Nel's New Day

November 3, 2015

Election Day: Odd Year, Odd


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. jen hendersonbizloop 70My 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.

December 14, 2014

Schools, Textbooks Promote Religion, Ignorance

The Fox network thinks that civics education in the United States is so important that high school students should be forced to pass the citizenship test for immigrants before they graduate. Brian Kilmeade, Fox and Friends, is distressed that some people don’t know who fought in the Civil War. He’s right, according to a survey at Texas Tech, with over 84 percent of its students coming from the school’s home state.

Recently, the media has explored what Texas schools teach—and what they want to teach. The state board of education just finished the excruciating task of deciding on the content of textbooks and curriculum with a heavy dose of wishful religious instruction. The end result is approval of 89 textbooks for the state’s more than 5 million children.

The Texas textbooks that board members choose have a big impact on the rest of the nation. Publishers don’t want to create one set of textbooks for Texas and one for the real world; therefore, the other 49 states suffer from one state’s bad decision. Once textbooks are purchased, they are kept for many years because of poor school funding.

Critics say the approved social studies and history textbooks in Texas overemphasize the role that Christianity and biblical figures while ignoring constitutional provisions against the state establishing religion. World geography textbooks downplay the role that armed conquest played in the spread of Christianity and misrepresent fundamental points of other major religions.

Battles over textbook content in Texas included climate change, the role of slavery in the Civil War, Islam, and biblical influence in America’s founding. Climate denial and “offensive cartoons comparing beneficiaries of affirmative action to space aliens” were taken out of the proposed textbooks, but references to Moses as an influence on the Constitution and the Old Testament as the root of democracy stayed in. Out is negative stereotyping of Muslims; in is greater clarity that slavery caused the Civil War. So far, so good except for Moses writing the U.S. Constitution.

Truth in Texas Textbooks Coalition also lost a reduced coverage of civil rights promoting “racial politics” (according to the group) and the push to include information about Young Earth Creationism. The board kept the coalition’s desire to include the falsehood that the Old Testament provided the “roots of democracy.”

The above information may not be entirely accurate: changes were made so close to the board meeting that the members who voted textbooks in or out probably don’t know their content. The textbooks may be more accurate than Fox or the coalition wants, but Texas does not require schools to use textbooks. Some publicly funded charter schools are teaching the following misinformation.

  • Evolution is “dogma” and an “unproved theory” with no experimental basis; leading scientists dispute the mechanisms of evolution and the age of the Earth.
  • There is “uncertainty” in the fossil record because of the “lack of a single source for all the rock layers.”
  • Because the Loch Ness is real, it disproves evolution.
  • The samurai led Japan’s military aggression in World War II. [The samurai class was abolished in 1876 after the Meiji Restoration; there were no samurai after World War I.]
  • The Philippines is composed of “Catholics, Moslems [sic], and pagans in various stages of civilization.”
  • Feminism forced women to turn to the government as a “surrogate husband.”
  • “In the beginning, God created the Heavens and the Earth.”
  • The West in the 1400s and 1500s was “quantum leaps” ahead of “native peoples,” including Ming Dynasty China.
  • The West was superior to “native populations” in battles because “Aztec chiefs and Moor sultans alike were completely vulnerable to massed firepower, yet without the legal framework of republicanism and civic virtue like Europe’s to replace its leadership cadre.
  • The monarchy of 16th-century Spain was a form of republican government that was superior to anything that “native peoples” had created.
  • The Iraq War was the “pinnacle” of the “western way of war.”
  • Secretary of State John Kerry’s receiving the Purple Heart and Bronze Star was “suspect at best.”
  • “Anti-Christian bias” coming out of the Enlightenment was a cause of World War I.
  • President George W. Bush banned stem-cell research because it was done “primarily with the cells from aborted babies.” [The California Institute for Regenerative Medicine pointed out that this is impossible.]
  • “The New Deal had not helped the economy. However, it ushered in a new era of dependency on the Federal government.”
  • President Jimmy Carter pardoned Vietnam War draft dodgers out of “a misguided sense of compassion.”
  • And my favorite: A person’s values are based on solely his or her religious beliefs.

Some of the training for teachers in these schools comes from the Traditional Values Coalition that has the header, “Say NO to Obama. Stop Sharia in America.” The Responsive Educations Solutions charter system operates over 65 campuses with over 17,000 in Texas, Arkansas, and Indiana. The system receives $82 million in taxpayer money every year.

The newly elected lieutenant governor of Texas is a creationist who wants to pass a law allowing Christianity to be taught in public schools. He said, “We need to stand for what this nation was founded upon, which is the word of God.”

Students following this curriculum might not only fail Fox networks’s test but also fail to even read the tests. A report from the Stanford Center for Research on Education Outcomes stated that the curriculum in these “had a significant negative impact on student reading gains and a non-significant effect in math.”

Fox’s Steve Doocy wants all people to take the same citizenship test before they vote. (He evidently hasn’t read the U.S. Constitution lately.) There was only one reason that the country has ever required passing a test to vote: to eliminate blacks from voting in the South. Recently, a group of Harvard students took the literacy test required by Louisiana in 1964. They all failed.

If Fox wants anyone tested in the United States, they need to start telling the truth and requiring all schools in the United States to teach it.

June 25, 2013

SCOTUS Accelerates ‘War on Voting’; Displays ‘Hubris’

The Supreme Court has delivered its long-awaited decision on the Voting Rights of Act of 1965 that required some jurisdictions to obtain “pre-clearance” from the Department of Justice before changing their voting laws. The conservative majority, except Clarence Thomas, agreed that the U.S. praised the VRA because racial prejudice still exists. Yet its 5-4 ruling struck down Section 4, considered out of date, as unconstitutional, leaving Section 5 intact.

It’s an odd twist: Section 4 provides the formula and the locations for Section 5. That means that the pre-clearance directive remains but without any criteria. SCOTUS suggests that Congress pass a different formula for Section 5.

A competent Congress could do this, but the current federal legislative branch has an extremist caucus that uses of extortion, hostage-taking, and inertia to control those who actually wish to govern. The House cannot even pass a farm bill. With the GOP in the majority of many states, particularly the South, Republicans will avoid any voting legislation. To restrict voting rights will bring down the wrath of the Justice Department; to allow minorities an equal right to vote will result in the wrath of the conservative electorate.

VRA was used to block more than 1,000 proposed changes to voting laws between 1982 and 2006, over 80 percent of them on the local level. Last year, the act stopped a voter identification law in Texas and elimination of early voting days in Florida. The case that SCOTUS heard from Shelby County (AL) tried to eliminate the only black city council in Calera. Just five months ago, a majority of the states in the nation worked to suppress votes from minorities and the poor.

Surveying data on racial stereotypes from the 2008 election, law professors Christopher Elmendorf and Douglas Spencer found that it is consistent with “the geography of anti-black prejudice.” In one day, SCOTUS destroying the progress of the past 100 years, repeating the failings of Giles v. Harris that upheld poll taxes and literacy taxes 110 years ago. The burden of proof has moved to those who are discriminated against, rather than those performing the discrimination. The next step will be to erase the rest of VRA.

Almost six months ago, Ari Berman described the problems:

“a whiter, more Southern, more conservative GOP that has responded to demographic change by trying to suppress an increasingly diverse electorate; a twenty-five-year effort to gut the VRA by conservative intellectuals, who in recent years have received millions of dollars from top right-wing funders, including Charles Koch; and a reactionary Supreme Court that does not support remedies to racial discrimination.”

Within an hour of the ruling’s announcement, Texas moved forward with its voter ID law that can disenfranchise 800,000 voters, according to Attorney General Greg Abbott. They will also put into effect the gerrymandered redistricting maps to ensure that each district has sufficient GOP voters to keep that party in control of the state legislature and the U.S. representatives.

Mississippi and Alabama will move forward with their voter ID law. Alaska has also targeted blacks, Hispanics, and native Americans in its restrictive laws. Among the 31 states requiring voter ID are WisconsinOhioNorth Carolina, and Michigan.


These voting restrictions will continue to cross the nation:

Strict voter ID laws:  For example, Virginia will abandon the DOJ-required flexible law for the much tougher 2013 photo ID-only restrictions. Any challenge to the law must require a disenfranchised voter to sue and prove injury.

Racially-gerrymandered legislative maps:  When Texas based its redistricting plans on race, it was blocked because of racial gerrymandering. Judge Thomas Griffith, appointed by George W. Bush, said that black districts were cut off from representatives’ offices while districts of white Congress members were either not touched or “redrawn to include particular country clubs and, in one case, the school belonging to the incumbent’s grandchildren.” Again, Texas is is not unique. A study shows that gerrymandering is the reason that Democrats won the popular vote for House candidates but the majority of representatives are GOP.

Blocking grassroots get-out-the-votes efforts:  Arizona Republicans are ready with their proposal to undermine voter turnout efforts in Latino communities by making it a felony for anyone working or volunteering on behalf of a political committee or other organization to deliver mailed ballots to a polling place. In the last election, Sheriff Joe Arpaio won by a narrow margin after a large number of Latino ballots were considered provisional, meaning that the state would not count them.

Chris Hayes described the decision as “one of the most stunning exercises in ‘judicial activism’ ever.” This term was coined by the far-right to complain about any decisions that they didn’t like, but there’s a different definition. Congress passed the Voting Rights Act and then re-approved it four more times, each time with large bipartisan majorities. In 2006, the Senate, in a unanimous vote of 98-0, and the House, in a vote of 390-33, renewed the VRA until 2031. Presidents from both parties have also supported VRA. SCOTUS’ ruling said that the country needs this guidance but they don’t approve of where the guidance is being applied. That’s judicial activism.

Constitutional Accountability Center’s David Gans explained another indication of “judicial activism.” He said that Chief Justice John Roberts described Section 4 of the VRA as unconstitutional without explaining how this was true. Roberts’ opinion stated that the VRA provision is not consistent with the “letter and spirit of the Constitution” and wrote about state sovereignty. Yet the Fifteenth Amendment gives Congress the power to prevent racial discrimination in voting.  In fact, the ruling seems to unconstitutional in itself: the VRA is legal. It’s just that Roberts has hated the Voting Rights Act for over 30 years when he worked for Ronald Reagan.

President Obama made the following statement this morning:

“I am deeply disappointed with the Supreme Court’s decision today. For nearly 50 years, the Voting Rights Act–enacted and repeatedly renewed by wide bipartisan majorities in Congress–has helped secure the right to vote for millions of Americans. Today’s decision invalidating one of its core provisions upsets decades of well-established practices that help make sure voting is fair, especially in places where voting discrimination has been historically prevalent. As a nation, we’ve made a great deal of progress towards guaranteeing every American the right to vote. But, as the Supreme Court recognized, voting discrimination still exists. And while today’s decision is a setback, it doesn’t represent the end of our efforts to end voting discrimination. I am calling on Congress to pass legislation to ensure every American has equal access to the polls. My Administration will continue to do everything in its power to ensure a fair and equal voting process.”

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg summarized the ruling: “Hubris is a fit word for today’s demolition of the VRA.”

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Pat Leahy (D-Vt.) wasted no time in declaring that Congress will take action:

“Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act has protected minorities of all races from discriminatory practices in voting for nearly 50 years, yet the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the coverage formula effectively guts the ability of Section 5 to protect voters from discriminatory practices. I could not disagree more with this result or the majority’s rationale. The Voting Rights Act has been upheld five times by the Supreme Court on prior occasions, and Section 5 was reauthorized and signed into law by a Republican President in 2006 after a thorough and bipartisan process in which Congress overwhelmingly determined that the law was still vital to protecting minority voting rights and that the coverage formula determining the jurisdictions to be covered was still applicable.

“Several lower court decisions in recent years have found violations of the Voting Rights Act and evidence of intentional discrimination in covered jurisdictions. Despite this sound record, and the weight of history, a narrow majority has decided today to substitute its own judgment over the exhaustive legislative findings of Congress.

“As Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, I intend to take immediate action to ensure that we will have a strong and reconstituted Voting Rights Act that protects against racial discrimination in voting.”

What are potential solutions to this destruction?

 A New Act of Congress:  As we have said, this will be difficult.

“Bail-In” Lawsuits: Section 3 of the VRA allows federal courts to put jurisdictions back into pre-clearance if it finds violations of Fourteenth or Fifteenth Amendment. It has rarely been used, meaning that it has little precedent.

Fixing The Judiciary: Another difficult fix, this requires approval of nominations by the Senate.

The right wing has accused the Voting Rights Act of using a hatchet instead of a scalpel to fix laws that eviscerate voting rights for minorities. With yesterday’s and today’s decisions against minorities, the Supreme Court is guilty of using a hatchet to murder any way that minorities and women can find recourse through the courts for wrongs against them.

Meanwhile Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) has dropped his investigation into the IRS and the privacy of the press scandals and gone back to Benghazi. With this SCOTUS ruling, I think that he’s not going to get much publicity.

September 2, 2012

Good News on the Voting Restriction Front

During Condoleezza Rice’s speech last Wednesday at the GOP convention, she said that “failing neighborhood schools” are the “civil rights struggle of our day.” She must have skipped the news since the last election about the number of states that are removing voting rights from minorities (and many others) through draconian restrictions of voting.

This last week, however, saw a movement toward correcting the injustices of this past two years when federal judges, appointed by both Republicans and Democrats, struck down these laws in six different rulings in Ohio, Florida, and Texas. Sunday has a tradition of spreading the “good news,” and this Sunday finally has good news.

Florida: A three-judge court restored early voting in five counties that are subject to the Voting Rights Act. An even more important ruling voids the state law that prevents groups such as the League of Women Voters from registering new voters because of drastic restrictions on them—a 48-hour time frame on submitting registration forms as well as fines against organizations and individual volunteers who violated the new guidelines.

Ohio: The state is required to open election polls on the weekend before Election Day. Early voting began in Ohio after the long waits in 2004 for voting. In 2008, almost 100,000 people cast their vote on the Sunday before Election Day, many of them people who had to work during the week. The judge cited Bush v. Gore (the decision that appointed George W. Bush president in 2000) in restoring this early voting.

Another Ohio achievement was the ruling that the state has to count votes cast in the wrong precinct because of mistakes made by election officials. Ohio had said that votes cast in the wrong precinct could be discarded even when the voter went to the right polling place and was told to go to another, wrong, place. In the last general election, approximately 14,000 votes were not counted because of election official mistakes.

Texas: Federal judges struck down both a strict new photo identification requirement and the election redistricting that undercut the voting power of Latinos and blacks.

South Carolina is fighting the Voter Rights Act because the state is among the 16 jurisdictions with historic voting rights violations that require approval from the Justice Department to alter election procedures. The case has gone badly for South Carolina. State Rep. Alan Clemmons (R), denied that the bill was motivated by any desire to hurt minority voters, but civil rights attorney Garrard Beeney presented evidence that Rep. Clemmons had responded positively to a racist email from one of his constituents about the bill. Sen. George “Chip” Campsen III testified at length about alleged cases of fraud he had heard about but could not cite any instances of fraud related to voter impersonation.

Other states or parts of states challenging the Voting Rights Act include Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Florida, and Texas.  Unfortunately, the conservatives on the Supreme Court have indicated sympathy for these states.

In Tennessee, Memphis is suing the city, Tennessee’s photo identification requirement for voting for “imposing an undue burden on registered Tennessee voters’ right to vote.”

Working people’s fighting against conservatives to gain and keep the Constitutional right to vote is nothing new in the United States as shown in Alexander Keyssar’s The Right to Vote: The Contested History of Democracy in the United States. Originally, only men, primarily white, who owned, not leased, a certain amount of property could vote in this country. Only Vermont, which gained statehood in 1791, had no property or tax requirements for voting. During the early 19th century, veterans mobilized to gain the right to vote, and Western states loosened the requirements. In Wisconsin, even non-citizens could vote if they said they would become citizens.

Conservatives, fearing that the urban factory workers would overrun the country, pushed against the workers’ rights. The anti-immigrant, anti-Catholic movement especially hostile to the Irish controlled voted through literacy tests, long residency requirements, and long waits for new citizens to gain voting rights, wanting 21 years but compromising on two years in Massachusetts

Even after the Civil War, blacks could not vote in 15 states and territories in 1870. The 14th Amendment declared “all persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof” to be citizens and prohibited states to deny citizens “equal protection of the laws.” It didn’t address voting, but the 15th Amendment did. When political alliances between blacks and poor whites threatened the power of the local elites, the conservatives created the “Jim Crow” system of strict racial segregation and the end of black civil and political rights, violently enforced by Ku Klux Klan terrorism and one-party rule by ultra-racist Democrats. Poll taxes and literary tests could disenfranchised many poor whites, and the country failed to enforce the 15th Amendment until the 1960s.

Meanwhile California had banned anyone born in China from voting, and other state constitutions barred “paupers” from voting to prevent striking workers or the unemployed during the depressions of the latter half of the 19th century. Other states determined that Native Americans were not citizens because they lived on reservation land outside the state’s jurisdiction. By the early 20th century they were allowed to vote if they severed their tribal connections and sold tribal lands to non-Indians.

Women didn’t vote in federal elections until 1920 although 17 states, over one-third of the United States, permitted voting within the states. The Voting Rights Act expanded the absolute right to vote in 1965, requiring, for example, New York to drop its literacy test to keep many Puerto Ricans from voting. The 24th Amendment permanently banned poll taxes, and the 26th Amendment lowered the voting age from 21 to 18. The National Voter Registration Act of 1993 mandated allowing voter registration by mail and in government offices such as motor vehicle bureaus.

A common ploy in this century to keep people from voting has been the purges of voter lists. Florida started this in 2000 where they disenfranchised many people with names similar to that of an ex-convict and used the excuse that it was legal because convicted felons cannot vote in that state. After an extremely close—and mis-managed—vote in Florida, the Supreme Court ruled that “the individual citizen has no constitutional right to vote for electors for the President of the United States…” State legislatures can allow voters to choose the states’ electors who vote for president in the Electoral College, said the five justices, but the legislature can also “take back the power to appoint electors.”

Conservatives have been open about not wanting minorities, seniors, students, disabled, and the poor to vote. The following quotation from Matthew Vadum in American Thinker is just one example:

“Why are left-wing activist groups so keen on registering the poor to vote? Because they know the poor can be counted on to vote themselves more benefits by electing redistributionist politicians.  Welfare recipients are particularly open to demagoguery and bribery. Registering them to vote is like handing out burglary tools to criminals.  It is profoundly antisocial and un-American to empower the nonproductive segments of the population to destroy the country — which is precisely why Barack Obama zealously supports registering welfare recipients to vote.”

How ironic that federal law defines the ages of people who vote but not their felony status or their ability to get a photo ID. If people are supposedly rehabilitated because they have served their time, they should be able to take their full place in society. And photo IDs have not stopped any fraud. I’m grateful that I live in Oregon where felons can vote once they leave prison and where we all vote by mail. When the law was first passed, I worried about fraud and coercion. Any possibility of that is far overshadowed by the restrictions that conservatives have placed on the majority of U.S. citizens.

A judge in the Texas case said, “As the Supreme Court has ‘often reiterated…voting is of the most fundamental significance under our constitutional structure.’ Indeed, the right to vote free from racial discrimination is expressly protected by the Constitution.”

Cheers for Vermont, the only state that upholds the spirit of the U.S. Constitution.


August 26, 2012

The Vote – Use It or Lose It!

Today is Women’s Equality Day. Ninety-two years ago today, women throughout the United States gained the right to vote because 36 states approved the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. For the last few generations, women have taken this right for granted, sometimes not even voting. Now a majority of the states have decided to restrict the right to vote, particularly the right of women to vote.

When women change their last name after marriage, updating documents for photo ID may not be simple. A survey from the Brennan Center for Justice shows that only 48 percent of all voting-age women without ready access to their U.S. birth certificates have birth certificates with their current legal name. I know that mine doesn’t. Of the women who have easy access to any proof of citizenship, only 66 percent of voting-age women have a document with their current legal name. Therefore as many as 32 million voting-age women may have no document available that confirms both their citizenship and their current name. Beyond that are women who might use nicknames on a document that doesn’t match their birth certificates.

Those who support mandated photo IDs are fond of pointing out how buying alcohol, flying, entering some buildings, etc., etc. all require photo IDs. They are missing the most important difference between these activities and voting: everything that they cite as requiring photo IDs is a privilege; voting is a right. Or it should be.

During this past year, white males have worked harder than ever to silence women’s voices. Rush Limbaugh called a woman who argued for contraception a slut. This was after Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) refused to let any women speak at a hearing on contraception. Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO) presented his ridiculous explanation of how raped women can’t get pregnant. In censuring a female colleague for using the word “vagina” during floor debate, Michigan Rep. Wayne Schmidt compared it to “giving the kid a time out for a day.”

Fox‘s Andrea Tantaros said, “No woman should aspire to be [Sandra Fluke].” Earlier this summer, Brian Kilmeade, co-host of the morning show Fox & Friends, said, “Women are everywhere. We’re letting them play golf and tennis now. It’s out of control.”

Despite the  Women’s Equality Day, women certainly have not achieved equality. The U.S. places 79th in the world in rankings of the number of women political leaders behind countries like Sudan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Morocco, Cambodia, and Bolivia. One of our country’s political parties is determined to deny women equal pay for equal work, prevent family leave, stop organizations (including Planned Parenthood) that provide free care for women, block contraception, outlaw abortion, keep lesbians from being included in the Violence against Women Act, and destroy Medicare and Medicaid which disproportionately affects women. In fact, Limbaugh has said that what’s wrong with this country is women voting.

The term “Women’s Equality Day” was coined in 1971 by the federal government at a time when women had less equality than now. The homage paid to Neil Armstrong since his death last week brings up the little-known fact that women tested for this first voyage to the moon but were denied the opportunity.

Jerri Truhill, one of this group called Mercury 13, said in an NPR interview in 2007, “It was very grueling. It was very painful. As a matter fact, some of the tests, we were told, we came out better than the men did as far as being suited for spaceflight.” The Mercury 13: The Untold Story of Thirteen American Women and the Dream of Space Flight by Martha Ackmann is a book for youth that gives details about the project and the women who participated.

The excuse for stopping the testing was that women didn’t meet the educational educational requirements, those that prevented women from participation. On the other hand, John Glenn was excused from one of these requirements, a necessary college degree. A woman was not accepted into the astronaut program until 17 years later with Sally Ride’s inclusion in 1978. Women are still struggling for military equality, and Republicans now want  to remove them from combat situations.

As Madeline Albright wrote, “Women will never go back to the days where we could not control our own reproductive health care decisions–and we will not remain silent in the face of vicious misogyny and anti-women hate speech.” Yet she added that “rights never stay won” and that “[e]ach generation must stand up and fight to hold accountable those who would try to take our rights away.”

If women want to keep control over themselves, we need to vote and think what we’re voting to preserve or gain.


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