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

PFAW is United for Marriage

On December 7, 2012, the Supreme Court agreed to hear cases challenging California’s Proposition 8 and the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

PFAW President Michael Keegan:

As we saw with last month’s state ballot measures affirming marriage equality, more and more Americans are coming to understand that laws preventing same-sex couples from getting married do real harm to our families, friends, and neighbors . . . Laws like Proposition 8 and DOMA go against the central American ideal of equal justice under the law . . . The cases the court agreed to hear today are a landmark opportunity for our country to move towards making marriage equality the law of the land once and for all.

Now that opportunity is upon us.

In less than two weeks, oral arguments will be heard at the Court. PFAW will be there with the United for Marriage coalition.

There have been a few moments during my nearly nine years in DC that I’ve felt like I was part of history. January 31, 2006, shaking Senator Ted Kennedy’s hand just after he’d cast his “No” vote on the Alito nomination. August 29, 2009, gathering at the Capitol for Senator Kennedy’s funeral procession. June 28, 2012, standing outside the Court as the (at first false) news of the healthcare ruling spread.

Organizing with United for Marriage has already felt historic, so March 26 and 27, 2013 stand to join those moments. You can, too.

  • If you live in or near DC, or plan to be here for this historic occasion, join the PFAW delegation at the Court for the United for Marriage rallies. RSVP here then email me to let me know you're attending.
  • If you live elsewhere or know people in other parts of the country, check out a local event, or create one of your own.

Visit unitedformarriage.org for more information.

PS: We’ll be wearing PFAW shirts and carrying PFAW signs. The color of the day is red!

PFAW

Missouri Brings Voter ID Back from the Dead

Last week, Missouri’s House of Representatives attempted to resuscitate a failed voter ID law, approving two bills that would require voters to present valid, government-issued photo identification in order to vote. One of the bills would call for a November 2014 ballot measure to amend the state constitution to permit a voter ID requirement, and the other would implement the requirement if the measure were to pass.

People For the American Way continues to bring attention to the disproportionate impact voter ID laws have on African Americans, the elderly, low-income people, people with disabilities, and students. When the voter ID bills passed the Missouri House, Reverend Isaac McCullough of People For the American Way’s African American Ministers in Action said:

Faith leaders in my state worked hard in the months leading up to November to get our communities to the polls. It is disheartening to see that some of our Representatives yet gain want to discourage, rather than encourage, people from voting. Suppressive voter ID laws fall especially hard on people who are already marginalized, threatening to keep many Missourians from the polls in future elections. That’s not what our democracy is supposed to be about. As faith leaders, we have fought hard to protect the right to vote – and we are not about to give up that fight anytime soon.

The vote in Missouri comes after years of failed attempts to enact voter ID in the state. In 2006, the Republican-controlled legislature passed a voter ID bill that was later rejected by the state Supreme Court as “a heavy and substantial burden on Missourian’s free exercise of the right of suffrage.” The legislature passed a similar bill in 2011, but Governor Jay Nixon vetoed it. Last year, the legislature voted to put voter ID on the November ballot. However, a judge struck the measure down, calling it “insufficient and unfair.”

The editorial board of the St. Louis Dispatch takes aim at the most recent effort by Republicans attempting to solve a nonexistent problem by disenfranchising thousands by resurrecting these bills:

For a party that likes to drape itself in the flag, Missouri Republicans seem bound and determined to undermine the most basic right in a democracy. The GOP can’t win a national election the fair way, or many statewide elections either. So they figure to steal them instead.

In 2008 Missouri’s top elections official at the time, Secretary of State Robin Carnahan, estimated that 240,000 people in the state did not have the type of photo ID that this legislation requires.

PFAW

Federal education vouchers funding creationism curricula

Federally funded private school voucher and tax credit programs are more numerous than ever. In its School Choice Yearbook 2012-2013, the Alliance for School Choice reported that $553 million of taxpayer dollars are funding 245,854 K-12 vouchers, an average of $5,686 per student. Currently, nine states along with the District of Columbia participate in voucher programs. Along with the voucher programs, eleven states are enrolled in scholarship tax credit programs, which amount to $405 million a year. These are funds that could otherwise be used to support the education of students in these states’ public schools.

Moreover, studies show that the curricula in many of these publicly funded programs have included the teaching of creationism, including that of Rice University student Zack Kopplin, who advocates against the use of public funds to support schools that use such curricula. In a nation that values the separation of church and state, public funds should not be used to fund the teaching of religious doctrine.

The state of Florida receives the largest proportion of voucher funding, $157,602,339 serving 25,366 students. 164 of the private schools that are eligible for voucher programs included the teaching of creationism in their science curriculum. For example, one of Florida’s approved institutions, The Beverly Institute in Jacksonville, teaches curricula using materials such as, “Evidence of a flood,” “Evidence against Evolution,” and “The Evolution of Man: A Mistaken Belief.” By contrast, in 2008, Florida’s Board of Education affirmatively voted to include the teaching of evolution in public schools. They recognized that, “the scientific theory of evolution is the fundamental concept underlying all of biology.”

PFAW

Election Protection: Our Broken Voting System and How to Repair It

Desiline Victor, you are not alone.

A report released on February 12, 2013 by the Election Protection coalition, led by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, pledges to address the “endemic yet solvable problems [that] continue to plague our system of elections and prevent too many eligible voters from fully participating in our democracy.”

The Election Protection 2012 report begins with a brief overview of the national Election Protection program and how we mobilize to protect and assist voters around the country. Next, the report provides a summary of the voting battles fought around the country in 2011 and 2012 in the lead up to Election Day—including the coordinated effort to suppress voting and the national response by Election Protection and its partners. We then highlight the critical role voting rights litigation played in 2012 with courts striking down several restrictive state laws in places like Texas, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin. Then we present what actually transpired—as documented by Election Protection—on and before Election Day through the lens of the recurring issues that continue to plague our electoral process and prevent millions of eligible Americans from exercising their right to vote. Finally, we propose needed reforms to “fix that” as President Obama decreed in his acceptance speech on Election night and spotlighted in his Inaugural Address.

The numbers alone are astounding.

  • Over 37,000 calls on November 5 and nearly 90,000 calls on November 6 from all 50 states and the District of Columbia
  • Election Protection hosted 38 call centers across the country on Election Day
  • More than 5,300 trained legal volunteers and 2,300 grassroots volunteers in 22 states and over 80 voting jurisdictions

But so are the stories.

Problems and delays regarding absentee and early voting:

Astonishingly, in Auburn Hills, Michigan, over 800 absentee ballots were discovered to be lost in the mail before reaching the voters who requested them. Rather than reach out to the pool of affected voters, election officials waited for voters who did not receive their requested ballots to contact them before issuing a replacement ballot. Similarly, over 100 ballots sent to voters were lost in Roseville, Michigan. The lack of an affirmative effort to replace the lost ballots had a significant impact on the voters who did not receive them, particularly individuals with disabilities, military voters, and elderly voters for whom it may have been difficult or impossible to get to the polling place.

Polling place problems:

Even worse was a report from Blackstone, Virginia, where voters were turned away from the polling place at approximately 5 p.m. – two hours before polls closed. The voter who reported this was told that she would need to vote at the Municipal Building, but upon arrival, she was told that she needed to go to the Police Precinct polling location. Before leaving the Municipal Building, she overheard a conversation that the Police Precinct polling place was understaffed and turning away voters. She waited in line again and ultimately left (as did others) when it became clear that they were not admitting anyone else to vote. She did not get to vote in this election.

Lack of language assistance:

Another poll worker (at the Mary Queen of Vietnam Church polling place in New Orleans, Louisiana) was under the erroneous impression that only [Limited English Proficiency (LEP)] voters whose language was covered by Section 203 [of the Voting Rights Act (VRA)] would be able to obtain assistance in voting. Because Vietnamese was not “on the books,” the poll worker incorrectly informed the LEP voters that they were not entitled to assistance. The denial of assistance to these voters was a violation of Section 208 [of the VRA], which allows all LEP voters throughout the U.S. to obtain assistance in voting from a person of their choice (so long as this person is not the voter’s employer, or an agent of the employer or of the voter’s union), regardless of the voters’ language or the jurisdiction’s obligations under Section 203 [of the VRA].

As the report makes clear, these voters were not alone in the challenges they faced. Nor are they alone in the ensuing call to action. Election Protection recommends such solutions as voter registration modernization (addressing convenience and portability), same-day registration, early and absentee voting, uniform standards, and continuing to take a stand against deceptive practices and voter intimidation – advanced, at least in part, through state and federal legislation.

PFAW Foundation, a founding member of Election Protection, released its own voting rights reports in 2011 and 2012 and, with People For the American Way, continues to monitor voting rights issues nationwide.

PFAW Foundation

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

Attempts to Disenfranchise Ohio Voters Continue After Election

A few days before the election, Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted ordered local election officials to reject ballots with mistakenly recorded identification information – even though the courts previously issued an order against this. Immediately following the election and with tens of thousands of ballots uncounted, Secretary Husted continued his crusade to change the rules for counting provisional ballots by issuing a directive excusing poll workers from correcting improper ballot forms, potentially invalidating many of the uncounted ballots.

Ohio members of the African American Ministers Leadership Council urged Secretary Husted to drop his attempt, with Reverend Tony Minor stating:

Every single person who shows up to vote on Election Day should be confident that their vote will be counted and their voice will be heard. Secretary Husted is trying to throw up last-minute barriers in an effort to stop some of these votes from counting. That’s undemocratic and unacceptable.

The last-minute changes were denied by U.S. District Judge Algenon Marbley because they violated the Constitution and Ohio election law. But Secretary Husted appealed the decision to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals and was allowed to go forward with the last-minute changes. The decision could result in thousands of Ohioans' (who waited for hours outside poll stations) votes not counting. It also lays the legal groundwork for voter suppression in future elections. On top of it all, Secretary Husted has been promoting the idea of dividing Ohio’s electoral votes by congressional district in the future, making it possible – due to gerrymandering – that the loser of the popular vote in Ohio would nevertheless win the majority of the state’s electoral votes.

These recent events epitomize the attempts by certain state legislators to suppress the vote over the past two years, underscoring the continued importance of ensuring equality and the right to vote for all.

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