Voting

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."

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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.

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“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.

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"Can I Wear My Obama T-Shirt to Vote on Election Day?"

The Root answers the question, "Can I Wear My Obama T-Shirt to Vote on Election Day?"

Short answer: It depends.

Longer answer:

An ominous e-mail has been causing quite a bit of confusion for voters recently. With an urgent warning to recipients, the e-mail claimsthat election officials have the right to turn away any voters wearing campaign paraphernalia to the polls. So what's up? Can you rock that "Obama Mama" T-shirt to cast your vote on Nov. 4?  

In most states, you're in the clear. Wearing campaign paraphernalia—a button, a sticker and, of course, a T-shirt—in support of any candidate is seen as passive electioneering. Some states are more lenient. In Kentucky, Marylandand Florida, election officials most often make no fuss about voter attire. The only thing banned there is the display of excessive campaign garb (i.e. head-to-toe Obama gear) or outright solicitation. Wearing campaign paraphernalia and lingering in the polling station is also a no-no in those states. 

Other states, such as Pennsylvaniaand New York, maintain laws on passive electioneering while remaining lax in enforcement. In New York, for example, refusing to comply with the request of election officials to remove an item is considered a misdemeanor, but arrests have rarely—if ever—been made.  

Not everyone is as laid-back about the issue. In the District of Columbia, strict rules apply. Prior to entering a polling station in the District, everyone is required to remove or cover up any exposed campaign paraphernalia. No exceptions.

Takeaway: Find out from your state's board of elections (find a link to yours here) what's acceptable and what's not.

It's cool to be excited about your candidate, but you don't want your campaign bling (fabulous as it is) to make it harder for you to actually cast a ballot on Election Day.

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This Is Why I Ask for a Paper Ballot

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Dissecting Sarah Palin's Logic: Ledbetter and Fair Pay

A portion of Katie Couric’s interview with Sarah Palin that aired Tuesday focused, among other things, on equal pay.  The transcript:

Couric: Where do you stand on the Ledbetter Fair Pay Act?

Palin: I’m absolutely for equal pay for equal work. The Ledbetter pay act - it was gonna turn into a boon for trial lawyers who, I believe, could have taken advantage of women who were many, many years ago who would allege some kind of discrimination. Thankfully, there are laws on the books, there have been since 1963, that no woman could be discriminated against in the workplace in terms of anything, but especially in terms of pay. So, thankfully we have the laws on the books and they better be enforced.

Couric: The Ledbetter act sort of lengthens the time a woman can sue her company if she's not getting equal pay for equal work. Why should a fear of lawsuits trump a woman's ability to do something about the fact that women make 77 cents for every dollar a man makes. And that's today.

Palin: There should be no fear of a lawsuit prohibiting a woman from making sure that the laws that are on the books today are enforced. I know in a McCain-Palin administration we will not stand for any measure that would result in a woman being paid less than a man for equal work.

Couric: Why shouldn’t the Ledbetter act be in place? You think it would result in lawsuits brought by women years and years ago. Is that your main problem with it?

Palin: It would have turned into a boon for trial lawyers. Again, thankfully with the existing laws we have on the books, they better be enforced. We won't stand for anything but that. We won't stand for any discrimination in the workplace - that there isn't any discrimination in America.

At first blush, it looks like Palin is just rehashing McCain’s argument against Ledbetter: “I don’t believe that this would do anything to help women except maybe help trial lawyers and others in that profession.”  She does manage to eke out the lawyer-bashing McCain line, while asserting that McCain-Palin “won’t stand” for discrimination, but after that she appears to get a little lost.  She seems to think that the “fear of lawsuits” Couric refers to in the second question are people suing women to prevent them from enforcing “the laws on the books.”

But a closer look reveals an even more fundamental misunderstanding.  She says that “thankfully, we have the laws on the books."  Well, yes, but thanks to Samuel Alito, that law means a lot less than it used to.

Ledbetter v. Goodyear, the Supreme Court decision that led to the Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, involved a woman, Lilly Ledbetter, who worked at a Goodyear Tire plant for almost twenty years, for a salary much less than her male co-workers.  The “laws on the books,” as read by Justice Alito and the rest of his voting bloc, said that Ledbetter’s discrimination claim needed to be filed within 180 days of the first discriminatory paycheck.  The only problem: Ledbetter first found out about the unequal pay through an anonymous tip, sixteen years after that first paycheck.

Of course, it’s not surprising that Palin doesn’t know the substance of the Ledbetter case—apparently, when asked to name Supreme Court cases, the only one she could produce was Roe v. Wade.

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The Top Five Things Voters Can Do Now

November 4 might be five weeks off, but there are a few things you can do today to help make sure you and your families' voices will be heard this Election Day.  We've rounded up our top 5 things voters should do right now in a helpful PDF document — download it here — as part of People For Foundation's Election Protection work.

Pass it on to your friends and family — and make sure they're registered to vote!

If you need specific information for your state, visit our voting rights information page or visit Vote411.org for more information.

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A Victory for Voting Rights in Ohio

Today, the Ohio Supreme Court upheld a week-long window during which new voters can register and vote via absentee ballot on the same day. (

Another federal court decision was expected later in the day over the early voting window, which begins Tuesday and has become a partisan battle in a swing state where President Bush narrowly clinched re-election in 2004.

In a 4-3 decision, the Ohio Supreme Court said Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner was correct in ruling that voters don't need to be registered for at least 30 days before receiving an absentee ballot.

Republicans, who claimed that Brunner was misinterpreting the law to benefit her party, had backed lawsuits filed against the measure.

The decision is a real victory for voting rights and another acknowledgement that government should encourage people to vote, not make it more difficult for them to do so.  And, of course, it will likely help increase turnout in Ohio, one of the crucial states this November.

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No Suspension Here -- Save the Debate

We considered suspending all action on the People For Blog to focus our attention on the economy, but then we realized that, umm, there’s a lot of other stuff going on too.  Like, for instance, some upcoming debates.

Or at least that’s what ought to be happening.  John McCain has not only threatened to skip the first debate, but is proposing that the second debate (the vice presidential one) be delayed.

People For is responding with a resounding “No.”  Sign our petition calling for the debate schedule to remain intact.  After all, there’s an election in 40 days, and don’t you think Americans ought to know what it is they’re voting for?

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People For Joins Members of Congress, SAVE to Open Dialogue on Student Voting Rights

Today, student voting rights took center stage on Capitol Hill as People For the American Way and the Student Association for Voter Empowerment (SAVE) joined Congressional leaders including Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and Majority Whip Jim Clyburn to call attention to the myriad of barriers to the polls that students will face between now and November. In addition to Majority Leader Hoyer and Majority Whip Clyburn, Representatives Jan Schakowsky, Eleanor Holmes Norton, Dennis Kucinich, Kendrick Meek, Tim Ryan, Susan Davis, Chris Van Hollen, and Debbie Wasserman Schultz were on hand to give remarks.

Tanya Clay House, Director of Public Policy, and Michele Jawando, Election Protection Campaign Manager, explained the challenges that are in play that could keep hundreds of thousands of students from the polls – deceptive practices, voter suppression and intimidation, voter ID laws, inequitable distribution of voting machines, long lines, and improper instructions on when to offer provisional ballots, among other common problems. 

What can you do?  Spread the word about People For Foundation’s voter ID toolkits.  Opponents of voting rights have always used ignorance as a weapon and information is the best defense.  Know your rights!

 

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Don't Mourn, Organize!

If you're following the election news as closely as I am, you're probably finding a lot of reasons to holler at your TV. How about Todd Palin refusing a subpoena from the legislative committee investigating "Troopergate" in Alaska, and Sarah Palin ducking requests to testify with claims of "executive privilege" (sound familiar?) — haven't we had enough of executive branch officials insisting they're above the law? Or maybe for you it's the sight of the "get government out of the way" Republicans suddenly claiming that they're the ones to bring more effective government oversight to Wall Street. So much for free-market fundamentalism! Or maybe it's the implication by the McCain-Palin campaign with their "Country First" signs that anyone who does not support their ticket is not patriotic!

Another thing that is making me furious is that people may be kept from casting their vote. Our affiliate People For the American Way Foundation has been documenting and mobilizing opposition to voter suppression efforts around the country — but conservative officials keep finding new ways to try to keep some voters away from the polls. In Michigan — a key presidential battleground state — the Republican Party is training people to challenge voters at the polls, and is even planning to try to deny voters the chance to cast a ballot if their home has gone into foreclosure. It's disgusting, but it's only part of a much bigger picture -- we're seeing official efforts in other key states like Virginia, Ohio and Florida to find reasons to knock people off the voting rolls.

Whatever is driving you to distraction this week, keep in mind labor organizer Joe Hill's famous admonition: "Don't mourn, organize!"

There's a huge amount of exciting organizing People For and other progressive groups are doing right now — and a lot of ways for you to get involved in these last few weeks before the election.

First and foremost you should VOTE and take at least five friends to the polls with you. If your state lets you vote early, do it. But don't stop there. Here are three other things you can do to keep the White House and Supreme Court out of the hands of the radical Religious Right:

  1. Get your ringside seats on October 2 when "Amtrak Joe" debates "Mooseburger Sarah"... Host a People For vice presidential debate watch party with your friends. We have been documenting Sarah Palin's record of extremism, and we're going to keep it up — we'll help you host a great party and send people off with new ammunition for their conversations with friends and family. Sign up at http://site.pfaw.org/parties.

  2. Volunteer some of your time to a progressive campaign during the next six weeks. Campaigns need help with voter identification and turnout, and in a close election year, this kind of ground work is vitally important -- and it's a fun way to get to know others in your community who share your political passions. Soon we will have a complete list of the candidates who are endorsed by the People For the American Way Voters Alliance. Click here to affirm your membership with People For in one simple step so we can share those endorsements with you.

  3. Be on the front lines to protect voting rights and democracy. We can help you find a way to volunteer in key states on or before Election Day. Sign up here!  

Let's make sure that on November 5, we're tired but elated!

P.S.  Are you doing something new this election year that you've never done before? Do you have a creative idea for energizing people to take action? Let me know and we'll share some of your stories. You could inspire someone else to take the next step — and you could help turn the tide! E-mail me at Kathryn@pfaw.org.

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Washington Post Reports Problems on Election Day Imminent

From today’s Washington Post:

Faced with a surge in voter registrations leading up to Nov. 4, election officials across the country are bracing for long lines, equipment failures and confusion over polling procedures that could cost thousands the chance to cast a ballot.

The crush of voters will strain a system already in the midst of transformation, with jurisdictions introducing new machines and rules to avoid the catastrophe of the deadlocked 2000 election and the lingering controversy over the 2004 outcome. Even within the past few months, cities and counties have revamped their processes: Nine million voters, including many in the battleground states of Ohio, Florida and Colorado, will use equipment that has changed since March.

But the widespread changes meant to reassure the public have also increased the potential for trouble.

We’re pleased to see that the media’s taking seriously the concerns of the voting rights community about the problems that are plaguing the electoral system.  We’ve already seen increased pressure on our overburdened electoral system with the heightened voter turnout during the 2008 primary season – registration processing, machine failures, voter ID requirements, and poll worker training to name a few problems that were documented in the report “Will Problems in Early Primaries Affect the Buckeye State?

People For has developed helpful toolkits for voters where they can find important information like the voter registration deadline, dates for early voting, and the deadline for requesting an absentee ballot.  They’ve also explain what constitutes the proper ID you’ll need at polling precincts on Election Day.  

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"Macaca" Does Minority Outreach

Considering that George Allen's electoral hopes essentially crashed at the moment he called one of his rival's volunteers "macaca" during a campaign event in Virginia back in 2006, how does the Virginia Republican Party think this is a good idea:  

Northern Virginia Republicans, realizing they need to improve their appeal among the region's large ethnic population, will stage a "unity" rally Saturday that they say will draw 1,000 people.

Organizers said the annual rally, which has grown in recent years, is particularly significant this year because ethnic minorities represent an increasingly powerful voting bloc that will help decide which presidential candidate, Sen. Barack Obama or Sen. John McCain, wins the state Nov. 4.

...

[Jim Hyland, chairman of the Fairfax County Republican Committee] said he expects as many as 1,000 supporters to turn out for the event at Edison High School, where former senator George Allen and Reps. Tom Davis and Frank R. Wolf are expected to speak. Former Virginia governor James S. Gilmore III is planning to attend, as is a widely known surrogate from McCain's campaign, organizers said.

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GOP Gearing Up for a Comprehensive Voter Challenge Campaign

Well, I guess some people sit around and think, hey this group of people just lost their homes, why don’t we take their vote too? Civil right groups nationwide are up in arms about a reported Michigan GOP scheme to challenge voters on Election Day using the list of foreclosed homes as the basis for the challenge.

In addition to being a mean-spirited attempt to deny persons in extremely vulnerable states access to the polls, it is also an insufficient ground to challenge a voter’s eligibility!

According to former voting rights litigator J. Gerald Hebert, foreclosure notices may not, in and of themselves, be grounds for election challenges because “people often remain in their homes after foreclosure begins and sometimes are able to negotiate and refinance.”

Thus, implementing such a policy would likely have the effect of disenfranchising large swaths of voters, who would be and are eligible to vote. Additionally, most foreclosures in Michigan were on sub-prime loans, which went at a disproportionally high rate to African Americans at a rate of over 60%. Hmm, let’s look at all the pieces: African American Voters + Suppresion Tactics = same plan, different year.

While it still astonishes me to hear about the wanton depths some people will go to keep “certain” people away from the polls, it’s definitely not the first time we’ve seen deceptive and suppressive tactics used on people of color.

Perhaps most astonishing is the Party’s insistence upon ensuring that election procedures are followed. It is difficult to imagine the challenging of poor people and minorities who are struggling to fight their foreclosures as being evidence that our electoral process is running smoothly!

Foreclosures across the country have reached an all time high, with nearly 1.25 million homes in foreclosure, and it would be not be unlikely to expect challenges of this sort in other states with high foreclosure rates, such as Ohio, Florida, Nevada and Arizona (surprise, surprise — competitive election states!) While deceptive practices and voter intimidation and suppression tactics such as this have been common in federal elections, it is long past time to put an end to this.

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Voting Rights Opponent Appeals to Supreme Court

 As expected, the Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District Number One (NAMUDNO), a public utility district in Travis County, Tex., filed a direct appeal yesterday with the Supreme Court from a unanimous ruling last May by a three-judge federal district court rejecting NAMUDNO's claims that it is exempt from Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) and, in the alternative, that Section 5 is unconstitutional.

People For and a number of other parties intervened as defendants in the district court in order to help defend the constitutionality of Section 5. Section 5 of the VRA requires all or part of 16 states with a history of racial discrimination in voting to have their voting procedures pre-approved, or "pre-cleared," by the Department of Justice or a three-judge federal district court in Washington before they can be changed.

For more information, view People For's statement on the district court ruling. You can also view the district court's ruling here.

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Another Shot At Fair Pay

Via TAPPED, it looks like the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act will be up for another vote in the Senate this month. John McCain has opposed it in the past, and last time it was defeated in a procedural vote. But if Sen. McCain wants to admit his mistake and support the bill now, we’d all welcome his change of heart.

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Can Design Save Democracy?

Proposed AIGA ballot design

The AIGA, a consortium of graphic artists, thinks it just might.

In order to avoid the sort of poor election ballot design that plagued the 2000 election — remember butterfly ballots and hanging chads? — the AIGA has proposed several changes that would make ballots much easier for voters to figure out. (To say nothing of prettier.)

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Olympic Fever at People For

The Olympics begin today -- with some very personal excitement at People For. David Banks, the son of Executive Vice President Marge Baker, is competing on the U.S. Olympic rowing team in Beijing. I know many of us will be up in the wee hours cheering for David and the team, and looking for a glimpse of Marge and her family in the crowd. This year, American viewers of the Olympics can expect to see a lot of ads for our presidential candidates, bringing our domestic politics more noticeably into an event that always strikes me as a complicated mix of internationalist spirit and patriotic rooting for the home team. And here in the U.S. we'll go pretty much straight from the Olympics into the political parties' nominating conventions and into the final sprint toward Election Day.
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Olympic Fever at People For

The Olympics begin today -- with some very personal excitement at People For. David Banks, the son of Executive Vice President Marge Baker, is competing on the U.S. Olympic rowing team in Beijing. I know many of us will be up in the wee hours cheering for David and the team, and looking for a glimpse of Marge and her family in the crowd. This year, American viewers of the Olympics can expect to see a lot of ads for our presidential candidates, bringing our domestic politics more noticeably into an event that always strikes me as a complicated mix of internationalist spirit and patriotic rooting for the home team. And here in the U.S. we'll go pretty much straight from the Olympics into the political parties' nominating conventions and into the final sprint toward Election Day.
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