UPDATE: Reported Voting Troubles

UPDATE: Shortly after the election, several voting rights advocacy groups released reports or statements detailing problems voters encountered at the polls. Demos put out a report describing how all the various voter suppression tactics affected the 2012 election. The American Civil Liberties Union issued a statement addressing the problems voters faced and the steps that should be taken to prevent future problems. Project Vote also released a statement praising diligent voters for overcoming adverse voting circumstances.

Despite the concerted efforts by conservative legislators to suppress voters’ rights throughout 2011 and 2012 using a number of tactics in the supposed interest to combat voter fraud, millions of Americans took time last week to cast their vote on Election Day. However, a number of problems for voters still occurred, shedding light on some obvious inadequacies within our voting process.

The foremost issue on Election Day: long lines of epic proportions. In Virginia, Maryland, and the District of Columbia a lack of an appropriate amount of voting machines and too few poll workers led to hours-long waits at multiple voting locations. In Florida, voters were forced to wait until the early hours of the morning before being able to finally cast a vote due to ridiculously long lines, prompting Governor Rick Scott (a known advocate for vote suppressing measures) to call for a review of Florida’s voting process, even though his policies may have contributed to the long lines.

A recent study and a 2008 survey indicate that African Americans, Hispanics, and other minorities are disproportionately more likely to be subject to longer poll lines than others and this is largely a result of reductions in early voting. In Ohio, where restrictions on early voting were blocked, early voters showed perseverance over the cold weather as they waited in long lines stretching for blocks to cast their votes. Various Representatives and even President Obama weighed in on the issue, with all agreeing that a lack of voting machines and poll workers contributed to the overwhelming lines and that the issue should be preventable.

Glitches in voting machines also added to the longer-than-usual lines. Electronic voting machines were reportedly malfunctioning, causing vote flipping and ballot presentation errors that resulted in confused voters and the shutting down of faulty machines. These errors, coupled with insufficient available machines to begin with, had voters waiting much longer than expected.

Besides the long lines, other issues arose for voters. Even though Pennsylvania’s ALEC-linked voter ID law was blocked from being enforced on Election Day, poll locations throughout the state had confusing messages about voter ID requirements with many distributing old information that said voters needed a proper ID to vote. Upon being reported, poll workers were instructed to remove the misleading information and not demand ID from voters.

Elsewhere, voters received inaccurate robocalls the night before Election Day. The Arizona Republican Party allegedly called thousands of voters and provided incorrect addresses to polling locations. Information to Spanish speaking voters distributed by an Arizona County Election Department had also listed the wrong date for Election DayTwice! The Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund also brought to light several instances where required language assistance was not readily available to help communities with large non-English speaking Asian American populations and cases where poll workers separated Korean American voters into segregated lines because “there were so many."

Although things were difficult at times, Americans still got out to vote last week, demonstrating determination to overcome broken machines and patience in long lines. Voting rights also had a significant win in Minnesota, where an amendment for voter ID requirements was struck down. However, the battle for ensuring voting rights has only just begun – the Supreme Court has accepted a case arguing that Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act is unconstitutional. Section 5 requires areas with a history of racial discrimination to get federal approval before putting any voting changes into effect, a vital protection that has served as the lynchpin of protecting voting rights for nearly half a century. The Court’s decision will have a profound impact on future elections and the future of guaranteeing the fundamental right to vote for all.

PFAW Foundation

Restrictions on Early Voting and Voter Registration Used for Partisan Gain

The past two years saw a dramatic rise in states attempting to enact voter suppression, the impact of which was certainly felt on Election Day. Under the guise of combating voter fraud and saving money, we saw strong pushes for ID and early voting and voter registration restrictions.

Florida was among the worst offenders. A recent Palm Beach Post report revealed the party politics behind the story. Jim Greer, former Chairman of the Florida Republican Party, says that GOP strategists and consultants "firmly believe that early voting is bad for Republican Party candidates" and simply used the issue of voter fraud as a "marketing ploy" to advocate for voter restrictions on early voting and registration. Several others stated that the restrictions on early voting and registration groups were explicitly in place to target minority voters and limit their turnout in the election.

Florida members of the African American Ministers Leadership Council said they were "appalled but not surprised" by the report and the claims that the restrictions exclusively targeted minority voters. Elder Lee Harris, Pastor of Mt. Olive Primitive Baptist Church in Jacksonville, stated:

There’s a reason African Americans stood in line for hours on Nov. 6. We knew that these early voting and voter registration restrictions were meant to keep us away from the polls. But we’ve come too far and fought too hard to let anybody take away our vote again… Even while cloaked in the dubious language of ‘voter fraud,’ the real reason for these measures was always clear. African Americans in Florida knew that, and we fought back – by voting.
PFAW Foundation

Congressional Hispanic Caucus Supports LGBT-Inclusive Immigration Reform

The Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) today released their framework for immigration reform. One Nation: Principles on Immigration Reform and Our Commitment to the American Dream addresses a number of key principles and constituencies. Section 2 explicitly covers bi-national, same-sex couples, stating that the CHC will:

Protec[t] the unity and sanctity of the family, including the families of bi-national, same-sex couples, by reducing the family backlogs and keeping spouses, parents, and children together.

CHC has made a crucial commitment to ending discrimination against bi-national, same-sex couples who currently face an untenable immigration situation because the federal government fails to fully recognize their families. “One Nation” and legislation in Congress known as the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA) serve as meaningful steps toward keeping these families together. UAFA allows same-sex “permanent partners” to be united legally through the US immigration process, making them eligible for green cards and immigrant visas. To protect against abuse, UAFA imposes the same penalties for immigration fraud as those currently imposed on married heterosexual couples – and in some cases sets the bar higher for same-sex couples.

PFAW enthusiastically supports the “One Nation” commitment to LGBT equality.

PFAW

Reported Voting Troubles

Despite the concerted efforts by conservative legislators to suppress voters’ rights throughout 2011 and 2012 using a number of tactics in the supposed interest to combat voter fraud, millions of Americans took time last week to cast their vote on Election Day. However, a number of problems for voters still occurred, shedding light on some obvious inadequacies within our voting process.

The foremost issue on Election Day: long lines of epic proportions. In Virginia, Maryland, and the District of Columbia a lack of an appropriate amount of voting machines and too few poll workers led to hours-long waits at multiple voting locations. In Florida, voters were forced to wait until the early hours of the morning before being able to finally cast a vote due to ridiculously long lines, prompting Governor Rick Scott (a known advocate for vote suppressing measures) to call for a review of Florida’s voting process, even though his policies may have contributed to the long lines.

A recent study and a 2008 survey indicate that African Americans, Hispanics, and other minorities are disproportionately more likely to be subject to longer poll lines than others and this is largely a result of reductions in early voting. In Ohio, where restrictions on early voting were blocked, early voters showed perseverance over the cold weather as they waited in long lines stretching for blocks to cast their votes. Various Representatives and even President Obama weighed in on the issue, with all agreeing that a lack of voting machines and poll workers contributed to the overwhelming lines and that the issue should be preventable.

Glitches in voting machines also added to the longer-than-usual lines. Electronic voting machines were reportedly malfunctioning, causing vote flipping and ballot presentation errors that resulted in confused voters and the shutting down of faulty machines. These errors, coupled with insufficient available machines to begin with, had voters waiting much longer than expected.

Besides the long lines, other issues arose for voters. Even though Pennsylvania’s ALEC-linked voter ID law was blocked from being enforced on Election Day, poll locations throughout the state had confusing messages about voter ID requirements with many distributing old information that said voters needed a proper ID to vote. Upon being reported, poll workers were instructed to remove the misleading information and not demand ID from voters.

Elsewhere, voters received inaccurate robocalls the night before Election Day. The Arizona Republican Party allegedly called thousands of voters and provided incorrect addresses to polling locations. Information to Spanish speaking voters distributed by an Arizona County Election Department had also listed the wrong date for Election DayTwice! The Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund also brought to light several instances where required language assistance was not readily available to help communities with large non-English speaking Asian American populations and cases where poll workers separated Korean American voters into segregated lines because “there were so many."

Although things were difficult at times, Americans still got out to vote last week, demonstrating determination to overcome broken machines and patience in long lines. Voting rights also had a significant win in Minnesota, where an amendment for voter ID requirements was struck down. However, the battle for ensuring voting rights has only just begun – the Supreme Court has accepted a case arguing that Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act is unconstitutional. Section 5 requires areas with a history of racial discrimination to get federal approval before putting any voting changes into effect, a vital protection that has served as the lynchpin of protecting voting rights for nearly half a century. The Court’s decision will have a profound impact on future elections and the future of guaranteeing the fundamental right to vote for all.

PFAW Foundation

Minnesotans Reject Voter ID

Earlier this year, the Minnesota state legislature passed SF 509, requiring photo ID at the polls. Governor Mark Dayton vetoed the bill, but proponents led by ALEC State Chairwoman Mary Kiffmeyer managed to bypass him by pushing through a constitutional amendment version (HF 2738) and sending the voter ID question to voters. Efforts went forth to remove it from the ballot but the MN Supreme Court denied the challenge.

An aggressive “Vote No” movement was waged all the way up to Election Day. ACLU of Minnesota, Common Cause Minnesota, Jewish Community Action, Take Action MN, and Our Vote Our Future all campaigned and distributed information about the harmful and discriminatory nature of voter ID. The Minnesota League of Women Voters issued an excellent fact sheet that debunked the most common misleading claims regarding voter ID, and a popular “I Pledge to Vote NO” Facebook page got information out over social media networks. But organizations continued to grow weary as polls showed that voters were willing to approve the amendment all the way up to the week before Election Day.

But the campaign apparently worked – Minnesotans ended up opposing voter ID on Tuesday and the amendment failed 54.2% to 45.8%. Minnesotans do not need to fear having to present a photo ID to vote in future elections, and the question can largely be put to rest.

Throughout 2011 and 2012, conservative groups and legislators sought to restrict the right to vote and disenfranchise multiple groups of people. Minnesotans proved to want to preserve the right to vote for all.

PFAW Foundation

“A right for one is a right for another and a responsibility for all.”

In 1988, as Founding Chairman of People For the American Way, Norman Lear was among the cosigners of the Williamsburg Charter, “written and published expressly to address the dilemmas, challenges, and opportunities posed by religious liberty in American public life.”

Lear and others, including Presidents Carter and Ford and Chief Justices Rehnquist and Burger, agreed that “a right for one is a right for another and a responsibility for all.”

That is the spirit in which faith leaders and religious liberty advocates, including PFAW Foundation and the African American Ministers Leadership Council, led by the First Amendment Center and Interfaith Alliance, have come together in 2012 to answer the question, “What is the truth about American Muslims?”

October 11 marked the release of their document, addressing such topics as the law of religious freedom; American Muslims in the United States; misunderstood terms and practices; and Sharia.

Dr. Charles C. Haynes, Director of the Religious Freedom Education Project at the First Amendment Center:

Our aim is to provide the public with balanced and accurate information about religious freedom and American Muslims in order to counter the dangerous and often vicious propaganda that has helped fuel the dramatic rise of anti-Muslim bigotry in America.

Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy, President of Interfaith Alliance:

In producing and disseminating this resource, we seek to uphold our shared commitment to religious freedom and contribute to a climate of understanding and mutual respect among Americans of all faiths and none.

Richard Cizik, President of the New Evangelical Project for the Common Good:

Religious liberty is not just a gift from God but a duty to God . . . Let’s together create a new heroic culture. People who stand up to bigotry are heroes.

Dr. Hussein Rashid, Adjunct Professor, Hofstra University, and Associate Editor, Religion Dispatches:

This isn't about one religious community. We need to be better together.

Back in August, PFAW Foundation sought to answer its own set of religious liberty questions in 12 Rules for Mixing Religion and Politics.

PFAW Foundation

Voter ID Blocked in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania’s ALEC-linked voter ID law, known as HB 934, has been fought several times since its passage earlier this year. Defenders of the strict photo ID law state that the law prevents voter fraud – even though there haven’t been any investigations or evidence regarding the presence of voter fraud. Furthermore, many Pennsylvanians lack appropriate ID and are likely to be disenfranchised as a result of the law.

However, as of October 2, HB 934 will not be fully enforced come November. Upon instruction from the state’s Supreme Court, Judge Robert Simpson, who previously refused to grant a temporary injunction, partially blocked the enforcement of the restrictive ID requirement, striking down the provisions that required voters without identification to cast a provisional ballot and then travel to the county board of elections office within six days of voting to present their ID. Poll workers will still be able to ask voters to present an ID before voting, but voters without an ID cannot be turned away.

While it is now guaranteed that voters without an ID cannot legally be turned away, the ruling only applies for the 2012 election. Concerns over voter disenfranchisement continue to exist because voters will still be asked to provide IDs at the polls, and many may not know they are still allowed to vote without a specific ID.

Rev. Michael Couch of Berachah Baptist Church in Philadelphia and a member of PFAW Foundation’s African American Ministers Leadership Council states:

We are grateful for this partial injunction, and will work hard to ensure that every Pennsylvania voter knows his or her rights under the law on November 6. Nothing but a full injunction of the voter ID law will truly reopen our elections to all eligible voters, but today’s decision means that nobody will be turned away from the polls for lack of ID. We will be working extra hard to make sure members of our congregations and our communities know their rights and cast a vote that counts on November 6.

As voting rights are challenged throughout the nation, it is important to remember that the right to vote is guaranteed to all. Everyone should know the voting laws in the state they live.

PFAW Foundation

UPDATE: State legislation shines national spotlight on voter ID

UPDATE: Back in March, we turned our attention to the 47th anniversary of Bloody Sunday. In the months since, we’ve crisscrossed the nation and detailed how the fights of 50 years ago are being resurrected today. The Atlantic’s Andrew Cohen yesterday offered his own telling, invoking Dr. King’s famous quote, “The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice,” to break down the dangerous myths and machinations of voter suppression, concluding that “[t]hese new laws seek to bend the arc backward again, to take away from people their effective right to vote.” It’s important that we remain vigilant over the next nine weeks, so that on November 6 eligible Americans are able to cast a vote and have it count. In the words of LBJ, “Then with his vote and his voice he is equipped with a very potent weapon to guarantee his own dignity.” Click here and here for more from Andrew Cohen.

March 7, 2012 marked the 47th anniversary of the “Bloody Sunday” when voting rights marchers were beaten in their attempt to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama.

NAACP President Ben Jealous joined activists from then and now in marking the occasion with another march, saying protest is just as necessary now as it was then.

"We need people to understand that not only is history not very distant, but we stand on the precipice of repeating it," Jealous said.

The NAACP leader said strict voter ID laws that won't allow people to vote without a driver's license or passport are unnecessary and will make it difficult -- and in some cases impossible -- for 5 million people to vote.

"We need to make sure that the principle of one person, one vote, is respected," he said.

Last fall’s 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, details how the fights of 50 years ago are being resurrected today. Indeed we’ve seen the strict laws that Jealous mentions pushed in states including Virginia, Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Texas, among others, along with the rise of the American Legislative Exchange Council.

Following what happened in Virginia, Washington Post editorialized against strict ID.

Even if Republican lawmakers aren’t personally acquainted with people who don’t carry ID, they exist. And provided they are legally registered to vote, they should be allowed to cast their ballots — without encumbrances manufactured by the state.

Ari Berman wrote in Rolling Stone about what he believes are the political motivations and consequences.

March 2012:

Since the 2010 election, Republicans have waged an unprecedented war on voting, with the unspoken but unmistakable goal of preventing millions of mostly Democratic voters, including students, minorities, immigrants, ex-convicts and the elderly, from casting ballots in 2012. More than a dozen states, from Texas to Wisconsin and Florida, have passed laws designed to impede voters at every step of the electoral process, whether by requiring birth certificates to register to vote, restricting voter registration drives, curtailing early voting, requiring government-issued IDs to cast a ballot, or disenfranchising ex-felons.

Within days, the crucial battlegrounds of Pennsylvania and Virginia will become the latest GOP states to pass legislation erecting new barriers to voting. If, as expected, the new laws lead to fewer Democrats casting ballots in November, both states could favor Republicans, possibly shifting the balance of power in Congress and denying Barack Obama a second term.

August 2011:

Republicans have long tried to drive Democratic voters away from the polls. "I don't want everybody to vote," the influential conservative activist Paul Weyrich told a gathering of evangelical leaders in 1980. "As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down." But since the 2010 election, thanks to a conservative advocacy group founded by Weyrich, the GOP's effort to disrupt voting rights has been more widespread and effective than ever. In a systematic campaign orchestrated by the American Legislative Exchange Council – and funded in part by David and Charles Koch, the billionaire brothers who bankrolled the Tea Party – 38 states introduced legislation this year designed to impede voters at every step of the electoral process.

Then there’s Roll Call.

Rock the Vote is one of several dozen organizations, from civil rights groups to Latino, labor and women’s groups, that have launched a multipart campaign to push back against new registration rules for voters that have been enacted in many states. The fight over voter access has triggered state-level lobbying, ballot initiatives and lawsuits, and the issue will likely land before the Supreme Court.

Voting rights activists are responding to a wave of state laws enacted after the 2010 elections, which ushered in GOP majorities in more than two dozen state legislatures. Voting rights advocates have struggled to gain traction amid public indifference and more visible collective bargaining fights, but they are starting to win attention at the Justice Department and on Capitol Hill.

However voter ID is resolved, it’s clear that it’s an issue of national concern, not one isolated to a few states.

Or even international. Jealous and the NAACP have put the issue before the United Nations Human Rights Council. Click here to read their report, Defending Democracy: Confronting Modern Barriers to Voting Rights in America.

PFAW Foundation

UPDATE: NVRA enforcement crucial for voter participation

UPDATE: On Wednesday two federal judges approved a settlement in a case brought by the Black Political Empowerment Projectand ACTION United against Pennsylvania public assistance agencies that failed to provide voter registration opportunities for their clients. Under the provisions of the settlement, they will now offer voter registration applications on their websites and will post signs with registration information at their offices. They will also implement additional training and oversight for their employees. And when assistance recipients update their claims, voting-related forms will be mailed to them automatically. ACTION United president Lucille Prater-Holliday: "Without full and robust compliance with the NVRA the disenfranchisement and disengagement of these citizens is only perpetuated. We are glad that the Commonwealth has bound itself to a meaningful implementation of the statute." Earlier we reported about a settlement in a suit over NVRA violations in Massachusetts.

With voting rights under attack nationwide, we must remember our democracy is only strongest when all citizens have the opportunity to participate – which is exactly why the enforcement of the National Voter Registration Act has grown increasingly paramount ahead of the November election, especially its provision affording public assistance recipients the opportunity to register to vote at public assistance agencies.

A coalition of voting rights advocates is working to hold states accountable. Litigation citing NVRA violations has been brought against nine states – most recently in Nevada against Secretary of State Ross Miller and Department of Health & Human Services Director Michael Willden. Litigation could soon follow in Alabama where Demos has joined the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and Project Vote in filing notice against Secretary of State Beth Chapman.

Sarah Brannon, Project Vote:

When done properly, public agency registration is one of the most effective means of ensuring that all citizens are offered the opportunity to participate in their government. It reaches people who are less likely to register to vote through other means, including low-income residents, minorities, the elderly, and the disabled.

Lonnie Feemster, Reno-Sparks NAACP:

To empower those without a voice is our most important work and we will continue to fight to allow those without great wealth to speak truth to power. Full participation in the electoral process empowers the poor and disadvantaged.

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

UPDATE: Election Day Registration takes center stage in California

UPDATE: The California legislature has passedAB 1436 and sent the bill to Governor Jerry Brown for his signature. Governor Brown has not publicly stated his position, but he has been supportive of voting rights in the past. Kathay Feng, California Common Cause: "Politicians in other states have been pushing new restrictive laws and campaigns to manipulate election results for their political gain. Governor Brown can take a stand for free and fair elections by signing Election Day Voter Registration into law." Assuming it becomes law, it will not take effect until 2015 when the state’s new voter registration database is expected to be certified.

With the right to vote under attack, it is refreshing to see positive electoral reform making its way from the east coast to the west.

In California, the Assembly-passed AB 1436 provides for Election Day Registration. Where current law requires voters to submit an affidavit at least 15 days prior to an election, the new proposal would allow voters the ability to register as late as Election Day. Ballots would be cast provisionally and counted upon verification of registration. It would take effect in 2016.

Assemblyman Mike Feuer (D-42), the bill’s sponsor:

This bill helps assure all eligible Californians will have the chance to determine who speaks for them in Washington, Sacramento and their home towns. I’m pleased that the Assembly has recognized the importance of increasing voter turnout in our state.

While waiting for the Senate to take action, be sure to visit our friends over at Demos for more information.

PFAW Foundation