Voting

Where Is Today’s Deep Throat?

Mark Felt - better known as the anonymous source Deep Throat - died yesterday at the age of 95.  The deputy director of the FBI in the early 1970s, Felt secretly led Washington Post reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward to the information that eventually toppled the lawless presidency of Richard Nixon.

Felt was hardly a liberal: He had supported several violations of civil liberties perpetrated by the FBI during the 1960s-1970s.  Nevertheless, Nixon’s full-scale assault against the Constitution and the rule of law during Watergate compelled Felt to put his country first and talk to the press about what he knew, albeit anonymously.

Today, we are nearing the end of another presidency that has engaged in a full scale assault against the Constitution and the rule of law.  But unlike a generation ago, the current president’s allies in Congress put partisanship above patriotism and prevented genuine investigations of the administration.

Mark Felt’s death reminds me of another key difference between the era of Watergate and today: Back then, because someone talked, those in power were held accountable.  Today, we are still waiting for people to talk – to tell us what they know and to provide us with the documents shedding light on illegal domestic spying, the outsourcing of torture, the illegal sabotage of Democratic GOTV efforts in 2002, the suppression of voting rights, the politicization of the Department of Justice, Bush’s unlawful signing statements, the arrests of peaceful anti-administration protesters … the list goes on.

The outrages committed by George Bush, Dick Cheney, and others did not happen in a vacuum.  Their illegal policies were carried out by public employees scattered across the government, from the highest levels on down.  There are dozens, perhaps hundreds, of people who know where the bodies are buried.

For the sake of our country, it is time for them to talk.

PFAW

Putting the Justice back in the DOJ

In Washington, we're hearing rumblings that the Right may be looking to start a fight over Attorney General nominee Eric Holder, whose confirmation hearing will be in early January. It's tough to imagine the kind of audacity it would take to challenge Holder's nomination after Attorneys General Ashcroft and Gonzales.

After eight years of being dominated by politicization, cronyism and extremism, the Department of Justice is in desperate need of a good housecleaning. The Department, like the Attorney General, is supposed to defend the rule of law and Americans' constitutional rights. But under the Bush administration, the DOJ has been used as a weapon against constitutional values, used to fight the administration's ideological and political battles.

In the wake of 9/11, John Ashcroft's Justice Department led the Bush administration's relentless assault on civil liberties. The DOJ was on the forefront of the draconian expansion of surveillance and police powers, and contributed heavily to post-9/11 era of extreme government secrecy. Career lawyers at the DOJ were subtly -- and not so subtly -- pushed out in favor of attorneys more politically and ideologically aligned with the administration. The Civil Rights Division was completely politicized and instead of using its resources to protect voters' rights (by enforcing the Voting Rights Act among other things), the DOJ waged an attack on voting rights by supporting disenfranchising policies like Georgia's restrictive voter ID law. The Department also exploited the 'widespread voter fraud' myth for politically motivated witch hunts -- part of a larger trend of selectively targeting political and ideological opponents for investigation and prosecution.

And how can we forget the Gonzales era at the DOJ! The Attorney General is supposed to be the people's lawyer, but Gonzales was more the president's bag man. The problems that existed under Ashcroft continued or got worse. As more and more news came out about the NSA's illegal warrantless spying on Americans, the torture of U.S. detainees, legally questionable military tribunals and other subversions of the rule of law, we found out that the DOJ had expressly signed off on these administration policies and in some cases even supplied the legal and intellectual underpinning out of the Department's Office of Legal Counsel (OLC). And when a scandal broke over the firing of U.S. attorneys, it became clear exactly how politically motivated hiring and firing practices had been at the DOJ, which evidently was staffed with a disproportionate number of graduates of Pat Robertson's law school (including one of the people tasked with the hiring/firing)!

Attorney General Mukasey has been arguably better than his two predecessors, but following the records of Ashcroft and Gonzales, that's not very hard. Eric Holder is a stellar choice: smart, capable and able to lead the DOJ in a new direction. But he will have his work cut out for him and he'll need help from people like you and me. First, we need to make sure he's confirmed, and that could mean a campaign to defeat whatever attacks right-wing senators throw at him. Then, because of the politically skewed hiring practices, he's going to need the support of the people to make dramatic changes at one of the government's most important agencies.

For eight years, the Department of Justice -- a government agency with a rich history of enforcing civil rights and the rule of law -- has served the worst ideological and partisan impulses of the Bush administration. The era of overzealous ideologues and partisans like Ashcroft and Gonzales is coming to an end.

Thank goodness.

But now it's time to dig in our heels and do our part to put the justice back in the Department of Justice. I hope you don't mind if I call on you for help in the coming months.

PFAW

Great Idea Posted at Change.org/ideas: Dept. of Innovation

I wrote a post yesterday about a Change.org in which People For the American Way is participating: Ideas for Change in America. It's actually a collaboration with MySpace as well, and many organizations and everyday citizens have become involved. The ideas so far are GREAT. I hope some readers here have the chance to add their own.

One idea that I particularly liked is for the creation of a Department of Innovation. The idea in itself is incredibly innovative, and it might be just what the doctor ordered to help overcome some of the enormous challenges facing us as a country and a planet.

Here's more:

We need to harness the creative imaginations of all americans as individuals and collectives to overcome the great challenges of our time. We know we need to do this, but do we know how?

Yes. We can:
- help leaders articulate the need for innovation and focus American's creative energy on the areas that matter most and can most benefit from creative solutions
- help individuals collaborate to come up with even better ideas than they already have or could come up with on their own
- manage ideas and the innovation process so that the most promising ideas are identified, and the very best implemented successfully
- engage more and more americans in contributing creatively to solving our challenges

You can read more about this idea and others at Change.org/ideas. I also stongly encourage you to add your creativity to the process if and submit your own idea or ideas if you have any. But remembe: you can vote for many ideas! So please make sure to support National Early Voting to help it to the next round in the Civic Engagement category.

PFAW

Vote for Ideas to Change America

Change.org is running a great contest to get ideas for real change and innovation from the public and presenting some of the best ones to the Obama transition team.

From Change.org:

What's Your Big Idea for Change in America?

President-Elect Obama says he wants to hear ideas from all Americans, so we're taking him up on his offer. Submit your ideas for how to change America, discuss with others, and vote for your favorites.

The "Top 10 Ideas for America" will be presented to the Obama Administration on Inauguration Day. We will then build a national campaign to advance each idea in Congress, marshaling the resources of Change.org, MySpace, and our dozens of partner organizations and millions of combined members.

There are a bunch of issue categories under which you can enter ideas. I already entered National Early Voting as a People For the American Way-sponsored idea in the Civic Engagement category. Please read more and support the idea by clicking the vote count button so it can make it to the second round.

Click here:

http://www.change.org/ideas/view/national_early_voting_great_way_to_safeguard_fair_elections

Then cruise the change.org/ideas site, read about some other ideas and ENTER YOUR OWN!

If you post an idea that you think People For the American Way would like to sponsor, please send me the link for your idea, after you post it, at bbetz[at]pfaw[dot]org.

Good luck with your idea or ideas. And tell your friends!

PFAW

New Senate Can Deliver Some Quick Victories

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

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

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

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

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

PFAW

How to Create a Good Voting Website

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

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

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

But a point later on might be easy to overlook.

  • Well designed interfaces that are easy to navigate.

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

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

PFAW

Problems at the Polls? Call 1-866-OUR-VOTE

There are still several hours left to cast a ballot, even on the East Coast, where polls don't start closing till 6 p.m. (many states' polling places are open even later than that). So here's a quick reminder that if you run into problems while voting or have questions, call the nonpartisan Election Protection hotline at 1-866-OUR-VOTE.

1-866-OUR-VOTE. Tell your friends! Tell your enemies! Tell people about whom you feel utterly indifferent!

The hotline has logged nearly 30,000 calls so far today. You can see -- and search! -- a database of the problems they've been reporting at their website, www.ourvotelive.org.

PFAW

Have You Voted?

In case you needed more reason to get out and vote, the interwebs are virtually flooded today with stories of people voting, and loving it.

In New York

Even more people out there now. I walked across the street and down the one block to Stroud elementary, and turned the corner to see the line. I have voted in this neighborhood for the past seven years, and the longest line I've ever seen was one snaking out from the gymnasium where the booths are, to the front door, about 20 feet away.

This morning, the line stretched past that point, out through the cast iron gates, turned to the left, and went nearly halfway down the New York City block street to Washington Avenue. It was 6:00 a.m. There were hundreds of people already on line, waiting patiently to cast their vote.

In Chicago

The guy behind me, in the line, was telling another voter that he hadn't voted or even registered to vote in 20 years. He had been moving around a lot and didn't have the time to register or give much thought to elections. He had recently moved from Louisiana to Texas, but this time he registered to vote. He registered twice to make sure that he'll get his card on time. I turned back and smiled at him when he said that. He was in his late fifties and looked excited to be there.

In DC

My precinct (68) has 1,740 registered voters, 814 of which turned out for the presidential primary. Voting at the precinct could be done by computer or paper ballot, and there were two paper ballot counting machines. The one I slipped my ballot into had already counted nearly 400 others, suggesting that the primary numbers may already have been topped before noon. My precinct may see something like 70% turnout on the day. Absolutely remarkable.

Lots of smiles all around.

In Maine

I popped over to the polling station in Rockland, and at 8:10 this morning there were about 40 people in line:

I ran into Rep. Ed Mazurek on the way out, and learned that over 1,400 absentee ballots had been cast in Rockland alone.

In Ohio

I waited in line for three hours to vote the other day. What amazed me was all the different people out there voting. There was this ridiculous line and a single mother was in front of me, she was trying to feed her child in her arms and scooted the baby carrier on the ground with her foot. I saw men and women in uniform, I saw elderly in wheelchairs, elderly standing in the line wheeling oxygen tanks along with them. When I got up to the poll worker who printed off my ballot for me, I asked her if it was like this every day. She said for the past week or so it had been, averaging thirty thousand people a day coming in to vote early. Then I read in the paper this morning about how Ohio is expecting an 80% voter turnout. It is absolutely amazing

In Seattle

6:45 am at Northgate - line going out the door already. 7:05 in the voting room - all booths full, lines for booths three people deep. Never thought I’d want to take a picture of me and a ballot before. I wish I had volunteered to work at a polling place, I want to be around that kind of vibe all day long!

And there are more. If you have a voting story you'd like to share, you can e-mail blogtalk@pfaw.org.

And, of course, if you have any trouble voting, you should be sure to call 1-866-OUR-VOTE.

PFAW

On Exit Polls

If you're anything like me, you're counting down the minutes until the polls close and we can finally see how this election will turn out.

For people like us, Nate Silver at 538 has a cogent explanation of why one should ignore the allure of exit polls and wait for the real data to come in.

Silver has shown himself to be one of the sharpest statisticians in the game, and I have no reason to doubt a word he says.  Still, if someone shows me exit poll data, will I really be able to ignore it?  Probably not.

PFAW

The New Poll Tax

On a special Sunday episode of her show last night, Rachel Maddow made the great point that long voting lines — which people have been facing these past few weeks when casting early ballots, and will likely face tomorrow — are, in effect, a new kind of poll tax.

Not everyone, she points out, can afford to take five or six or seven hours off from their job to wait in line to vote. Not everyone has an understanding boss. Not everyone has the physical stamina to wait for periods that long, either.

We must fix this.

PFAW

Time's A-Wastin': Get the Information You Need to Vote!

Unless you've been living under a rock these past two years, you know that Election Day is tomorrow.

So the question of today -- Election Day Eve -- is: where the heck do I vote, when do I go, and what do I need to bring with me?

You can find out the answers to those questions at GoVote.org, a one-stop shop for all that information.

For more detailed information on voter ID requirements and voting rights, check out our voter ID flyers and toolkits

And remember, if you run into problems at the polls or have questions, call the nonpartisan Election Protection Hotline: 1-866-OUR-VOTE.

After you're done voting, celebrate your participation in this grand civic ritual with a free scoop at Ben and Jerry's between 5 p.m. and 8 p.m.

Huzzah for democracy -- and free dessert!

PFAW

The Arc of the Moral Universe is Long

The Austin-American Statesman has a story on a 109 year old woman – the daughter of a slave – who cast a vote for Senator Obama in this year’s election.

Jones' father herded sheep as a slave until he was 12, according to the family, and once he was freed, he was a farmer who raised cows, hogs and turkeys on land he owned. Her mother was born right after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed, Joyce Jones said. The family owned more than 100 acres of land in Cedar Creek at one point, she said.

Amanda Jones' father urged her to exercise her right to vote, despite discriminatory practices at the polls and poll taxes meant to keep black and poor people from voting. Those practices were outlawed for federal elections with the 24th Amendment in 1964, but not for state and local races in Texas until 1966.

Amanda Jones says she cast her first presidential vote for Franklin Roosevelt, but she doesn't recall which of his four terms that was. When she did vote, she paid a poll tax, her daughters said. That she is able, for the first time, to vote for a black presidential nominee for free fills her with joy, Jones said.

Something to think about if you’re stuck in a long line on Election Day.

PFAW

Power to the Palm Cards

Last night, volunteers in DC gathered to do People For the American Way Foundation’s part in a project that will touch hundreds of thousands nationwide.

People For the American Way Foundation partnered with the SEIU to produce educational voter ID palm cards that inform voters of what they need when they show up to cast their ballots.  They are specific to the following states (based on where there are bad voter ID laws and where we expect to see aggressive voter suppression efforts): AZ, CA, CO, DC, FL, GA, IN, KS, MI, MO, NC, OH, PA, TX, and VA.

The volunteers were so excited to help distribute these materials. About 20 people crowded three different areas of People For the American Way Foundation’s DC office and didn’t rest until every activist who placed an order had what they needed. In this historic moment, their energy should give everyone hope for the future.

If you are not a palm card recipient, fear not – also available are voter ID toolkits and two-page flyers for the same states as we have palm cards for.  People For the American Way Foundation created these in collaboration with the NEA, SEIU, and other state and local partners.  We've been getting them to election officials and allies as a resource in training poll workers and people doing voter protection work.  These materials are available for you to download and print at http://site.pfaw.org/VoterID.

For more information about voting issues, please visit People For the American Way Foundation at http://www.pfaw.org or http://govote.org/. Report all voting incidents to 1-866-OUR-VOTE (1-866-687-8683).

PFAW

Samuel L. Jackson Says: You Have the Right to Vote!

Samuel L. Jackson, Robert De Niro, and Rosie Perez are helping the Election Protection coalition get the word out about the Election Protection hotline — 1-866-OUR-VOTE — which voters can call through Election Day for help if they're facing voter suppression tactics or they just have questions about voting. People For the American Way Foundation is part of the EP coalition. The L.A. Times did a nice writeup of the campaign here.

Check out the PSAs below, and please spread the word about the hotline: again, the number is 1-866-OUR-VOTE.





 

PFAW

Democracy is about voting!

Just caught this item on politico.com about Republican Governor Crist of Florida extending early voting hours to the dismay of some of his fellow Republicans.  Dismay that more people will find it easier to vote in this historic election?  I think Governor Crist got it right when he said:  "This is not a political decision. This is a people decision."  You can read the full post by Ben Smith  here.

PFAW

How to Get People to Vote

Simply ask them if they're going to. So says Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel Prize-winning psychologist:

You call and ask people ahead of time, "Will you vote?" That's all. "Do you intend to vote?" That increases voting participation substantially, and you can measure it. It's a completely trivial manipulation, but saying 'Yes' to a stranger, "I will vote"...

According to Kahneman, making this sort of commitment -- even to someone they don't know -- can help motivate people to get to the polls on Election Day.

So... are you going to vote?

(via Marginal Revolution)

PFAW

Change Doesn't Just Happen

With just over a week to go until the election, things are popping at People For. I want to let you know how we're using your support to make an impact on many fronts.

The Voters Alliance: Building Progressive Power

People For the American Way's federal political action committee is helping build a progressive majority in Congress. We were thrilled that an extremely successful online contest run by the Voters Alliance raised more than $130,000 for 24 progressive House candidates. And now the Voters Alliance is working with Oscar-winning director Errol Morris and volunteers from the award-winning advertising firm Chiat Day (of Apple fame) to create short but powerful online profiles of moderate voters who have decided that Obama has earned their vote. The spots are being digitally filmed and edited this week in time for a final pre-election push. I'll let you know when they're ready to watch online and forward to your friends.

Sounding the Alarm: The Court is at Stake

People For the American Way has succeeded in getting media and progressive candidates talking about the importance of the Supreme Court in this election. Now we're kicking it up a notch, with TV spots for Maine, Minnesota, New Hampshire, North Carolina and Oregon, reminding voters that senators have hurt their interests by backing Bush's extreme judges. People For the American Way Action Fund has been running radio ads holding John McCain and other senators accountable for voting to confirm Bush's worst judicial nominees.

Confronting Homophobia and Anti-Gay Discrimination

In California, where the Right has stirred a vicious backlash against a state Supreme Court ruling protecting marriage equality, People For the American Way Foundation's African American Ministers Leadership Council has launched a radio ad campaign calling on African Americans to reject anti-gay discrimination. Check out the ads here. This work is part of a long-term effort to engage clergy and challenge homophobia in the Black Church and in African American communities. Rev. Kenneth Samuel, the courageous and inspiring head of AAMLC's Equal Justice Task Force, is on the ground in California now, and he'll be leading this groundbreaking effort to create social change in the months and years ahead.

Calling out the Promoters of Fear and Hatred

We're also challenging campaign tactics that are stirring up a dangerous brew of fear and bigotry. For example, when John McCain falsely accused a progressive voter registration group of trying to steal the election, its offices were barraged with hateful and threatening messages. We made it impossible to ignore this hostility and bigotry by posting images and audio of the actual messages online for the world to see. And with a full-page ad in the New York Times and other media outreach we have worked hard to help people understand that bogus charges of voter fraud are meant to give cover to the real threat to the election from right-wing voter suppression. Our Right Wing Watch blog has been all over the Religious Right's bigotry and fearmongering.

Overcoming Voter Suppression

People For the American Way Foundation's Democracy Campaign staff have been traveling the country training community organizers who are running election protection efforts and distributing in-depth, state-specific voter protection toolkits. With the help of SEIU, NAACP, NEA, Unity 08, Democracia Ahora and other partners, our Foundation has distributed more than 180,000 palm cards in key states to help voters understand and protect their rights. The Foundation is working with allies to recruit poll workers where they're sorely needed and will be distributing inexpensive video cameras to members who will document what happens on Election Day. There's no way to stop all the dirty tricks that the Right has in store, but People For Foundation has been working hard to put protections in place, and after the election it will work hard to figure out what went wrong this time, and fight for legal and regulatory fixes. Two New York Times editorials in the past week have confirmed that voter fraud is a myth and affirmed the importance of the Election Protection work the Foundation is doing to help voters understand and assert their rights.

Change is in the air, but as you know, it doesn't just happen. We all need to make it happen. With your help, we and our allies are going to change the country! Thanks so much for making it all possible.

PFAW

Voter Suppression and Intimidation

You've seen a lot on this site about the inflammatory campaign being waged by the McCain-Palin team and the RNC against ACORN.  It's a desperate political ploy to cast doubt on the integrity of the elections and to divert attention from the real problem:  voter suppression and intimidation  taking place across the country.  Check out this exccellent video from Brave New Films that tells this story.

And click here to read a letter from House Judiciary Committee Chair John Conyers and Subcommittee Chairs Jerrold Nadler and Linda Sanchez to Attorney General Mukasey and FBI Director Robert Mueller asking for assurances that "the full weight of the Justice Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation will be brought to bear" to protect the right to vote and the safety of citizens "who serve our democracy by educating, registering, and turning out voters."

PFAW

Everybody’s Voting Early!

Andrew Sullivan has notes from a few readers on their experiences at the polls.
 
Yesterday, DCist pointed out that in my own city (where we do have a vote for President but not *ahem* full representation in the House or Senate) turnout has also been heavy. 
 
And the AP has yet another rundown.
 
What conclusions can be drawn from this?  I have two. (1) Americans are getting used to early voting. (2) This election is going to be big. Really big.

PFAW

“Angry” Al Franken

In his book Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them, Al Franken recalls an episode in Paul Wellstone’s 2002 run for re-election when, prior to his untimely death, the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) ran an ad called “Pork” that savaged Wellstone for voting “to spend thousands of dollars to control seaweed in Maui.”

The implication, as Franken pointed out, was that Wellstone had “prioritized seaweed control over national defense.” The only problem was that while Wellstone had in fact voted for the legislation, so did “Strom Thurmond, Trent Lott and 84 other senators. That bill did appropriate the seaweed control spending—but it also provided $21 billion for veterans' health care, $27 billion for veterans' compensation and pensions, and block grants to assist New York City's recovery from 9/11.”

When Wellstone’s son David confronted then NRSC-chair Bill Frist about the ad at his father’s memorial service, Frist declared that “it wasn't personal,” to which David responded "'My dad took it personal.” 

And so it is only fitting that this time around, with Franken running against Norm Coleman, the man on whose behalf the NRSC ran that original ad, they would again stoop to such tricks.  

Take a look at this ad the NRSC is running against Franken – especially the clip playing in the background of a screaming Franken while the narrator declares him prone to “violent outbursts” around the fifteen second mark:

Now take a look at this video from the Franken campaign explaining the history of that clip:

That’s right, the NRSC took clip of Franken telling this anecdote about Paul Wellstone and his son, stripped it of its context and then used it to try and portray Franken as dangerously unhinged.  

I was reminded of this today when I stumbled upon this “breaking news” piece from Minnesota Democrats Exposed that recounts how, after a recent debate, Franken supposedly attacked Norm Coleman and to be all but dragged away from him:

According to dedicated readers of Minnesota Democrats Exposed who were at tonight’s U.S. Senate debate in Duluth, Al Franken got in U.S. Senator Norm Coleman face as soon as the microphones were off at the end of the debate.

My sources said that Franken was very upset and was speaking with a raised voice.  Mrs. Franken reportedly ran on stage to get Franken away from Coleman … Franken, visibly upset, continues to get in Senator Coleman’s face.  Franken is seen on film staring Coleman down as he finally recognizes that Mrs. Franken is trying to get his attention.

Wow.  That sounds pretty heated.  I can only imagine what that scene must have been like. Oh wait:

Apparently, talking to your opponent after a debate is the equivalent of being on the verge of a complete meltdown. Maybe next time, Franken should just snub his opponent all together.

PFAW