If you were casting a ballot in South Carolina last Tuesday, your wait to vote may have been four hours. In Florida, it might have been seven. If you were voting in Hawaii, you may have gone to one of the nineteen polling places that ran out of paper ballots. President Barack Obama noted in his victory speech that many Americans waited in long lines and, as he stated, “we have to fix that.”
Just nine days after Election Day, Senator Chris Coons (D-Del.) has taken a first swing at that fix. Coons proposed a bill yesterday that would reform many of the country’s election procedures. His proposed legislation, the Louis L. Redding Fair, Accurate, Secure and Timely (FAST) Voting Act of 2012, would provide federal grants to states that make voting faster and more accessible. The bill includes provisions for same-day registration, early voting, and reducing how long voters must wait at poorly-performing voting facilities.
As Sen. Coons noted in a statement: “Long lines are a form of voter disenfranchisement, a polling place running out of ballots is a form of voter suppression, and making it harder for citizens to vote is a violation of voters’ civil rights.” And these problems at the polls tend to disproportionately affect African American and Latino voters.
The Washington Post points out that it is less a matter of fixing a voting system but more an issue of fixing thousands of voting systems. They note that with Congress, states, and local officials all playing roles, there is no single entity that oversees voting in the country. This may complicate the process of developing solutions.
Nevertheless, it is welcome news that national leaders are focusing on this issue. It was inspiring to see millions of Americans willing to spend hour after hour on line to vote, many of them likely knowing that the lines were an intentional result of plans to prevent them from voting. Every single voter on Election Day should be confident that their ballot will be cast in a timely manner and that their voice will be heard. Anything less is undemocratic -- and unacceptable.
Whether by reaching out to people of color, young people, women, or other key communities, People For the American Way Foundation has been on the ground all across the country these past few weeks getting out the vote.
The VESSELS project of the African American Ministers Leadership Council, which is committed to increasing civic participation in communities that have traditionally experienced disenfranchisement and discrimination, has organized GOTV events in more than thirty cities across the country. From Buffalo to Miami, Las Vegas to Baltimore, and many places in between, VESSELS have been organizing in their communities to get people to the polls. Ms. Ruby Bridges spoke at a rally in New Orleans, while Dr. Ralph Abernathy III took the stage in Cleveland. In other towns, volunteers have organized trips to the polls following Sunday worship services and GOTV concerts.
Youth organizers have also been working hard to turn out the vote. Despite the fact that nearly 85% of young people were not reached out to by either campaign, we know from our Young People For (YP4) Fellows that young people are busy organizing. They are centering their efforts around a campaign called ARRIVE WITH 5, because while every vote is powerful, they know that when they ARRIVE WITH 5 (or more!) friends to polls, the impact of the youth vote is magnified. At Pitzer College in California, YP4 Fellows are organizing an ARRIVE WITH 5 caravan to the polls – providing electric go-cart rides from their campus to the polling station. At Oberlin College in Ohio, student leaders are hosting voter information events, phone banks, and dorm storms. At the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, they sang to get out the vote. Local bands and a cappella groups performed everything from jazz to techno while attendees got excited about making their voices heard on Election Day. And these are just a few of the events YP4 Fellows organized this year, collectively reaching thousands of students across the nation.
People For the American Way Foundation was founded more than three decades ago with a vision of a vibrantly diverse democratic society in which all Americans are encouraged to participate in our nation’s civic and political life. The hard work of PFAWF’s Fellows, VESSELS, and other volunteers this election cycle have helped bring that vision to life in a very real way.
In the last few weeks and months we’ve already seen the Right employ some outrageous dirty tricks to suppress the vote.
The job of election officials should be to make sure every eligible voter who shows up to cast a ballot can do so and have that vote count. But we’ve seen numerous right-wing secretaries of state and county election supervisors instead take it upon themselves to act as partisan operatives, placing their thumb on the scale to benefit their party’s candidates. And right-wing political operatives and activists have been using various tools to confuse, misinform and intimidate voters.
This is just what we’ve seen so far. Who knows what we’ll see in the final days leading up to Election Day and on Election Day itself!
Here are the Top 11, in no particular order:
In addition to the voter suppression tactics on this list, instances keep popping up of voters receiving confusing or incorrect voting information from state voting authorities. We’re not listing it as a dirty trick because there’s no evidence of intent to disenfranchise, the states simply claim incompetence, and these are primarily the same states – run by Republicans – that have just had major changes to voting requirements. But the result for voters is the same, and we’ll let you draw your own conclusions.
And finally, we urge the Department of Justice to keep a close eye on this election, both to prevent voter suppression and to make sure votes are counted properly. There have been widespread problems with certain types of electronic voting machines and vote counting machines reported over several election cycles. In this election, there’s an appearance of severe impropriety in that many voting machines, including many used in the all-important swing state of Ohio, have been provided by a company that is essentially part owned by Tagg Romney as well as some of the largest donors to Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign.
Democracy should be free of the suspicion created by the corporate entanglements of the business interests of candidates, their families or their closest supporters.
Read more about the Right’s campaign to keep millions of Americans from the ballot box here.
And help PFAW overcome the Right’s dirty tricks to STOP Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan and extremist Tea Party candidates at every level with a donation today.
With all the fact checkers focused on campaign speeches and debates, Mitt Romney’s campaign is turning to a new outlet for their lies: poll watcher trainings. In Wisconsin the Romney campaign has been training poll watchers with false information about voter’s rights, according to a ThinkProgress article today. In truth, Wisconsin law makes it easy for eligible voters to cast a ballot, and it's critically important that we don't let the Romney campaign scare any voters away from the polls.
In one egregious example, the training materials indicate that voter IDs must have photos, which is not the case in Wisconsin. ThinkProgress points out other disturbing claims the training materials make, including:
CLAIM: On page 16, entitled “The ONLY Acceptable Forms of ‘Proof of Residency”, the third bullet point says “Any other identification card issued by an employer in the normal course of business and bearing a photo of the cardholder, but not including a business card.” The sixth bullet point also said any college ID card “must include a photo.”
FACT: Wisconsin’s new voter ID law, which would have required these photos in order to vote, was struck down by Wisconsin state judges. It is not in effect for the November 2012 election.
CLAIM: Any “person [who] has been convicted of treason, a felony, or bribery” isn’t eligible to vote. (Page 10)
FACT: [In Wisconsin] Once a person who has been convicted of a felony completes his or her sentence, including probation and fines, that person is eligible to vote.
CLAIM: “If a handicapped voter is unable to come into the polls to vote, an assistant can deliver the ballot to the voter if the CEI verifies the elector’s proof of residency.” (Page 19)
FACT: Under Wisconsin law, the CEI (Chief Election Inspector) does not have to verify proof of residency so long as the voter is registered.
This is not a case of a single training gone awry. These trainings have been held across the state for the past two weeks. This is an instance of Mitt Romney’s campaign repeatedly spreading lies to poll watchers.
In recent months our affiliate People For the American Way Foundation has written about many attempts from the Right at voter suppression – from limiting early voting opportunities to proposing or passing voter ID legislation, purportedly to combat the virtually nonexistent issue of voter fraud.
Romney's efforts to disenfranchise those least likely to support him in Wisconsin is no surprise. Instead, it is just another component of a systemic nationwide effort to deny Americans the right to vote. The Romney campaign knows exactly what it is doing by spreading blatant falsehoods in its training materials – lies likely to cause serious damage to voting rights on Election Day.
Despite the lies of the Romney campaign, voting is easy and accessible. Let's make sure we turn out the vote and make our voices heard in this critical election.
The Supreme Court announced today that it will hear a critical voting rights case next year. Arizona has appealed a 9th Circuit decision that barred the state from requiring proof of citizenship from those registering to vote via a federally-approved registration form. Current federal law allows voters to register via federal form instead of a state-specific form. Those opting to do so must swear under penalty of perjury that they are citizens. Arizona’s law, which is currently stayed, would require voters using that form to jump over an extra hurdle to register, requiring them to show proof of their citizenship, a provision disproportionately affecting low-income and minority voters.
The AP explains:
The ruling applies only to people who seek to register using the federal mail-in form. Arizona has its own form and an online system to register when renewing a driver's license. The court ruling did not affect proof of citizenship requirements using the state forms.
Arizona officials have said most people use those methods and the state form is what county officials give people to use to register. But voting rights advocates had hoped the 9th Circuit decision would make the federal mail-in card more popular because it's more convenient than mailing in a state form with a photocopy of proof of citizenship.
The mail-in card is particularly useful for voter registration drives, said Robert Kengle of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which is representing Native American and Hispanic groups in the case.
The conservative wing of the Supreme Court has been eager to challenge voting rights laws in recent years. In 2008, a 6-3 majority of the court upheld Indiana’s voter ID law, paving the way for suppressive voter ID measures throughout the country. The Court may also hear a challenge to section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which requires federal preclearance for voting rights changes in states and counties with a history of discrimination at the ballot box. Successful court challenges to discriminatory voting law changes this year have shown just how essential that provision still is.
While the composition of the Supreme Court is unlikely to change before these cases are heard, they underscore the importance of federal courts in this election. Not only are federal courts the final protection we have against discriminatory voter suppression laws, the makeup of these courts is on the line in the presidential election. Either Mitt Romney or President Obama could pick up to three Supreme Court Justices and dozens of federal court judges in the next term. Romney has promised to appoint Justices like Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, who have both signaled their hostility to voting rights. If he does, and the Court shifts farther to the right, we could see decades of progress for fair and free elections slip away.
Stumping in Iowa last year, Mitt Romney famously defended the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, declaring, “Corporations are people, my friend.”
But it turns out there’s one group that Romney thinks should be prohibited from spending money to influence elections: teachers’ unions. Speaking at a forum in New York, Romney expressed his wish for one specific campaign finance restriction:
The bigger problem, Romney said, is that "the person sitting across the table from them should not have received the largest campaign contribution from the teachers union themselves ... [It's] an extraordinary conflict of interest and something that should be addressed."
He later added that "we simply can't have" elected officials who have received large contributions from teachers sitting across from them at the bargaining table "supposedly" to represent the interests of children. "I think it's a mistake," Romney said. "I think we have to get the money out of the teachers unions going into campaigns. It's the wrong way for us to go. We've got to separate that."
Romney’s absolutely right that large campaign contributions and expenditures can improperly influence elected officials. But if he’s going to apply that standard to teachers, he needs to apply it to corporations as well.
In March, Pennsylvania’s governor signed one of the most restrictive voter ID laws in the country. One study estimated that the law could impose extra burdens on 700,000 Pennsylvania voters, disproportionately affecting the poor, minorities, students and the elderly.
Andrew Cohen at The Atlantic writes today about one Pennsylvanian in her 80s who is struggling to keep her right to vote, sixty years after casting her first vote for Adlai Stevenson. Cohen quotes a letter that Robin Kane wrote to the voter ID law’s sponsor about her efforts to help her elderly mother, Jaqueline, register to vote in Pennsylvania:
For the past two weeks, my sister and I have been trying to help my mother gather the appropriate documents to get the newly required photo ID. The education campaign had inaccurate information and the rules keep shifting, making it difficult for me to understand and it would have been impossible for my elderly mother to do this without assistance.
First, VotesPA and PennDOT websites said she would need to get a non-driver's photo license. To do so, she would need her social security card; an original birth certificate with a raised seal; two proofs of residency; an application; and an oath that she had no other form of ID. My sister and mother spent two days looking for her birth certificate from 1930. They found my dead grandmother's birth certificate, plus ration cards from World War II, and lots of documents of my father's service during that war. But not her birth certificate.
I returned to the websites to learn that even without a birth certificate, she might be able to get the photo ID if the state Department of Health could confirm her birth. However, my mother was born in NY, not Pennsylvania. So, it turned out, this solution didn't apply to her. Instead, I was directed to seek a new birth certificate from the state of New York. Just when I thought we couldn't possibly get this done in time for her to vote, I learned that there is a new option for people exactly like my mom: the new, Department of State photo id for voting.
It still requires her to have her a social security card or number (which we found); proof of residency; an application; and an oath. And it still requires that my 82-year-old mother will travel by bus to a PennDOT office and hope that she has the stamina to wait in multiple lines to complete the process to get a photo ID that she needs for only this one purpose, ever. But she is determined to do so, if she is able. And she will vote against anyone who sided with you in this effort to suppress legitimate votes.
What this really means is that Jacqueline Kane is one of the lucky ones. She has a family that has the means to be able to help her in this fashion. But think of all the other elderly people out there, who won't have a health aid with them, or who don't have access to a bus, or who don't live in elder-care facilities where such opportunities exist. Those people aren't lazy, either. And yet they clearly face disenfranchisement if this law is permitted to stay in effect.
While Kane and countless others in Pennsylvania struggle to meet the voter ID requirement before election day, it’s still unclear whether the law will take effect in November. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court recently returned a challenge to the law to a lower court, ordering the lower court to halt the law if it’s not convinced the voter ID requirements won’t disenfranchise anybody.
Top Republican officials in Kansas are considering removing President Obama from the ballot at the request of “birther” activists who believe that the president wasn’t born in the United States. Kansas’ Board of Objections, which includes Secretary of State Kris Kobach, Attorney General Derek Schmidt andLt. Gov. Jeff Colyer, haven’t made any decisions yet but they say they’re taking the challenge seriously.
This isn’t Kobach’s first brush with birtherism. It’s also not his first brush with extremism that targets people of color. Kobach, who once worked for the nativist anti-immigrant group FAIR, has been a leader in pushing extreme anti-immigrant laws throughout the country, including draconian measures in Arizona and Alabama.
Kobach is also an informal advisor to Mitt Romney.
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, an informal advisor to Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, said on Thursday he and his fellow members of a state board were considering removing President Barack Obama from the Kansas ballot this November.
Kobach is part of the State Objections Board along with Attorney General Derek Schmidt and Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer, all Republicans. The Topeka Capital-Journal reported that on Thursday the board agreed consider whether to take Obama off the ballot because they said they lacked sufficient evidence about his birth certificate.
“I don’t think it’s a frivolous objection,” Kobach said, according to the Capital-Journal. “I do think the factual record could be supplemented.”
The board is looking at a complaint filed by Joe Montgomery, of Manhattan, Kan., who claimed the Obama is not a natural born U.S. citizen and so is ineligible to be president. The man appears to be part of a group of conspiracy theorists known as “birthers,” who deny Obama’s birth certificate is real.