Nel's New Day

August 22, 2012

Did You Lose Your Right to Vote?

Over 180 bills that restrict voting have been introduced in 41 states since the beginning of 2011; 34 states successfully passed such restrictions as mandating photo ID and limiting times when people can vote. Nowhere are these new laws more important than in the swing states of Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. Although voting should be a constitutional right, the controls in different states limit the abilities of people to vote differently. People have different voting rights depending on where they live.

Initially conservatives tried to justify voter restriction by claiming massive voter fraud. Now, many admit that there’s no problem. An investigation of 2,068 purported cases of fraud during the last decade found only 10 cases of fraud among 146 million voters—one per 15 million voters. James O’Keefe, notorious for video stings, showed two supposed non-citizens voting. Both are actually U.S. citizens. Despite the falsehoods of his video, O’Keefe will be a Republican conference speaker at an exclusive luncheon where he will talk about “the role of the citizen journalist.”

Florida started purging their voting roles weeks ago with no apparent reason other than trying to hoping to keep more liberal voters from participating in the process. This was after Florida passed draconian laws preventing people from registering new voters. Then they moved forward in their attempts to limit students, seniors, and the poor from voting by curtailing the times that people could vote in the last election. A federal appeals court stopped the state from limiting early voting because it was determined racially discriminatory under the federal Voting Rights Act.

Because this act covers only five of Florida’s 67 counties, Tampa plus four other small counties, there is a question about what the state will do now. If the state fails to file an amended plan for Justice Department approval, the entire election reform bill will be struck down. Gov. Rick Scott persuaded four of the five states that voters would be fine with polls open for 12 hours during eight days of early voting. The fifth election supervisor, a Republican in the Florida Keys, is sticking to his guns, and Scott is threatening to fire him.

The state of Ohio isn’t covered by the Voting Rights Act so the Republicans in charge of county voting and the Republican secretary of state John Husted have limited early voting to 8:00 am-5:pm on weekdays. Doug Preisse, chair of the Franklin County Republican party, said, “We shouldn’t contort the voting process to accommodate the urban, read African-American, voter-turnout machine.” Because many people who want to vote earlier also work during the day, 82 percent of those who cast their votes in the last election went to the polls during the now-banned times.

Politics got even nastier in Ohio when Husted, who had established the restrictive voting times, removed the two Democrats on the Montgomery County Board of Elections. Because Dennis Lieberman and Tom Ritchie, Sr., did not see any written prevention of weekend voting, they brought up the issue at the board meeting. A 2-2 tie along party lines sent the issue to Husted to settle where all the problems with voting times began. Because all county election boards are split 50-50 between Democrats and two Republicans, Republican Husted makes the final decision.

Husted’s letter to the country election board demanded that it rescind Lieberman’s motion and threatened them with being fired if they didn’t. Lieberman, an attorney and former county Democratic Party chair, refused to withdraw his motion, arguing both that his motion did not violate the directive and that it was best for local voters. Both Democrats were suspended; the two Republicans remained on the board.

In Pennsylvania, a Republican state court judge ruled that the new voter ID law is constitutional.  One of the lead plaintiffs, a 93-year-old woman, doesn’t have her birth certificate or any photo ID because her purse was stolen while she was shopping, but the Republican judge didn’t see this as a problem. Also the name on her birth certificate was different from that on other documents, a not unusual situation for any woman who changed her name after she married, but a situation that can keep her from voting. Since the lawsuit, election officials gave her an ID card, an illegal action for them, but she is just one of possibly 600,000 people who would have to go to extremes to gain the ability to vote for the first time in their lives.

Watching the Pennsylvania photo ID court case unfold was black comedy. Pennsylvania Republican House Leader Mike Turzai (R-PA) was very open about his opinion that photo ID would guarantee Mitt Romney’s election:  “Voter ID, which is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania, done.” The commonwealth’s Republican governor, Tom Corbett—the same guy who signed the measure into law—couldn’t remember what IDs he is making his constituents have to vote. During her testimony, Carole Aichele, secretary of the Pennsylvania Commonwealth, didn’t know what the law said but was positive that 99 percent of voters had valid identification. She just couldn’t provide an evidence for her claim.

The pre-hearing filing made all this very clear:

– There have been no investigations or prosecutions of in-person voter fraud in Pennsylvania

– The state is not aware of any in-person voter fraud in Pennsylvania

– The state will not offer any evidence that in-person voter fraud has occurred

– The state will not offer any evidence or argument that in-person voter fraud is likely to occur in the absence of the photo ID law

According to the Supreme Court ruling in Ayotte v. Planned Parenthood, plaintiffs have to show that a law is unconstitutional—extremely difficult until it goes into effect. Gonzales v. Carhart requires the court to make the assumption that legislators make laws in good faith—frequently no longer true and certainly not true with the photo ID laws. Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett announced the day after the ruling to keep photo IDs that he was dumping plans to let voters apply online for absentee ballots and register online to vote. During testimony in the case, the governor’s administration had promised to take these two actions, but, heck, they won. They don’t need to help people register to vote.

Fortunately, the Department of Justice is investigating the effects of the Pennsylvania law.

In Massachusetts, Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA) protested a federal voter registration law. The 1993 National Voter Registration Act, sometimes called the Motor Voter bill, mandates that citizens be offered the opportunity to register to vote when they get a driver’s license or apply for social services. Sued for lack of compliance, the Commonwealth settled the case out of court and agreed to contact by mail 477,944 welfare recipients who might have been denied their right to be offered a chance to register to vote. Because the daughter of Elizabeth Warren, Scott’s opponent, is chair of one of the boards that sued, Brown made this statement:

“I want every legal vote to count, but it’s outrageous to use taxpayer dollars to register welfare recipients as part of a special effort to boost one political party over another. This effort to sign up welfare recipients is being aided by Elizabeth Warren’s daughter and it’s clearly designed to benefit her mother’s political campaign. It means that I’m going to have to work that much harder to get out my pro-jobs, pro-free enterprise message.”

One conservative governor deserves praise. Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, known for appointing removing democracy from towns and schools in his state by appointing emergency managers, vetoed voter suppression laws. In his veto statement, he wrote that “voting rights are precious.”

Conservatives that lose the voter restrictions might be able to rig the election through computers. The swing states of Pennsylvania and Virginia use paperless systems that cannot do recounts and have no way to recover lost votes. Two large suburban counties around Denver (CO) also have no audit trail. Much of Ohio and Nevada use touchscreen electronic machines that print a cash register-like record of votes; Ohio does require polls to have backup paper ballots. Printouts from these computers, however, may not be the legal equivalent of a paper ballot marked by a voter if a recount is necessary.

Other swing states, such as Florida, North Carolina, and much of New Hampshire, scan paper ballots that may miss votes. Earlier this year, Palm Beach County (FL) scanners identified the wrong winner in two local contests, an error not discovered until a routine audit the next week. In 2010, Humboldt County (CA) officials finally figured out that when they re-scanned batches of mail-in ballots that the previous batch count was erased. The manufacturer knew about that problem but hadn’t told a new local election official. In the recent New York City congressional primary involving Rep. Charlie Rangel, officials failed to record all of the results from optical scan tabulators causing some precincts to report zero votes.

Computers also allow gatekeepers to magically “discover” more votes after an election.. Such was the case with Waukesha County Clerk Kathy Nickolaus who personally got David Prosser his place on the Wisconsin Supreme Court because she was the only person in charge of the computers that “found” 7,582 votes for him, two days after the election, just enough for Prosser to win the election without a recount. Wisconsin’s state’s attorney general announced yesterday that he is filing a petition to the Supreme Court to place a harsh state photo identification law—already ruled unconstitutional by two Wisconsin judges—into effect before the November election.

When he signed the Voting Rights Act 47 years ago, President Johnson called the right to vote “the basic right without which all others are meaningless.” It seems that Republicans beg to differ.

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