Voting Rights

Voting Rights Advocates Rack Up More Wins

Earlier this month, PFAW reported on what has gone right for voting rights at the state level in 2014. While there is much more work to be done to enact needed reforms and to step up and counter threats when the right to vote is under attack, states like Florida, Georgia, and North Carolina have shown that we can win. Now we've uncovered even more evidence of why we can and should keep fighting the challenges that lay before us.
PFAW

Florida Senate Committee Takes Up Voting Rights Bill

SPB 7068 – which cleared a procedural hurdle on March 10 and is expected to come back before the Committee later this month – addresses a number of issues, including the use of certain drop-off locations for the submission of absentee ballots. Last year, Secretary of State Ken Detzner issued a directive against the use of some drop-off sites, such as tax collector offices and county library branches, despite their use in Pinellas County since 2008.
PFAW

Wisconsin Democracy Advocates Push Back Against Voter Suppression and Big Money in Politics

Today, under the banner of the Coalition to Protect Wisconsin Elections, a group of seventeen grassroots nonprofit organizations including People For the American Way gathered in the Wisconsin Senate Parlor to protest a batch of anti-democracy voting rights and campaign finance bills slated for Senate consideration tomorrow. The event included voters with their mouths taped shut to symbolize their voices being silenced by the proposed legislation as well as speakers from a range of progressive organizations, including PFAW regional political coordinator Scott Foval.

Speakers expressed opposition to a legislative package that will restrict access to a free and fair vote, allow unfettered spending on so-called political “issue ads,” and reduce transparency on reporting political activity in Wisconsin, including:

•  Senate Bill 324, restricting early voting hours and banning the option of weekend voting like “souls to the polls” drives organized by faith communities.

•  Senate Bill 267, making it more difficult for people to register to vote early.

•  Senate Bill 655, repealing current law to allow lobbyists to contribute directly to legislators starting April 15 of election years, even while the legislature is in session; lowering the bar for disclosing political contributions; and allowing unlimited Internet political activity without disclosure to the Government Accountability Board.

•  Assembly Bill 202, requiring poll observers to be allowed as close as three feet to poll workers, despite numerous complaints of harassing and intimidating behavior in recent elections.

Also under consideration, but not yet added to the official Senate calendar, is Senate Bill 654, which would rewrite the rules for disclosing political “issue ads” ahead of an election.  And currently seeking sponsors but not yet introduced is a bill that would eliminate same-day voter registration.

These bills could do serious damage to our democracy. In 2012, hundreds of thousands of Wisconsinites cast their ballots early. Several municipal clerks, who are responsible for administering elections, offered extended hours for voting to allow working people to participate in their democracy by casting their votes after work or on weekends.

In addition, the proposed new disclosure requirements would allow nearly unlimited, undisclosed political ad spending, both in broadcast and on the Internet, as well as increased allowances for solicitation activity for political bundling by political action committees and political conduits.

But “We, the People” are fighting back. Check out the video of today’s event below:

PFAW

Assault On Voting by Ohio GOP Ahead of November 2014 Elections

Ohio Republican legislators are up to their voter suppression tricks again, trying to limit absentee ballot registrations and restricting voting hours ahead of the November 2014 elections. The Columbus Dispatch reported Friday that GOP Rep. Mike Dovilla, Chairman of the Ohio House Policy and Legislative Oversight Committee, said the committee will vote on Senate Bill 205 and Senate Bill 238 as early as Tuesday.  If passed out of Dovilla’s committee, it could be off to the full House for a floor debate on Wednesday.

SB 205 would ban county clerks from mass mailing absentee ballot applications to all voters, holding that duty only for OH Secretary of State Jon Husted, who has proven in the past that he will restrict voting access almost every chance he gets.

SB 238 would achieve one of Husted’s anti-voter policy agenda items by limiting early voting days, effectively eliminating Ohioans’ ability to register and vote on the same day anywhere in the state.

These legislative moves come just days after the news broke that Hamilton County officials might relocate Cincinnati’s largest early voting location to a new, much less accessible location.  That decision met with considerable push-back from voting rights activists and the media, resulting in a deadlock vote from the Board of Elections. The final decision now also goes to Secretary Husted to decide, effectively putting the power to restrict access to early voting in Cincinnati’s largest city in his hands.

If you are from Ohio, call your Representative now and tell them to protect your early voting rights by voting ‘NO’ on SB 205 and SB 238. You can find your Representative’s contact information here: http://www.ohiohouse.gov/members/member-directory. Once you have talked to your Representative, drop us an email at political@pfaw.org to let us know what they said.  We’ll keep tabs on the situation and update you on voter suppression efforts in Ohio – and across the country – on the PFAW blog.

PFAW

Presidential Commission Issues Report on Election Administration

The PCEA recommendations are indeed a welcome addition to the voting rights debate, helping us move closer to the day when every eligible voter can register to vote and cast a ballot that counts. We must keep in mind, though, that the PCEA isn't the last word on American electoral reform. Nor does the PCEA replace what the Voting Rights Act lost after the Supreme Court ruling in Shelby County v. Holder.
PFAW

Marching On Washington, Again

This weekend People For the American Way Foundation turned out en masse for the 50th Anniversary March on Washington.

Some could remember the original march well.  Some had driven across the country to be there on Saturday.  

Our reasons for being there were as diverse as the range of topics covered by the speakers. Some wanted to see an end to Stand Your Ground laws; others spoke in support of immigration reform, LGBT equality, or voting rights. 

But everyone stood in solidarity with those who marched half a century ago, while calling attention to the ongoing need to fight for social, economic, and racial justice.  Everyone raised their voices in support of justice for all

We saw Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) – just 23 years old when he spoke at the original March on Washington – take the podium again, speaking passionately about the need to protect the right to vote.  He called it “precious…almost sacred.”  Lewis recalled:

I gave a little blood on that bridge in Selma, Alabama for the right to vote.…I am not going to stand by and let the Supreme Court take the right to vote away from us.

Members of the PFAW Foundation family also took the podium.  Young People For (YP4) alum Sophia Campos spoke in personal terms about the need for change in immigration policies, saying: 

I grew up in this country undocumented. My family is immigrant… A million people have been deported in the last five years….It’s our black and brown bodies in these cells that are being detained.

Another YP4 alum, Dream Defenders leader Phil Agnew, also spoke at the rally, calling on young people to take the lead in the progressive movement.  Young people, he said, are “here today to join in a conversation that will shake the very foundations of this capital.” 

And Rev. Charles Williams, an active member of PFAW Foundation’s African American Ministers Leadership Council, was named by the event organizers as being part of the next generation of leaders.

We came to honor those who marched 50 years ago, but also to call attention to the critical justice issues facing our country today.  As PFAW Foundation President Michael Keegan wrote last week:

That’s what this week is about: making sure that we, as a country, continue to strive to fulfill the promise of justice for all -- the American Way.

PFAW Foundation

New Poll Shows Support for Marriage Equality, Affirmative Action, and Voting Rights – But Not the Supreme Court

In the wake of last week’s Supreme Court rulings on critical civil rights issues, a new poll finds increasing support for marriage equality and falling support for the high court itself. 

A national Princeton Survey Research Associates poll found that 55 percent of Americans think that marriages of same-sex couples should be legally recognized – the highest level of support ever.  A similar percentage (53 percent) believe that affirmative action programs are needed, and more Americans oppose the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down a key part of the Voting Rights Act (49 percent) than support it (40 percent).  In other words, the American people are not on board with the Supreme Court turning back the clock on our civil rights.

So it is not surprising that Supreme Court approval ratings are falling.  The Princeton poll found the lowest level of approval (43 percent) in eight years, with slightly more Americans disapproving of the way the court is doing its job (44 percent).  Similarly, a Rasmussen poll released yesterday found that the percentage of likely voters who think the Supreme Court is doing a poor job is rising. 

What is more surprising is that both polls show that a greater percentage of Americans still believe that the high court is “too liberal” than believe it is “too conservative.” As PFAW President Michael Keegan pointed out in May, this is no accident:

“In recent decades, right-wing leaders have worked in popular culture to attack the courts as a liberal peril while successfully organizing to dominate and control legal institutions to create courts that no longer look out for the rights of all Americans. They have set up law schools and legal societies to promote corporate and right-wing commitments, have promoted the appointment of reactionary judges and Justices, blocked the appointment of even moderate jurists, and defined a legal agenda that subordinates individual rights to government power and public regulation to corporate power. Right-wing success in remaking the judiciary in the image of the Republican Party has not led conservatives to curb their bitter attack on ‘liberal judicial activism,’ a fantasy that is several decades out of date but indispensable to this smoke-and-mirrors operation.”

While conservatives continue to crow about “liberal judicial activism,” the American people are realizing that the Supreme Court’s conservative rulings on issues like voting rights and the rights of workers and consumers do not reflect their beliefs or the nation’s core constitutional values. 
 

PFAW

Missouri Brings Voter ID Back from the Dead

Despite a veto and court rulings against the voter ID bill, Missouri’s state legislature continues this effort to disenfranchise thousands of voters.
PFAW

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

“Although the time in our history has passed when certain Americans were excluded by force of law from electoral participation, endemic yet solvable problems continue to plague our system of elections and prevent too many eligible voters from fully participating in our democracy.”
PFAW Foundation

Ensuring that Desiline Victor, and all Americans, Get to Have Their Say at the Polls

In his State of the Union address last night, President Obama used his bully pulpit to ensure that the critically important issue of voting rights is securely on the agenda in 2013. Calling it “our most fundamental right as citizens,” the President announced the formation of a non-partisan commission focused on improving our country’s system of voting.

One woman who was undoubtedly pleased to hear this news was 102-year-old Desiline Victor of Miami, seated in the House visitors’ gallery, who had waited in line for hours to cast a ballot in November’s election.  President Obama noted that the country should follow her determined example: “As time ticked by, her concern was not with her tired body or aching feet, but whether folks like her would get to have their say,” he said.

After all, that is the issue at the core of a working democracy: whether folks get to have their say. 

Leading up to the election, our affiliate People For the American Way Foundation’s leadership programs witnessed and stood up to efforts across the country – ranging from unnecessary registration obstacles to early voting restrictions – to suppress the votes of those who have traditionally been disenfranchised: communities of color, low-income communities, and youth.  In the past two years alone, more than 65 suppressive voter ID bills were introduced in 34 states.

That’s why it is important that President Obama made it clear last night that he is serious about addressing the problems in our election system.  With increased access to early voting and an end to discriminatory voter ID laws, we can ensure that all Americans “get to have their say” at the polls.

PFAW

Restrictions on Early Voting and Voter Registration Used for Partisan Gain

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.
PFAW Foundation

Top 11 Republican Dirty Tricks ... SO FAR

In the last few weeks and months we’ve already seen the Right employ some outrageous dirty tricks to suppress the vote.

The job of election officials should be to make sure every eligible voter who shows up to cast a ballot can do so and have that vote count. But we’ve seen numerous right-wing secretaries of state and county election supervisors instead take it upon themselves to act as partisan operatives, placing their thumb on the scale to benefit their party’s candidates. And right-wing political operatives and activists have been using various tools to confuse, misinform and intimidate voters.

This is just what we’ve seen so far. Who knows what we’ll see in the final days leading up to Election Day and on Election Day itself!

Here are the Top 11, in no particular order:

  1. Voter ID – In the last couple of years, right-wing state legislatures have trumpeted the thoroughly debunked myth of widespread individual voter fraud in order to scare voters about the legitimacy of elections and pave the way for burdensome restrictions on voting, most notably, by requiring photo ID to vote. Many students, elderly, poor and urban voters don’t have drivers licenses or other acceptable forms of ID and can’t easily obtain them for a variety of reasons. Voter ID laws are for the most part a clear attempt to make it harder for traditionally Democratic-voting constituencies harder to vote, and there are have been some legal victories against some of the most recent laws, but studies have estimated that millions of eligible voters nationwide could be prevented from voting due to onerous ID requirements.

    In some states, recently passed voter ID laws have been halted due to court challenges, yet the states have continued circulating information referencing the new laws which could be incredibly confusing to voters. In Pennsylvania, a conservative judge who had upheld the state’s voter ID law before a federal court blocked it, ruled that even though voters do not have to show ID to vote, officials can still request it – and the state is using this to justify keeping up billboards that imply voters must have ID to show up.
  2. Calls about voting by phoneReports have come in in Florida, Virginia and elsewhere that primarily elderly voters have received phone calls telling them they could vote over the phone, so did not need to show up at the polls (something that is completely untrue).
  3. Calls about poll workers checking car insurance/registrationSimilar misleading calls have been reported by African American and Latino voters that “inform” voters that their car insurance and registration status will be checked at the polls as a requirement to cast a vote. This is also a complete lie.
  4. Intimidating “voter fraud” billboards – These ominous billboards reminding voters of the legal penalties for voter fraud were put up in minority communities in Milwaukee, WI and in Ohio in Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati. Clearly intended to make minority voters unnecessarily nervous about showing up to vote, PFAW and our allies like Color of Change brought pressure on the two companies that owned the billboards to remove them -- and they did! It was a good victory, but for the days the billboards were up, there was certainly damage done. Expect signs and flyers with a similar message to pop up in minority communities across the country in the final days of the election, especially in swing states.
  5. Tea Party groups challenging the votes of eligible voters – this is exactly what it sounds like and every bit as despicable. All around the country, and especially in hotly contested battleground states like Ohio, so-called “True the Vote” and other Tea Party organizations are exploiting state laws to challenge the votes of minority voters and others who primarily fit into groups that tend to vote Democratic.
  6. Romney campaign training poll watchers to mislead voters – In Wisconsin, we have reports that the Romney campaign has been training poll watchers not only to provide incorrect information to voters, but to hide their own affiliation at the polls.
  7. Restricting access for election observers – Not only is the Right escalating their voter intimidation efforts, but their also doing their part to make it harder for fair elections groups to observe and counter those efforts.
  8. Voter registration fraud (the really dangerous kind) – There’s been at least one arrest, and after the Florida GOP distanced itself from the private voter registration vendor Strategic Allied Consulting for apparent fraud in that state, some members of Congress are calling for a DOJ investigation into more widespread fraud, particularly by that group, which is led by notorious right-wing dirty trickster Nathan Sproul.

    You no doubt have heard about the right-wing uproar over fake voter registrations submitted by ACORN in years past – in that case, the registration fraud consisted of paid canvassers submitting phony registrations under names such as “Mickey Mouse.” No voter fraud was committed. ACORN turned in all the registrations they collected (even the obviously flawed ones) as they were required to, but if any fraudulent registration forms did result in actual registrations, the fake voters (who probably also had fake addresses) never received registration cards – and Mickey Mouse certainly didn’t show up to vote.

    What right-wing operatives are doing here is much more deliberate and actually causes serious harm. In addition to dumping Democratic registrations, it appears fraudulent changes to existing registrations were made, which means when real (presumably Democratic) voters show up to the polls, their registration will have been changed unbeknownst to them and they will be ineligible to cast a ballot.
  9. Businesses threatening their employees – One of the most insidious forms of voter intimidation we’ve seen this cycle has to do with right-wing corporate CEOs threatening their employees’ livelihoods to pressure them to vote Republican. Mitt Romney has even gotten in on the action by encouraging business executives to do this.
  10. Restricting early and absentee voting and limiting access to provisional ballotsIt’s like three dirty tricks in one!
  11. Throwing out absentee ballots based on signatures “not matching” – Does your signature look exactly the same now as it did when you first registered to vote? In Florida, canvassing boards are simply throwing out some absentee ballots they feel have signatures that don’t match the ones on file for voters. In these cases, the voters are not even being informed that their vote has been challenged or will not be counted.

In addition to the voter suppression tactics on this list, instances keep popping up of voters receiving confusing or incorrect voting information from state voting authorities. We’re not listing it as a dirty trick because there’s no evidence of intent to disenfranchise, the states simply claim incompetence, and these are primarily the same states – run by Republicans – that have just had major changes to voting requirements. But the result for voters is the same, and we’ll let you draw your own conclusions.

And finally, we urge the Department of Justice to keep a close eye on this election, both to prevent voter suppression and to make sure votes are counted properly. There have been widespread problems with certain types of electronic voting machines and vote counting machines reported over several election cycles. In this election, there’s an appearance of severe impropriety in that many voting machines, including many used in the all-important swing state of Ohio, have been provided by a company that is essentially part owned by Tagg Romney as well as some of the largest donors to Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign.

Democracy should be free of the suspicion created by the corporate entanglements of the business interests of candidates, their families or their closest supporters.

Read more about the Right’s campaign to keep millions of Americans from the ballot box here.

And help PFAW overcome the Right’s dirty tricks to STOP Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan and extremist Tea Party candidates at every level with a donation today.

PFAW

Voter ID Blocked in Pennsylvania

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.
PFAW Foundation