Nel's New Day

September 26, 2014

Voter Suppression, Solutions

A new form of voter suppression has appeared in North Carolina where Americans for Prosperity, partially funded by the Koch brothers, sent incorrect voter registration information to voters in the state and one cat. Hundreds of recipients have called the State Board of Elections about the form that they received with the wrong information:

  • At the top, the form states voter registrations are due 30 days before an election to the State Board of Elections’ office. Below, in smaller type, it states the deadline is 25 days before the election. The information must be sent to the county elections board, not the state board.
  • The first page also states people should return the registration to the N.C. Secretary of State’s office, though the envelope is addressed to the State Board of Elections.
  • It states the Secretary of State’s office has an elections division and can answer questions about registration. The North Carolina Secretary of State does not handle elections. The phone number for the Secretary of State’s office is actually for the State Board of Elections.
  • The form states that after voters mail in their information, they will be notified of their precinct by their local county clerk. Notification comes from the county board of elections or the elections director, not the county clerk.
  • The registration form also includes the wrong ZIP code for the State Board of Elections. The ZIP code associated with the board’s post office box is 27611, and the board’s office ZIP code is 27603.

A form sent to Alison Beal of Wake Forest was addressed to her brother-in-law who lives in Caldwell. Neither one belongs to Americans for Prosperity.

Adam C. Nicholson, a spokesman for Americans for Prosperity, refused to say how many people were sent the forms, how the group obtained the voter lists, or how the mistakes occurred. Another spokesman, Levi Russell, said that people need to look at the forms in context with an otherwise “highly successful” voter registration drive. North Carolina is the same state where Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger (R) was forced to change his television commercials because it gave misleading information about a new identification requirement that doesn’t go into effect until 2016.

Conservative lawmakers claimed that their new voting laws, the most restrictive and suppressive in the nation, would reduce fraud. The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments on a lawsuit yesterday. Thomas Farr, one of the lawyers representing the state, justified the repressive laws because nothing “horrible” happened in the May primary. said the provisions didn’t hinder minority voting in the May primary, saying nothing “horrible” had happened. Another argument against allowing people to vote is that it would be a burden for the state because it had already mailed a 30-page pamphlet to households and would have to “re-educate” voters and “let them know the new rules with the election underway.”

Judge Henry Floyd asked, “Does an administrative burden trump a constitutional right?” Judge James Wynn also questioned the seriousness of long lines at polling places, people going to wrong precincts, and the need to count same-day voter registrations by hand if they reinstated the former procedures. “How come the state of North Carolina doesn’t want people to vote?” Wynn asked.

Last Monday, a U.S. District Court heard closing arguments in the case that challenges voter suppression of 600,000 people in Texas because of the narrow number of photo IDs that can be used to vote. There is no indication of when the court will issue its ruling.

Ohio has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to delay a federal judge’s order that expands the state’s early voting schedule this fall. Without help from SCOTUS, people can start casting early ballots next week.

One solution for voting problems is to modernize registration at the state level. Voters are told they aren’t registered in the right place, that their address hasn’t been updated, and that their name is misspelled. Some of them have been wrongly removed from the rolls.

A uniform early voting period would remove states’ abilities to restrict the time to vote and reduce long voting lines. Another way to reduce waiting time at the polls is to establish standards for voting machines per capita. During the last election, some states saw almost no waiting time in predominantly white precincts and many hours in precincts with mostly black voters.

The federal government could also research problems with computers for voting and perhaps the owners. For example, Karl Rove had a deep involvement with the voting computers used in Ohio in the 2004 presidential election, which coincidentally had abnormalities bringing the state in for George W. Bush. In 2012, Rove guaranteed that Ohio would go for Mitt Romney, resulting in rumors that hackers changed the rigged computer software that would have provided this. Certainly, Rove’s face on Election Night showed his disbelief that Ohio went for President Obama in 2012.

The Election Assistance Commission needs to be strengthened. Without commissioners or a permanent executive director, the EAC had long been dysfunctional. Currently all four commissioner positions are vacant.

To give voters greater freedom for voting personal choice, employers need to be stopped from controlling political activity outside the job. Only four states--California, Colorado, New York and North Dakota–protect workers from being fired for legal activity outside of work. Federal law makes it illegal to “intimidate, threaten or coerce” anyone against voting as they wish, but the connection between possible coercion or intimidation and “worker education” is rather fuzzy in the eyes of the law. The federal government has mostly chosen to let states, including the ones that promote voter suppression, to decide questions of employee free speech. About half of people in the United States live in states that do not provide any worker protection for political speech or from pressure, such as threat of job loss, to vote in a specific way.

In New Mexico, a signed letter saying that a person was fired because of carrying an Obama tote bag is no protection without litigation. The Supreme Court has strongly expanded “employer free speech,” giving them the rights to pay millions and millions of dollars to elect a specific candidate. Employees need the same right.

In their goal of suppressing the votes for the poor, the elderly, and minorities, Republicans will undoubtedly oppose any such moves, but these are ways to move the country toward the concept of one person, one vote.

Update in Georgia: After Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp refused to process 51,000 voter registrations from the New Georgia Project, black lawmakers in the state are demanding answers about the status of these registrations. NGP has reportedly submitted about 85,000 applications to county election officials in the state. Kemp staffers said they would “move expeditiously” to process the registrations before the October 6 deadline. That’s ten days. The office, however, was unable to provide adequate details about how the process would be carried out, according to state Rep. Dee Dawkins-Haigler. Kemp claimed that they had found several dozen suspicious applications after they sent letters to 159 counties in a concern for fraud.

The excuse for refusing to let people register or vote is always a concern that changing the rules so close to the election would cause voter confusion. This is the excuse from Alexander Peters, North Carolina’s senior deputy attorney general, who noted in arguments before the 4th Circuit Court yesterday that absentee ballots were mailed Sept. 5. Thanks to television ads from conservatives, voters in at least that state are already confused. So are voters in Wisconsin just increased voter suppression, thanks to a GOP three-judge panel.

North Carolina resident Rosanell Eaton, 93, remembers her registering to vote in 1939 when she turned 18. Three white officials told her that she had to recite the preamble to the U.S. Constitution before she could vote. She did it perfectly. Seventy-five years later, she and many others are once again facing obstacles to voting because of white conservatives. As Wynn asked, “How come the state of North Carolina doesn’t want people to vote?” That’s a question that could be asked in the majority of states in the United States of America.

August 23, 2014

Ferguson (MO): Two Weeks of Strife

brown bodyTwo weeks ago today, Michael Brown’s body was allowed to remain on a Ferguson (MO) street after a police officer killed him. During the ensuing demonstrations, militarized officers intimidated, tear gassed, assaulted, and arrested protesters including threats to kill journalists and refusals to give them names when asked.

More news ensuing from Brown’s killing:

This catalog of military gear and weapons used in Ferguson is horrifying.

This interactive map shows the way that free federal supplies have militarized the United States, allowing many places to resemble war zones. One of the heaviest armed areas is Maricopa County (AZ) because of Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s aggressive perspective on serving his community. Not listed on this site are such acquisitions as the snow parkas sent to New Orleans.

The ACLU released this report in June, less than two months before police officer Warren killed Brown. It reflects the increase in militarization that will continue because of the weapons’ industry contributions and lobbying to legislators.

It doesn’t matter if Michael Brown stole a box of cigars. But he didn’t steal them. The complete video of Brown in the store shows him paying for the cigars. And neither the owner nor employees called the police to report any theft. The call came from a customer in the store

Although a grand jury has been convened to determine a prosecution of Darren Wilson, the man who killed Brown, Missouri law will most likely exonerate him because prosecution must disprove a defendant’s claim of self-defense. “Any reasonable doubt on the issue requires a finding for the defendant.” Missouri law also permits deadly force “to effect the arrest.” The grand jury has nine whites and three blacks, two of them women.

St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert P. McCulloch said that there is no incident report on Brown’s killing. Two weeks after the death, people are petitioning McCulloch’s recusal from the case on grounds of bias.

jamilah nasheedWhen State Sen. Jamilah Nasheed tried to deliver 70,000 signatures to St. Louis County prosecutor Bob McCulloch on a petition calling for a special prosecutor, police threatened to arrest her. After two minutes, the police backed down, and she was allowed to enter a public building.

St. Louis County police raided a Ferguson church last Wednesday—for the third time. Greater St. Mark Church used part of the property for first aid treatment of people injured in police attacks during demonstration; people were also able to get food and water there. The latest raid had 20 police, but unlike earlier raids, they didn’t carry assault weapons or remove supplies.

“I’m into diversity. I kill everybody, I don’t care.” That’s what Oathkeeper and St. Louis police officer Dan Page told fellow Oathkeepers (the same group that caused the standoff at the Cliven Bundy ranch in Nevada). An investigation following Page’s pushing CNN’s Dan Lemon resulted in Page’s temporary suspension from the force. The video of his speech to the Oathkeepers is here.

A St. Louis-area police officer working in Ferguson falsely accused a group of protestors of shooting at police, said Missouri Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson holds a racial “double standard,” and asserted that he would like to punch attorney general Eric Holder. Later he had to admit that he wasn’t telling the truth about the shooting because reporters had a video tape. He also accused Johnson’s approach as “Hug a Thug.” Other police officers have referred to demonstrators as “animals.”

After eyewitness Piaget Crenshaw came forward with a video of Brown’s killing, the police confiscated her phone and refused to release the video. She said she witnessed Officer Darren Wilson running after Brown and shooting him several times for no apparent reason after Brown stopped running and turned to face Wilson. She also described the struggle at the police car when it appeared that Wilson tried to pull Brown into the car and Brown broke away.

Ferguson gets the second-largest part of its budget from fines and court fees. An annual average of 1.5 cases and three warrants in this town of 21,000 nets the government $2,635,400. Although the town is two-thirds black, whites who are stopped in cars are half as likely to be searched or arrested. The discovery of contraband is far more likely with whites than blacks.

The ACLU sued Ferguson for barring journalists from reporting and sought a court order to tell police that this was illegal. A judge provided a court agreement “that the media and members of the public have a right to record public events without abridgment unless it obstructs the activity or threatens the safety of others, or physically interferes with the ability of law enforcement officers to perform their duties.” The police ignored the order. Information about treatment of the journalists is here.

Getty images staff photographer Scott Olsen, who took the following photo, was one of the members of the media who was arrested and later released.

scott olsen

Because voting participation is extremely low, 12 percent in the most recent election in the Ferguson area, community members set up a tent in town for a voter-registration drive. One volunteer said, “We’re trying to make young people understand that this is how to change things.” Missouri RNC executive director Matt Wills has expressed outrage about this action and called it “completely inappropriate.”

The city of Ferguson has hired the PR firm Common Ground [below] to help them with their problems that resulted from racial differences.

Ferguson PR firm

Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson told the press that police shooter Darren Wilson had no disciplinary reports in his file. He’s probably correct because until 2010 use of force complaints were filed with the cases and not the officers’ files. The officer would complete non-fatal use-of-force reports and give it to the supervisor before it would be put with the case file. Jackson started to change the protocol, but there is no record of how long it took to implement the process. No one knows if he had any disciplinary reports.

In defending the U.S. justice system, Missouri’s Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder said, “We have legal processes that are set in motion, that are designed after centuries of Anglo-American jurisprudence tradition…. That’s one of the great advances of Anglo-American civilization, is that we do not have politicized trials. We let the justice system work it out.” Kinder was admitting that the justice system in this nation is based on white ideals and white standards.

Hedy Epstein, 90-year-old human rights activist and Holocaust survivor was arrested in front of Gov. Jay Nixon’s office in St. Louis with seven other protesters for failure to disperse.

Fox contributor Todd Starnes wrote on his Facebook page that President Obama is “orchestrating the Michael Brown tragedy.” Alex Jones called the demonstrations a “staged (by the military) race war.”

On Fox and Friends, contributor Bo Dietl explained away the police officer’s shooting Michael Brown by saying “bullets go that way.” He also condemned Captain Ron Johnson, who led the Highway Patrol in Ferguson, for apologizing for Brown’s death in a speech at an African-American church.

Both Egypt and Russia have called for international intervention in Ferguson following the use of tear gas and rubber bullets. For the first time ever, Amnesty International has sent a delegation of observers and organizers to provide support to community members and watch police response to protests because of the police violence in Ferguson. The police forced the observers out of the protest area at gun point.

The good parts:

Julianna Mendelsohn, a North Carolina teacher, has raised over $150,000 to feed children in Ferguson because the delay in school opening is causing them to go hungry. In a district of 11,000, over 68 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches.

With school not yet opening, teachers have volunteered their time to work with students in the public library, providing a safe place for children. About 120 children came for the “classes.” The library also gave residents a place to get bottled water and check their emails.

black guns 1And:

This image from Texas may soon be reflective of Missouri. The white police force in Ferguson police was heavily armed while demonstrators, primarily black, had almost no weapons. Photographs of whites–mostly male–proliferate on the net in stores, restaurants, shopping malls, parks, etc. and see black people open carrying. In a protest against police violence, the 30 members of the Huey P. Newton Gun Club want a change. Their website reads:

black guns 2“The recent murders of unarmed black, brown, and whites across the United States of America has eradicated trust in the police states. Individuals across this nation have been stripped of due process, subjected to state-sponsored police terrorism, and continue to suffer the fate of being terminated extra-judicially.”

Black activist Huey P. Newton co-founded the militant Black Panther party with Bobby Seale in 1966, resulting in U.S. gun control laws. The Huey P. Newton Gun Club might encourage gun control.

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