PEOPLE FOR BLOG

Texas Voter Purge Endangering the Status of Hundreds of Thousands of Voters

While Florida’s local election supervisors are rebelling against a flawed voter purge championed by Gov. Rick Scott, the Houston Chronicle reports that Texas is holding its own voter purge that could jeopardize the status of hundreds of thousands of registered voters. As noted in the People For the American Way Foundation report, The Right to Vote Under Attack, faulty purge programs “can effectively disenfranchise large numbers of eligible voters” and have been frequently used to accomplish partisan agendas, and the Chronicle has already found many instances of people being wrongfully purged from the rolls:

More than 300,000 valid voters were notified they could be removed from Texas rolls from November 2008 to November 2010 - often because they were mistaken for someone else or failed to receive or respond to generic form letters, according to Houston Chronicle interviews and analysis of voter registration data.



Statewide, more than 1.5 million voters could be on the path to cancellation if they fail to vote or to update their records for two consecutive federal elections: One out of every 10 Texas voters' registration is currently suspended. Among voters under 30, the figure is about one in five.

Texas voter registration rates are among the lowest in the nation, but Texas pays nearly twice as much to cancel voters - 40 cents per cancellation - as it does to register new ones at 25 cents.

State and federal laws require the nation's voter rolls be regularly reviewed and cleaned to remove duplicates and eliminate voters who moved away or died. But across Texas, such "removals" rely on outdated computer programs, faulty procedures and voter responses to generic form letters, often resulting in the wrong people being sent cancellation notices, including new homeowners, college students, Texans who work abroad and folks with common names, a Chronicle review of cancellations shows.
PFAW Foundation

Voter ID goes to court in Minnesota

The American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota along with the League of Women Voters Minnesota, Common Cause Minnesota, Jewish Community Action, and five Minnesota voters have challenged an amendment to the Minnesota constitution (HF 2738, sponsored by ALEC State Chairwoman Mary Kiffmeyer) because it would confuse some voters into believing that prohibited forms of identification, such as student or company ID, would be accepted. The plaintiffs argue that the amendment is “misleading and false” because the ballot language references “valid photo identification” while the amendment uses the phrase “government-issued.”

Charles Samuelson, Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota:

Voting is one of the most important rights we have, and this amendment aims to take away that right from the most vulnerable, under the guise of a seemingly innocuous photo ID requirement.

Jon Sherman, Staff Attorney at the ACLU Voting Rights Project:

The Minnesota State Legislature isn't telling voters the truth about its proposed photo ID requirement for voting, and they have a right to know. Not only is this part of a wave of laws that have already had a severe impact on the right to vote nationwide, but this particular amendment effectively spells the end of Election Day registration, which significantly increases turnout.

The ballot language also fails to state that the amendment would create a new provisional ballot system for voters without acceptable ID and create a new verification process, dealing a potentially crushing blow to Minnesota’s existing Election Day registration.

Mike Dean, Executive Director of Common Cause Minnesota:

What Minnesotans need to know is that the greatest danger of this proposed amendment is the mandate to create a brand-new provisional ballot system. A provisional ballot is a not a real ballot, because it gets counted only after everything has been verified on the form or after the voter has returned to the county courthouse to show his or her government-authorized ID. That is one reason so many provisional ballots are never counted.

Although oral arguments have yet to be scheduled for the case, the plaintiffs hope that the court will act quickly with a decision coming before the Secretary of State’s office finalizes the ballot, expected in August. A similar voter ID measure recently failed to make November’s ballot in Missouri. Dean believes the Missouri case may guide the Minnesota Supreme Court.

For more information, click here and also check out The Right to Vote under Attack: The Campaign to Keep Millions of Americans from the Ballot Box, a Right Wing Watch: In Focus report by PFAW Foundation.

PFAW Foundation

Justice Stevens: A Crack in the Foundation of the Citizens United Majority Opinion is Inevitable

One of the last acts of Justice John Paul Stevens on the Supreme Court bench that he sat on for nearly thirty-five years was to read a summary of his scathing dissent of the Citizens United v. FEC decision, aloud, stating repeatedly, in one form or another that corporations “are not themselves members of ‘We the People’ by whom and for whom our Constitution was established.” Unfortunately, this view, which the vast majority of Americans agree with, and which seems so self-evident, was not held by the majority of the court.

To read the decision aloud was noteworthy; justices typically do so on cases they believe have special merit. And Justice Stevens correctly understood then that Citizens United was just that.

Over two years later, as the effects of Citizens United take hold, as corporate and special interest spending flood the 2012 elections and overwhelm the political process, Justice Stevens revisited the topic at the University of Arkansas’ Clinton Schools of Public Service. As reported by the Huffington Post, Justice Stevens took to the lectern Wednesday to address the inherent legal contradictions that are still outstanding under Justice Kennedy’s lead opinion.

Stevens alluded to President Obama’s apprehension, voiced in his 2010 State of the Union Speech, that the decision would “open the floodgates to special interests -- including foreign corporations -- to spend without limit in our elections.” Stevens stated (emphasis added):

… the former professor of constitutional law at the University of Chicago Law School [President Obama] made three important and accurate observations about the Supreme Court majority's opinion …

… third, the logic of the opinion extends to money spent by foreign entities. That is so because the Court placed such heavy emphasis on the premise that the First Amendment generally prohibits the suppression of political speech based on the speaker's identity. Indeed, the opinion expressly stated, “We find no basis for the proposition that, in the context of political speech, the Government may impose restrictions on certain disfavored speakers.”

Justice Stevens is correct that the logic of the Court’s opinion in Citizens United extends to permitting foreign corporations to make independent expenditures to influence U.S. elections. As he pointed out in his Citizens United dissent, the majority opinion’s failure to take on the issue of foreign corporate spending when striking down portions of the McCain-Feingold Act is a glaring omission, one that exposes the logical flaws in Kennedy’s argument. And as more cases like Bluman v. FEC arise – in which foreign nationals sought, and were denied the right to make electoral contributions and expenditures – the court will need to further clarify its position on why domestic corporations, and not other “speakers” have the right “to speak.” On the subject, Stevens reasoned:

in due course it will be necessary for the Court to issue an opinion explicitly crafting an exception that will create a crack in the foundation of the Citizens United majority opinion. For [Justice Alito's] statement that it is "not true" that foreign entities will be among the beneficiaries of Citizens United offers good reason to predict there will not be five votes for such a result when a case arises that requires the Court to address the issue in a full opinion. And, if so, the Court must then explain its abandonment of, or at least qualify its reliance upon, the proposition that the identity of the speaker is an impermissible basis for regulating campaign speech. It will be necessary to' explain why the First Amendment provides greater protection to the campaign speech of some non-voters than to that of other non-voters.

It is very possible that a plethora of cases like Bluman v. FEC will reach the district courts. And it’s very possible that the lower courts will begin to poke so many holes in the Citizens United rationale that the Supreme Court will have no choice but to revisit the case.

PFAW Foundation

PFAW Presents at 'Crisis in the Courts' Forum

Yesterday, PFAW’s Marge Baker joined a distinguished panel of legal scholars, federal judges and officials representing members of congress and the White House at the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law in Cleveland, OH to discuss possible solutions to the unprecedented vacancy crisis in the federal courts. Republican obstruction in the Senate has severely impaired the important work of the federal judiciary, with serious consequences for the American people. Fortunately, the White House has signaled a renewed focus on ending the stalemate and restoring the court system’s ability to swiftly serve those who seek justice in a court of law.

Panelists included:

• Marge Baker, Executive Vice President for Policy & Program, PFAW

• Hon. James S. Gwin, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Ohio

• Christopher Kang, Senior Counsel to the President, Office of White House Counsel

• Jeremy Paris, Chief Counsel for Nominations and oversight, Chairman Patrick Leahy, Senate Judiciary Committee

• Michael Zubrensky, Deputy Assistant Attorney General, Office of Legal Policy, U.S. Department of Justice

• Jonathan Adler, Johan Verheij Memorial Professor of Law and Director, Center for Business Law & Regulation, Case Western Reserve University School of Law

The panel was sponsored by The Cleveland –Marshall College of Law, National Coalition of Jewish Women, Ohio Coalition of Constitutional Values, Alliance for Justice, American Constitution Society for Law and Policy and People For the American Way.

PFAW

New Hampshire legislature embroiled in voting debate

The New Hampshire House and Senate have just reached a compromise on a proposed voter ID law, following disagreements over the implementation timeline and specific forms of ID.

The compromise combines the Senate’s version of the bill (SB 289) with the House amendments. SB 289 will serve in transition during the upcoming primary and general elections. The House version will take effect on September 1, 2013.

SB 289 allows those unable to provide ID to sign an affidavit. ID photographs would be taken at the polls, and student IDs would be accepted. The House affidavit option requires a signature from an election official. Only a driver’s license, non-driver’s license, Armed Services identification card, or passport will be accepted.

A vote on the compromise is expected next week.

Governor John Lynch vetoed a voter ID bill last year, opposing a similar limitation on ID forms, but he has stated that he might revisit the issue. The New Hampshire City and Town Clerks Association has opposed the House version, saying that "it will increase waiting time at the polls and (produce) a greater burden on elected officials and clerks."

The House and Senate have also locked horns over voter registration. SB 318 would alter residency requirements and make other voter registration changes that could have a profound impact, especially among the student population. Its lead sponsor, Senator Sharon Carson, is an ALEC member who also supports SB 289.

Opposition is strong:

This bill has several serious flaws. The proposed voter registration form includes references to motor vehicle laws. There was no explanation by the committee as to the reason for inserting only motor vehicle laws instead of all N.H. state laws such as tax laws, etc. The definition of domicile on the new proposed voter application form is different than the definition domicile affidavit form.

All eyes remain on the conference committee, which has yet to make a decision on the bill’s status.

For more information, check out The Right to Vote under Attack: The Campaign to Keep Millions of Americans from the Ballot Box, a Right Wing Watch: In Focus report by PFAW Foundation.

PFAW Foundation

No Reason for DOMA, Says Appeals Court

 A federal appeals court in Boston today upheld a lower court ruling that called the key section of the so-called “Defense of Marriage Act” unconstitutional. Section 3 of DOMA bans the federal government from recognizing legal marriages between people of the same sex, meaning that it willfully discriminates against a set of married people when it comes to Social Security benefits, joint-filing tax breaks, military spousal benefits and immigration. When DOMA was passed in 1996 no states allowed gay and lesbian couple to marry – its provisions were purely theoretical. Today, marriage equality exists in six states and the District of Columbia, and DOMA actively harms thousands of married Americans – 100,000 couples, according to the court.

In its decision concluding that DOMA violates the Constitution, the unanimous First Circuit panel – two out of three of whom were nominated by Republican presidents – was cautious. The panel said that under First Circuit precedent DOMA doesn’t trigger “heightened scrutiny” – a tougher standard for the federal government to meet. It also declined to address any arguments based on the premise that lesbians and gays have a constitutional right to marry (as opposed to having their existing marriages recognized by the federal government).

But the court was clear that Section 3 of DOMA does not meet the “rational basis” test for upholding a federal law that denies equal protection to a group long subject to discrimination – in other words, there’s just no good reason for DOMA to do the harm that it does.

The court looked at several justificiations offered for the law by DOMA’s supporters and found that each comes up short. Supporters say DOMA will save the federal government money (reports say that it actually costs the government money…and saving money isn’t a good enough reason for legal discrimination in the first place); that allowing lesbians and gays to marry harms children (it doesn’t, and Section 3 of DOMA doesn’t affect these couples’ rights to raise children anyway); and just plain moral disapproval (Supreme Court precedent says this isn’t enough of a reason). And finally, the court takes on the constant argument of opponents of same-sex marriage: that somehow gay couples getting married will harm the institution of marriage for everyone else:

Although the House Report is filled with encomia to heterosexual marriage, DOMA does not increase benefits to opposite-sex couples--whose marriages may in any event be childless, unstable or both--or explain how denying benefits to same-sex couples will reinforce heterosexual marriage. Certainly, the denial will not affect the gender choices of those seeking marriage. This is not merely a matter of poor fit of remedy to perceived problem, but a lack of any demonstrated connection between DOMA's treatment of same-sex couples and its asserted goal of strengthening the bonds and benefits to society of heterosexual marriage.

This is the crux of any number of court decisions that have struck down barriers to marriage equality. The main reason given for many laws that seek to deny marriage rights to gays and lesbians is that same-sex marriage will somehow weaken marriage for everybody else. It’s a claim that just doesn’t hold water.

The First Circuit panel did, however, go out of its way to defend DOMA’s supporters even while rejecting the law.

The District Court judge whose ruling the appeals court upheld declared that DOMA was motivated by “irrational prejudice” toward gays and lesbians. The First Circuit explicitly refuses to go there, instead stating that while that may have been true for some supporters, others were motivated instead by what it characterizes as the non-biased wish to “preserve the heritage of marriage as traditionally defined over centuries of Western civilization.” Under recent Supreme Court precedent, they write, the wish to uphold tradition isn’t a good enough one for denying equal protection. But the Supreme Court can change that if it wants:

In reaching our judgment, we do not rely upon the charge that DOMA's hidden but dominant purpose was hostility to homosexuality. The many legislators who supported DOMA acted from a variety of motives, one central and expressed aim being to preserve the heritage of marriage as traditionally defined over centuries of Western civilization. Preserving this institution is not the same as "mere moral disapproval of an excluded group," and that is singularly so in this case given the range of bipartisan support for the statute.

The opponents of section 3 point to selected comments from a few individual legislators; but the motives of a small group cannot taint a statute supported by large majorities in both Houses and signed by President Clinton. Traditions are the glue that holds society together, and many of our own traditions rest largely on belief and familiarity--not on benefits firmly provable in court. The desire to retain them is strong and can be honestly held. For 150 years, this desire to maintain tradition would alone have been justification enough for almost any statute. This judicial deference has a distinguished lineage, including such figures as Justice Holmes, the second Justice Harlan, and Judges Learned Hand and Henry Friendly. But Supreme Court decisions in the last fifty years call for closer scrutiny of government action touching upon minority group interests and of federal action in areas of traditional state concern.

Recognizing that the Supreme Court will likely review its reasoning, the court stayed the decision, so it will not go into effect yet.

PFAW Foundation

Wal-Mart Drops ALEC

Wal-mart announced yesterday that it is ending their membership in ALEC, making it the 18th corporation to do so. The company also joins 4 nonprofits and 54 state legislators who have severed their ties to the organization.

Wal-Mart had been a member of ALEC since 1993, was a member of ALEC’s Corporate Board and was the co-chair of the recently-disbanded Public Safety and Elections Task Force – the committee responsible for advancing dangerous gun legislation like Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law around the country. Even as the nation’s largest seller of guns, Wal-Mart decided that the ALEC agenda is too extreme, going far beyond the free-market principles the organization claims to focus on:

"Previously, we expressed our concerns about ALEC's decision to weigh in on issues that stray from its core mission 'to advance the Jeffersonian principles of free markets," Maggie Sans, Wal-Mart vice president of public affairs and government relations, said in a May 30 letter addressed to ALEC's national chairman and executive director.

"We feel that the divide between these activities and our purpose as a business has become too wide. To that end, we are suspending our membership in ALEC."

Wal-Mart’s task force participation also included Health and Human Services, Commerce, Insurance and Economic Development, and Tax and Fiscal Policy, according to documents obtained and released by Common Cause. These committees are responsible for developing model bills that undermine workers rights, insurance mandates, capital gains taxes for the wealthy and deregulating certain industries.

People For the American Way’s President and Director of African American Religious Affairs spoke out about Wal-mart’s decision in a statement released this morning:

“Wal-Mart’s decision confirms the growing consensus in the business community that ALEC does far more harm than good,” said Michael Keegan, President of People For the American Way. “The 18 corporations that have stopped supporting ALEC’s dangerous agenda have made the right choice. Customers don’t want their paychecks going to support laws that disenfranchise and endanger their families and communities.”

“I commend Wal-Mart’s decision to listen to the thousands upon thousands of American voices who believe Wal-Mart had no place in an organization that tries to suppress the right to vote, promote discrimination and presents dangerous gun laws that are harmful to all,” said Minister Leslie Watson Malachi, Director of PFAW’s African American Ministers In Action. “When we stand together to make our voices heard, the movement we build cannot be ignored. ALEC’s extreme and undemocratic agenda has motivated a diverse movement that is growing stronger every day. One by one, our efforts are helping make our communities better for all families and especially those most vulnerable – those with special needs, our children and our elders.”

PFAW

Mary E. Gonzalez Wins Texas House Primary

People For the American Way is happy to congratulate Mary E. Gonzalez on her win last night in a Democratic primary in El Paso, Texas. She will run unopposed in November for District 75’s seat in the Texas State House of Representatives. Gonzalez, endorsed by PFAW Action Fund’s Young Elected Progressive program will be the only current openly gay member of the Texas state legislature.

Gonzalez won her primary with a decisive victory and garnered 52% of the vote. She has spent the past few years working in higher education with the University of Texas at Austin and Southwestern University. Additionally, she’s shown great leadership with her work as Co-Chair of the Board of Directors for Texas’ Queer People of Color organization.

Once elected, Gonzalez will join former State Representative Glen Maxey as the only two openly LGBT members to have served in the Texas House. Her election may show a cultural shift in what is still a largely conservative state and gives the Texas LGBT community a voice in the Texas state government. Her addition to the Texas State House of Representatives cuts the number of state legislatures without an LGBT official to 16.

PFAW

Super PACs Make 2008 Look Like Child's Play

In total, the candidates in the 2008 presidential election spent just over $1 billion on their campaigns. Just four years ago, President Obama raised $750 million, primarily via small donations from grassroots supporters. But the landscape looks pretty different in 2012: that amount will be surpassed by just a handful of GOP patrons and super PACs alone.

Made possible by the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United, dark money organizations like Restore Our Future and American Crossroads will raise and spend virtually unlimited amounts to prop up Mitt Romney and the rest of the Republican ticket. Politico notes that American Crossroads and the affiliated Crossroads GPS, a Karl Rove brainchild, is expected to spend up to $300 million. That’s almost as much as John McCain spent on his entire 2008 run.

The bulk of campaign expenditures go to advertising – and $1 billion certainly buys a lot of airtime. Thanks to Citizens United, this elite group of financiers can buy the loudest, most far-reaching voice in the 2012 elections. The amount collected by Super PACs and 501 c(4)s dramatically dwarfs traditional party and direct-campaign fundraising, which is the mechanism by which the grassroots are able to contribute to the process. The contrast is stark:

Restore Our Future, the pro-Romney super PAC, spent twice as much on the air as the campaign did in the thick of the primaries: Through March, the campaign had put $16.7 million into TV, while ROF shelled out $33.2 million.

In Florida, the super PAC outspent the campaign, $8.8 million to $6.7 million. (The campaign can get more spots per dollar because of more favorable rates.) In Michigan, it was $2.3 million to $1.5 million. In Ohio, ROF outspent the campaign, $2.3 million to $1.5 million.

The Citizens United decision has granted the 0.01% more leeway to try to buy our democracy than ever before. The sheer numbers make the need for constitutional remedies to overturn that decision and restore the balance of influence in our elections to everyday Americans is more apparent than ever.

PFAW

Citizens United Turns 2012 Race into Billionaire's Playground

If there was any question that the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United skews the balance of influence in our elections to the rich, an analysis by Rolling Stone shows that the real beneficiaries of the decision are really the very very rich. This profile of the 16 donors who have given at least $1 million to super PACs supporting Mitt Romney, including hedge fund managers, hotel tycoons, oil barons and of course, William Koch, reveals who is making the biggest impact in the presidential election.

In a democracy, we should be electing those who represent vast swaths of the American people. But one thing is clear: the special interests propping up Romney’s campaign have very little in common with average Americans. As Rolling Stone notes:

Most of the megadonors backing his candidacy are elderly billionaires: Their median age is 66, and their median wealth is $1 billion. Each is looking for a payoff that will benefit his business interests, and they will all profit from Romney's pledge to eliminate inheritance taxes, extend the Bush tax cuts for the superwealthy – and then slash the top tax rate by another 20 percent. Romney has firmly joined the ranks of the economic nutcases who spout the lie of trickle-down economics.

How are these individuals able to throw so much of their wealth into the race? Essentially, Citizens United allows individuals and corporations to skirt the caps on contributions to campaign treasuries by funneling money through entities like Super PACs and 501c4 organizations:

Under the new rules, the richest men in America are plying candidates with donations far beyond what Congress intended. "They can still give the maximum $2,500 directly to the campaign – and then turn around and give $25 million to the Super PAC," says Trevor Potter, general counsel of the Campaign Legal Center. A single patron can now prop up an entire candidacy, as casino magnate Sheldon Adelson did with a $20 million donation to the Super PAC backing Newt Gingrich.

It’s unlikely that these donors are throwing so much money into the race solely for bragging rights – they certainly have agendas of their own. Most of the individuals profiled in the article stand to benefit from Romney agenda: more tax cuts to the rich, lax regulation of Wall Street and other industries, a hamstrung E.P.A, lucrative government contracts – and their outsized contributions demonstrate their belief that money buys influence. Citizens United exacerbated this unfortunate reality. At least that can be fixed by the people, with an amendment to the Constitution.

PFAW

Medtronic Out of ALEC

The most recent spate of companies fleeing from the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) have been from the education and retail sectors, but yesterday ALEC got a rebuke from the healthcare industry as well. Medtronic, the medical technology company, has informed the Center for Media and Democracy that they did not renew their ALEC membership. Medtronic is the 17th corporation to leave the organization.

ALEC’s “healthcare” agenda is much less about helping sick people than about enriching healthcare corporations. To do so, ALEC advocates for policies that put quality care out of reach for many people by privatizing Medicare and Medicaid and repealing important laws that expand public access to care, including ObamaCare. They also push for the deregulation of the pharmaceutical and insurance industries and seek to limit accountability for drug companies that produce faulty medications that can cause injury or death.

The ALEC agenda is extreme, and when it comes to public health, it’s downright dangerous. Medtronic now joins Blue Cross Blue Shield in doing right by their customers and patients by getting out of ALEC.

PFAW Foundation

Voter ID off the table in Missouri

The state legislature adjourned last week without having rewritten a ballot measure that, if passed, would have paved the way for voter ID in Missouri. Cole County Circuit Court Judge Patricia S. Joyce struck down the original draft, SJR 2, as “insufficient and unfair.”

Because the attorney general did not appeal Judge Joyce’s decision, efforts to subvert the ruling quickly emerged, but none were successful prior to adjournment. The secretary of state’s office has confirmed voter ID will not be on the ballot.

Ben Hovland, Senior Counsel of the Fair Elections Legal Network:

Instead of focusing on making voting more difficult, the legislature in future sessions should pass legislation that would make registration and voting more convenient, such as allowing online voter registration and early voting.

Representative Shane Schoeller, an ALEC member who is running for Secretary of State, has been behind these proposals. For more information, check out The Right to Vote under Attack: The Campaign to Keep Millions of Americans from the Ballot Box, a Right Wing Watch: In Focus report by PFAW Foundation.

PFAW Foundation

WI State Senator Larson: Fighting the Right in Wisconsin

Wisconsin has enjoyed a rich tradition as a state of opportunity, a state welcoming social innovation and embracing progressive values. However, today communities across Wisconsin today are bracing for our June 5th gubernatorial recall election in response to a divide and conquer legislative strategy that rejected compromise and moderation.

Over the last year and a half, Wisconsin has reversed course to become a petri-dish for a radical, corporate social agenda. Growing evidence illustrates a strong influence by ALEC in promoting an economic and social attack on Wisconsin workers and their families.

Although the assault on workers’ rights to collectively bargain is perhaps the most widely publicized of these legislative efforts, it was is just the tip of the iceberg. Wisconsin’s middle class is being hurt by massive funding cuts to K-12 public education, fewer restrictions on for-profit schools, greater restrictions on voting, debilitating funding reductions to technical schools, reduced water and air pollution protections, massive corporate tax giveaways, an unparalleled attack on women’s health and reproductive rights, defunded public transit, reduced access to life-saving state safety-net programs, and fewer consumer protections.

Despite the extraordinary legislative efforts of Senate Democrats and countless hours of debate by Assembly Democrats calling for negotiations and moderation, the Republican majorities in the Wisconsin Assembly and Senate were unwilling to check the Governor’s brutal attack on workers and their families. This attack on workers has left Wisconsin mired in a sluggish economy, leaving Wisconsin dead last in the nation for job growth.

With the Wisconsin legislature not scheduled to return to the Capitol until January, all eyes are on the electoral process. The Governor’s seat and control of the State Senate will be decided on June 5th. The success or failure of these recall elections will likely determine the policy direction Wisconsin will take, and will have a ripple effect in legislative houses across our nation.

Chris Larson is a Wisconsin State Senator and a member of People For the American Way Foundation’s Young Elected Officials Network.

PFAW

Florida Poised for Another Voter-Purge Disaster

 Shortly before the 2000 election, the state of Florida undertook a massive purge of its voter rolls, eliminating the names of 12,000 residents who the state believed ineligible to vote because of felony convictions. The problem? The sloppy purge eliminated the names not just of felons who had lost their right to vote under Florida law, but also of people who had just committed misdemeanors; felons who had regained their voting rights; and even of people who simply shared the name of an ineligble voter. The result was a mess which left countless eligible Floridians, disproportionately African American, stripped of their right to vote in a state that ultimately decided the presidential election by 537 votes.

Now Florida, under the leadership of Gov. Rick Scott, is poised to start another disastrous voter purge. Think Progress reports that a purge of “non-citizens” from Florida’s voting rolls has already struck hundreds of eligible citizens. Many more have not replied to a letter that informs them they will lose their right to vote if they don’t reply with proof of citizenship. Despite the clear inaccuracy of the purge, the burden is on registered voters to prove that they are eligible, not on the state to prove that they are not.

Rep. Ted Deutsch is now calling on Gov. Scott to suspend the flawed purge, saying it will “create chaotic results and further undermine Floridians’ confidence in the integrity of our elections.”

As we investigated in our report “The Right to Vote Under Attack,” right-wing politicians have been using the specter of “voter fraud” to carry out a number of programs meant to suppress the vote of progressive-leaning groups. The flawed voter purge in one of the closest of swing states is just the most recent blatant example.

PFAW

Hidden Obstruction Continues for Judicial Nominees

Yesterday, the Senate Judiciary Committee was scheduled to vote on five well qualified nominees for federal district and circuit court seats. All five are strongly supported by both of their home state senators – three Republicans and three Democrats. All five had appeared in person before the committee and made themselves available to answer senators' questions. Afterward, they submitted detailed responses to written questions that were not raised at the hearing. But when it came time for the committee to vote, Republicans demanded a two-week delay.

Why? They didn't say. They didn't need to. That's because committee rules allow the minority party members to "hold over" (i.e., delay) votes for any reason at all, or for no reason at all. Both Democrats and Republicans have had occasion to hold nomination committee votes over in the past, where, for example, there is a particular line of inquiry about a particular nominee that one of the senators believes it is necessary to pursue.

But since President Obama took office, committee Republicans have exercised for all but five of his judicial nominees, no matter the circumstances, no matter the nominee, no matter what. The routine use of this hold for about 97% of President Obama's judicial nominees, making it the norm rather than the exception, is unprecedented.

Since next week is a Senate recess, the most recent needless delay is for two weeks, not one. So the earliest these qualified nominees will get a committee vote is June 7. At that point, we will likely have 20 nominees who pending on the Senate floor waiting for a vote, many having languished for more than two months due to the panoply of delaying tactics Senate Republicans have been using throughout the Obama Administration. In fact, it is only this month that the Senate began confirming nominees who cleared the committee this year instead of last.

As we get closer to the election, Republicans will doubtless claim that it is too late to vote on pending nominees. That assertion will be rich, since it is their own obstruction that is preventing them from being confirmed already.

PFAW