“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.
At yesterday’s Martin Luther King Day GOP debate in South Carolina, Texas Gov. Rick Perry said that South Carolina is “at war with the federal government” and that Texas is “under assault” because of disputes over the states’ voter ID laws.
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 gave the Justice Department the power to review voting law changes in states that have a history of disenfranchising minority voters. In December, the Department rejected South Carolina’s law, finding that it unfairly targeted minority voters, who are 20 percent more likely than whites to lack the required ID. Texas’ voter ID law is still under review.
The unmistakable historical echoes of Perry’s comments were disturbing, even more so because they were made on a day dedicated to celebrating the accomplishments of the Civil Rights movement. Yesterday, People For the American Way’s director of African American religious affairs, Minister Leslie Watson Malachi, wrote in the Huffington Post that many of the voting rights struggles of the Civil Rights era are still alive today:
But since 2008, our right to vote has been under an unprecedented attack. Shortly after the election, over half of Republican voters said that the presidential election had been stolen for Barack Obama by ACORN, an organization that worked to register new voters -- including many African Americans. In response to this myth, promoted by the right-wing media and politicians, state legislatures across the country have been trying to make it harder to register to vote. The most common form this takes is Voter ID laws, which, under the guise of preventing the over-hyped problem of "voter fraud," in fact keep millions of voters from the polls. These laws, which are on the books or being considered in 41 states, target voters who don't have certain types of government ID -- overwhelmingly the young, the elderly and persons of color.
What is even more discouraging than the faulty basis of these restrictive laws is where they come from. The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a group funded by large corporations that writes legislation for state legislators, is pushing these voter ID laws to states around the country. Why do big business interests care about restricting voting rights? Because voting is the only way those of us without millions of dollars to spend on elections can make our voices, and the issues we care about, heard.
PFAW Foundation released an extensive report last year on right-wing efforts to chip away at the voting rights of minorities, young people and the poor.
Tonight, eight GOP presidential candidates will alight on sacred ground to some: the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California. As the candidates pay the required perpetual homage to the 40th president, the rest of us might take some time to reflect on just how far off the Reagan Ranch the Republican Party has gone.
Since the advent of the Tea Party, the Republican establishment has adopted a philosophy that you could call "Xtreme Reagan" -- tax cuts for the wealthy without compromise, deregulation without common sense, social conservatism without an ounce of respect -- that makes even a liberal like me almost miss the political pragmatism of the Gipper. It's terrifying that former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, a hard-line economic and social conservative, whose regressive economic policies as governor were to the right of Reagan, is now widely considered to be too far to the left to even be a contender.
Don't get me wrong -- I never was a fan of Ronald Reagan and his policies. But I miss the days when believing in science and being able to do basic budget math didn't make you a radical Socialist.
Reagan, a savvy politician, rode to power on the money of corporate America and the passion of an increasingly politicized Religious Right -- and, for the most part, gave both groups enough of what they wanted once he was in office to keep them both happy. But he also bucked those interests at some important points. Contrary to current Reagan hagiography, he raised taxes 11 times during his eight years in office -- including the largest corporate tax hike in American history -- when it became clear that pure trickle-down economics would be disastrous for the economy. And in 1981, over the objections of anti-choice groups, he nominated the highly qualified and politically moderate Sandra Day O'Connor to serve on the Supreme Court.
Today's Tea Party candidates, as they love to remind us, are beholden to the same interests. But they have taken the Reagan strategy a step further, turning the values of the Reagan coalition into a new, unyieldingly rigid conservative orthodoxy.
In the Tea Party orthodoxy, environmentalism isn't just bad for business, it's unbiblical. Tax cuts aren't just what the rich want, they're what Jesus wants . The Democratic president isn't just a liberal, he's a foreigner trying to destroy America from within. Conspiracy theories become hard-and-fast facts before you can change the channel away from Fox News. There's no compromise when you live in an air-tight world of unquestioned beliefs that become created facts.
Let's take a look at how the eight GOP candidates debating tonight have taken Xtreme Reaganism and made it their own:
This is the field that the Party of Reagan has produced to appeal to a right-moving and increasingly isolated base -- where the architect of health care reform has to run against himself, where the most libertarian still isn't willing to cross the Religious Right, and where the highest-polling has floated the idea of his state seceding from the union.
Listen tonight as you hear the homage to Ronald Reagan and consider how radical this party has actually become.
Cross posted on Huffington Post
New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch vetoed a proposed voter-ID law that would have required voters to show a photo ID before casting a ballot. In rejecting the proposal, Gov. Lynch called out the law for what it was – an expensive, anti-democratic solution for a problem that doesn’t exist:
The right to vote is a fundamental right that is guaranteed to all citizens of this State under the United States and New Hampshire Constitutions. An eligible voter who goes to the polls to vote on Election Day should be able to have his or her vote count on Election Day. SB 129 creates a real risk that New Hampshire voters will be denied their right to vote.
Voter turnout in New Hampshire is among the highest in the nation, election after election. There is no voter fraud problem in New Hampshire. We already have strong elections laws that are effective in regulating our elections.
Just yesterday, the Ohio Senate adjourned without voting on a similar bill, lacking the necessary votes to move it forward. Voter ID laws are being pushed in at least 36 states, according to a report by the Voting Rights Institute, at a potential cost of $828 million – quite a staggering sum for the allegedly budget-conscious Republicans who have proposed all of these bills. These bills highlight a cynical desire to disenfranchise certain groups of people – primarily minorities, students and the elderly – who don’t necessarily tend to vote the “right” way.
Saint Paul City Councilman Melvin Carter and Wisconsin State Senator Chris Larson
Last weekend, about 200 young, progressive elected officials gathered in Washington at the sixth annual convening of PFAW Foundation’s Young Elected Officials Network. The Network, which includes over 600 state and local elected officials from across the country, honored five of its own who have done exceptional work in their communities over the past year.
City Councilman Melvin Carter of St. Paul, Minnesota was awarded the YEO Network’s Barbara Jordan Leadership Award. The award, named after PFAW Foundation co-founder Barbara Jordan, honors “a young elected official who has shown dedication and support to the YEO Network and has a distinguished record of public service to their community and the progressive movement at large.”
Carter, who is now the YEO Network’s Minnesota state director, became involved in politics after his brother was turned away from a Florida polling place in the 2000 elections. As an elected official, he has continued to work for voting rights and for equal rights and opportunity in his community. In 2009, Carter founded the Frogtown/Summit-University Community Investment Campus, a partnership between city, county, school, and community leaders to support high quality education outcomes for all children. Another priority of his is transit equity: he’s working to create opportunities for local businesses and affordable housing along a planned light rail line in St. Paul.
PFAW Foundation’s president, Michael Keegan, presented the Presidential Award of Distinction to Wisconsin State Senator Chris Larson, one of the state senators who left the state this winter to try to prevent a union-busting law from being passed. Larson has been a strong voice for working people in Wisconsin and around the country.
South Dakota State Senator Angie Buhl was awarded the YEO Network Leadership Award for her deep commitment to the YEO Network and People For the American Way Foundation. Sen. Buhl, who is the youngest member of South Dakota’s legislature, is a graduate of both of PFAW Foundation’s youth leadership programs, Young People For and the Front Line Leaders Academy.
Florida State Representative Dwight Bullard was awarded the YEO Progressive Leadership Award for his commitment to fighting for justice and opportunity in the Florida legislature. Representative Bullard is a fierce advocate for both education and immigration reform.
Massachusetts State Representative Sean Garballey was awarded the YEO Community Service Award for his commitment to servant leadership. In 2009, Rep. Garballey donated his share of a pay increase to state legislators to charity, because he did not believe it was fair for his pay to increase while the staff that works tirelessly to support him was being forced to take furloughs. He has also been active in supporting recovery efforts in Haiti after last year’s devastating earthquake.
In the buildup to the 2012 election, Republican legislatures across the nation are implementing a tactic many hoped would die with the signing of the Voting Right Act of 1965 -- silencing the voices of those who disagree with them by simply not allowing them to vote. GOP legislators in at least 20 states are working hard to push through restrictive voter-ID laws that all but disenfranchise large, traditionally Democratic segments of the electorate. These laws would require voters to show a government issued photo ID at the polling place, something 11% of US citizens currently lack.
The facts are firmly against such laws. Voters are more likely to be struck by lightening than to commit fraud, and the Bush Justice Department’s five-year “War on Voter Fraud” resulted in only 86 convictions out of nearly 200 million votes cast (a rate of .0000004%). Furthermore, these laws are expensive to implement, wasting millions of dollars in a time when most states are under severe budgetary restraints. So why would Republicans advocate for such an obviously unnecessary law?
Politics, of course.
While 11% of the general population lack government issued photo ID, the number jumps dramatically when looking at traditionally Democratic segments of the population. A study by the Brennan Center for Justice notes that 15% of low-income citizens, 18% of young eligible voters, and 25% of black voters lack identification that would allow them to vote under these new laws. In addition, such ID is more difficult to obtain for these parties, many of whom can’t drive to the DMV to get an ID or lack the supporting documents, such as a birth certificate, necessary to receive an ID.
In Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker just signed a bill that will require voters to show photo identification at the polls. This bill has provoked outrage amongst Wisconsin Democrats, with Stephanie Findley, chair of the Wisconsin Democratic Party Black Caucus, declaring:
Our proud tradition of open elections and high voter turnout will suffer. And with a stroke of the pen, thousands of African-American citizens will no longer be able to vote, solely because of their lack of identification. We now return to the days before the Voting Rights Act, where literacy tests and poll taxes were the rule.
This is backed up by the numbers. Fewer than half of African Americans in Milwaukee County hold ID that would be accepted at the polls, as compared to 83% of whites.
Florida already had a photo identification law in place, but Gov. Rick Scott recently signed a bill that goes even further, making it more difficult for third-party voter registration organizations to operate. Some such organizations, such as the non-partisan League of Women Voters, are pulling out of Florida all together, claiming the law will make it impossible to operate within the state.
In addition to making life difficult for voter-registration organizations, the new law also stops voters from making out-of-county address changes at the polls, making it more difficult for college students to vote, and shortens the early voting window from 14 days to eight. Five counties in Florida governed by the 1965 Voting Rights Act are declining to implement the new law, waiting for Justice Department approval before making any changes.
Early voting in also being targeted by Republican officials in North Carolina, who are studying how it helped Barack Obama win that state in 2008.
The Senate is currently debating the nomination of Goodwin Liu to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Liu is a phenomenally well qualified legal scholar who has support across the political spectrum, as well as among a majority of U.S. Senators. However, because Senate Republican leaders are putting politics over all else, they are set on stymieing the majority and filibustering the nomination. A cloture vote to end this stalling tactic may occur as soon as tomorrow morning.
People For the American Way supports the nomination. We sent a letter this morning that says much of what we have been saying in person on the Hill for over a year. Among other things, the letter states:
Perhaps the most powerful testament to Professor Liu's superb qualifications is the extensive support his nomination has garnered from across the ideological spectrum. It is not only progressive and moderate legal thinkers who admire his work: He has received endorsements from conservatives such as Ken Starr, Solicitor General under President Ronald Reagan; Richard Painter, the chief ethics counsel for President George W. Bush; and Clint Bolick, Director of the conservative Goldwater Institute.
When a judicial nominee attracts such strong support independent of political ideology, you can be confident that he is exactly the kind of mainstream, talented, and fair jurist we need on the federal bench.
Although Liu has the support of a majority of senators, his opponents are working to block his nomination from receiving an up or down vote. Their claim is that Liu's nomination constitutes one of those rare "extraordinary circumstances" warranting a filibuster, under the benchmark developed by the Gang of 14 during the George W. Bush Administration.
By no measure can this nomination be considered to even approach "extraordinary circumstances." Even a cursory look at President Bush's nominees who were approved using that test – those whose nominations were not considered to constitute "extraordinary circumstances" – makes clear that Liu's nomination must be permitted to go forward.
- Pricilla Owen's dissenting positions on the Texas Supreme Court were so extreme that even her fellow conservatives on the Supreme Court in different cases described them with phrases like "an unconscionable act of judicial activism," "disregard of the procedural elements the Legislature established," "def[ying] the Legislature's clear and express limits on our jurisdiction," and "inflammatory rhetoric." Her nomination was not considered extraordinary, and the Senate afforded her an up-or-down vote for a seat on the Fifth Circuit, where she is now serving.
- Thomas Griffith pushed to severely curtail laws ending discrimination against women and girls' participation in school athletic programs, declaring "illegal" a test upheld by all eight of the nation's Circuit Courts of Appeals that had considered the issue. He was also suspended from the DC Bar for failure to pay mandatory Bar dues yet continued to practice law in the District during that time. Published reports and an examination of Utah law indicated that he had been engaged in the unauthorized practice of law in Utah for the four years prior to his nomination. Nevertheless, the Senate did not consider Griffith's nomination extraordinary, and he received an up-or-down vote confirming him to a seat on the DC Circuit Court of Appeals.
- Janice Rogers Brown criticized opposition to the Lochner decision, which began the period when the Supreme Court issued its most pro-corporate rulings—rulings that struck down laws requiring minimum wages, regulating working hours and conditions, and banning improper business practices. In addition, despite several Supreme Court rulings to the contrary, she explicitly suggested that Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act is unconstitutional. Despite this record, her nomination was not considered an "extraordinary circumstance," and the Senate was allowed to cast an up-or-down vote, confirming her to the DC Circuit Court of Appeals.
- William Pryor called Roe v. Wade "the worst abomination of constitutional law in our history" and urged Congress to consider repealing or amending Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Despite the significant opposition that these and other extreme positions garnered, his nomination was not filibustered, and he was confirmed to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals.
Each of these nominees attracted substantial controversy and was opposed by numerous civil rights and civil liberties groups, but not one was found to constitute "extraordinary circumstances."
The claim that Goodwin Liu is out of the mainstream as compared to any of these nominees simply does not bear scrutiny. In fact, a fair reading of his work makes clear that Liu is well within the judicial mainstream.
By any standard articulated by either party, Goodwin Liu's nomination deserves a vote on the Senate floor, and he should be confirmed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Tomorrow, we will learn which Republican senators are willing to toss logic, consistency, principles, and the good of the nation's court system out the window in order to score political points against a Democratic president.
We should have known what was coming in January when the House GOP, in one of its first acts in the majority, took away the limited floor voting rights of the District of Columbia’s one delegate in Congress. The move was depressingly ironic coming from a party that had swept to power on a movement that claimed to echo the spirit of the American Revolution and its call for “no taxation without representation.” But the irony was lost on most of the GOP, and, it seems, hasn’t been found yet.
Today, the House will vote on whether to spend $100 million of federal tax dollars over five years to impose a school voucher program in the District that doesn’t work and that the local government doesn’t even want. The voucher program, which funnels federal money to religious schools, is a pet project of House Speaker John Boehner, who has shown no qualms about cutting other education programs—including Head Start and Title I grants for low-income school districts.
The voucher bill, expected to pass in the House, is the latest in a string of House GOP efforts to use DC as a pawn in the culture wars. The GOP’s radical anti-choice bill, HR 3, includes a provision that would prevent DC from using its own, locally raised tax dollars to provide abortion services. And now, Rep. Jim Jordan, leader of the 176-member Republican Study Group, is pushing for a bill that would overturn the District’s law allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry.
Just to be clear, an elected body in which DC residents have no voting representation has decided to spend its time imposing programs the city doesn’t want, overturning its laws, and deciding how it can spend its own local tax dollars. Somebody call the Tea Party – I bet they’ll be furious.
Many of the new members of Congress campaigned under the Tea Party banner, loudly warning their future constituents about the grave dangers of tyranny.
As one of the very first acts they will take as members of Congress, they will be asked by party leaders to eliminate the already-limited representation that residents of Washington DC have on the floor of the House. These taxpaying American citizens will have to comply with the laws this new Congress passes, yet their right to be represented in that body may be taken away completely.
Some might say this is the very definition of tyranny.
It's unquestionably an anathema to the principles of the American Revolution, which the Tea Party claims to support.
So this will be an educational opportunity for the entire country. Will the Tea Party members of Congress be true to the principles they claim to hold? Or, now that they are comfortably ensconced in power, will they abandon those principles when directed to by their Party leaders?
An 87% white county in Alabama is arguing that some of the anti-discrimination protections in the Voting Rights Act are no longer necessary…and its case might end up in the Supreme Court.
Shelby County is protesting Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which requires counties with a history of discriminatory election practices to run new election rules by the Justice Department.
"For Congress to continue to interfere with Shelby County's electoral autonomy in 2010 based on conditions that existed in 1965 is both arbitrary and without constitutional justification," according to one of the county's written arguments in the case.
Shelby County's complaint is that Section 5 of the law -- which says the Justice Department has to make sure election-related changes don't discriminate against minority voters -- is no longer necessary and that complying with the law is a significant legal expense for county taxpayers.
The county, however, does not provide any details about the "taxpayer dollars, time and energy" it has spent over the years asking the federal government to pre-approve things like new district lines or polling place changes. The U.S. Justice Department, the defendant in the lawsuit, argues the claim about expenses is vague and unsupported by evidence.
A number of African American residents of Shelby County disagree that voter discrimination is an outdated problem, and have tried to stop the county’s suit from going forward. They have some concrete examples to back them up. Just in 2008, a redistricting plan for one city in Shelby didn’t pass Justice Department muster because it eliminated the city’s one majority-black council district.
Shelby County’s argument recalls some of the right-wing objections to the 2006 renewal of the Voting Rights Act. Georgia Republican Lynn Westmoreland said of the 1965 bill, "It was set up to be temporary, just to get things to where they should be," he said. "And if you look at the results we have here in Georgia, I think you can see that it's worked. Its time has passed."
If only it had.
I recently reported that an agreement had been reached to move forward on the District of Columbia House Voting Rights Act. Four days later came word that this was no longer the case. The fight is not over, but DC’s centuries-long wait to have a voting voice in Congress will continue.
The right-wing forced an agreement with which nobody was happy. And in the end it turns out to have not been an agreement at all but a way for the right-wing to delay their inevitable counterpunch. DC can’t keep fighting these intrusions without a meaningful way to say “aye” or “no” when those infamous bells ring calling members to the House floor.
I cannot speak for Dorothy Height on the events of the last week. But I want to honor her for her commitment to DC voting rights. I remember her arrival at a hearing on a previous iteration of the bill. Without saying a word, her entry alone commanded respect.
I’m not sure if this photo was taken that same day, but Life noted one such occasion on which Dr. Height visited the Hill to champion our cause.
At a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing today, Senator Jeff Sessions said that that Goodwin Liu’s writings represent “liberal judicial activism.” And he doesn’t like it!
But what Sessions apparently does like is conservative judicial activism. Overturn more than a century of settled campaign finance law? Limit women’s ability to recover for being discriminated against on their jobs? Hand billions of dollars to Exxon? Rewrite the Voting Rights Act? That’s a-ok! “Liberal judicial activism,” (by which I assume he means opposing those decisions)? Bad.
Senator Sessions’s ability to keep a straight face while delivering such patently farcical attack is impressive. His stale talking points aren’t.
DC has waited over 200 years to have a voting voice in Congress. Today the nation’s capital may be as close as it’s ever come to making that dream a reality.
On Wednesday afternoon came the breaking news that an agreement had been reached to move forward on the District of Columbia House Voting Rights Act, which would give DC a full Representative with the same voting power as other House members. Just this morning, I joined a room full of concerned citizens and activists for a briefing lead by DC Vote and DC Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton. We then took to the halls of Congress in support of the Delegate’s tireless efforts on this issue.
Nobody is happy that this agreement comes at the price of right-wing interference in local affairs. But to go any longer without voting rights is an even higher price to pay. DC can’t keep fighting these intrusions without a meaningful way to say “aye” or “no” when those infamous bells ring calling members to the House floor. As Wade Henderson of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights put it:
The civil rights community recognizes that it must be prepared to accept some setbacks in the name of long-term progress. Virtually every major piece of civil rights legislation, from 1957 onwards, has involved difficult and often painful tradeoffs. In this case, given the fundamental importance of gaining a vote in Congress, we are prepared to move forward with the voting rights bill.
People For the American Way believes that the right-wing should stay away from this bill. But we also believe it’s a tragedy that our Democracy has allowed DC residents to live without voting representation for over 200 years. Any citizen who pays taxes, and is otherwise legally eligible to vote, should be able to vote. And certainly no member of the armed services should be robbed of the right to vote simply because of where they live.
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.