Nel's New Day

August 6, 2015

GOP Determined to Repeat Past Mistakes

Fifty years ago, the Voting Rights Act enforced constitution rights for millions of people by removing the rights of states to disenfranchise people from this right. It has been called the most effective piece of legislation ever enacted in the United States. After the Supreme Court struck down some of its provisions two years ago, the number of draconian laws begun with the GOP sweeps in 2010 rapidly accelerated to prevent people from voting by mandating photo IDS, restricting times to vote, and shutting down voter registration drives. Chief Justice John Roberts had written in the majority opinion, “things have changed in the South.” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s dissent argued that the justices had stripped the provisions that made the Voting Rights Act a success. She wrote:

“Throwing out preclearance when it has worked and is continuing to work to stop discriminatory changes is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.”

The rainstorm has flooded the country throughout the past four years. From 2011 to 2015, 395 new voting restrictions have been introduced in forty-nine states (Idaho is the lone exception). Half the states in the country have adopted measures making it harder to vote.

voting_2011

In the first few weeks of this year, 40 new voting restrictions were introduced in 17 states. The Supreme Court wrote in its ruling that Congress could pass a law to allow people to vote, but the GOP-controlled federal legislature has refused to take any steps in this direction.

As with other issues of inequality, the courts have begun to act. Yesterday, the 5th Circuit Court, one of the most conservative appeals courts in the nation, used what remains of the Voting Rights Act to strike down a voter suppression law in Texas. The unanimous opinion from a three-judge panel and written by a George W. Bush appointee, ruled that the photo ID requirement is illegal under Section 2, because of the negative impact it has on the voting opportunities of minorities and the poor, and that a lower court must reopen the case to determine a legal remedy for the violation. That court must also further examine the law for intentional discrimination by lawmakers.

Judge Catharina Haynes’ ruling agreed with an analysis that “Hispanic registered voters and Black registered voters were respectively 195% and 305% more likely than their Anglo peers to lack” a voter ID in the state of Texas. Texas’ own expert “found that 4% of eligible White voters lacked SB 14 ID, compared to 5.3% of eligible Black voters and 6.9% of eligible Hispanic voters.” Low-income voters are also less likely to have ID: “testimony [showed] that 21.4% of eligible voters earning less than $20,000 per year lack SB 14 ID, compared to only 2.6% of voters earning between $100,000 and $150,000 per year.”

People trying to restrict laws, although sometimes open about their desire to stop votes for Democrats, also claim voter fraud—a situation that rarely exists. In a Wisconsin study, the 2004 election had seven cases of fraud in three million votes, and none of these cases could have been stopped by a voter ID law. Iowa found exactly zero (0) cases of in-person fraud during several elections.

The court’s suggestion was that a lower court either reinstate voter registration cards or allow someone to sign an affidavit saying that they lack an acceptable form of identification before they vote. Last October, a federal judge called the law an unconstitutional “poll tax” that was intentionally discriminatory, but the Supreme Court allowed the law to be in effect of November’s midterm election with over 600,000 Texas unable to vote because they lacked the state-mandated type of voter ID. Gun licenses were acceptable, but student IDs were not.

The court’s decision is not a definite win, but it moves in the right direction. Although the ruling did not explain whether Texas needed to get official permission before changing its election or voting laws, it is the first circuit court opinion against a voter ID law and against the enforcement of it. State officials can either ask for a new review from all judges in the 5th Circuit or go back to the Supreme Court. With the stronger Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act eliminated, plaintiffs must rely on the weaker Section 5 which requires that plaintiffs cannot file until after they have suffered discrimination. Thus they have already lost the constitutional right to vote.

State officials in Texas now have two options:  to seek a new review by the full Fifth Circuit, which would set aside the panel ruling, or to go directly to the Supreme Court as the next step.

In California, tens of thousands of residents will be able to vote after the state dropped its appeal of a court decision that gives voting rights to people who left prison and completed parole and are now under county supervision. When the state shifted low-level offenders into county custody, a former secretary of state, Debra Bowen, ruled that the same state law barring people in prison or on parole for felony convictions applied to ex-offenders under county supervision. The current secretary of state, Alejandro “Alex” Padilla, said:

“No right is more precious in a free country than that of having a voice in the election of those who make the laws under which, as good citizens, we must live. Other rights, even the most basic, are illusory if the right to vote is undermined.”

While 113 bills to restrict voting access have been introduced or carried over in 33 states this year, four times as many—464 bills—are circulating in 48 states and the District of Columbia. Only one state, North Dakota, has managed to pass a voter ID bill this year; all others failed. Arizona and North Carolina have ongoing lawsuits.

The grandest law passed came from my home state of Oregon. All eligible citizens with driver’s license and don’t ask to stay unregistered are automatically registered to vote. The state’s “motor-voter” law is now being introduced in 14 other states as well as District of Columbia. Some of these states have bills to automatically register citizens conducting business with other government agencies. Vermont passed a bill to establish Election Day registration, and Indiana enacted a bill to allow state agencies that issue SNAP and TANF benefits to electronically transfer voter registration information to election officials (which is currently in place only at the DMV). A bill to restore voting rights to people with past criminal convictions passed the Maryland legislature but vetoed by the governor may have enough votes to override the veto.

Yesterday, Rep. Chuck Schumer (NY) introduced three bills to make voting easier for all citizens in every state—online registration, seven days of early voting plus absentee ballots for anyone, and same-day voting for people who moved within the state where they registered.

House Democrats said they would even drop bills against Confederate flags for the restoration of the Voting Rights Act that passed nine years ago and was partially struck down by the Supreme Court. The GOP isn’t interested. Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has refused to have an up-or-down floor vote, and the Judiciary Committee chair, Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) likes the status quo.

Today is another anniversary, the 70th anniversary since the United States dropped a nuclear bomb on Hiroshima. Military leaders opposed dropping the atomic bomb, but politicians told President Harry Truman that it needed to be done. Top American military leaders, mostly conservatives, who fought World War II declared that dropping the bomb was unnecessary because Japan was on the verge of surrender and the destruction of large numbers of civilians was immoral. Adm. William Leahy, President Truman’s Chief of Staff, wrote in his 1950 memoir:

“The use of this barbarous weapon at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material assistance in our war against Japan. The Japanese were already defeated and ready to surrender.… in being the first to use it, we…adopted an ethical standard common to the barbarians of the Dark Ages. I was not taught to make war in that fashion, and wars cannot be won by destroying women and children.”

The war hawks seem aimed toward another nuclear disaster, claiming that the president was wrong for not putting more pressure on Iran through sanctions. President Obama responded that other countries—Russia, China, France, Great Britain, and Germany—to go along with that argument. After the existing diplomacy, the only option is military action. His talking points are here. President Obama was more direct in his speech at American University when he talked about how U.S. Republicans hope to give extremist Iranians, who hate the Iran deal, exactly what they want.

Fifty years after the Voting Rights Act made voting a reality for people in the United States; 70 years ago bombing Hiroshima showed people the terror of nuclear warfare. Today, conservatives want to keep millions of people in the U.S. from voting and engage a country in war that could end up with a nuclear weapon dropped on the United States. Those people should read what Padilla and Leahy have to say.

September 25, 2014

More Voter Discrimination

Exactly 50 years ago this summer, Andrew Goodman, a 20-year-old anthropology major at Queens College, Mickey Schwerner, a 24-year-old graduate student in social work at Columbia University, and James Chaney, a 21-year-old volunteer with the Congress for Racial Equality, participated in Freedom Summer, urging Mississippi blacks to register to vote. In 1964, only 6.7 percent of blacks were registered in Mississippi; the county where they spoke had not one registered black person.

On June 21, 1964, the three were arrested, released, and then abducted by the Ku Klux Klan. Their bodies were found 44 days later in an earthen dam. The two white men had each been shot once; Cheney, who was black, had been mutilated beyond recognition. Only the Voting Rights Act, which President Lyndon Johnson signed on August 6, 1965, moved the country toward voting rights for eligible citizens. The law stopped literacy tests and poll taxes used to keep blacks from registering in the South and prevented future voter suppression methods. Now Mississippi has more black elected officials than any other state.

One year ago on June 25, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its ruling that invalidated the requirement that states and regions have to “preclear” their voting changes with the federal government. Chief Justice John Roberts claimed that the data was outdated and cited the “fundamental principle of equal sovereignty” among states. He did concede that “voting discrimination still exists; no one doubts that” but that the country didn’t need the “extraordinary measures” of the VRA. Tuesday’s blog shows the need for these “extraordinary measures.”

The 22 states suppressing voting since the 2010 election are using “extraordinary measures” to ensure that only “certain people” could vote: strict photo IDs, elimination of early voting, harsher laws to register people to vote, rescinding voting rights for non-violent ex-felons, etc. Conservative discrimination against low-income people and minorities were obvious in the new laws. Eighteen of the 22 states have GOP legislatures or governors. Seven of the 11 states with the highest black turnout in 2008 have new restrictions. Nine of the 12 states with the biggest Hispanic population growth between 2000 and 2010 have the same new restrictions. Nine of the 15 states previously covered by the Voting Rights Act, almost two-thirds, passed new voting restrictions.

Although most of these states are in the South, other states farther north joined them: Kansas, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. Two of these have backed down, but Kansas and Wisconsin kept their oppressive anti-voting laws.

In her dissent to overruling the VRA section, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote, “Throwing out preclearance when it has worked and is continuing to work to stop discriminatory changes is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.” People in Texas lost the umbrella protecting them from voter restrictions within two hours of the decision’s announcement. North Carolina waited only two months to pass the most stringent set of voting restrictions among all 50 states.

Local governments have also adopted strategies to cut out minorities. Augusta (GA) moved city council elections from November to July when black turnout is traditionally far lower. Pasadena (TX) approved an at-large system for electing council members to reduce the number of successful Hispanic candidates. Beaumont (TX) followed the same process for its school board. The federal government blocked the move, but Beaumont did an end run and succeeded in state court. Decatur (AL) has a new system to rid the city council of its one black member.

After the five conservatives of the Supreme Court eviscerated the VRA, it claimed that Congress could clean up their mess. With the GOP-caused gridlock, this will not happen now or, possibly, in the near future. Rep. Eric Cantor seemed amenable to listening to the voting problems after a trip to Mississippi with Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), who was beaten by state troopers during the civil rights movement, and David Goodman, who is the brother of the slain Andrew Goodman. Cantor said, “This voting issue is not a partisan issue.” He has not been re-elected.

[Thanks to Ari Berman for these thoughts and words.]

Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), chair of the House Judiciary Committee, believes that there is no voting discrimination because current laws don’t allow this to happen. Goodlatte still thinks that Section 2 of the VRA, which remains after the Supreme Court ruling, is sufficient protection. It allows victims of racial discrimination in voting to file suit. Therefore, Goodlatte will not schedule a hearing on the issue.

A broad coalition of civil rights, labor, and progressive leaders launched the VRA for Today Coalition with a petition signed by more than 500,000 Americans who strongly support restoring the Voting Rights Act and protecting all voters from discrimination. Advocates who tried to deliver the names of the petition signers this month found that House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) had locked his office door during normal business hours.

The voiced argument for voting suppression in 34 states has always been a self-righteous claim that laws are necessary to stop voting fraud. Sworn congressional testimony by Loyola Law Prof. Justin Levitt in September 2011 cited only nine potential cases of in-person impersonation since 2000 out of 400 million votes cast during that time. A non-partisan news consortium in 2012 found one more case. Levitt updated his data recently and found 31 cases out of 1 billion ballots cast in the past 14 years. Some of these 31 cases have not been thoroughly investigated which means that they may be debunked through computer error or confusion of names. This is a fraud rate of 0.00002 percent. Impersonation results in a $10,000 fine and three years of imprisonment—for just one vote. It would also require the name of another person registered at a specific polling place who has not yet voted and does not know the person.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), presidential wannabe, has waffled about photo ID, but this week he again argued that the GOP is causing problems for minority voters. At the Liberty PAC conference, he said:

“So many times, Republicans are seen as this party of, ‘We don’t want black people to vote because they’re voting Democrat, we don’t want Hispanic people to vote because they’re voting Democrat. We wonder why the Republican Party is so small. Why don’t we be the party that’s for people voting, for voting rights?”

As a U.S. senator, Paul has sponsored no legislation to protect voters targeted by the GOP. In July he said that he wanted to bring back a federal role for the Voting Rights Act, but he has failed to sign on to a legislative proposal to do just that. He hasn’t even come up with an alternative.

Update to Kansas: Since my report two days ago about Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s insistence that the Democrats name a candidate for the U.S. Senate on the ballot, a Kansas Democrat, whose son is the regional field director for GOP Gov. Brownback’s re-election campaign, filed a lawsuit intended to force Democrats into selecting a new candidate for the highly contented U.S. Senate race. The Kansas Supreme Court sent the case to a lower court which must consider barriers to mandamus relief. It’s doubtful that the case will be settled there before ballots have been printed for Election Day on November 4. The Kansas Secretary of State polls show that Kris Kobach and his Democratic challenger Jean Schodorf are even in the race.

The residence of the GOP candidate for U.S. Senate, incumbent Pat Roberts, is in question. He has signed a mortgage on a Virginia residence that declares Fairfax County as his “principal residence.” In Kansas he owns a duplex in Dodge City and registers to vote at the home of supporters and donors C. Duane and Phyllis Ross. He joked, “I have full access to the recliner.” For this privilege he pays $300 a month. He said in an interview, “Every time I get an opponent — I mean, every time I get a chance — I’m home.” (No, that’s not satire.)

 

September 23, 2014

Voter Discrimination on Voter Registration Day

Today, National Voter Registration Day (NVRD), is a time to encourage people to sign up for their civic rights to more the United States forward. Voting is a constitutional right for all people over 18 although some states prevent people convicted of crimes from voting. The practice of voting may be the most critical thing that people can do. The direction of the country will be decided in 42 days when millions of people decide who will make their laws. It should be noted that Republicans are changing NVRD devoted to registering voters with its project called Vote GOP.

Because voting can be so powerful, conservatives are trying to stop people from voting. A half century ago, hundreds of activists died when they tried to help blacks in the South gain their constitution rights. One way that whites kept blacks from voting throughout much of the 20th century was to make them pass tests in order to register to vote. Elisabeth Hasselbeck wants the tests back. On Fox & Friends, she proposed that all people would have to pass the same citizenship test for high school graduation that’s part of a Utah bill. In 2012, 60 percent of voters from ages 18 to 29 voted for President Obama, and only 36 percent voted for Mitt Romney.

Rep. Ted Yoho (R-FL) compared the danger of absentee voting to a “loaded gun” and bragged that how early voting has been cut in his state. He hopes to see early voting completely destroyed. He also said that “it’s a privilege to vote,” not having read his constitution that makes voting a “right.” In the future, Yoho hopes that only property owners will be able to vote. The average of a first-time home owner is 30-32, and young voters are a threat to the GOP.

Paul Weyrich, the co-founder of the huge corporation-controlled far-right political organization ALEC, described the current GOP position back in 1980:

“I don’t want everybody to vote. Elections are not won by a majority of people. They never have been from the beginning of our country, and they are not now. As a matter of fact [GOP] leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.”

Conservative pundit George Will agrees with Weyrich.  After President Obama was re-elected two years ago, Will became very distressed that the president wants voter registration and voting to be easier. Will likes the fact that 60 million people eligible to vote in the United States were not registered at that time and believes that it would be oppressive to have them register. Then he cites the high turnout of voters in Nazi Germany to prove that a large number of voters for an election is a bad thing.

State Sen. Fran Millar, a GOP in Georgia, is highly incensed that early voting will be available at a mall in a predominantly black county. He said he wants “more educated voters than a greater increase in the number of voters.” Clarifying his criticism, he said that his comments weren’t related to race but instead to “an effort to maximize Democratic votes pure and simple.”

Less than two months before Election Day 2014, a panel of GOP-nominated judges on the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated Wisconsin’s voter ID law challenged in court for several years. Scott Walker, the state’s governor, won by only 124,638 votes in 2010, and the investigation into his campaign fraud makes this an even closer race this year. With 300,000 eligible voters lacking the photo ID, the ACLU predicts “the state would have to process and issue 6,000 photo IDs every day between now and November 4” to provide IDs. Absentee voters are also disenfranchised because voters without an ID check have already submitted many ballots that might be thrown away. The state had only 2.1 million voters in 2010.

Not satisfied with the federal ruling, GOP legislative leaders have filed a lawsuit because Democrats are listed before Republicans on the newly designed ballot by a nonpartisan elections agency. That process follows state law: parties are listed according to the presidential or gubernatorial winner of the last general election. President Obama won. He’s a Democrat. Democrats are listed first. In 2012, Republicans were listed first on the ballot because GOP Scott Walker had more votes for governor. The lawsuit also says that putting Democrats first could violate the rights of millions of Wisconsin voters. The GOP has no concerns about voter ID laws which can disenfranchise a large number of voters because they think those who are disenfranchised would probably not vote Republican.

Kansas and Georgia also show the impact of GOP efforts to cut off access to voting. Georgia’s Secretary of State, Brian Kemp, said he had received complaints about voter applications from the New Georgia Project, an attempt to increase black voter turnout. The group reported that the GOP official had held up more than 50,000 voter registration forms for months.

Kris Kobach, the Kansas GOP Secretary of State, is behaving in an even more bizarre fashion. The Democratic candidate for Senate, Chad Taylor, decided to withdraw from the election because it would give the independent candidate a better chance of being elected over GOP incumbent, Pat Roberts. Kobach refused to remove his name until the Kansas Supreme Court ordered him to do so. Then Kobach ordered the Democratic party to select another candidate and would “review the legal options if Democrats fail to comply.” He cannot legally force the Democrats to have a candidate.

Kobach said first that he would delay sending overseas ballots but then mailed 526 ballots to overseas voters with the disclaimer that new ballots will be printed if the court forces the Democratic party to name a replacement candidate. According to Kobach’s statement to voters, their votes may not count in the election, depending on how successful he is in helping the GOP candidate. (Kobach is a member of Roberts’ re-election campaign):

“You may vote using the ballot accompanying this letter as soon as you receive it, or you may wait to vote until you’ve received further notification from us. If a replacement ballot is sent to you, and you have already returned the ballot that accompanies this letter, only your replacement ballot will be counted.”

Kobach has also said that he might try to delay elections in Kansas by over a week, making November 12 the day in that state to vote for local, state, and federal offices on November 12.

GOP states, especially those with large black populations, are more likely to pass voter ID and other limits against access to voting. North Carolina combined voter ID with closing precincts near colleges and universities.

Whether a person can vote depends on where that person lives. In all, 15 states have stricter voting rules in a major election for the first time. Laws in six of these states are being challenged in court. Since 2010, 22 states, almost all of them in the South and the Midwest, have rolled out new restrictions. Of the 11 states with the highest black turnout rate in 2008, seven have new restrictions in place, and of the dozen states with the largest growth in Hispanic population from 2000 to 2010, nine passed laws making it harder to vote. Judges in Arkansas, Ohio, and Pennsylvania have overturned photo ID laws because of no proof from fraud. Other decisions have upheld stricter voting laws.

Photo ID laws have been approved in Tennessee, Kansas, and Arizona. Republican lawmakers in Kansas, Georgia, Alabama, and Arizona have passed “proof of citizenship” laws. These are valid only for elections of state officials; voters at the polls can vote only for federal offices without their birth certificates—if they have photo ID. The Texas law goes to trial this month and North Carolina, next year.

A summary of voting restrictions in different states is available here.

voting restrictions

A 93-year-old man who has voted in every election since 2000 was turned away at the polls in Alabama this year. He’s one of nearly 11% of the U.S. population that lacks the mandated identification. They don’t have the advantage that Republicans like Asa Hutchinson do. When the candidate for Arkansas and fan of the new voter ID law, forgot his ID at the polls, he sent a staffer to get it. He found it only a “minor inconvenience.”

A major question is whether the GOP will lose its own constituency through restrictive ID laws. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, chair of the Republican Governors Association, railed against an effort to boost voter turnout in Illinois as an underhanded Democratic tactic, despite state Board of Elections being composed equally of Democrats and Republicans. Yet same-day registration increased Republican turnout in Idaho, Utah, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

Republicans rely on older people, the ones who are most likely to not have identification such as drivers’ licenses. Former speaker of the Texas House, Jim Wright, is now 90, and he was prevented from voting because a lapsed ID. Married women are more likely to vote for Republicans than single women, yet their IDs are often questioned because they have changed their names. Happy VOTE GOP, Republicans.

June 27, 2013

Senate Moves, House Sits, Texas Goes Backward

The Senate actually did something, which happens occasionally. This afternoon it passed its immigration reform bill with a vote of 68-32. Not that this is necessarily a good thing because of the emphasis on border security and the requirement that all employers used the error-ridden E-Verify to check up on any applicants. Of the 32 GOP senators who opposed the bill, two were presidential wannabes, Ted Cruz (TX) and Rand Paul (KY). No GOP Senate leader voted in favor of the bill.

At least the Senate did something.

On the House side, Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) said that they would create their own immigration bill. Thus far they’ve made no move toward it. They also haven’t done anything about the doubling of interest on student loans this Monday or overcome the sequester that’s biting into the economic recovery. Their only actions have been to re-overturn Obamacare and pass another anti-abortion bill, neither of which the Senate will support.

The House is also avoiding climate change. In describing his agenda for this , President Obama said, “We don’t have time for a meeting of the Flat Earth Society.” Majority House Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) switched the subject to jobs, complaining about the president is “harming innovation [in a] direct assault on jobs.” No answer from the House about how to provide more jobs.

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) is hiding from the IRS debacle. The GOP has continually whined about the IRS targeting Tea Party groups. Yet Issa asked that the IRS limit its information to these audits, requesting investigators to “narrowly focus on tea party organizations,” according to spokesman for Treasury Inspector General J. Russell George.  Progressive groups got the same treatment as conservative Tea Party groups. The liberal group Catholics United, for instance, waited seven years before receiving tax exempt status, far longer than any tea party group had to wait.

There is a question about whether Issa was the instigator in concealing information from the public about the “inappropriate criteria” used to single out tea party groups–so-called “Be On the Look Out” (BOLO) memos–that also singled out progressive and “Occupy” groups.

George, a George W. Bush appointee, may be at fault. When asked last month if any progressive groups were targeted, he said that the IRS had not. Since then, he’s changed his mind. Also one of the main author’s of George’s report was relieved of his previous position as head of the special investigations unit at the Government Accountability Office because he wrote an incomplete report and was accused by a colleague of “pursuing overly sensationalist stories.”

After Acting IRS Commissioner Daniel Werfel appeared at the House Ways and Means Committee today, all the Democrats on the committee sent a letter to House Republicans demanding that they call the author of the audit report to return and testify under oath to explain why the report failed to tell the House that progressive groups were also targeted.

Issa has abandoned the IRS scandal that he created and gone back to investigating Benghazi.

Yesterday’s ruling that struck down DOMA has energized at least one member of Congress. Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-KS) claims that he and other lawmakers will revive the Federal Marriage Amendment. “A narrow radical majority of the court has, in my opinion, substituted their personal views for the constitutional decisions of the American voters and their elected representatives,” Huelskamp said. It’s almost a case of “the pot calling the kettle black” except the obstructionist GOP “narrow radical majority” isn’t really the majority—just the vocal.

One faint gleam of hope appeared after SCOTUS erased the Voting Rights Act  two days ago. Rep. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-WI), instrumental in the 2006 VRA, is urging his colleagues to restore the provisions to protect voters. GOP Reps. Steve Chabot (OH) and Sean Duffy (WI) have declared support for a renewed VRA. After the Democratic caucus met to discuss the possibility of a new Section 4 to VRA, Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said that she likes naming it the John Lewis Voting Rights Act.

One of the 13 original Freedom Riders in the early 1960s, Rep. Lewis (D-GA) was beaten by angry mobs, arrested, and sent to jail—several times. In response to the egregious SCOTUS decision giving all states the right to discriminate in any way that the GOP leaders wish, Lewis said:

“These men that voted to strip the Voting Rights Act of its power, they never stood in unmovable lines. They never had to pass a so-called literacy test. It took us almost 100 years to get where we are today. So will it take another 100 years to fix it, to change it?”

At the same time that state GOP legislators are working day and night to alienate women through their anti-abortion bills, the Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus is kicking off an initiative tomorrow that he says is “designed to advance the role of women within our party.” He will be joined by a few female lawmakers—perhaps because he could find only a few female GOP lawmakers.

Called Women on the Right Unite, the project was announced the same day that a Texas GOP lawmaker described state Sen. Wendy Davis (D) and her allies as terrorists. Davis’ act of terror was to filibuster an evil anti-abortion bill during a special legislative session. The GOP lawmakers failed to get the bill passed before the deadline so they lied about when the vote was completed.

The GOP refuses to change its policies of similar legislation in other states and at the federal level. Republicans won’t stop mandating unnecessary medical procedures not recommended by women’s physicians, making idiotic comments about rape, and opposing pay equity. The party wants women to buy into their antediluvian view of the differences between the genders. While the GOP talks about uniting women behind their view, they will also continue to drive more and more women into poverty. That, however, won’t be part of the discussion.

According to the press release, tomorrow’s news conference will follow a strategy session at RNC headquarters, where committees and elected officials will discuss “how to better engage and support Republican women.” I’m guessing that there are several hundreds of women in Texas who could contribute to this discussion.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry also took on Davis in his halting speech at the National Right to Life Conference when he described her as a teenage mother and the daughter of a single woman. “It’s just unfortunate that she hasn’t learned from her own example that every life must be given a chance to realize its full potential and that every life matters,” Perry said.

As governor, Perry executed his 262nd person, a 52-year-old woman, yesterday.  On the same day he signed into law the new gerrymandered map redistricting the state so that minorities can be disenfranchised.

Three cheers for Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) after Wall Street Journal columnist James Taranto accused her of declaring a “war on men” and trying “to criminalize male sexuality.” McCaskill’s sin, according to Taranto, was to put a hold on Lt. Gen. Susan Helms for vice commander of the Air Force Space Command because Helms had reduced the conviction of aggravated sexual assault to an indecent act without having watched the trial. Taranto blamed the assaulted women for drinking and then getting into a car with a man; the columnist claimed that she “acted recklessly.”

Current military law allows Helms to substitute her personal judgment for that of a jury that she selected. As McCaskill wrote Taranto:

“What [Helms] did was not a crime. But it was an error, and a significant one. I’m hopeful that our work this year will remove the ability of a commander to substitute their judgment, and sometimes also their ingrained bias, for that of a jury who has heard the witnesses and made a determination of their credibility and the facts of the case.”

The entire letter is well-worth reading because it shows how well the people of Missouri are represented by this senator.

Another woman to watch is Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) when she takes down federal contractor, Braulio Castillo, who claimed his foot injury (possibly sprained ankle) at a military prep school gave him special status as a “service-disabled veteran-owned small business.” Some of you may remember that Duckworth lost both her legs in the Iraq War when her helicopter was shot down.

Castillo’s company, Strong Castle, won contracts with the IRS worth as much as $500 million. Duckworth’s disability rating is 20 percent; Castillo gets (at least until now) a 30-percent disability for his twisted ankle.

The tape is 8 minutes long, but it shows how well another Democratic woman serves the country.

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 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.

January 9, 2012

Texas Goes to the Supreme Court

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 7:55 PM
Tags: , , ,

Texas is going to the Supreme Court next week. (Yes, that the same state with a governor who has finally learned the names of all three agencies he wants to erase if he becomes President of the United States.) The issue is redistricting following the 2010 U.S. census.

The Republicans in Texas want to redraw Congressional districts to eliminate minorities and Democrats; the rest of the state thinks that Hispanics and blacks should have voting rights, per the almost 40-year-old federal voting rights law that protects racial and ethnic minorities from voting discrimination. Because of their history of this discrimination, all or parts of 16 states, primarily in the South, must get approval from the Justice Department or a Washington court’s approval before changing the way they conduct their elections.

After the increase in the state’s population grew by more than 20 percent, 4.2 million people, with over half the increase being Hispanics, the state received 4 more Congressional seats, making the total 36. Only one new district developed by the Republican legislature was heavily Hispanic.

Because of the vitriolic debate, the case went to a federal court that came up with its own plan Voting rights expert Sidney Rosdeitcher at the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law, said that the result “will affect the voting rights of millions of Latino and other minority voters.”

Discussion in the Supreme Court this afternoon failed to reach consensus: the “liberal” judges appeared more sympathetic to minority groups; conservatives moved toward the state ofTexasargument. No surprise there!

To confuse the matter, interim maps drawn by the Texas court would not be changed until another court in Washington, D.C. makes a decision. That case begins on January 17, roughly the same time that the Supreme Court hears the case. That means that two different courts on different judicial levels will hear the same case at the same time.

Fortunately, the U.S. Supreme Court will not address the constitutionality of the landmark federal voting rights law aimed at protecting minorities in states with a history of racial discrimination. (Unless, of course, it changes its mind and goes far beyond the Constitution and what it was asked to do as it did in Citizens United.)

With the uncertainty of district boundaries,Texas moved its primary from March 6 to April 3. The state needs a decision by the middle of February to keep the current date for the primary. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said, however, that the court might not move that rapidly.

Texas caused the delay themselves by seeking pre-clearance from the federal court in Washington, D.C. instead of letting the Justice Department make the decision. They gambled that the court would be more sympathetic to their redistricting and lost. Then they decided to win without a trial by rejecting an early trial date.

Two months ago, the three-judge court of both Republican and Democrat appointees ruled unanimously that the state had not proved that its plan was not discriminatory and ordered a trial. The same court also accepted the interim electoral map from a different three-judge federal court in Texas which had rejected the state plan.

In its most recent step Texas moved on to the U.S. Supreme Court that blocked the plan from the federal court in Texas and agreed to review that same plan at the same time as the pre-clearance court in Washington considers the plan.

The Supreme Court faces a serious dilemma. They can’t default to the existing map because of the population growth, but the Republicans’ new map hasn’t been pre-cleared under the Voting Rights Act and probably illegally minimizes minority voting rights. Texas claims that another court’s interim plan is invalid because the court in Texas “substituted its judgment” for the Legislature’s without any finding of legal violations. Pam Karlan, Stanford law professor, has pointed out that the Supreme Court threw out one of the redrawn districts on the basis that it illegally minimized Latino voting power.

Karlan’s description of the case is classic: “Texas’ claim that this process has bogged down and, therefore, it should somehow be excused [from complying with the Voting Rights Act] is a little bit reminiscent of the claim of somebody who kills his parents and then throws himself on the mercy of the court because he’s an orphan.”

Just two years, after the U.S. Supreme Court turned elections over to corporations, it has another case that could drastically change elections in the United States, moving the power farther away from the people and handing it to the top 1 percent. This court doesn’t bother with constitutional issues: it just forges ahead to move the country further into the morass of the fundamentalist right. It’s possible that they’ll declare Texas an orphan after it has killed its parents.

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