Florida Puts Hold on Voter Purge, North Carolina Lifts the Veil on Voter ID Law

When we last checked in with the controversial Florida voter purge, advocates and media alike were speculating over what route Governor Rick Scott and Secretary of State Ken Detzner would take in 2014, with Detzner's office considering comparing its voter records with the US Department of Homeland Security's federal citizenship database known as Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (SAVE).

Now we know: the purge is off for 2014.

The about-face on Thursday by Secretary of State Ken Detzner resolves a standoff with county elections supervisors, who resisted the purge and were suspicious of its timing. It also had given rise to Democratic charges of voter suppression aimed at minorities, including Hispanics crucial to Scott’s reelection hopes.

Detzner told supervisors in a memo that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is redesigning its SAVE database, and it won’t be finished until 2015, so purging efforts, known as Project Integrity, should not proceed.

“I have decided to postpone implementing Project Integrity until the federal SAVE program Phase Two is completed,” Detzner wrote.

As the Brennan Center reported in 2008, election officials across the country are routinely striking millions of voters from the rolls through a process that is shrouded in secrecy, prone to error, and vulnerable to manipulation.

Florida has an especially troublesome history with this practice, so voting rights advocates will have to keep a close eye on what shape it takes next year.

Also this week, in North Carolina US Magistrate Judge Joi Elizabeth Peake ruled that lawmakers must release correspondence related to the formation of the state's new voter ID law, saying that though some records might be shielded, many are considered public.

Dale Ho of the ACLU's Voting Rights Project:

North Carolinians have a right to know what motivated their lawmakers to make it harder for them to vote. Legislators should not be shrouding their intentions in secrecy.

Allison Riggs of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice:

Defendants have resisted at every turn disclosing information about their reasons for enacting this discriminatory law. Today's ruling will help ensure the court has a fuller picture of why the voting changes at stake are so bad for North Carolina voters.

In other voting rights news, Colorado considers recall election changes, Pennsylvania ID remains in legal limbo, and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker approves (mostly) of the state's new voter suppression law.

Check out even more news from our friends at Fair Elections Legal Network.

PFAW

PFAW Releases New Toolkit on Getting Money Out and Voters In to Our Democracy

Americans today face twin threats to the integrity of our elections. The threats are multifaceted and formidable, involving all branches of government at the local, state and federal level – from legislative bodies, to governorships, to courthouses. The aims are clear:

  • Manipulate the campaign finance system to get "the right people" elected.
  • Manipulate the balloting process to make it harder for "the wrong people" to vote.

These measures must be confronted. But we also need long-term proactive and pro-democracy strategies of our own.

The “Money Out, Voters In” campaign embodies this long-term vision premised on the concept of political equality, of one person = one vote.

We believe in a democratic system where all Americans have equal access to the voting booth and where all Americans, regardless of wealth, can express their views to one another and their government on a level playing field.

Through A Guide to Democratic Reform, a new toolkit released today by People For the American Way, we provide the structural framework for enacting this vision. We do not have all the answers, nor could we. We must embrace an evolution of ideas, tactics, and legislative language to achieve our goals. Yet, as the local, state, and federal initiatives cited herein show, much of that work is already well-underway.

Click here for information about critical allies and other resources.

PFAW

Voter suppression and intimidation reported in Colorado recall election

Two Colorado Democrats who supported stricter state gun laws in the aftermath of mass shootings were voted out of office in a special recall election yesterday. State Senate President John Morse of Colorado Springs and State Senator Angela Giron of Pueblo lost their seats after a vicious recall election backed by the National Rifle Association.

One factor that may have contributed to the narrow victories for the NRA and its allies – Morse lost by just 343 votes – was voter suppression. Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz summarized the tactics that helped to suppress turnout:

Colorado voters are used to casting their ballots by mail, but because of lawsuits filed by opponents of common sense gun reform, voters were not mailed their ballots in this election. Those who intended to vote in person did not learn their polling locations until less than two weeks before Election Day. Tuesday’s low turnout was a result of efforts by the NRA, the Koch brothers and other right wing groups who know that when more people vote, Democrats win.

In addition, a canvasser for Giron reported "extreme voter intimidation":

We had to call the police on a van of four huge guys staking out our staging location. Volunteers are being followed, threatened, having their pictures taken and yelled at. We’re now being told that it’s bad enough to call 911 immediately.
PFAW

All Hands On Deck: Stop the NRA’s Colorado Senate Recall!

"Gun rights" extremists have taken the radical step of trying to recall two state senators simply for casting a vote they did not like.

The NRA is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to unseat Senators John Morse of Colorado Springs and Senator Angela Giron of Pueblo for voting yes on common sense gun reform that will help prevent tragedies like the one in Newtown, Connecticut and instances of mass violence that have affected Colorado like the shootings in Aurora and, a few years back, Columbine.

These recall elections are the first of their kind in Colorado’s history and a solid majority of Coloradans are opposed to them. But that might not be enough to beat them, with all the big spending by national pro-gun special interests pouring into the races.

Americans all across the country can help in the lead up to the elections this Tuesday (September 10).

Here’s what you can do:

Thank you for stepping up to make a difference, and to stop the Far Right from exploiting the issue of gun reform for an audacious power grab.

PFAW

From the Archives: Ken Buck's Extreme Record

As you may have heard, 2010 Tea Party candidate Ken Buck has decided to throw his hat into the ring for the 2014 Senate race in Colorado. Unfortunately for him, no one has forgotten the extreme record that led voters to reject him last time around.

PFAW

PFAWF: More Attention on Colorado Censorship Campaign

Last week, People For the American Way Foundation joined a campaign to fight book censorship in a Colorado school district. The censorship battle began when a group of parents launched a petition to keep Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye out of the Legacy High School curriculum. Legacy High student Bailey Cross started a counter-petition emphasizing the dangerous precedent that this censorship would set and encouraging the school district to keep the book on the approved reading list.

PFAW Foundation sent a letter to the Adams 12 Five Star School District Board of Education showing support for the student’s campaign and urging the district to reject the attempts at censorship.

The efforts of the Foundation were highlighted by the Denver Post yesterday. Staff writer Yesenia Robles wrote that the parents involved claim the book is “developmentally inappropriate” and should be kept out of the classroom.

People For the American Way Foundation disagrees. Robles reports,

"We do understand this book has themes and content that are really challenging, but that's why it should be taught," foundation spokesman Drew Courtney said. "An important role of classrooms is to help students and young adults deal with that, to have those conversations in an intelligent way in the classrooms. Offering an alternative assignment is appropriate, but banning a prize-winning novel isn't prudence. It's censorship."

See the full Denver Post article here.

PFAW Foundation

PFAW Foundation Joins Fight Against Book Censorship in Colorado School District

“If one book is banned from being taught in a classroom setting, then it opens the door for all books – and ideas – to be banned as well.”

These are the closing words to a petition launched by high school student Bailey Cross in response to an attempt to eliminate Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye from the high school curriculum in her Colorado school district.  The school board will have to decide the fate of the book in the district’s classrooms, which a local news source has reported could happen as early as August

In their petition, the students point out that parents or students who object to the reading assignment are already offered an alternative novel.  In addition, teachers are not forced to teach the book.  The outright elimination of this important piece of literature from the classroom would set a troubling precedent.

Today People For the American Way Foundation sent a letter on behalf of our 718,000 members to the Adams 12 Five Star School District Board of Education urging them to reject the attempts at censorship.  The letter notes,

“Since it was first published in 1970, The Bluest Eye has been the target of censorship attempts because of its frank portrayal of racism and sexual assault. But shielding high school students from these subjects and from Morrison’s discussion of them does nothing to eliminate them from the world. Instead, Morrison’s nuanced discussions of difficult issues serve to help readers understand, discuss, and confront those issues…

“Our nation’s schools are meant to be places that encourage the free exchange of ideas.”

Let’s make sure we keep them that way.

PFAW Foundation

As Washington Begins Debate on Gun Violence Bills, National Responses Vary

As the U.S. Senate prepares to consider a package of gun violence prevention proposals this week, Republicans face a choice: whether to side with the vast majority of Americans who want common sense gun regulation, or with the radical pro-gun fringe.

Today, a group of far-right, NRA-backed Senators are threatening to use the filibuster to shut down the debate on gun safety measures backed by over 90 percent of Americans. In a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid this week, Senators Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, and Mike Lee pledged to “oppose any legislation” that seeks to expand background checks or crack down on interstate gun trafficking. Joining them in the letter are eleven other Republican senators, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Legislators on both sides of the aisle have rebuked these blind filibuster threats as extreme and unnecessary. Top GOP Senators Lindsey Graham, Tom Coburn, and Johnny Isakson have all called on fellow conservatives to allow a vote on gun safety legislation. On Sunday’s Face the Nation, Senator John McCain joined in questioning the Republicans who have threatened to filibuster gun legislation they haven’t even seen yet:

"I don’t understand it. The purpose of the United States Senate is to debate and to vote and to let the people know where we stand,” McCain said.

While some legislators continue to impede progress on this issue, others, such as Democratic Senator Joe Manchin and his GOP colleague Senator Pat Toomey have renewed efforts to spearhead a bipartisan agreement on background checks. Yesterday, the two senators announced an agreement on a deal that expands background checks to gun shows and internet purchases.

Meanwhile, President Obama traveled to Connecticut on Monday to remind Americans how important their voice is as the gun debate unfolds. While there, he blasted the efforts by some Senate Republicans to shut down the discussion:

"They’re not just saying they’ll vote no on ideas that almost all Americans support,” Obama said. “They’re saying they’ll do everything they can to even prevent any votes on these provisions. They’re saying your opinion doesn’t matter, and that’s not right.”

The obstructionist tactics used by the far-right senators are sadly part of a larger national backlash to discussions about common-sense gun regulations. Last month, Montana's legislature passed a bill that would have forbidden state law enforcement from cooperating with federal officials in enforcing a ban on semi-automatic weapons or high-capacity magazines, should such bans ever become law.

Bills in other states seek to outright nullify federal gun laws, including those passed in the Wyoming House and Kentucky Senate. These bills aren’t just terrible for safety, they’re also unconstitutional.

Luckily, there are still those who are willing to stand up to these mindless obstructionist tactics from the right. Late last week, Montana Governor Steve Bullock vetoed the state’s proposed bill, calling it “unnecessary political theater that would not meaningfully protect our Second Amendment rights.”

Other governors have gone a step further in standing up against right-wing intimidation by calling for their state’s gun violence prevention laws to be reinforced. Last week, Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy signed the nation’s most far-reaching gun violence prevention bill. The bill, approved by bipartisan votes in both chambers, adds more than 100 weapons to the state’s ban on assault weapons, limits the capacity of ammunition magazines and requires background checks for all weapon sales, including at gun shows:

“This is a profoundly emotional day for everyone…when 92% of Americans agree that every gun sale should be subject to a background check, there is no excuse not to make it federal law” Malloy said.

In recent months, legislatures in Colorado , Maryland, and New York have all advanced their own measures to combat gun violence. Collectively these states have demonstrated the courage to stand up to the bullying tactics of the big gun lobby and their allies on the far right. These states have shown the effectiveness of speaking out against the radical agenda coming from right-wing politicians on the state and national level and have sent a message to Washington that action needs to happen.

The last thing our nation needs now is obstructionist tactics leading to watered down, ineffective legislation. We need a meaningful, national response to gun violence in America. But for that to happen, Republicans are going to need to stand up against the radical pro-gun Right, and for common sense.

PFAW

This is How Judicial Nominations are Supposed to Work

President Obama will end his second term with more vacancies on the federal courts than there were when he started. Today there are 99 vacancies on the federal circuit and district courts, 33 of which are for courts that are so busy that they’ve been officially designated “judicial emergencies.” This glut of vacancies is in large part due to Senate Republicans’ persistent obstruction of the president’s nominees – even the ones from their own states who they purportedly support. During President Obama’s first term, judicial nominees have had to wait on average three times as long after committee approval for a vote from the full Senate as did nominees in President George W. Bush’s first term.

But some vacancies are due to a less well-known but all too common delay at the very start of the nominations process.

Before he makes a nomination to the federal judiciary, President Obama asks senators from the state where the vacancy has occurred to present him with recommendations. It’s a way to identify nominees from any given state and to ensure home-state, often bipartisan, support for nominees. The problem is, senators from both parties have too often dragged their feet in recommending acceptable nominees, leading to often years-long vacancies in the federal courts.

These vacancies exist despite the fact that most federal judges give months, sometimes even a full year of notice before retiring or taking senior status (semi-retirement) so that a replacement can be found.

This week, senators from Colorado and New Mexico showed how the process is meant to work – and how it would work, if all senators followed their lead.

In Colorado, district court judge Wiley Daniel announced last winter that he would be leaving his seat in January 2013. Colorado senators Mark Udall and Michael Bennet set up a bipartisan commission to find qualified nominees for the seat in a timely manner. They then recommended a set of finalists to the White House, which in turn nominated Raymond P. Moore on Tuesday, before the seat he would fill becomes vacant. Of the 18 future vacancies currently listed by the Administrative Office of U.S. Courts, Colorado is one of only two states with a nominee.

In New Mexico, Judge Bruce Black announced in June that he would be leaving the court in October, just a few short months. So New Mexico’s senators, Tom Udall and Jeff Bingaman, announced their bipartisan commission that very day, leading to the president’s nomination yesterday of Kenneth John Gonzales to fill the vacancy.

There is no excuse for seats on the federal courts to be left open for years, as caseloads multiply and litigants face delays. The senators from Colorado and New Mexico showed how the front end of the judicial nominations process can be efficient and fair.

PFAW

Getting the inside scoop on voter suppression

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 explains the methods the Right is using to suppress the vote under the guise of preventing non-existent “voter fraud.” It also shows the disproportionate effects that this has on minorities and other vulnerable populations. We’ve continued to highlight a national trend toward massive disenfranchisement, such as requests for citizenship data to purge the voting rolls and voter ID.

Last Thursday a Heritage Foundation panel discussion featured people who are leading the charge.

Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler:

We’ve got bloated and inaccurate voter rolls. We have a very loose honors system when it comes to voting in this country when it comes to both registration and voting as well, often times for example […] no photo ID required. And over time we have seen the increased use of mail-in ballots, which has good points, but also increases a very common avenue for voter fraud.

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach:

When I was sworn in as Secretary of State in Kansas in January 2011 my primary objective was to set about drafting the strongest anti-voter fraud law possible in any state […] The Secure and Fair Elections Act made Kansas the first state to combine three things. Some states had done one or more of these, but we’re the first state to have photo ID at the polls, equivalent protection for mail-in ballots, so that you have to have signature verification on the ballot application before the mail-in ballot is sent out and you have to have either a photo copy of a qualifying photo ID or full Kansas driver’s license number or non-driver ID with the application coming in. And then thirdly, Kansas requires proof of citizenship at the time newly registered voters register to vote. [Link added]

South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson:

When you hear out there that the implementation of voter ID and photo ID requirements in various states is akin to taking us back to the Jim Crow era or back to a time in the civil rights movement I find it insulting for those who actually lived through that time for people to make those analogies. When people say that this is an attempt to suppress minority votes, or that this is a solution in search of a problem, I find that very disconcerting.

Former Congressman Artur Davis:

[Waving his driver’s license] It’s a very tiny little thing that will fit in a breast pocket, will fit in a wallet. Carry it next to your pager, your Blackberry. It is not a billy club, if you look at it that’s clear. It’s not a fire hose.

Catherine Engelbrecht, president of True the Vote:

We’re helping to support hundreds of citizen-led election integrity organizations […] If our rate of growth continues we believe it is entirely possible that we might mobilize up to a million new volunteers into the election process between now and November 2012.

These Heritage panelists represent more examples of how the Right continues to adamantly deny the disenfranchising effects of the laws they are pushing, while redoubling their efforts to keep voters from the polls. And if recent events are anything to go by, those True the Vote volunteers will make the election more intimidating, less free, and less fair.

In other news heard straight from the horse’s mouth, former Florida Republican Party Chairman Jim Greer admitted recently that Republican officials have made deliberate attempts to prevent blacks from voting. Greer’s deposition, though part of his own criminal corruption trial, lends eyewitness testimony that these efforts are designed to subvert the right to vote. They certainly aren’t short on intention.

PFAW Foundation