“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.
A jury verdict was reached today in one of the most notorious of the GOP dirty tricks designed to suppress the vote on Election Day 2010.
That's when Maryland Democrats received telephone calls late in the day telling them that Democratic Governor Martin O'Malley had won reelection, so they could "relax" (i.e., not vote). Prosecutors alleged this was done to suppress the African American vote, and a jury agreed. The Republican candidate's campaign manager was today found guilty of election fraud.
One of the shocking developments of the trial was the defense: When paid consultant Julius Henson (whose idea it was to make these robocalls) had presented an earlier plan explicitly designed to suppress the black vote, the campaign rejected it, so the second plan couldn't have been designed to do that. The Baltimore Sun reports one juror's dismay:
Jurors said they didn't understand the Ehrlich campaign's decision to retain Henson, even after he pitched them on a $600,000 plan to suppress black votes in July 2010.
"The first and most desired outcome is voter suppression," Henson's plan stated, saying the goal was to have "African-American voters stay home."
Instead, the Republican candidate's campaign continued to pay Henson $16,000 a month — for a total of $112,000 — and promised him a $30,000 bonus should Ehrlich win.
"Why wasn't he fired right on the spot?" asked Johnson, the juror.
Why not, indeed?
When a paid campaign consultant presents you with a plan designed to illegally suppress the African American vote, what is the proper response? When this happened last year to Republicans in Maryland, rather than show the consultant the door, they chose instead to continue to solicit his ideas. This came out yesterday during the trial of former Gov. Bob Ehrlich's campaign manager Paul Schurick and consultant Julius Henson for voter suppression on Election Day last year.
While the polls were still open, Maryland Democrats received telephone calls late in the day telling them that Democratic Governor Martin O'Malley had won reelection, so they could "relax" (i.e., not vote). The calls were generated and approved by operatives working for Ehrlich's campaign. His campaign manager and former high-ranking aide Paul Schurick and campaign consultant Julius Henson are on trial for seeking to suppress the African American vote. The Washington Post reports Schurick's alternative explanation for the robocalls:
The calls were a kind of reverse psychology, Schurick’s attorney said, intended to motivate Democrats inclined to cross party lines and vote for Ehrlich to head to the polls in the election’s waning hours.
[Schurick's attorney] said other members of Ehrlich's campaign team will attest that Schurick previously rejected a plan by Henson to suppress black voter turnout. And on Election Day, Pettit said, Schurick's approval of the robo-calls came in response to Henson's assertion that the calls would motivate a few final supporters to turn out for Ehrlich.
Even if we take Schurick at his word, his statement is damning. A paid consultant presented the Republican campaign with a plan to suppress the African American vote, which is anti-democratic to say the least. But rather than terminating their relationship with him, they simply rejected that particular idea and continued to work with him on other campaign strategies.
This is hardly an isolated incident. As the GOP nationwide works to make it harder for Americans to vote, their professions of fealty to free and fair elections are hard to take seriously.
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.
Today is Election Day in six districts across Wisconsin, and we’re hoping for a strong turnout. There are great liveblogs and chats with on-the-ground reports at Patch, Blue Cheddar and dane101. If you live in Wisconsin, make sure you vote before polls close at 8pm tonight, and if you have any problems voting or concerns about voter suppression, you can call 1-866-OUR VOTE and report them. Remember, a photo ID is not required to vote today, even though voters will be asked for it. You can thank Scott Walker for that one.
We’re all hoping for some wins tonight, but the real victory will be when Wisconsinites can send their children to well-funded public schools, and when their elected representatives don’t cut funds to the programs that ordinary people need in order to “balance the budget”, all while giving deficit-exploding tax breaks to the biggest corporations and wealthiest individuals. Whatever the result, the message to Walker and his corporate friends has been sent: the people of Wisconsin aren’t going to stand by and let the Republicans’ war on working families continue. Walker and extreme Republicans like him across the country are hoping that we’ll see tonight as the end of our efforts. It’s our job to make sure he doesn’t get his wish.
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.
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:
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.
On Election Day last year, while the polls were still open, Maryland Democrats received telephone calls late in the day telling them that Democratic Governor Martin O'Malley had won reelection, so they could "relax" (i.e., not vote). It was soon discovered that the calls were generated by an operative working for the campaign of O'Malley's Republican opponent, former Governor Bob Ehrlich. Yesterday, criminal indictments were handed down against a close Ehrlich aide and a political operative for their efforts to suppress the African American vote. According to the Washington Post:
One of former Maryland governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s most trusted aides and a campaign consultant were accused Thursday of orchestrating tens of thousands of anonymous election-night robo-calls last year that prosecutors said were part of a larger attempt to suppress the black vote.
Paul E. Schurick, 54, Ehrlich's de facto campaign manager, and Julius Henson, 62, a paid consultant, were indicted on multiple counts of election law violations stemming from an automated call that was placed to more than 110,000 Democrats in Baltimore and Prince George's County, according to prosecutors.
The indictments might be the first in the country involving Election Day attempts to suppress voting using robo-calls, experts said. The case also appears to be a rarity nationwide, one in which prosecutors might have the physical evidence necessary to prove intent to commit voter suppression, experts said.
"There is a long history in urban areas of people passing out fliers that say Republicans vote on Tuesday and Democrats vote on Wednesday, and specifically in Maryland of ploys telling people if you owe tickets or back child support that you can't vote," [Gilda Daniels, an elections law expert at the University of Baltimore Law School] said. "But this isn't someone printing off fliers that can't be easily tracked. These are phone calls, and there are records of them."
The Baltimore Sun provides some more details:
The indictment describes a document titled "The Schurick Doctrine" and says that it was "designed to promote confusion, emotionalism, and frustration among African-American Democrats."
The indictment quotes from the document: "The first and foremost desired outcome [of the Schurick Doctrine strategy] is voter suppression."
While the criminal case progresses, Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler is pursuing a civil suit in federal court:
Gansler alleges that the robocalls were made with the intent to suppress and intimidate voters in predominately African-American Democratic neighborhoods. The attorney general says 112,000 such calls were made on election night, and if found to be violations, each carries a $500 fine.
There has been a development in investigating one of the Election Day efforts to suppress the Democratic vote.
On Election Day, Maryland Democrats received telephone calls late on Election Day telling them that Democratic Governor Martin O'Malley had won reelection, so they could "relax" (i.e., not vote). It was soon discovered that the calls were generated by an operative working for the campaign of O'Malley's Republican opponent, former Governor Bob Ehrlich.
On Friday, state police raided that operative's home. According to the Baltimore Sun:
Investigators for the state prosecutor on Friday raided the home and office of Julius Henson, the political operative who ordered the controversial Election Day robocalls for former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich. ...
Henson, a Democratic operative who was working this year for the Republican Ehrlich, ordered more than 112,000 robocalls before the polls closed on Election Day last month.
The calls focused on Democratic precincts in Baltimore and Prince George's County. The recorded message featured a female voice suggesting that Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley had already won the election and encouraging supporters to stay home. ...
Ehrlich, who paid Henson $111,000 for "community outreach," told the Annapolis Capital last week that the calls were "done outside of my purview." When news of the calls broke on Election Night, an Ehrlich spokesman called them "absolutely irresponsible."
Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler has filed a civil lawsuit against Henson, alleging voter intimidation and vote suppression.
By the way, the effort to suppress the Democratic vote failed. Not only did Governor O'Malley win reelection by 14 points (double the margin over the same opponent in 2006), but Democrats gained seats in the state senate.