District of Columbia

DC has a 200-year long line at the polls…but not for long

Long lines at the polls on Election Day are a problem not to be ignored. But imagine if you had been standing in line to vote since 1801. That’s where you’ll find the nearly 600,000 Americans living in DC. Thankfully, their 200-year wait is nearly over.

This morning the Senate brought DC one step closer to the ballot box by clearing a procedural hurdle placed in the way of the District of Columbia House Voting Rights Act of 2009 (S. 160). I was in the Capitol as 62 Senators cast votes in favor of moving this bill forward. By the end of the week, it may very well be in the hands of the House. Then it’s on to the President’s desk. President Obama is a strong supporter of DC voting rights and a former cosponsor of the bill, which would give DC a full Representative with the same voting power as other House members.

As I joined my colleagues who had gathered for the vote, I couldn’t help but think about my own journey to get to this point. DC voting rights has had a place in my portfolio for some time, and an even longer history with People For the American Way, an organization that has worked for years in the field and on Capitol Hill alongside DC Vote and its coalition in support of DC’s voting voice in Congress.

Today is a day of great celebration for all of us who belong to this movement, including those of you who have made calls, written letters, and visited Congress to say that House representation is long overdue for DC. Thank you for everything you’ve done.

But the fight is not yet over. The right-wing has S. 160 (and its House companion, H.R. 157) in its sight and will try to derail its progress. Contact your Representative and Senators to make sure they are on the right side of history when it comes to the rights of DC residents.

And the fight will not be over even when DC can cast a House vote. It is high time the nation’s capital be given both House and Senate representation, with voting power in both chambers.

PFAW

Trending Toward Greater Acceptance

GLAAD today published a new survey of Americans' feelings on GLBT issues.  The news, I'd say, is generally positive.

    • Three-quarters of U.S. adults (75%) favor either marriage or domestic partnerships/civil unions for gay and lesbian couples. Only about two in 10 (22%) say gay and lesbian couples should have no legal recognition. (Gay and lesbian couples are able to marry in two states, and comprehensive civil union or domestic partnership laws exist in only five others and the District of Columbia.)

    • U.S. adults are now about evenly divided on whether they support allowing gay and lesbian couples to legally marry (47% favor to 49% oppose).

    • Almost two-thirds (64%) of U.S. adults favor allowing openly gay military personnel to serve in the armed forces. (The current “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law bans military service by openly gay personnel.)

But it also called to mind a fascinating piece by Ann Friedman in The American Prospect.

This is something I've heard a lot in the wake of the passage of California's Proposition 8, which bans same-sex marriage. "History is on our side! Don't worry, the demographic trends are with us!"

I'm sorry, but that's just not good enough. These are the kind of conciliatory comments that go part and parcel with the culture-war frame. Civil-rights era activists knew history was on their side. But their goal was not to make every white American comfortable with the idea of sharing public spaces and power with people of color. It was to guarantee people of color those rights, regardless of where the culture stood. That's the thing about rights. You have to claim them.

If you're interested in claiming a few rights, you should sign onto People For's petition to stop federal discrimination against some married couples and Dump DOMA.

PFAW

New Senate Can Deliver Some Quick Victories

A Washington Post article today points out that even not counting the two yet-undecided Senate contests in MN and GA, the Democrats could have the filibuster-proof 60 votes to move several key pieces of legislation by picking up a few Republicans. The article highlights several possible bills - two of which are civil rights bills of particular interest to People For the American Way.

First up: DC Voting Rights. The right of voters to be fully represented in Congress is paramount to the health of our democracy. Shamefully, the institutional disenfranchisement of Americans is probably most egregious in our nation’s capital, where 600,000 taxpayers have a congressional representative with no voting power.

Voting rights in Congress for the District of Columbia is another example. Legislation to expand the House of Representatives from 435 to 437 seats by giving the District and Utah an additional vote each were three votes shy of the 60 needed to end a filibuster in September 2007. Eight Republicans voted with the Democratic majority, which is 51 to 49 and includes two independents.

In addition, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act - for which People For the American Way was far out front in leading the fight - could have the support it needs to correct a terrible Supreme Court decision (a decision supported by both of President Bush's right-wing Supreme Court nominees, Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito).

In April, 50 Democrats and six Republicans supported legislation that would have amended the 1964 Civil Rights Act by allowing more time for workers to file discrimination complaints. Five new Democrats will be replacing Republicans who opposed the legislation named after Lilly Ledbetter, the female employee who lost her suit against Goodyear Tire and Rubber over discrimination claims. The Supreme Court ruled that Ledbetter should have filed her claim within six months of the alleged incidents.

PFAW

How to Create a Good Voting Website

Voting rights activists and web designers alike should take a look at the Election Assistance Commission's new best practices for voter information websites.

Most of the information to be included on a website seems to be pretty obvious:

  • Answers to common voter questions such as “Am I registered to vote?” and “Where do I vote?”
  • A mapping service to show polling locations.
  • A sample ballot that is identical to the ballot issued for the election.
  • Information on the registration and voting process.

But a point later on might be easy to overlook.

  • Well designed interfaces that are easy to navigate.

God bless the District of Columbia, but its Board of Elections and Ethics website is kind of a mess. I’m sure they include everything they ought to, but for the life of me, I couldn’t find information about in-person absentee voting and it took me forever to find my sample ballot. I have to imagine that if the site were designed by, say, these guys, I’d be able to find everything just fine.

Just one of the many ways in which voting can (and should) be made less cumbersome.

PFAW

"Can I Wear My Obama T-Shirt to Vote on Election Day?"

The Root answers the question, "Can I Wear My Obama T-Shirt to Vote on Election Day?"

Short answer: It depends.

Longer answer:

An ominous e-mail has been causing quite a bit of confusion for voters recently. With an urgent warning to recipients, the e-mail claimsthat election officials have the right to turn away any voters wearing campaign paraphernalia to the polls. So what's up? Can you rock that "Obama Mama" T-shirt to cast your vote on Nov. 4?  

In most states, you're in the clear. Wearing campaign paraphernalia—a button, a sticker and, of course, a T-shirt—in support of any candidate is seen as passive electioneering. Some states are more lenient. In Kentucky, Marylandand Florida, election officials most often make no fuss about voter attire. The only thing banned there is the display of excessive campaign garb (i.e. head-to-toe Obama gear) or outright solicitation. Wearing campaign paraphernalia and lingering in the polling station is also a no-no in those states. 

Other states, such as Pennsylvaniaand New York, maintain laws on passive electioneering while remaining lax in enforcement. In New York, for example, refusing to comply with the request of election officials to remove an item is considered a misdemeanor, but arrests have rarely—if ever—been made.  

Not everyone is as laid-back about the issue. In the District of Columbia, strict rules apply. Prior to entering a polling station in the District, everyone is required to remove or cover up any exposed campaign paraphernalia. No exceptions.

Takeaway: Find out from your state's board of elections (find a link to yours here) what's acceptable and what's not.

It's cool to be excited about your candidate, but you don't want your campaign bling (fabulous as it is) to make it harder for you to actually cast a ballot on Election Day.

PFAW

Supreme Court to Hear Controversial Gun Control Law Case

District of Columbia v. Heller, No. 07-290
On November 20, the Supreme Court agreed to hear a highly controversial case that, whichever way it is decided, is likely to produce a landmark ruling on the issue of gun control and the Second Amendment. D.C. v. Heller is the District of Columbia's appeal from a 2-1 ruling of the D.C. Circuit invalidating D.C.'s ban on private handgun ownership. The D.C. Circuit majority (which included controversial Bush nominee Thomas Griffith) broke with most federal appellate courts that have considered this issue to hold that the Second Amendment confers on individual Americans a right to possess firearms, rather than a "collective right" stemming from the Amendment's language pertaining to a "well regulated militia."

PFAW