“Voter registration is the gateway to participating in our democracy, but these antiquated, paper-based systems are plagued with errors and inefficiencies,” said David Becker, director of Election Initiatives at the Pew Center on the States. “These problems waste taxpayer dollars, undermine voter confidence, and fuel partisan disputes over the integrity of our elections.”
Mr. Becker makes an important point: our problems are found in a system that hasn’t kept up with the times. The solution is to modernize that system, not cause further harm by prioritizing politics over participation.
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 just how harmful the politics can be.
“This report reveals just how the far the Right Wing is willing to go to win elections,” continued Keegan. “Eroding the achievements of the Civil Rights movement by disenfranchising voters is abhorrent. All Americans have a fundamental right to vote, and we need to be vigilant to make sure that ever eligible voter is ready and able to vote on Election Day."
The Brennan Center for Justice continues:
“Last year, a slew of states passed new laws making it harder to vote. Notably, none of those laws addressed the concerns highlighted in this study. Rather than erecting barriers between eligible American citizens and their right to vote, we should be opening pathways to a modern voting system. Voter registration modernization is a common sense reform that would cost less, register many more voters, and curb any possibility of fraud. It should be put in place without delay.”
There is no question that we have a lot of work to do to ensure that eligible Americans can exercise their right to vote. But the goal should be fair and honest enfranchisement, not the politics of distraction.
In a groundbreaking speech last night, Attorney General Eric Holder promised that the Obama administration would fight back against attacks on voting rights – whether they’re launched by individuals committing voter intimidation or state governments suppressing the vote through restrictive and discriminatory laws.
Holder said the administration would fight for voting rights on three levels: prosecuting voter intimidation, ensuring that state redistricting efforts are not discriminatory; and urging lawmakers to reform election laws “in ways that encourage, not limit, participation.”
A People For the American Way Foundation report in October examined the proliferation of right-wing attacks on voting rights, from restrictive Voter ID laws to illegal but hard to trace deception campaigns.
Holder addressed the efforts of dozens of states to make voter registration more difficult, saying:
As concerns about the protection of this right and the integrity of our election systems become an increasingly prominent part of our national dialogue – we must consider some important questions. It is time to ask: what kind of nation – and what kind of people – do we want to be? Are we willing to allow this era – our era – to be remembered as the age when our nation’s proud tradition of expanding the franchise ended? Are we willing to allow this time – our time – to be recorded in history as the age when the long-held belief that, in this country, every citizen has the chance – and the right – to help shape their government, became a relic of our past, instead of a guidepost for our future?
For me – and for our nation’s Department of Justice – the answers are clear. We need election systems that are free from fraud, discrimination, and partisan influence – and that are more, not less, accessible to the citizens of this country.
Today, Senators Ben Cardin and Charles Schumer introduced legislation that would impose tough penalties on those who create and distribute deceptive information about voting and elections. PFAW Foundation’s Andrew Gillum responded:
Right-wing politicians and talking heads have aggressively pushed the myth that ‘voter fraud’ is a great threat to the sanctity of our elections. However, the evidence shows that the real threat to our democracy comes from laws that discourage whole communities of people from voting and from devious voter suppression practices like those that took place in Maryland last year. We must fight suppressive laws, like Voter ID requirements, at the legislative level. Deceptive practices can, and should, be combated by law enforcement. This bill takes an important step toward ensuring that all Americans are free to exercise their right to vote without intimidation and harassment.
The New York Times reports that Attorney General Eric Holder will speak out tonight against the proliferation of state-level measures intended to make it more difficult for certain groups of people to vote:
Mr. Holder is to speak Tuesday evening here at the presidential library of Lyndon B. Johnson, who signed the Voting Rights Act in 1965. The act enables the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division to object to election laws and practices on the grounds that they would disproportionately deter minority groups from voting, and to go to court to block states from implementing them.
A draft of Mr. Holder’s speech urges Americans to “call on our political parties to resist the temptation to suppress certain votes in the hope of attaining electoral success and, instead, achieve success by appealing to more voters.”
People For the American Way Foundation examined the growing trend of unnecessary and burdensome Voter ID laws and other efforts to suppress the vote in a report earlier this year, concluding:
Decades after the Civil Rights Movement, there are now extraordinary attempts to reverse the trend towards equality and throw roadblocks in the way of voters. Voter suppression through new laws that make it more difficult to register to vote and cast a ballot and aggressive tactics to intimidate voters at the polls are undermining the country’s democratic foundations, all in the name of an imaginary, invented crisis.
If the current trend continues, potential voters in 2012 will face greater challenges than ever, with the enactment of burdensome and unnecessary new laws and right-wing groups mobilizing to target polling places in specific communities.
The proliferation of laws making it harder to register and to vote presents a real threat to our democracy. The attorney general is right to call them out for what they are.
In early November, People For the American Way Foundation’s African American Ministers Leadership Council (AAMLC) launched VESSELS, a Get Out the Vote Program aimed at combatting voter suppression by empowering clergy to turn out the vote in their communities.
Last week, People For the American Way Foundation’s Director of African American Religious Affairs, Minister Leslie Watson Malachi, and two AAMLC members visited Washington Watch with Roland Martin to discuss the program.
Watch the clip here:
Last Tuesday in Madison, a Republican controlled legislative committee, on a party-line vote, ordered the state’s accountability board to write “administrative rules” on the state’s new voter ID law, determining what counts as appropriate forms of voter identification under the law.
The central issue behind the vote was determining the eligibility of technical college IDs as a valid form of voter ID. The Government Accountability Board determined in September that technical college IDs could not be used under the state’s new ID law but this month reversed their decision. The majority in the legislative committee, in response, ordered the Board to submit “formal rules” on ID cards.
Democrats in the legislature are alleging that bouncing the decision on technical college IDs back to the accountability board is another Republican effort to undermine the voting rights of any groups that are likely to vote Democratic. In this case, Republicans have targeted students. An article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article noted that Republicans in the legislature “never intended to include technical college IDs and said that was clear because the Assembly rejected an amendment to the legislation that would have explicitly allowed them”.
Right-wing activists and Republican legislators are increasingly arguing that strict voter ID rules are necessary to prevent voter fraud. These claims, however, lack any serious substance. In a recent report on voter suppression, PFAW Foundation notes that in the 2008 election, prior to Gov. Scott Walker and Republican legislators’ efforts to enact a Voter ID law, “there were just 14 improper votes cast in Wisconsin, out of a total of 3 million”.
The uproar over technical college IDs in Wisconsin shows how burdensome and undemocratic Voter ID laws can be. Politicians should not be allowed to decide which eligible voters are allowed to cast votes.
We’ve been covering a number of attempts by state GOP lawmakers to prevent traditionally Democratic voters from casting votes that count – including a flood of new laws requiring photo ID to vote.
But all those are nothing compared to what Pennsylvania’s GOP-controlled legislature is considering: changing the state’s system of apportioning electoral votes so that even if President Obama wins the state’s popular vote in 2012, he’d take less than half of its electors. Nick Baumann at Mother Jones reports:
The problem for Obama, and the opportunity for Republicans, is the electoral college. Every political junkie knows that the presidential election isn't a truly national contest; it's a state-by-state fight, and each state is worth a number of electoral votes equal to the size of the state's congressional delegation. (The District of Columbia also gets three votes.) There are 538 electoral votes up for grabs; win 270, and you're the president.
Here's the rub, though: Each state gets to determine how its electoral votes are allocated. Currently, 48 states and DC use a winner-take-all system in which the candidate who wins the popular vote in the state gets all of its electoral votes. Under the Republican plan—which has been endorsed by top Republicans in both houses of the state's legislature, as well as the governor, Tom Corbett—Pennsylvania would change from this system to one where each congressional district gets its own electoral vote. (Two electoral votes—one for each of the state's two senators—would go to the statewide winner.)
This could cost Obama dearly. The GOP controls both houses of the state legislature plus the governor's mansion—the so-called "redistricting trifecta"—in Pennsylvania. Congressional district maps are adjusted after every census, and the last one just finished up. That means Pennsylvania Republicans get to draw the boundaries of the state's congressional districts without any input from Democrats. Some of the early maps have leaked to the press, and Democrats expect that the Pennsylvania congressional map for the 2012 elections will have 12 safe GOP seats compared to just 6 safe Democratic seats.
Under the Republican plan, if the GOP presidential nominee carries the GOP-leaning districts but Obama carries the state, the GOP nominee would get 12 electoral votes out of Pennsylvania, but Obama would only get eight—six for winning the blue districts, and two (representing the state's two senators) for carrying the state. This would have an effect equivalent to flipping a small winner-take-all state—say, Nevada, which has six electoral votes—from blue to red. And Republicans wouldn't even have to do any extra campaigning or spend any extra advertising dollars to do it.
Nebraska and Maine already have the system the Pennsylvania GOP is pushing. But the two states' small electoral vote values mean it's actually mathematically impossible for a candidate to win the popular vote there but lose the electoral vote, says Akhil Reed Amar, a constitutional law professor at Yale University. Pennsylvania, however, is a different story: "It might be very likely to happen in [Pennsylvania], and that's what makes this something completely new under the sun," Amar says. "It's something that no previous legislature in America since the Civil War has ever had the audacity to impose."
In theory, there’s nothing wrong with apportioning electoral votes by congressional district like Maine and Nebraska do – but when the strategy is combined with political gerrymandering and applied only selectively it becomes decidedly undemocratic. That Pennsylvania Republicans are not planning to divvy up the state’s electoral votes to match the percentage breakdown of the popular vote indicates that this has nothing to do with reflecting the will of the people, and everything to do with aggressive anti-democratic power plays.
The plan, though dishonest, is perfectly legal – and available to a number of large states now controlled by GOP legislatures.
The plan seems almost too convenient for the Pennsylvania GOP, but I wonder if it would backfire – suppressive laws like voter ID requirements can be hidden under made-up “voter fraud” threats, but what excuse could a legislature come up with for a plan to make every single Democratic voter in the state count for less? I’d like to think that once fair-minded Pennsylvanians get a whiff of this, they won’t let their legislature get away with it.
The recall process is finally over with, but the fight for middle class families continues.
This all started when Wisconsin's governor Walker and the Republican legislature tried to ram through extremist legislation ending or reversing 50 years of collective bargaining rights. This after never having campaigned on that platform in the 2010 elections.
14 courageous Democrats fled the state to prevent quorum in the State Senate, delaying a vote on the measure, but the Republicans forced it through anyway. Then came more pieces of ALEC-supported, right-wing legislation, like a vote-suppressing voter ID law.
All of this activated voters and we beat back the Right Wing with two resounding victories for the Democrats in both of today’s State Senate races. Bob Wirch defeated Republican Jonathan Steitz with 58% to 42%. In the 12th District, Holperin, who won with 54% to challenger Kim Simac's 46%.
I went door-to-door to help get out the vote with PFAW's Political Director Randy Borntrager. Enthusiasm was high, with most we spoke to having already voted. Having met the voters who are affected by Walker's policies, we've come to realize even more how important it was to send this message in these elections, to show Walker that Wisconsinites won't sit back and let Republicans threaten their children's future. More importantly, though, it reminded us that the road beyond the elections is the most crucial one. We are thrilled to have been involved in the recall elections, but the fight doesn't stop here. The fight only stops when extreme Republicans can no longer jeopardize Wisconsinites' – and ALL Americans’ – futures for the benefit of their friends at big corporations.
This one is particularly shameless:
Americans for Prosperity is sending absentee ballots to Democrats in at least two Wisconsin state Senate recall districts with instructions to return the paperwork after the election date.
The fliers, obtained by POLITICO, ask solidly Democratic voters to return ballots for the Aug. 9 election to the city clerk "before Aug. 11."
A Democrat on the ground in Wisconsin said the fliers were discovered to be hitting doors in District 2 and District 10 over the weekend.
"These are people who are our 1's in the voterfile who we already knew. They ain't AFP members, that's for damn sure," the source said.
If this is true, AFP will be only the latest right-wing organization to try to influence the outcome of Wisconsin’s recall elections by tricking the other side into not voting. But AFP is no unknown fringe group – backed by the influential and well-connected Koch brothers, the group spent millions of dollars last year running often-misleading ads in contentious congressional districts
AFP’s alleged absentee-ballot trick comes as the Wisconsin GOP is attempting to use statutory means to keep low-income people, youth and seniors from accessing the ballot. The state’s Republican legislature and governor have passed a Voter ID bill that will require voters to present government ID at the polls, setting up a hurdle for the 175,000 seniors and many students and low-income people who don’t have the proper documents. Gov. Scott Walker then moved to close DMV offices – where those without IDs could obtain them for a fee -- in several heavily-Democratic areas.
The Right likes to harp on the dangers of “voter fraud” – individuals going to great lengths to vote in the wrong districts, an exceptionally rare occurance. But the bigger problem has always been voter suppression, or systematically keeping large groups of people from accessing the ballot box. Rather than passing unnecessary Voter ID laws that keep traditionally disenfranchised people from voting, states would be better off making sure there are stringent laws against the kind of unethical and undemocratic behavior AFP is allegedly engaging in. Those who conspire to prevent Americans from exercising their constitutional right to vote should be held fully accountable.
Earlier this week Omari told us about Stephen Colbert's excellent "It Gets Better" video, in which Colbert dropped his hyper-conservative character and adopted a more serious approach to give teens advice on bullying. Today we have another example of his brilliance in more familiar Colbert style: a blistering take-down of voter ID laws passed by several states this year, which he correctly characterizes as laws designed to "keep the wrong people from voting."
This segment from his show on Wednesday does a great job of pointing out the ridiculousness of saying there is in any way a significant problem with voter fraud in these states. Colbert cites the case of Ohio, where there were four instances of fraud documented last year, amounting to "a jaw-dropping 44 one-millionths of one percent" of all votes cast. As Colbert puts it, these laws seem to be aimed at "an enemy so small it could be hiding anywhere!" Colbert also points out the troubling impact these laws will have on voters: in South Carolina, 178,000 voters do not have the government-issued photo ID now needed to vote.
These laws are an egregious example of the radical right attempting to tip the rules of the game in their favor by violating the rights of citizens, and creating a false narrative of a voter fraud epidemic that simply doesn't exist.
At yesterday’s press conference on Capitol Hill, People For the American Way joined with Rev. Jesse Jackson, 12 other national civil rights organizations and numerous members of Congress to denounce the draconian and suppressive voting measures that have been enacted or are being considered by states across the country.
These laws, which create strict voter ID requirements, will have the effect of disenfranchising over 20 million potential voters who do not have any form of government-issued identification. Voters targeted by this legislation are disproportionately minority, low-income, disabled, elderly or student voters – all populations that the measures’ proponents see as an obstacle to their agenda. Strict voter ID measures have been introduced in more than half of the states so far this year, and Kansas, Tennessee, Texas, South Carolina and Wisconsin have already passed the legislation.
Of course, past investigations of voter fraud in this country have come to a startling conclusion: it doesn’t exist. Even during a five-year campaign by President Bush’s Justice Department to prosecute voter fraud, only a few dozen people were ever convicted. In most cases, they had cast votes without knowing they weren’t eligible.
We believe that it is every eligible American’s constitutional right to cast a vote that counts on Election Day. Efforts to prevent students, minorities, and disabled, elderly or low-income individuals from engaging in our nation’s civic and political life will not be tolerated and are simply not the American Way. People For the American Way is committed to fighting these suppressive voting measures alongside our civil rights allies and will continue to work with our network partners across the U.S. to ensure that every eligible American is able to exercise their constitutional right to vote.
Courtesy of the Lawyer's Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the following map shows vote suppression legislation by state:
Justin wrote earlier today about the trove of model legislation from the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) that the Center for Media and Democracy released today. ALEC, which is funded largely by corporate interests, is a driving force behind a whole lot of state-level legislation that helps out big business at the expense of individual citizens – legislation that curtails workers’ rights, undercuts public education and other essential government services and, most importantly, and big tax breaks to corporations and the wealthy.
The agenda that ALEC helps to spread to state legislatures doesn’t just help give the group’s corporate funders a leg up – it also helps them keep American voters from wresting away any power they have in the electoral process.
The Nation’s John Nichols went through the ALEC legislation and found not only model Voter ID language – variations of which have been introduced in 33 states this year -- but various attempts to keep voters from imposing campaign finance limits:
Beyond barriers to voting, ALEC is also committed to building barriers to direct democracy. Horrified by the success of living-wage referendums and other projects that have allowed voters to enact protections for workers and regulations for businesses, ALEC’s corporate sponsors have pushed to toughen the rules for voter initiatives. “The legislative process should be the principal policy-making vehicle for developing state law,” declares one 2006 resolution, which specifically mentions concerns about state minimum wage laws, taxation and “the funding of other government programs and services.” ALEC’s Resolution to Reform the Ballot Initiatives Process recommends making it harder to qualify referendum language and suggests that proposals on fiscal issues should require supermajorities to become law.
ALEC is also determined to ensure that citizens do not have the final say on who is elected president, an agenda outlined in such documents as its Resolution in Support of the Electoral College and its ardent opposition to the National Popular Vote project (which it has warned would “nationalize elections and unravel Federalism”). A related resolution encourages state legislatures to formally complain that an interstate compact to defer to the popular will “would allow a candidate with a plurality—however small—to become President.” While ALEC worries about the candidate with the most votes winning, it has no problem with policies that increase the likelihood that the candidate with the most money and corporate support will prevail. Its 2009 Resolution Supporting Citizen Involvement in Elections bluntly “opposes all efforts to limit [citizen] involvement by limiting campaign contributions.” A resolution approved last year expresses support for the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling. ALEC even opposes moves to give shareholders a say in the expenditure of corporate funds on campaigning. At the same time, ALEC urges legislators to fight the “federal takeover” of state election procedures, objecting in particular to universal standards for voting procedures.
The Wisconsin GOP has been going to great lengths to sabotage efforts to conduct fair and open recall elections in Wisconsin. Instead of honestly putting their candidates against the Democrats and letting the voters decide between the two, they are running fake Democratic candidates in the primaries in an attempt to confuse voters and draw out the process. They have even distributed posters designed to encourage Republican voters to participate in the Democratic primary and vote for their planted candidates.
Adding to the list of dirty tricks, reports are surfacing that a “Right to Life” group is robocalling Wisconsin Democrats and telling them not to go to the polls today, and instead to wait for an absentee ballot to arrive in the mail. This is false, as July 12 is the last day to cast a vote in the Democratic primary, and there is not enough time to cast a vote by mail. Apparently, the robocalls are coming from a 703 area code (Virginia).
We do not know yet exactly who is ultimately responsible for these calls, and even if an individual is caught and takes the fall, we may never find out who’s really pulling the strings. Whoever they are, they are obviously people in synch with the right wing agenda of Governor Walker and the Koch Brothers. Disenfranchising voters by tricking them into not voting is a tried and true method of voter suppression. So is finding excuses at the polling place to keep certain people from voting, as GOP-pushed voter ID laws do. What all the tactics we see in Wisconsin have in common is that the right wing is pulling out the stops to prevent the people from exercising their constitutional right to remove them from office.
As if Republicans’ stated justification for Voter ID laws – to prevent the non-existent epidemic of voter fraud – wasn’t weak enough, a new proposal in the Ohio House has eliminated any pretense that these types of laws are not about suppressing the vote of those who typically lean Democratic.
Even if a voter is properly registered, she must cast her ballot in the correct precinct in order for it to count. Now, Ohio Republicans have inserted language into their voter ID bill stating that poll workers need not direct a voter to the correct polling place should they show up at the wrong location. According to Think Progress:
Allowing poll workers to refuse to help those who are legitimately confused about where they should vote opens the door for increased voter suppression. As state Sen. Nina Turner (D) pointed out, “Voting in the wrong precinct led to over 14,000 registered voters statewide to lose their vote in 2008.” Rating the statement “true,” Politifact reports:
[T]he second most common reason the ballot was not counted was because while the person was properly registered to vote in Ohio, they cast the ballot in the wrong county or precinct. In all, 14,335 such ballots were not counted for this reason, according to the Brunner report.
As the Cleveland Plain Dealer pointed out, mixing up precincts “most often occurs” in “urban and impoverished areas of the state,” leading Turner to sarcastically suggest of Republicans, “I guess the loss of votes for some doesn’t matter.”
This makes it absolutely clear that the Republicans and Gov. John Kasich have no interest in the “integrity of the vote.” They just want to make sure they get more of them, by any means necessary.