to extend voting hours for a few hours. Only the people who paid for the bond would be allowed to vote after hours. In the past, local Ohio courts have ruled that unforeseen emergencies, such as a software glitch that temporarily wiped out poll books and a huge car wreck that cut off a county’s main highway, called for keeping the polls open longer to keep waiting voters from being disenfranchised. Gov. John Kasich did veto the bill which followed a federal ruling that cuts to early voting hours are unconstitutional. Yet a judge just upheld Ohio’s purging almost two million voters from the rolls during the past five years.

Lawsuits across the country are fighting back against restrictive voter laws. A federal court is determining whether Wisconsin laws are constitutional where black voters are more than five times as likely to need free IDs and far more likely to be denied. Two women died during the over six-month wait after the application. The ID itself is technically free, but there are costs for transportation to the DMV office, time off from work to go through the process, or the documents necessary to qualify for an ID. A ruling should be announced in late July.

A lawsuit filed against Alabama used the example of a high schooler who can’t vote because she lacks a driver’s license. She can’t get a state-issued voter ID at the DMV because the nearest one is open only one day a month and there is no public transportation to one requiring a 40-mile roundtrip.

A lawyer supporting the Texas law said that geographical obstacles are the “reality to life of choosing to live in that part of Texas.” Other lawsuits oppose voter ID laws in Virginia, Ohio, and North Carolina. Texas voter ID stays in effect while the entire 5th Circuit Court rehears a case determined by a three-judge panel to be discriminatory but not intentionally.   Some states have lost lawsuits and declined to appeal, for example Pennsylvania in 2014.

Kris Kobach, the Kansas Secretary of State who took the lead in disenfranchising voters, had a setback when U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson ruled that the state’s proof-of-citizenship requirements likely violate a provision in the National Voter Registration Act that requires only “minimal information” to determine a voter’s eligibility. She ordered Kansas to register thousands of voters whose paperwork is on hold because they did not comply with the requirement. Another judge backed up this opinion, but Kobach, who is in charge of registering voters, is ignoring the court’s rulings.

Kobach is so dishonest that Kansas has different information in voter registration guides in English and Spanish. Spanish-speaking people were told that they had six days longer to register and vote than Kansas law. The Spanish version also fails to list passports as a document that can be used for first-time voter registrants.

Gerrymandering is another difference between Wisconsin and Minnesota. Republicans controlled Wisconsin’s redistricting process for the first time in 50 years after the 2010 census and manipulated boundaries to maintain GOP power for at least the next decade. In 2012, Obama won Wisconsin by seven points, but the GOP won over half of the state legislature. Only 10 percent of legislative seats are now considered competitive, leaving the GOP an airtight majority.

At this time, the 7th Circuit Court is hearing a case about redistricting in Wisconsin that was developed in secrecy behind a private law firm’s closed doors. No one except GOP legislators was permitted to see the plan until a few days before it was rushed through the legislature with only one hearing.

Expert Michael Li called the Wisconsin case “the most significant gerrymandering challenge in 30 years” and predicted that it will go to the Supreme Court. He added that Justice Anthony Kennedy has shown a strong interest in the case. In his closing statement May 27 to the judges in defending the GOP electoral map, Wisconsin Assistant Attorney General Brian Keenan insisted that this is what democracy looks like. “This is actually democracy,” Keenan stated. “The Republicans won the 2010 election. The Constitution gives them the right to [draw district lines].”

Republican-imposed plans in a number of other states—including Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina, Florida, and Texas—can be affected by Wisconsin’s redistricting ruling. The Supreme Court has now agreed to hear gerrymandering lawsuits from North Carolina and Virginia. State Rep. David Lewis, chairman of the House Redistricting Committee, told fellow legislators that one of the seven criteria for drawing new districts was “partisan advantage” that that it is not against the law. A federal three-judge panel upheld the districting, citing a previous U.S. Supreme Court decision declaring that politics used in redistricting is constitutional “so long as it does not go too far.” In the past, Kennedy has voted with the conservative majority, but without a replacement for Antonin Scalia, the decision could be a 4-4 split.

For the first time in 50 years, people do not have the protection of the Voter Right Act as they try to select a president. Studies show that stricter voter laws have depressed voter turnout, especially among minority groups. It also cuts back turnout among younger, newly registered, and black voters. The confusion of whether people have the correct ID also cuts back on the voting. A small number of voters can skew the results. In 2008, Barack Obama won North Carolina by 14,177 votes; in 2012, Mitt Romney beat Barack Obama by 92,004 votes. Now the state has the most restrictive voting laws which reduced 2014 turnout by at least 30,000 voters. A federal judge has upheld North Carolina’s voting restrictions, but an appeal may overturn it.

This is what voting in the United States looks like on Independence Day 2016. Be grateful if you can vote. I’m extra grateful because I live in the first state in the nation with mandatory vote by mail, meaning no lines and a paper trail for all the votes. Washington and Colorado have now followed this practice. Oregon also started automatic voter registration followed by California, Connecticut, Vermont, and West Virginia.

Meanwhile the red states are spending millions of dollars defending their unconstitutional laws.

May 27, 2013

Memorialize Deaths from Gun Violence

Memorial Day is dedicated to those who fell during wars. But nowhere is the day to mourn those who have fallen because, after almost two centuries of the adoption of the U.S. Constitution, the Second Amendment came to mean that anyone in the country could freely own lethal firearms.

The Second Amendment reads: “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” For two centuries, courts interpreted the amendment, divided into two ungrammatical clauses, as the right of state militias—not individuals—to own and carry weapons. The “militia clause” trumped the “bear arms.”

The reinterpretation came in the 1980s, thanks to President Ronald Reagan, Sen. Orin Hatch (R-UT), and the NRA, and the new theory became the law of the land. Not until the 21st century did the Supreme Court reverse the original position that the Second Amendment applied to state militias, and that decision was made by an extremist far-right court.

Even that court gave limits. In District of Columbia v. Heller, Justice Antonin Scalia  recognized that the right of the individual to own guns didn’t include all weapons:

“Like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited. From Blackstone through the 19th-century cases, commentators and courts routinely explained that the right was not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose… We think that limitation is fairly supported by the historical tradition of prohibiting the carrying of ‘dangerous and unusual weapons.’”

The court also recognized that “nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding … laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.” According to a footnote,

“We identify these presumptively lawful regulatory measures only as examples; our list does not purport to be exhaustive.”

The court concluded:

“Apart from the usual prohibitions of gun ownership by children, felons, illegal aliens, lunatics, and in sensitive places such as public schools, the propriety of which was not questioned in Heller, some states sensibly require that an applicant for a handgun permit establish his competence in handling firearms. A person who carries a gun in public but is not well trained in the use of firearms is a menace to himself and others.”

Gun obsession pervades the United States:

Adam Kokesh, who plans to lead 1,000 armed protesters into Washington, D. C. on July 4 in violation of the law, compares himself to Mahatma Gandhi who practiced nonviolent resistance to British rule in India. Kokesh has said that his march will be violent if “the government chooses to make it violent.”

Living Social offers experiences that mix alcohol and guns, some of them the type of assault rifle used to kill children in Newtown (CT) to kill children. Many of the deals include transportation on a party bus, and some have a meet-up points at restaurants that offer beer and burgers, giving buyers the chance to drink before the event begins. Living Social has claimed that it doesn’t intentionally promote drinking while shooting and they plan to be careful.

Starbucks might want to consider its willingness to allow concealed weapons. In 2011, a teenage girl in Cheyenne (WY) dropped her purse, causing her gun to discharge and the bullet to miss 43-year-old John Basile by about 12 inches. She had no training, including gun safety, but her mother encouraged her to point the gun at a “bad person.” This last week in St. Petersburg (FL) another woman dropped her purse and shot a customer in the leg. She said she forgot that she had it. Starbucks issued this statement:

“At Tyrone Square Mall, our primary concern is always for the safety of our customers and store employees, and we are thankful that the injuries sustained are reported to be non-life threatening.”

Aurora (CO), the same place as the horrific movie theater shooting, was the site of an accidental shooting when an employee at Rangeview High School accidentally shot a student who was getting a ride with him. Missouri passed a law allowing school employees to carry guns as voluntary “protection officers,” but Gov. Jay Nixon has promised to veto the bill.

Showing off her brand-new assault rifle in Federal Heights (CO), 22-year-old Anastasia Adair fell. Her gun went off, the bullet hitting her in the head and killing her. In Florida, a three-year-old boy accidentally killed himself with a 9mm handgun that his uncle owned.

Rep. Steve Stockman (R-TX) is raising campaign funds through a gun raffle: “Enter the drawing to win a FREE Bushmaster AR-15 rifle, almost impossible to find in stores and the number one firearm on the gun banners’ wish list!” The winner will be announced on July 4, perhaps in time to carry it in the Washington, D.C. protest

Under the “what were they thinking category,” a Missouri theater hired actors to portray gunmen at the Iron Man 3 premier. People screamed and called the police. Manager Bob Wilkins said he was worried about safety but didn’t see anything wrong with the publicity stunt.

About District of Columbia v. Heller, former Justice John Paul Stevens said:

“While the post-decision commentary by historians and other scholars has reinforced my conviction that the Court’s decision to expand the coverage of the Second Amendment was incorrect, good things about the Court’s opinion merit special comment…. Even as generously construed in Heller, the Second Amendment provides no obstacle to regulations prohibiting the ownership or use of the sorts of automatic weapons used in the tragic multiple killings in Virginia, Colorado, and Arizona in recent years. The failure of Congress to take any action to minimize the risk of similar tragedies in the future cannot be blamed on the Court’s decision in Heller.”

The majority of people in the country support gun controls.

background check polls

They know they are not safer with the current situation of unlimited gun purchases. Countries with fewer guns, Australia for example, have less gun violence. There is a correlation between strong gun laws and lack of gun violence.

correlation gun violence and law

Forty percent of people in the United States want guns to “protect” themselves against the government. Corporations have pushed this idea in order to make money through selling weapons and ammunition. For example, the corporation-controlled American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is pushing a bill in Nevada to allow the purchase of machine guns.   http://www.prwatch.org/node/12100

US-POLITICS-GUNS-NRALosing sales to adults, gun manufacturers are push sales to small children.   At the recent NRA conference, 3-year-old Elaih Wagan became the youngest member because of her grandfather’s $1,000 birthday gift for a lifetime membership. U.S. Practical Shooting Association’s magazine Junior Shooters is aimed at kids age eight and up.

cartoon adsGun makers produce child-sized guns and then market them to smaller children with cartoon ads, like this Crickett style that a five-year-old used to kill his two-year-old sister.

 

shooting rangeThe January 2013 NRA publication Insights, a magazine for children, gives directions on building BB gun shooting ranges inside their homes for fun during long winters. It recommends hanging targets. BB guns send 22,000 people to the hospital each year, they create fatalities, and they can be indistinguishable from other guns for young children.

Stricter gun control could have saved many of the 851 children killed last year in the United States.

Extremists want no background checks, no waiting periods, no required liability insurance, no age limits, no training. Voting is a constitutional right, yet conservatives support hundreds of laws for waiting periods, registration, photo IDs, restrictive limits on voting times, etc. Voting has age limits. But extremists read the Second Amendment as unlimited rights to wreak havoc.

There were approximately 4,385 gun deaths between December 14, 2012 (Sandy Hook Elementary School) and April 17, 2013.  I use the term “approximately” because conservatives have prevented the government from keeping any statistics on gun violence. About 300 of these were kids.

End Note: In the week leading up to Memorial Day, TSA agents confiscated a record 65 guns from passengers at security checkpoints, 54 of which were loaded. The previous record was 50 guns (45 loaded) the week before May 10. These 65 guns were in addition to three hand grenades, 12 stun guns, two razor blades (one hidden in a shoe and the other in underwear), two joke-bombs, and other stuff such as “firearm components, realistic replica firearms, bb and pellet guns, Airsoft guns, brass knuckles, ammunition, batons, and a lot of sharp pointy things.” I appreciate the TSA!

 

January 6, 2012

Elected Officials Fight Citizens United

In the 21st century everything gets named “super” from Coca-Cola to politics. Super-PACs are a fine example of the bloating that results from “super” things. Unleashed in early 2010 by the U.S. Supreme Court ruling of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, these monsters can raise and spend unlimited funding for candidates. Donors aren’t disclosed until after the presidential primaries or caucuses in early states.

Republican candidates may have approved of these in the beginning, but now some of them are beginning to whine about others’ advantages. Newt Gingrich, targeted by almost one-third of the over $14 million super-PAC advertising before the Iowa caucus, called on Mitt Romney to pull these ads in Iowa; Romney responded, correctly, that he cannot have anything to do with these super-PACs. (According to the ruling, a candidate can have no involvement in this advertising.) Then Gingrich, the man who wanted no negative campaigning on the Republican side, called Romney “a liar” on CBS’s Early Show.

People across the country are getting riled with the ruling. Montana, a state that may have anticipated the problems a century ago, passed a law in 1912 to fight Gilded Age corporate control over its government. The Montana Supreme Court has upheld this law that states, “[A] corporation may not make … an expenditure in connection with a candidate or a political party that supports or opposes a candidate or a political party.” States rights will come into play here because Citizens United overturned a similar federal statute when a majority of justices claimed that independent electoral spending by corporations “do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption” that such laws were enacted to combat.

By a 5-2 vote, the Montana Supreme Court refused the ruling that Citizens United barring all laws limiting independent electoral spending. Chief Justice Mike McGrath cited the history surrounding the state law to show that corporate money, even if not directly contributed to a campaign, can give rise to corruption. Over 100 years ago, the ruling in Western Tradition Partnership v. Attorney General came during a time when Montana’s robber barons, the “Copper Kings,” so effectively politically and economically dominated the state that it lost its authority. According to Mark Twain, one Copper King “bought legislatures and judges as other men buy food and raiment.”

To reverse the Montana Supreme Court, the U.S. Supreme Court would, according to  Professor Rick Hasen of the University of California-Irvine Law School, have to have said something like, “We don’t care whether or not independent spending can or cannot corrupt; the First Amendment trumps this risk of corruption.” They didn’t, however, so the Justices will have to explain how the Montana Supreme Court was wrong to consider the factual record in justifying corporate spending limits in campaign finance laws.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals took a similar stand when, in late December, it upheld a 2006 New York City law that, among other things, bans lobbyists from giving gifts to City officials and requires them to disclose all fundraising and consulting activities. Judge Guido Calabresi agrees that corporate expenditures need to be contained: “If an external factor, such as wealth, allows some individuals to communicate their political views too powerfully, then persons who lack wealth may, for all intents and purposes, be excluded from the democratic dialogue.”

Calabresi added that the desire for a functioning democracy “is, I believe, something that is so fundamental that sooner or later it is going to be recognized. Whether this will happen through a constitutional amendment or through changes in Supreme Court doctrine, I do not know. But it will happen.” Calabresi justified his ruling by saying, “Citizens United stated that mere influence or access to elected officials is insufficient to justify a ban on independent corporate expenditures, improper or undue influence presumably still qualifies as a form of corruption.”

A number of cities across the United States from New York to Los Angeles are requesting that Congress pass a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United. The New York City Council suggests that the amendment state  “that corporations are not entitled to the entirety of protections or ‘rights’ of natural persons, specifically so that the expenditure of corporate money to influence the electoral process is no longer a form of constitutionally protected speech.”

California lawmakers have introduced a resolution calling for Congress to “propose and send to the states for ratification a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United.” All this is following the large number of small towns that began to protest Citizens United months ago and the Occupy Movement protesters against this ruling.

At this time, the Supreme Court’s ruling that money is constitutionally protected free speech and corporations are legal persons entitled to these protections, will probably overturn Montana’s Supreme Court. That’s the reason that other political entities are taking a different approach.

According to the Constitution, 34 state legislatures can call for a constitutional convention which could create an amendment banning corporate funding from elections. A year ago this didn’t look possible because Republicans seemed to be the only ones benefiting from the misguided Citizens United ruling: now Republicans are hurting too.

Even beyond the very peculiar “free speech, personhood” piece of the ruling is the difference in rules for corporations and unions. According to Citizens United, both corporations and unions are allowed to spend freely on campaigns, but corporations are permitted to stockpile funds whereas unions are refused this provision for corporations. In addition, employees may opt out of funding union political activities, but shareholders are forced to participate in corporate political spending. The difference in treatment of the two groups is very likely unconstitutional, but the judicial branch determines constitutionality. So much for following the Founding Fathers’ wishes!

The advertising industry predicts as much as $4 billion in spending across all the campaigns, including those for president, Senate, House and governorships. Much of this will come from corporations.

In Citizens United, Justice John Paul Stevens wrote a 90-page dissenting opinion, arguing that “[t]he conceit that corporations must be treated identically to natural persons in the political sphere is not only inaccurate but also inadequate to justify the Court’s disposition of this case.” Stevens added, “[a]lthough they make enormous contributions to our society, corporations are not actually members of it. They cannot vote or run for office.”

According to Stevens, “Corporations have no consciences, no beliefs, no feelings, no thoughts, no desires. Corporations help structure and facilitate the activities of human beings, to be sure, and their ‘personhood’ often serves as a useful legal fiction. But they are not themselves members of ‘We the People’ by whom and for whom our Constitution was established.”

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