The Right to Vote

PFAW Delivers 50,000 Petitions Against Electoral College Rigging in Michigan

If you don’t like the outcome, change the rules of the game? Not so fast, PFAW members in Michigan told their elected officials today.

This afternoon PFAW delivered approximately 50,000 petitions against electoral college rigging to a meeting of the Michigan House Committee on Elections and Ethics. The proposed bill (HB 5974) would change Michigan’s process for distributing electoral votes from a winner-take-all system — the standard process in states across the nation — to a system that would split the state’s electoral votes, effectively rewriting the rules to help the GOP presidential candidate. This is a continuation of an effort we saw after the 2012 election in some traditionally blue presidential election states where Republicans control the state government. Not surprisingly, Republicans in states like Texas (38 electoral votes) are not seeking a similar change.

One representative from Grand Rapids told the Associated Press that he believes the public will see this partisan ploy “for what it is… a brazen attempt to rig the political system.”

As many Republican legislators across the country continue to support proposals making it harder for people who traditionally vote Democrat to cast a ballot, this latest push to rig elections in the GOP’s favor may come as no surprise.

But PFAW Regional Political Coordinator Scott Foval, who joined 34 Michigan PFAW members today at a meeting of the state’s House Committee on Elections and Ethics, said that Michiganders won’t stand by while the Republican Party tries to manipulate the election process. “The people are watching, and will hold you as elected representatives accountable for enacting purely partisan and undemocratic legislation,” said Foval.

PFAW

Report: In Key Races, Margin of Victory Came Close to ‘Margin of Disenfranchisement’

In 2012, People For the American Way Foundation published a memo highlighting many of the legislative and administrative tactics states were using to undermine voter participation in elections, all under trumped-up claims of “voter fraud.”

Now according to a new Brennan Center report, recently-enacted restrictive voter laws may have helped tip the scales in the 2014 midterm elections this past Tuesday. A number of states around the country have implemented restrictions to voting, including new voter ID laws, cuts to early voting, and faulty voter purges. These changes have been found to have a negative impact on low-income voters, minority communities and young voters.

As quoted in a Mother Jones article yesterday, report author Wendy Weiser pointed out, "In several key races, the margin of victory came very close to the likely margin of disenfranchisement." One example from the article:

North Carolina Senate: Republican House state speaker Thom Tillis beat incumbent Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan by 48,000 votes.

In 2013, North Carolina enacted a law—which Tillis helped write—limiting early voting and same-day registration, which the Justice Department warned would likely depress minority turnout. During the last midterms in 2010, about 200,000 North Carolinians cast their ballots during early voting days that the state's new voting law eliminated.

To read more about the attack on voters and how you can help fight back, check out The Right To Vote section on our website.
 

PFAW Foundation

Kobach's New Rules Block 20 Percent Of Kansas Voter Registration Applications

In the run-up to the first general election in which Kansans have been required to provide one of a narrow set of “proof of citizenship” documents in order to register to vote, nearly 20 percent of voter registration applications in the state have been rejected or suspended, according to a Kansas political science professor.

University of Kansas professor Patrick Miller told Kansas City’s NPR affiliate last week that a large percentage of these suspended or rejected registrations are from independents, “essentially making the electorate more Republican”:

An even larger group than those who have had ID problems at the polls are those voters who haven’t yet proven U.S. citizenship, another provision of the new law. There are 22,468 voters whose registrations are suspended because they are lacking citizenship documentation, according to the Secretary of State’s office. That’s larger than the population of Prairie Village, a Kansas City suburb.

“This is a big change for Kansas. In 2010, we only rejected .03 percent of voter registration applications,” said Patrick Miller, a University of Kansas assistant political science professor. “Whereas in 2014, we’ve suspended or rejected almost 20 percent. That’s a massive increase.”

Of the nearly 22,468 suspended registrations, 18 percent are Democrats, nearly 23 percent are Republicans and a whopping 57 percent are independents, or unaffiliated. The new law has effectively made the electorate more partisan, Miller said.

“It’s filtering out independents, the swing voters, making proportionately the electorate more Democratic, more Republican,” Miller said. “In Kansas, the effect of this is essentially making the electorate more Republican, given that Republicans have a registration advantage here.”

The new Kansas law was championed by Republican Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who has also been in charge of implementing it. Kobach is facing his own tough reelection battle this year thanks in part to the mess created by his new voting restrictions.

Cross-posted from Right Wing Watch.

PFAW

Voting For The Future Of Voting: Secretary of State Races To Watch

This post originally appeared on Right Wing Watch.

One influential issue at the ballot box this year is the future of how we cast our ballots. In secretary of state races throughout the country, voters will be choosing who runs their elections — and how open those elections are to all voters.

As Republican lawmakers continue to enact news laws aimed at curtailing the rights of voters, secretary of state elections have taken on renewed importance.

We’ve picked three key secretary of state races that we’ll be watching closely Tuesday and added a few more influential races that are also worth keeping an eye on. (And this isn’t even counting states like Florida and Pennsylvania, where the secretary of state is picked by the governor, leaving the gubernatorial elections will have even stronger voting rights implications.)

Kansas

Perhaps the hardest-fought and most-watched secretary of state race this year is taking place in the heavily Republican Kansas. And that’s all because of the national profile and extreme agenda of one man: incumbent Secretary of State Kris Kobach.

When Kobach won his job in 2010, he was already a national figure. After a stint in the Bush Justice Department, Kobach joined the Immigration Reform Law Institute (IRLI) — the legal arm of the nativist anti-immigrant group FAIR — where he worked with lawmakers to craft harsh anti-immigrant measures throughout the country, including Hazleton, Pennsylvania, and Arizona, where he helped write the infamous “show me your papers” law SB 1070. After a failed run for Congress in 2004, Kobach set his sights on his state’s elections office.

Kobach has recently gained a prominent place in national Republican politics, serving as an immigration policy adviser to Mitt Romney and working to insert anti-gay and anti-immigrant language into the 2012 GOP platform.

Kobach won his position handily in 2010, but is facing an unexpectedly tough fight to hold onto it. Part of the reason is because he’s kept up his out-of-state anti-immigrant work: He still holds a position at IRLI and jets around the country advising states and localities that have agreed to be his policy guinea pigs, prompting his critics to complain that he’s not spending enough time in Kansas. And part of it is because he’s brought his activism home, using his platform in Kansas to push some of the most extreme voting restrictions in the country by hyping fears that undocumented immigrants are voting en masse in Kansas.

In 2011, at Kobach’s urging, Kansas passed a restrictive voter ID law that included a requirement that those registering to vote provide a passport, birth certificate, or similar “proof of citizenship" to elections authorities. The proof-of-citizenship provision, which took effect this year, has thrown Kansas voter registration into chaos. Less than one week before the election, 22,394 potential Kansas voters are unable to cast ballots because they had not provided an acceptable form of citizenship documentation. In addition, Kobach has placed an estimated 300-400 voters in a special voting rights “tier” in which they can vote only in federal elections and not in state elections. Kobach has proudly reported that of the 200 people who were placed in this special class of disenfranchised voters in this summer's primary election, only one bothered to show up to cast a half vote.

Kobach is also at the helm of Interstate Crosscheck, a faulty program that claims to identify people who are voting in two states at once but in reality has encouraged states to purge eligible minority voters from their voter rolls.

Kansans became even more leery of Kobach’s priorities this year when he spent $34,000 in taxpayer money trying to keep a Democratic senate candidate, Chad Taylor, on the ballot after he dropped out to make way for the independent challenging Republican Sen. Pat Roberts. Kobach only relented when the state supreme court ordered him to, and even then he tried (unsuccessfully) to find a way around the order.

A recent poll shows Kobach tied with his Democratic challenger, Jean Schodorf.

Ohio

In the presidential swing state of Ohio, the secretary of state is often in the center of national battles over voting rights. Republican John Husted has been no exception.

In the lead-up to the 2012 election, Husted stepped in to break tie votes in Democratic-leaning Ohio counties, allowing those counties to eliminate night and weekend early voting hours... even as Republican-leaning counties expanded their early voting hours. In response to a national outcry, Husted enforced “uniformity” by requiring all counties to bring early voting opportunities down to the lowest common denominator, including cutting off night and weekend voting and eliminating early voting in the three days before the election. When a federal judge ordered Husted to reopen voting in the three days before the election, he flatly refused to comply, saying it would “confuse voters.” Eventually he relented, but as the election approached he appealed the ruling all the way to the Supreme Court.

Since the 2012 election, Husted has kept up his efforts to restrict early voting in 2014, fighting to eliminate the so-called “Golden Week” of early voting — in which voters can register and cast their ballots in one visit — and to cut early voting hours, including on Sundays, a time frequently used by African American churches for get-out-the-vote efforts.

Husted faces a Democrat state Sen. Nina Turner, a major critic of his record on voting rights. Although the two were neck-and-neck in an early poll, a recent poll shows Husted with a significant lead.

Arizona

Before Kansas ushered in its restrictive “proof of citizenship” law, Arizona was already fighting for a similar measure. In 2004, Arizona voters passed Proposition 200, a medley of anti-immigrant and voter suppression measures including a requirement that those registering to vote present one of a narrow set of documents to prove that they are citizens. The Supreme Court struck down the provision in 2013, saying that it was preempted by federal law — but left a loophole, suggesting that Arizona could sue the federal Election Assistance Commission to require that federal voter registration forms used in the state include the extra “proof of citizenship” requirement. So Arizona did just that, joined by Kansas under Kobach.

That case is still working its way through the courts, but it’s left a peculiar situation in Kansas and Arizona where Kobach and his Arizona counterpart Secretary of State Ken Bennett have set up dual-track voting systems in their states in which people who register to vote with a federal form but do not provide additional citizenship documents are allowed to vote in federal elections, but not in state elections. As we noted above, of about 200 Kansans on the special limited-rights voting track in this year’s primary election, just one voted. In Arizona, about 1,500 were put on the limited track, and 21 cast ballots.

Bennett isn’t up for reelection this year — he unsuccessfully sought the Republican nomination for governor — but the race to succeed him will determine the future implementation of Arizona’s restrictive requirements. Republican Michele Reagan sought and won Kobach’s endorsement, boasting that she voted for the infamous anti-immigrant bill that Kobach helped bring to Arizona. In the state senate, Reagan wrote a bill that, among other voting restrictions, would prevent community groups from collecting and delivering mail-in ballots, a method commonly used in voting drives by Latino groups. When an effort to repeal the bill by referendum started to gain steam, Reagan and her fellow Republicans worked to repeal it first, thus allowing the state legislature to bring back parts of the bill in a piecemeal fashion.

Reagan is facing off against Democrat Terry Goddard, a former state attorney general and mayor of Phoenix. Both candidates have said they want tighter disclosure requirements for “dark money” spending by outside groups. But when the Koch-backed 60 Plus Association bought $304,000 in ads attacking Goddard last week, she refused to distance herself from the dark money effort.

Reagan also struggled this week to explain her vote for Arizona’s so-called “birther bill,” which would have required presidential candidates to prove to the secretary of state that they are native-born American citizens.

Other States To Watch: Colorado, New Mexico, Arkansas, Iowa

In Colorado, Republican Secretary of State Scott Gessler — a key Kobach ally and crusader against the supposed scourge of Democratic “organized voter fraud” who last year tried to stop county clerks from sending ballots to voters who had not voted in the the last election — is stepping down this year, having tried and failed to get his party’s gubernatorial nomination. In the race to replace him are Republican El Paso County Clerk Wayne Williams, described by the Denver Post as Gessler’s “lone public ally” among clerks in the ballot controversy, and Democratic attorney Joe Neguse. The two differ on the sweeping elections overhaul Colorado passed last year, which allows same-day voter registration and requires the state to mail a ballot to every voter.

New Mexico’s secretary of state race has incumbent Republican Dianna Duran pitted against Bernalillo County Clerk Maggie Toulouse Oliver, a rising Democratic star. Toulouse Oliver is emphasizing “full participation across a wide spectrum of the electorate” in her campaign, while Durran is accusing her of using “community-organizer, consultant-styled rhetoric.” In a TV ad that doubles as a promotion for right-wing myths about widespread voter fraud, Durran accuses Toulous Oliver of “registering a dog to vote.” In reality, a right-wing activist tried to register his dog to try to prove a point; he was caught and Toulouse Oliver referred his case to the proper authorities.

Earlier this month, the Arkansas Supreme Court struck down the state’s voter ID requirement, a ruling that Secretary of State Mark Martin is vowing to fight. As the case worked its way through the courts, Arkansas voters got conflicting messages from elections officials under Martin’s leadership. He faces a challenge from Democrat Susan Inman.

In Iowa, outgoing Secretary of State Matt Schultz spent $150,000 in taxpayer money in a quest to root out voter fraud in Iowa…and found none. He also conducted a voter roll purge that critics called an attempt to  intimidate Latino voters.” The race to succeed him — between Republican voter ID supporter Paul Pate and Democrat Brad Anderson — is locked in a dead heat.

PFAW

PFAW’s Dolores Huerta Energizes Latino Voters in Colorado and Georgia

With Election Day rapidly approaching, get-out-the-vote outreach is heating up in key states across the country. This week, civil rights legend and PFAW board member Dolores Huerta is busy getting out the vote. She’s on the ground with PFAW staff energizing Latino voters in two critical midterm states: Colorado and Georgia.

Yesterday Huerta spoke at two kick-off events in Colorado for local canvassers going door-to-door to get out the vote. The first event, hosted by NextGen Climate Colorado and PFAW, drew scores of enthusiastic canvassers ready to talk to voters about pressing environmental issues and turn people out to the polls.

Later in the day, she met with Latino volunteers and canvassers gearing up to do voter turnout work in their communities – critical work in a state where the Senate race is tight and every vote counts.

Today Huerta has headed to Georgia with other members of the PFAW team to meet with more local organizers, speak at a rally, and encourage local residents to cast their ballots on Tuesday.

As Huerta said yesterday:

The Latino vote can decide the election, as we have done in other states. We need to elect people who are going to protect us – to protect our health, our safety, and work to pass immigration reform. It’s up to each one of us. We need to contact our friends and families to make sure they vote.

Indeed, Latino voters may prove to be decisive in a number of tight races. In both Colorado and Georgia, as well as in four other states with close Senate races, the Latino portion of the electorate is larger than the polling margin between the candidates. PFAW will continue to be on the ground in these states, working to ensure that Latino voters are informed, engaged, and ready to cast a vote on Election Day.
 

PFAW

Getting Out the Youth Vote in the Midterms

With elections for tight races all across the country just a few days away, People For the American Way Foundation’s Young People For (YP4) program is pulling out all the stops to help young voters get to the polls and cast their vote this November 4.

As overreaching new voter ID laws threaten to stifle the voices of Americans in a number of states, getting out the vote has never been more critical. YP4 Fellows and alumni have been working hard to ensure that students, people of color, women and other underrepresented communities get their equal say in our democratic system. Our 25 YP4 Vote Organizers are spread across the country in 15 states, working to conduct community outreach, voter engagement, and volunteer recruitment to help mobilize their communities to vote.

Throughout this year, YP4 activists have also advocated for resolutions to enfranchise student voters and increased the number of young registered voters by over 2,000 through dozens of trainings and events.

YP4 has dedicated itself this election cycle to helping young leaders make informed and motivated voters out of those who are routinely overlooked by politicians. In a year in which some lawmakers have sought to discourage voter turnout, campaigns like YP4’s ARRIVE WITH 5 initiative, which encourages voters to bring five or more friends to the polls, help shape a government that actually represents the governed.

The midterm election is no time to stay at home. In a campaign season of extremely narrow races, each and every vote has an impact. We can only make our democracy work for everyone when all Americans are encouraged to engage in civic life and realize what a real difference their voices can make.

PFAW Foundation

John Roberts, Calling Strikes and Strikes

Allowing Texas to enforce a voter ID law found to be intentionally discriminatory suggests the "umpire" takes sides.
PFAW Foundation

Fifth Circuit's Voter ID Decision Shows the Attitude of Bush's Judges

What is the public interest in enforcing a voting law that was found to have been passed with the intent to discriminate?
PFAW Foundation

Texas Judge Could Teach the Roberts Court a Thing or Two

A Texas federal judge strikes down that state's restrictive voter ID law as intentionally discriminatory.
PFAW Foundation

New Poll Demonstrates Bipartisan Support to Restore the Voting Rights Act

For nearly half a century, the Voting Rights Act (VRA) has helped protect each American’s right to vote, a founding principle of our democracy. Last year, the 5-4 Supreme Court decision in Shelby County v. Holder gutted a key provision of the VRA and imperiled those hard-won voting rights. But new polling finds that across the board, Americans want to see these protections restored.

The poll, conducted by Lake Research Partners and released this week, finds that Americans believe laws must be in place to ensure that each individual has a voice in our democratic process. More than 8 in 10 voters favor the Voting Rights Act for combatting persistent issues with voting discrimination, including 72 percent of respondents who are strongly in favor of VRA protections. Additionally, over two-thirds of voters from diverse racial, political and geographical backgrounds support restoring the Voting Rights Act and strengthening protections for the right to vote.

The overwhelming response in support of strong voting protections underscores the failure of Congress to listen to the American people. Even in the face of this broad consensus, House Republican leadership has made it clear that protecting the right to vote is not a priority for them.

PFAW

The Roberts Court vs. Ohio Voters

Bad news for early voting in Ohio, thanks to the Roberts Court.
PFAW Foundation

A State-by-State Round-Up of Voting Rights Today

More than a year ago, the Supreme Court dealt a major blow to voting rights when they struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act in their Shelby v. Holder decision. In the wake of this decision, nine states and many other counties that once had to have their voting law changes approved by the federal government before they took effect — what’s known as “preclearance”— no longer have to do so. With the midterm elections rapidly approaching, where does that leave voters in the preclearance states and in other states where legal battles over voting laws are raging?

Yesterday ProPublica published a great round-up of the current landscape of voting rights across the country. Some of the lowlights included:

• Seven preclearance states have announced new restrictions since the Supreme Court rolled back the Voting Rights Act.
• [In 2012], a federal court called Texas's photo ID law [the] “most stringent in the country.” Now, it’s in effect.
• Two months after the Supreme Court ruling on the Voting Rights Act, North Carolina cut early voting and eliminated same-day registration.

ProPublica notes that while glaringly discriminatory barriers like literacy tests are behind us, these legal changes matter a great deal. As voting rights advocates have demonstrated, voter ID laws, limitations on early voting, and voter roll purges disproportionately harm communities of color and other marginalized groups. Rather, Americans agree that no one should be facing barriers to casting a ballot and participating in our democracy.

You can read the full article here.

 

PFAW Foundation

PFAW and Allies Deliver Half a Million Signatures Calling on Congress to Restore the Voting Rights Act

On Wednesday, PFAW joined representatives from a number of organizations similarly concerned with civil rights and the cornerstone of American democracy – the right to vote – on Capitol Hill to present Speaker John Boehner with the signatures of more than 500,000 Americans demanding that Congress move forward in restoring key provisions of the landmark Voting Rights Act.

Today, access to the voting booth has become an increasingly imperiled right for many Americans, thanks to the Supreme Court’s decision last year in Shelby County v. Holder. Across the country, states and localities are making changes to voting laws that make it more complicated and onerous to carry out a fundamental civic duty, especially for ethnic and racial minorities, the elderly, and student voters.

However, the Republican leadership in the House does not seem to share the public’s sense of urgency on compromised voting access. Tellingly, neither Speaker Boehner nor his staff acknowledged the coalition’s attempt to deliver the signatures in-person. The office that he keeps for his congressional district was locked, and knocks went unanswered, shutting out the American people, including his constituents, in the middle of a workday while Congress is in session.

In a press conference following the attempted delivery of the petitions, lawmakers and representatives from the #VRA4Today coalition of more than 50 advocacy groups spoke of the need to strengthen the rights of voters and restore the critical protections of the Voting Rights Act. Marge Baker, executive vice president of People For the American Way, said:

Repairing the damage done by the court majority in Shelby is a critical test of whether Congress can put partisanship behind to protect our democracy. The will of the people is clear: we will not tolerate voting discrimination in our country, we will not turn back the clock.

Joining in this sentiment was House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, who urged his colleagues to support the rights of Americans to participate in their government. “The right to vote is the most fundamental right in a democracy,” he said. “It is the right to have one’s voice heard.”
 

PFAW

Voting Developments in Ohio and Wisconsin Show, Again, Why #CourtsMatter

The past week held both good news and bad news for voting rights, depending on your part of the country. On Friday in Ohio, an appeals court declined to put on hold a ruling that expands early voting in the state, a win for those of us who believe that voting should be fair and accessible for all people. But on the same day, an appeals court gave the okay to Wisconsin’s voter ID law — a law that had been blocked months ago by a federal judge who noted that it disproportionately affects Latino and black communities.

Commentators have noted that instating the new voter ID law in Wisconsin so close to an election could cause real confusion for voters, and advocates are asking for a re-hearing. As election law expert Rick Hasen said, “It is hard enough to administer an election with set rules — much less to change the rules midstream.”

Beyond the practical implications for voters, it’s also important to connect the dots back to how these decisions happened and who was making them. As The Nation’s Ari Berman wrote on Friday night:

[A] panel of Democrat-appointed judges on the Sixth Circuit upheld a preliminary injunction from a Democrat-appointed district court judge striking down Ohio’s cuts to early voting. Two hours earlier, however, a trio of Republican-appointed judges on the Seventh Circuit overturned an injunction from a Democratic judge blocking Wisconsin’s voter ID law.

This is why elections matter. And the courts are increasingly becoming the arbiters of who does and does not get to participate in them. [emphasis added]

PFAW

Court Restores Voting Opportunities for Ohioans

Today, the judicial system worked exactly as intended, protecting Americans' right to vote.
PFAW Foundation

Voter Registration in Ferguson Inspires Rather Than Disgusts

This post was originally published at the Huffington Post. 

On August 9, I don't believe 18-year-old Michael Brown, Jr. woke up in the morning thinking he would not see the evening sun, his family or friends, the end of the day that started with hope and promise. That morning, I don't believe Officer Darren Wilson left for work knowing his tragic encounter with an unarmed young African American male, who he would shoot and kill, would be the spark that ignited the flame that has been slowly burning in the city of Ferguson - the need for change.

In the wake of the fatal police shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown, Jr. in Ferguson, Missouri, community members and civil rights activists are proactively turning pain into power by praying, marching, meeting and yes, registering people to vote -- a move that the leader of the Missouri Republican Party, Matt Wills, said this week was "not only disgusting but completely inappropriate."

What is disgusting is that type of commentary and thinking! What is disgusting is for anyone to say, as Wills did, that "injecting race into this conversation and into this tragedy, not only is not helpful, but it doesn't help a continued conversation of justice and peace."

Is that leader aware or in denial of the Missouri Attorney General's 2013 report on racial profiling which shows that out of 5,384 Ferguson Police Department stops, 4,632 were of African Americans? That's disgusting and "completely inappropriate."

Is he aware or in denial that of the 521 arrests made during the report period, 483 were of African Americans? That out of 2,489 stops for moving violations, 1,983 were of African Americans? Shame on that leader and those who are "disgusted" by the simple act of voter registration drives to bring "light into darkness"!

In the shadow of Michael's death and the ensuing protests, I cannot imagine a more profound, inspiring response than voter registration. Justice and peace are close companions of democracy. Conducting voter registration drives at any time -- but especially at this time in a "sick and tired of being sick and tired" city that had just 12 percent turnout in this year's municipal election, 11.7 percent turnout in 2013, and 8.9 percent in 2012 -- is a critical way to address this as both a personal tragedy and a systemic tragedy.

It is not "disgusting" but deserving of those who live in a place that lacks diversity in local government, from the city council to the school board to the police department.

With deep condolences to the parents of Michal Brown, Jr. -- not wanting to "politicize" his death or exploit a grieving family who is calling for justice for the one who left out on Saturday morning and will never return -- what better way to honor them than by sowing the seeds of long-term, much needed change? Even from where I am in Washington, DC, I feel the urgency of the call for change in the homes, neighborhoods, businesses, and community of Ferguson.

The world has watched the dehumanization of a mother's child, police with military-grade gear tear-gassing protesters, journalists arrested and assaulted, and the response of helplessness and frustration that many community members must feel toward elected officials from City Hall to the halls of Congress. As Simon Maloy from Salon put it, "a week's worth of unrestrained police crackdowns...with the blessing or tacit approval of political leaders...will tend to erode whatever trust one has left in the people in charge."

So those of us who are watching should applaud, not complain about or attack, a community that turns a lack of trust in its elected officials into a movement for change.

We should applaud and not attack an inspiring vision for a different future for the rest of Michael's siblings, family and friends -- one in which the local officials are responsive to the needs of the entire community, and better reflect the community's diversity. Be "disgusted" by the city's racial profiling data. Be "disgusted" by the predicament of "driving while Black." Be "disgusted" by efforts to suppress voter participation, in Ferguson and around the country as some have "dusted off Jim Crow tactics" trying to stand in the way of men and women, youth and elder, unemployed and employed, determined to exercise their most fundamental right as citizens.

As the leader of a national alliance of African American faith leaders, I work every day with people who are often part of the first responders to tragedies like this, who walk with the family, who eulogize the deceased and who also organize, connect, and empower. They know the face of systemic injustices and of elected leaders who want to make it harder, rather than easier, for certain communities to participate in our democracy. To make the leap from pain to a promise of peace is a difficult step, but thank goodness for those who are taking it.

As one St. Louis faith leader said, pointing at a voter registration tent set up on a Ferguson street by a local woman and her daughter: "That's where change is gonna happen."

Believe is my favorite word. I truly believe "a change is gonna come." After the protests end, after the national cameras leave, after the marchers from east to west return to their homes, neighbors, and communities, there will be follow-up, there will be change.

Registering, educating and getting out the vote is not "disgusting" or "completely inappropriate." What is "disgusting" and "completely inappropriate" is not responding effectively, productively, and positively to suppression and oppression.

As I read about the homegoing (funeral) service planned for next week, I pause and pray for the family and people of Ferguson. What next comes to mind for Michael Brown, Jr. and for change in Ferguson, is: be inspired -- register and vote! For Michael's parents, Lesley McSpadden and Michael Brown, Sr. and for change in Ferguson: be inspired -- register and vote! For all those who loved "Big Mike," and all the other unnamed youth who have died to "justifiable" or "legal interventions" by law officers and know that Ferguson deserves change: be inspired -- register and vote for justice and for the fulfilled promise of peace!

PFAW Foundation

Failing to Defend the Right to Vote Is Simply Not an Option

As we work to ensure not only that President Obama receives legislation without undue delay, but also that whatever language he signs protects as many voters as possible from discrimination, it is important to remember those who died a half century ago fighting for this very cause.
PFAW

New Report Reflects Persistence of Voting Rights Violations

While the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA) took a giant leap toward reducing voting discrimination, a wealth of evidence today shows that discrimination at the polls persists. A new report by the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights documents148 separate instances of voting violations since 2000, with each affecting hundreds to thousands of voters.

The report, The Persistent Challenge of Voting Discrimination, came just days before today’s one-year anniversary of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Shelby County v. Holder, which gutted a key provision of the VRA. The litany of voting rights violations detailed therein underscores the need for reform – now.

Key takeaways gleaned from recent examples:

• Racial discrimination in voting remains a significant problem in our democracy. Nearly 50 years after the enactment of the VRA, racial discrimination in voting remains a persistent problem in many places around the country…

• The problem of racial discrimination in voting is not limited to one region of the country. The examples outlined in this report document instances of voting discrimination from 30 states, representing every region of the country…

• Voting discrimination occurs most often in local elections… They often concern the election of city, county or other local elected officials, where many of the contests are nonpartisan.

• Discrimination in voting manifests itself in many ways, and new methods continue to emerge. Voting discrimination occurs today in both overt and subtle forms.

Here are just a handful of the cases in which systematic discrimination threatened to discourage or sideline voters:

• In 2008, the state of Alaska requested preclearance of a plan to remove polling places in multiple Native villages. The state intended to consolidate predominately Alaska Native voting precincts with those of other communities, creating new polling places that were geographically remote and inaccessible by road. Instead of complying with a “More Information Request” by the Department of Justice regarding the proposed changes, Alaska withdrew their submission.

• Between 2004 and 2011, DOJ alleged that five counties and four cities in California had been in violation of Section 203 of the VRA, citing failures to implement bilingual election programs for language-minority voters, as well as failures to translate election-related materials for precincts with large language-minority populations.

• Between 2002 and 2011, multiple school districts and localities in Louisiana proposed redistricting plans that would have eliminated districts in which an African American majority was able to elect the candidate of their choice. 

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights notes that because the study was only able to take into account reported cases, the statistics are likely a conservative estimate of the real magnitude of the problem.

Sadly, discrimination in the electoral process still happens. Moving forward on legislation to update and modernize the VRA would help return a voting voice to Americans who are too often, even today, marginalized.

PFAW

Cleaning Up the Supreme Court's Democracy Mess

This post was originally published at the Huffington Post.

One year ago this week, the Supreme Court's conservative majority struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act and took yet another step toward undermining our democracy. Since then, civil rights leaders have been hard at work trying to clean up the Court's mess.

The Shelby decision was a devastating loss, especially for those who fought to see the original Voting Rights Act enacted. Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, the sole surviving speaker from the 1963 March on Washington and a leader of the 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery, accused the Supreme Court of "stab[bing] the Voting Rights Act of 1965 in its very heart." Civil rights advocates mourned the naïve assumption that Selma had been relegated to ancient history and that racial discrimination in voting went with it. People For the American Way's director of African American religious affairs noted on the day of the decision: "Those who sided with the majority clearly have not been paying attention, reading the paper, attending community meetings, living in America."

Indeed, anyone who has been paying attention knows that voting discrimination is far from ancient history. A new report by the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights found nearly 150 documented instances of voting rights violations since 2000, with each case affecting between hundreds and tens of thousands of voters.

Happily, reform is finally underway in the Senate. On Wednesday, the Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on legislation to put the VRA back together again. It's a critically important first step in getting our country's laws back to where they need to be on voting rights protections. But so far House Republican leadership has refused to move forward. Maybe they think that if they pretend a problem doesn't exist, they won't have to fix it.

The push for voting rights protections isn't the only effort underway to clean up the mess the Supreme Court has made of our democracy. With the 2012 election the most expensive in history, this week the Senate Judiciary Committee is considering a proposed constitutional amendment to overturn cases like Citizens United v. FEC, the infamous 2010 ruling that paved the way for unlimited corporate political spending. Like Shelby, Citizens United was a contentious 5-4 decision with a strong dissent. Also like Shelby, it set our democracy back dramatically. Citizens United let corporate bank accounts overwhelm the voices of everyday Americans. Shelby made it easier for state and local governments to create barriers to voting.

But Americans know that the answer to attacks on our democracy isn't despair -- it's action. Sixteen states and more than 550 cities and towns have called for a constitutional amendment to get big money out of politics like the one moving forward in the Senate, and that number is growing rapidly.

National leaders are also speaking out. President Obama has expressed his support for an amendment to overturn Citizen United multiple times since the decision. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens are just a handful of other high-profile amendment supporters. And earlier this month, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg did not hold back her disdain for the recent democracy-harming decisions coming from the Supreme Court's majority: "Like the currently leading campaign finance decision, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, I regard Shelby County as an egregiously wrong decision that should not have staying power."

The Supreme Court has made some very bad calls when it comes to protecting the rights of all Americans to participate meaningfully in our political system. But Justice Ginsburg is right: these wrong-headed decisions shouldn't have staying power. And if the American people have anything to do with it, they won't.

PFAW