Voting Rights Advocates Rack Up More Wins

Earlier this month, PFAW reported on what has gone right for voting rights at the state level in 2014. While there is much more work to be done to enact needed reforms and to step up and counter threats when the right to vote is under attack, states like Florida, Georgia, and North Carolina have shown that we can win.

Now we've uncovered even more evidence of why we can and should keep fighting the challenges that lay before us.

Voters themselves will get to decide what voter empowerment means in Illinois. House Speaker Michael Madigan's constitutional amendment providing "that no person shall be denied the right to register to vote or to cast a ballot in an election based on race, color, ethnicity, status as a member of a language minority, sex, sexual orientation, or income" passed both chambers and will be on the November ballot. A similar effort is afoot in Ohio.

Native American voters in Montana have seen two encouraging developments. In Jackson v. Wolf Point School District, an agreement was reached that will provide for five-single member school board districts in addition to one at-large representative, as opposed to the existing multimember districts that heavily favored the area's white population. Wandering Medicine v. McCullough, which challenges the availability of late registration and early voting for residents of the Crow, North Cheyenne, and Fort Belknap Reservations, will proceed following a failed motion to dismiss the case.

In Washoe County, Nevada, home to Reno and the state's second most populated county, voters have come to expect 14 consecutive early voting days. This year, though, county commissioners planned to eliminate the two optional Sundays that fall within that period. The American Civil Liberties Union and other allies organized quickly, sending a letter to Chairman David Humke and providing testimony at a commission meeting. Thankfully at that same meeting Chairman Humke announced that Sunday early voting was back on and warrants further study.

Tod Story, ACLU of Nevada Executive Director, said:

Early voting allows more people to participate in our democracy, and weekend voting is necessary for many hardworking Nevadans. Weekends are especially important days for voting drives, including for communities of faith

US District Judge Nelva Ramos told Texas legislators, much like US Magistrate Judge Joi Elizabeth Peake did in North Carolina, that their emails must be disclosed – albeit confidentially – in the ongoing Voting Rights Act challenge to the 2011 Texas voter ID law.

Huffington Post:

The United States argued that the emails could be the only existing candid evidence about the purpose of the legislation because Texas Republicans coordinated their talking points on the bill and refused to publicly engage with the concerns of minority legislators. If any of the emails reveal discriminatory intent, the U.S. will still have to argue to get them admitted as evidence during the trial phase of the lawsuit.

Finally, Utah is taking Election Day Registration for a test drive. Governor Gary Herbert has signed HB 156, which sets up an opt-in pilot program for counties and municipalities. The state will keep an eye on how they do and report back to the legislature for possible further action.

We can win, and let's not forget that.

Check out PFAW’s website for more voting rights updates.

PFAW

Florida Senate Committee Takes Up Voting Rights Bill

At the same time pro-democracy advocates in Wisconsin were speaking out against their state's latest suppressive legislation yesterday, the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee in Florida also had election reform on the agenda.

SPB 7068 – which cleared a procedural hurdle on March 10 and is expected to come back before the Committee later this month – addresses a number of issues, including the use of certain drop-off locations for the submission of absentee ballots. Last year, Secretary of State Ken Detzner issued a directive against the use of some drop-off sites, such as tax collector offices and county library branches, despite their use in Pinellas County since 2008.

Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark:

I do not understand why the secretary of state, the chief elections official for the state of Florida, would want to eliminate an option that voters have to participate by returning their ballot to the ballot dropoff locations.

Even US Senator Bill Nelson has joined the absentee ballot fray, telling Committee Chairman Jack Latvala:

The last thing Floridians need are laws that make it harder for them to exercise their right to vote.

Chairman Latvala hit back, claiming that Supervisor Clark needs to focus more on early voting and less on absentee ballots.

In other voting rights news, Minnesota moves closer to resolving its turf war over online voter registration, and Ohio considers putting voters' rights on the November ballot.

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

PFAW

AAMIA member and United Clergy of Greater Cleveland protest early voting cutbacks

Ohioans are continuing their stand against recent cuts to early voting, including in Cuyahoga County, where yesterday Reverend Dr. Tony Minor, of People For the American Way's African American Ministers in Action, stood with United Clergy of Greater Cleveland to protest in front of the Board of Elections.

Sunday early voting has been especially important to "Souls to the Polls" programs through which churches organize their congregations to turn out and vote early.

In other voting rights news, Florida and Wisconsin both have electoral reform on the legislative agenda. Check out even more news from our friends at Fair Elections Legal Network.

PFAW

Voting Rights News – 3/6/14

Ohio, a perennial hotbed of voter suppression activity, has been in the news recently for its brand new restrictive voting laws and its cuts to early voting. But Ohio is not the only state with voting rights issues on the agenda.

Here are a few others that you should know about.

Arizona – The SB 1062 veto was not the only action that Governor Jan Brewer took last week. She signed legislation repealing HB 2305, a 2013 law whose suppressive provisions affected infrequent voters wishing to remain on the permanent early voting rolls; community groups trying to get out the vote; third-party candidates and voter initiatives trying to get on the ballot; and more. While it's good news that this law is no longer on the books, some have expressed concern about robbing the people of the final decision.

Georgia – Early voting in municipal elections could be cut even further if HB 891, which has already passed through the Georgia House, is signed into law. In 2011, the available early voting period dropped from forty-five days to twenty-one days, and the new proposal would narrow it to just six days. It would also prevent municipalities from adding their own evening and weekend hours. While a House amendment made some changes, opposition is still clear among advocacy groups, and it remains to be seen what will happen in the Senate.

Michigan – Good news in the Great Lakes State: Flint legislators Woodrow Stanley (House) and Jim Anancich (Senate) are asking for a hearing on no-excuse absentee voting.

North Carolina – As litigation challenging last year's law moves forward, its suppressive impacts are becoming even clearer. While the law reduces early voting days, Governor Pat McCrory had said that it doesn't actually cut early voting because it keeps the same number of available hours on the books. Well, one-third of counties now have the go-ahead to make those additional cuts during the upcoming May primary. And Appalachian State University looks like it will once again be without its own early voting site.

Wisconsin – The NAACP/Voces de la Frontera and League of Women Voters cases challenging the state's photo ID law were heard by the state Supreme Court last week, and a ruling is expected by the end of June. Separate federal challenges to the law were heard in November; their rulings could come any day.

PFAW will continue its work on behalf of a 'Voters In' vision to enact needed reforms and will step up and counter threats when the right to vote is under attack.

Looking for even more news? Check out our friends at the Fair Elections Legal Network.

PFAW

Assault On Voting by Ohio GOP Ahead of November 2014 Elections

Ohio Republican legislators are up to their voter suppression tricks again, trying to limit absentee ballot registrations and restricting voting hours ahead of the November 2014 elections. The Columbus Dispatch reported Friday that GOP Rep. Mike Dovilla, Chairman of the Ohio House Policy and Legislative Oversight Committee, said the committee will vote on Senate Bill 205 and Senate Bill 238 as early as Tuesday.  If passed out of Dovilla’s committee, it could be off to the full House for a floor debate on Wednesday.

SB 205 would ban county clerks from mass mailing absentee ballot applications to all voters, holding that duty only for OH Secretary of State Jon Husted, who has proven in the past that he will restrict voting access almost every chance he gets.

SB 238 would achieve one of Husted’s anti-voter policy agenda items by limiting early voting days, effectively eliminating Ohioans’ ability to register and vote on the same day anywhere in the state.

These legislative moves come just days after the news broke that Hamilton County officials might relocate Cincinnati’s largest early voting location to a new, much less accessible location.  That decision met with considerable push-back from voting rights activists and the media, resulting in a deadlock vote from the Board of Elections. The final decision now also goes to Secretary Husted to decide, effectively putting the power to restrict access to early voting in Cincinnati’s largest city in his hands.

If you are from Ohio, call your Representative now and tell them to protect your early voting rights by voting ‘NO’ on SB 205 and SB 238. You can find your Representative’s contact information here: http://www.ohiohouse.gov/members/member-directory. Once you have talked to your Representative, drop us an email at political@pfaw.org to let us know what they said.  We’ll keep tabs on the situation and update you on voter suppression efforts in Ohio – and across the country – on the PFAW blog.

PFAW

"Stand Your Ground" Comes To Ohio

On the same day that George Zimmerman appeared in a Florida court for allegedly pointing a shotgun at his girlfriend during a reported domestic dispute, “stand your ground” laws are reaching new levels of absurdity in Ohio. A state House committee approved sweeping gun legislation which would eliminate the duty to retreat if they are safely able to do so before using deadly force in self-defense. Critics have warned this could lead to a “Wild West” situation, encouraging a “shoot first, ask questions later” approach to self-defense. Given that the law already says the use of deadly force in self-defense is acceptable in one’s own home or car and if a safe retreat is not possible, this law seems designed not to improve safety but instead to further an extreme pro-gun agenda that staunchly refuses to accept anylaw restricting the use of weapons. For these legislators, and groups like the NRA and ALEC that support these types of bills, a person’s right to shoot someone they deem a threat, without even attempting to make a safe retreat, seems to be worth more than a potential increase in homicides.

The bill also relaxes other gun control regulations, including a reduction in the number of training hours needed to obtain a concealed handgun license from twelve to four hours. This would make it eight times easier to carry a concealed deadly weapon than to drive a car, which requires a total of 32 hours of training in Ohio.  It also introduces “reciprocity” on concealed handgun licenses, requiring the state to recognize concealed handgun licenses from any state that recognizes those issued by Ohio. This is especially troubling given that the number of concealed carry licenses issued in Ohio is at a record high: in just the first nine months of 2013, more concealed carry permits were issued than during any calendar year since 2004, when authorities started issuing such permits. 

PFAW

Bad News For Kasich And His Allies - PPP Poll

A poll released Monday by Public Policy Polling has thrown a big bucket of cold water on Ohio governor John Kasich’s rumored White House ambitions—and it’s not great news for others in his administration, either. The poll shows Kasich trailing likely Democratic challenger Ed Fitzgerald by three points, and puts the governor’s disapproval rating at 47%, compared to 42% approval, a significant drop from a June Quinnipiac poll.
 
The poll also shows Secretary of State Jon Husted’s approval rating stagnant at 28% approve/28% disapprove, and barely breaking out ahead of his likely Democratic challenger Nina Turner in a hypothetical race, polling at 37% to her 36%. Husted, famous for his work to make it harder to vote in Ohio, was recently smacked down by a federal judge who ruled against his attempts to block some ballots from being counted.
 
Finally, the poll shows state treasurer Josh Mandel in trouble, with 41% disapproving of his job and only 30% approving, and losing a hypothetical matchup against Democrat Connie Pillich by five points—which might reflect the trouble he’s in over his poor decision-making on pensions, potentially costing Ohio workers millions in fees.
 
It might be tempting for Kasich and his supporters to put this down to a bad poll from PPP, but given PPP’s record as the most accurate pollster of 2012, it seems much more likely it’s the result of a flood of bad news, bad decisions and just plain bad ideas from his administration. The Cleveland Plain Dealer points out that, since the more favorable June poll, Kasich has “signed a state budget that included anti-abortion amendments,” including a medically-unnecessary ultrasound provision – a bill that’s already limiting Ohio women’s access to healthcare they need. On top of that, Kasich has “begun to take more flak for the dealings of the state economic development agency he privatized” – and the criticism is understandable, because six of the nine members of JobsOhio’s board of directors “have direct financial ties to companies that have received tax credits and other assistance from state government.” The newly-created non-profit has also assisted a company at which Kasich spent nine years as a director, and which in the past has paid Kasich personally. It’s hard to feel sorry for Kasich’s tanking approval numbers and dim reelection prospects when these problems are his own fault- his own bad policy decisions, and his own shady dealings with companies that take government money. So… Kasich 2016, anyone? 
PFAW

You won't believe what's in the OH GOP's budget...

Not content simply to pass a definitively right-wing budget, in recent weeks the extremist Republicans in control of Ohio’s legislature tacked on a slew of amendments to a substitute budget bill that read like a Radical Right Christmas wish list, including:

  • Cracking down on student voting -- Republicans are attacking young people’s ability to cast a ballot by threatening state universities and trying to discourage them from supplying the proof-of-address documentation needed by students to get a voter ID! They’re going after universities’ revenue by requiring that any students to whom the schools provide utility bills or other proof be charged significantly less expensive in-state tuition -- a massive deterrent to keep schools from providing these forms to would-be voters.
  • War on women -- The bill would block Planned Parenthood from receiving federal family-planning dollars … You might be thinking, “Ah, that old chestnut… will right-wing attacks on women’s health ever cease?” Well, if you live in Ohio, the answer is clearly, “not this year!”
  • Attacking sex ed & teachers -- A provision about sex education opens teachers up a $5,000 fine and lawsuits from parents if their instruction “promotes gateway sexual activity.” Translated, this means that sex education teachers now face stiff penalties for teaching certain evidence-based lessons about health care, and for providing materials or information about contraception or several other topics the Religious Right doesn’t like (ie. doing their job).

If you live in Ohio, please help STOP this budget bill by calling now and urging your state representative to OPPOSE Sub. H.B. No. 59. Click here to find your legislator.

PFAW

Prison Privatization: Reality vs. 'Magic of the Marketplace'

People For the American Way’s 2012 Right Wing Watch In Focus report, “Predatory Privatization,” included a section on the pernicious private prison industry. The report documented that, for all the talk of efficiency and accountability among lawmakers pushing privatization, the evidence pointed to a different reality: private prisons often deliver worse service, at higher costs to the taxpayer, with little accountability. One reason: massive spending by prison corporations on lobbying and political contributions.

Today, Think Progress points to new evidence: a sordid tale of prison privatization in Ohio. It links to a timeline produced by the ACLU of Ohio that chronicles the abysmal record of the Lake Erie Correctional Institute in the 18 months since Ohio sold the prison to the Corrections Corporation of America.

In that short period, the prison flunked two inspections, with independent reports documenting “filthy, broken facilities, as well as much higher rates of crime and violence in and around the prison.”

What about accountability? Think Progress notes:

Despite Lake Erie’s multiple violations of state standards, Ohio has stubbornly maintained its infatuation with private prisons. The state plans to outsource prison food to Aramark, a private vendor already under investigation in Kentucky for multiple contract violations, including serving old food that had not been stored properly and overbilling the state.

Republican-dominated state legislatures are all too eager to ignore the private prison industry’s dismal record. CCA and other companies like GEO are paying well to maintain their massively profitable government contracts; the industry spent $45 million on lobbying in the past decade. CCA has done especially well for itself, rebounding from near bankruptcy in 2000 to rake in a net income of $162 million in 2011.

PFAW

Senator Portman’s change of heart and the legacy of Harvey Milk

Anyone who’s heard the story of San Francisco City Supervisor Harvey Milk has likely heard his famous call:

Come out, come out, wherever you are!

That was one of the slogans used in the campaign against California’s Briggs Initiative in 1978. It was also the sign of something bigger for Milk, his staunch belief that sexual orientation was not a private matter, and that hearts and minds would only be changed if gays and lesbians came out to show their family, friends, neighbors, coworkers, and the like that we’re all on the same team. That everyone has the same right to the proverbial life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Nearly thirty-five years after Milk was assassinated, that mantra has again proven true in the case of Will Portman and his father, US Senator Rob Portman of Ohio.

Why did Senator Portman’s change of heart take two years? Why has he continued to support the anti-gay policies of his party? There’s a lot of debate on both points, but one thing is certain: it was his son’s own coming out that forced the Senator to come out in support of marriage equality, and to do that interview and write that op-ed.

The Portman story breaks just eleven days before the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in the cases challenging California’s Proposition 8 and the federal Defense of Marriage Act. Stuart Milk recently told the United for Marriage coalition that we must have a public showing at the Court of who this impacts. In so doing, he is upholding one of the fundamental principles on which his uncle’s legacy is based.

Thank you, Harvey.

PS – If you’d like to join PFAW at the Court, click here for more information.

PFAW