The Right to Vote

The Smoking Gun in the Voting Rights Case

Scalia's comments during oral arguments show that he was guided by personal ideology, not the law.
PFAW

Representative John Lewis: "There's other bridges to walk across"

The Supreme Court's ruling in Shelby is a setback, or as Representative Lewis put it to ABC's Jeff Zeleny earlier today: "What the Supreme Court did was to put a dagger in the very heart of the Voting Rights Act of 1965." But it's also part of the voting rights bridge that we must continue fighting to get across.
PFAW Foundation

In Voting Rights Decision, Roberts Rewrites the 15th Amendment

The Court usurps Congress' constitutional authority and undercuts the Voting Rights Act.
PFAW Foundation

Supreme Court Upholds Voting Rights in Arizona Proof-of-Citizenship Case

The Supreme Court issued 7-2 ruling in favor of voting rights today, finding that a restrictive Arizona law requiring that voters show proof of citizenship when registering by mail is preempted by federal law. The court upheld Arizonans’ right to register to vote by mail using a federal form created by the 1993 “Motor Voter” law, which allows voters to certify under oath that they are citizens. Arizonans will not have to submit information that the federal form does not require.

PFAW Foundation joined in an amicus brief in the case, Arizona v. Inter Tribal Council of  Arizona, on behalf of its Young People For program.

The Arizona law, which would have required voters to present one of a narrow set of documents proving citizenship in order to register to vote, would have impeded the voting rights of countless Arizonans. As Demos put it:

Many eligible citizens do not possess these narrow forms of documentation required by the law and, of those who do, many  do not carry them while conducting their daily affairs.  Community-based registration efforts overwhelmingly rely on approaching individuals who did not plan in advance to register at that time or location and who are thus unlikely to be carrying a birth certificate, passport, or other documentation.

Even when a potential registrant does happen to be carrying one of the required documents, logistical hurdles—ranging from an inability to copy documents on the spot to an unwillingness to hand over sensitive identification documents to registration drive volunteers—greatly hinder the ability of community-based organizations to register people in Arizona.

The Supreme Court has yet to issue a decision in the other major voting rights case on its docket this term, the constitutionality of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.

PFAW

Calling Out Corbett: PFAW Press Conferences in Pennsylvania

The pushback against Pennsylvania Republicans’ electoral vote-rigging bill continues to grow, as more and more public officials and average voters call on Governor Corbett to dump the hyper-partisan scheme plan.

On Monday, People For the American Way held a press conference in Philadelphia with state Senator Anthony Williams and a representative from the office of U.S. Rep. Robert Brady, who said that he fears this legislation represents “more of the same” partisan tactics that we saw with last year’s voter ID bill.

Yesterday in the state capitol of Harrisburg, state Auditor Eugene DePasquale and state Treasurer Rob McCord added to the calls for Corbett to put aside partisan politics and “stand up and say, ‘This isn’t right.’” McCord warned that the bill would mean millions in lost economic activity, and called it a “shame.” DePasquale said that the bill would greatly reduce the influence of Pennsylvania in national elections by limiting the number of electoral votes in play to 3 or 4, similar to small states like Wyoming. “When was the last time you saw a major policy announcement from a president in Wyoming?,” he asked.

With the chorus of voices against the bill growing ever louder, from both Democrats and Republicans, it’s becoming harder and harder for Corbett to maintain his tacit support for this scheme. If Pennsylvanians keep speaking out against this bill, Corbett won’t be able to act like he can’t hear us for much longer. 

 

PFAW

A Wake-Up Call for Governor Corbett: GOP Lawmaker Opposes Electoral College Plan

We already knew from our canvassing these past few weeks that the Pennsylvania GOP’s electoral vote-rigging plan is unpopular with Pennsylvania voters. Now, thanks to a People For the American Way video, we know that this opposition isn’t just coming from the voters -- it’s also coming from crucial Republican state senators. At a town hall meeting in New Hope, state Sen. Charles McIlhinney told constituents that he thought the electoral college scheme, sponsored by Sen. Dominic Pileggi, was “poorly thought out” and that he wouldn’t support the bill. Senator McIlhinney pointed out that it would “set Pennsylvania back” by diminishing its significance in the electoral college, putting its influence on a level with smaller states.

This should be a wake-up call for Pennsylvania governor Tom Corbett. He’s already facing a tough re-election battle, and it’s clear that this electoral college scheme is not a winner for him -- the comments from Sen. McIlhinney are just further evidence of this.  But clearly, it seems like Gov. Corbett thinks staying silent on the issue will mean that no one will notice. Unfortunately for him, it doesn’t work like that: we know his silence reveals his tacit support for the plan, and the longer he leaves it, the clearer it becomes. Governor Corbett has been hiding from his own party’s policies for a while now, but with these comments from Sen. McIlhinney -- a prominent member of the committee that would be the first to consider the bill -- the reality’s catching up with him. It’s time to either come out and support the bill or admit, like Sen. McIlhinney did, that his party got it wrong on this one.

Watch our video of the Senator’s comments here:

PFAW

Stepping Up The Pressure: PFAW Press Conference With Joe Sestak in PA

Over the past few weeks, People For the American Way has been busy in Pennsylvania, at the front lines of the fight to stop a Republican attempt to rig the electoral college. We’ve delivered over 100,000 petitions to Governor Tom Corbett; hosted a press conference with African American ministers against the scheme; and organized canvassing trips in key state senate districts.  

Now, we’re stepping up the pressure again. Today in Media, Pennsylvania, People For the American Way hosted a press conference with former congressman Joe Sestak to demand answers from the scheme’s sponsor, state Sen. Dominic Pileggi. Admiral Sestak denounced the scheme, and called on Senator Pileggi to end his campaign to rig the election. We also heard from the Delaware County Democratic Party Chairman David Landau, who called on the Republican co-sponsors like state Sen. Edwin Erickson to remove their names from this bill. Finally, we heard from our own Robert Weaver, who talked about the “enormous dissent” we’ve been hearing about from these state senators’ constituents.

Again and again, we’ve heard Senator Pileggi and the Republicans try to avoid criticism of this bill simply by saying that the bill isn’t moving right now. That isn’t good enough. We know, and Joe Sestak knows, and even Dominic Pileggi knows the reality: a bad bill that’s not moving is still a bad bill, and it can start moving anytime. Senator Pileggi and his co-sponsors need to stop trying to hide from the debate and either stand up for this bill or remove it from consideration, instead of just waiting until they think Pennsylvania voters aren't looking. As Rob said today, we will not stop until we know that Pennsylvanians’ electoral votes are safe.

PFAW

You won't believe what's in the OH GOP's budget...

Not content simply to pass a definitively right-wing budget, in recent weeks the extremist Republicans in control of Ohio’s legislature tacked on a slew of amendments to a substitute budget bill that read like a Radical Right Christmas wish list, including:

  • Cracking down on student voting -- Republicans are attacking young people’s ability to cast a ballot by threatening state universities and trying to discourage them from supplying the proof-of-address documentation needed by students to get a voter ID! They’re going after universities’ revenue by requiring that any students to whom the schools provide utility bills or other proof be charged significantly less expensive in-state tuition -- a massive deterrent to keep schools from providing these forms to would-be voters.
  • War on women -- The bill would block Planned Parenthood from receiving federal family-planning dollars … You might be thinking, “Ah, that old chestnut… will right-wing attacks on women’s health ever cease?” Well, if you live in Ohio, the answer is clearly, “not this year!”
  • Attacking sex ed & teachers -- A provision about sex education opens teachers up a $5,000 fine and lawsuits from parents if their instruction “promotes gateway sexual activity.” Translated, this means that sex education teachers now face stiff penalties for teaching certain evidence-based lessons about health care, and for providing materials or information about contraception or several other topics the Religious Right doesn’t like (ie. doing their job).

If you live in Ohio, please help STOP this budget bill by calling now and urging your state representative to OPPOSE Sub. H.B. No. 59. Click here to find your legislator.

PFAW

Keeping the Pressure On: PFAW Canvassing in Pennsylvania

This weekend, our Pennsylvania volunteers had their best canvassing trip yet- and not just because of the beautiful weather. 20 volunteers met in State Senator Lloyd Smucker’s district, spending their Saturday afternoon talking to 700 Pennsylvanians and collecting signatures for our petition to Republican lawmakers in Pennsylvania. We weren’t surprised to hear the same things we hear every time we talk to Pennsylvania voters about the Republican electoral college plans: shock, confusion, and disappointment that Republican lawmakers like Senator Smucker are trying to make Pennsylvania less important to national elections.

Again and again, we’ve seen these Republican lawmakers avoid discussion of this bill by saying it isn’t a priority- but we know this is just another attempt to pull the wool over voters’ eyes. We know they’re trying to get these plans through quietly and without debate. And we know that Pennsylvanians won’t stand for it. We’re keeping the pressure on, and we need your help to do it. On April 10, we're delivering more than 100,000 signatures of PFAW supporters against the electoral college rigging at the Pennyslvania State Capitol Rotunda. If you haven't done so already, it's not too late to add your name to our petition to Republican lawmakers in PA and other states telling them to abandon this effort. Or donate to support our campaign here.

PFAW

Fighting for Voting Rights, Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

My family is from Selma, Alabama. My grandmother, aunt and mother (both teenagers at the time) were on the Edmund Pettus Bridge on March 7, 1965, what the history books now record as Bloody Sunday. Due to the terrible violence that occurred, my grandmother, a nurse, was called to the hospital to help treat the numerous people who had been injured, one of them being Civil Rights icon Congressman John Lewis.

I grew up hearing my family members’ Civil Rights Movement stories, continually in awe of their courage and determination. They had to deal with fire hoses, dogs, and police batons in order to receive what my generation now takes for granted, the right to vote.

Yesterday, nearly 50 years after Bloody Sunday and the passage of the Voting Rights Act, I stood outside the Supreme Court with many others who chanted, sang and rallied to protect the VRA’s Section 5. Yes, the dogs and the cattle prods are gone, but the spirit to oppress some of America’s citizens remains.

It saddens me that we still have to fight for our right to vote, and that there are those who are still trying to deny others their rights at the ballot box. But I was encouraged by the number of people who were outside the Supreme Court yesterday,  people of all races and creeds and ages who are dedicated to and invested in protecting the right to vote! Together we sent a message to the Justices and to the nation that Section 5 is still needed, because while our country has come a long way from that grainy black and white footage of people getting beaten while fighting for their rights, discrimination and attempts to disenfranchise still exist, especially in the states covered by Section 5.

It’s often said that we are standing on the shoulders of giants, but in my case, I am truly a descendant of Civil Rights heroes whose names will never be in the history books. They took a risk, put their lives on the line, not just for themselves but for me, someone who would not be born for another 15 years. When I hear my grandmother at 86 years old say that she will put on her marching shoes if she has to, then I know that I have no choice but to put on mine. I was proud to be at the rally to protect Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act yesterday. I was proud to honor the legacy of my family and anyone else who participated in the Movement. I was proud to continue the fight to ensure that no one is denied the right to vote.

PFAW Foundation

Scalia Completely Rewrites ... Everything

Scalia ignores constitutional text, says Congress didn't really mean to pass the Voting Rights Act, and calls the VRA a "racial entitlement."
PFAW Foundation

We Can’t Afford to Lose the Voting Rights Act

Tomorrow morning, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in a challenge to a pivotal section of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The part of the VRA that’s under attack is Section 5, which requires the Justice Department or a federal court to approve changes to voting laws in states and counties that have a history of racially discriminatory voting practices before those laws can go into effect. The lead-up to last year’s elections, in which state legislatures passed a slew of discriminatory voter suppression measures, showed just how much Section 5 is still needed.

Today, People For the American Way Foundation released a new report from Senior Fellow Jamie Raskin detailing the history and continued need for Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act and what progressives can do to ensure equal voting rights in the years to come. Raskin writes:

A decision against Section 5 preclearance or the Section 4(b) coverage formula would likely spell the political demise of the Voting Rights Act, even if it is theoretically salvageable by an updated coverage formula or an even more relaxed preclearance procedure.  Our paralyzed, deadlocked Congress will never come to terms on how to revive and renovate it if the Court knocks it down or puts it into a tiny little straitjacket.

Win, lose, or draw, progressives should reckon with the prospect that the days of this landmark statute might be numbered.  This means that we need to take up an ambitious democracy and voting rights agenda of our own for the new century, this time with explicitly universalist aims and general terms that deal with the complex suppression of democracy today.  The voting rights struggles of the new century relate not just to old-fashioned racial trickery in Alabama and Texas but new-age vote suppression in Florida, Pennsylvania and Ohio; they involve not just traditional vote dilution in the South but the increasingly untenable disenfranchisement of 600,000 Americans in Washington, D.C and 3.6 million Americans in Puerto Rico.

Also today, PFAW Foundation’s Director of African American Religious Affairs, Minister Leslie Watson Malachi, wrote in the Huffington Post about the challenges that people of color still face at the ballot box, nearly half a century after the passage of the Voting Rights Act:

In 2011 and 2012 I organized faith leaders from 22 states in combating voter suppression efforts and turning out the vote among specific communities. This election cycle offered many powerful reminders why Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act is still needed. Texas, for example, passed a discriminatory voter ID law that would have required voters to present government-issued photo ID at the polls, which would have especially burdened poor people and people of color. But because Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act still stands, this law was defeated and the right to vote was protected. Reverend Simeon L. Queen of Houston, Texas, a comrade in the struggle, reflected: "It is inexcusable that nearly 50 years after the passage of the Voting Rights Act, politicians are still trying to make it harder for African Americans in Texas to vote. I wish the Voting Rights Act wasn't still necessary, but thank the Lord it's still there."

Since 1980 I have been fortunate to work with men and women, some who started before I was born, to fight for laws protecting the right to vote. Despite the commitment of those who devoted their lives to voter protections, the right to vote remains fragile for many Americans. From voter ID laws to restrictions on early voting, as a country we cannot allow anyone to say "this isn't a problem anymore" to communities who are experiencing, as others witness, those problems at the polls each election. 

PFAW Foundation

Voting Discrimination: Still an Obstacle to Democracy

This week, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Shelby County v. Holder, a case challenging the protections of the Voting Rights Act. Based on a simple idea, one that is enshrined in our Constitution, the right to vote cannot be denied on the basis of race. It is considered by the Department of Justice to be "the most effective civil rights statute enacted by Congress," prohibiting voting discrimination in order to protect the right to vote for all Americans.

When President Lyndon Johnson signed into law the Voting Rights Act of 1965, he called the vote "the most powerful instrument ever devised by man for breaking down injustice" and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called it the "foundation stone for political action." I call it a sacred right!

The centerpiece of that Act and the case is Section 5. It requires that all or portions of sixteen states with a history and a contemporary record of voting discrimination seek and gain approval federally before they put any changes in election practices into effect. Preclearance as it is known is intended to stop voter disenfranchisement before it can start.

In 1970 and again in 1975, Congress voted to extend the Voting Rights Act. At that time US Representative Barbara Jordan, my (s)hero and co-founder of People For the American Way, sponsored legislation that broadened the provisions of the Act to include Hispanic Americans, Native Americans, and Asian Americans.

As recently as 2006, Congress voted overwhelmingly to reauthorize Section 5 of the law with some critics then and now misguidedly asserting that it overstepped its boundaries, that voting discrimination really isn't a problem anymore, or that voting discrimination in other parts of the country somehow delegitimizes Section 5. I'd like to invite those critics to hear directly from people across the country who devoted countless hours to ensuring that marginalized communities were able to vote this past election.

In 2011 and 2012 I organized faith leaders from 22 states in combating voter suppression efforts and turning out the vote among specific communities. This election cycle offered many powerful reminders why Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act is still needed. Texas, for example, passed a discriminatory voter ID law that would have required voters to present government-issued photo ID at the polls, which would have especially burdened poor people and people of color. But because Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act still stands, this law was defeated and the right to vote was protected. Reverend Simeon L. Queen of Houston, Texas, a comrade in the struggle, reflected: "It is inexcusable that nearly 50 years after the passage of the Voting Rights Act, politicians are still trying to make it harder for African Americans in Texas to vote. I wish the Voting Rights Act wasn't still necessary, but thank the Lord it's still there."

Since 1980 I have been fortunate to work with men and women, some who started before I was born, to fight for laws protecting the right to vote. Despite the commitment of those who devoted their lives to voter protections, the right to vote remains fragile for many Americans. From voter ID laws to restrictions on early voting, as a country we cannot allow anyone to say "this isn't a problem anymore" to communities who are experiencing, as others witness, those problems at the polls each election.

President Johnson called the vote "a powerful instrument," Dr. King the "foundation stone," and for me it's a sacred right for breaking down injustice, removing obstacles to democracy and empowering the dis-empowered. When discriminatory laws threaten Americans' fundamental right to vote, we are called to utilize every tool available. Across the country we have seen the importance of courts in successfully fighting back against voter suppression efforts. Section 5 remains a key to protecting communities, my community from future attempts at disenfranchisement. Hopefully, prayerfully, the Supreme Court will realize this.

 This post originally appeared at the Huffington Post.

 

PFAW Foundation

Missouri Brings Voter ID Back from the Dead

Despite a veto and court rulings against the voter ID bill, Missouri’s state legislature continues this effort to disenfranchise thousands of voters.
PFAW

Election Protection: Our Broken Voting System and How to Repair It

“Although the time in our history has passed when certain Americans were excluded by force of law from electoral participation, endemic yet solvable problems continue to plague our system of elections and prevent too many eligible voters from fully participating in our democracy.”
PFAW Foundation

Ensuring that Desiline Victor, and all Americans, Get to Have Their Say at the Polls

In his State of the Union address last night, President Obama used his bully pulpit to ensure that the critically important issue of voting rights is securely on the agenda in 2013. Calling it “our most fundamental right as citizens,” the President announced the formation of a non-partisan commission focused on improving our country’s system of voting.

One woman who was undoubtedly pleased to hear this news was 102-year-old Desiline Victor of Miami, seated in the House visitors’ gallery, who had waited in line for hours to cast a ballot in November’s election.  President Obama noted that the country should follow her determined example: “As time ticked by, her concern was not with her tired body or aching feet, but whether folks like her would get to have their say,” he said.

After all, that is the issue at the core of a working democracy: whether folks get to have their say. 

Leading up to the election, our affiliate People For the American Way Foundation’s leadership programs witnessed and stood up to efforts across the country – ranging from unnecessary registration obstacles to early voting restrictions – to suppress the votes of those who have traditionally been disenfranchised: communities of color, low-income communities, and youth.  In the past two years alone, more than 65 suppressive voter ID bills were introduced in 34 states.

That’s why it is important that President Obama made it clear last night that he is serious about addressing the problems in our election system.  With increased access to early voting and an end to discriminatory voter ID laws, we can ensure that all Americans “get to have their say” at the polls.

PFAW

When Everything Is Partisan, Just Do What's Right

I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised when Republicans started complaining that President Obama's second inaugural address was too "partisan" and lacked "outreach" across the aisle. But who was left out? What did they find "partisan"? The acknowledgement of climate science? The idea that women should receive equal pay for equal work? The nod to civil rights struggles of our past and present? The hope that no American will have to wait in hours-long lines to vote? The defense of the existence of a social safety net? The determination to offer support to the victims of a historic storm and to find real answers to the epidemic of mass shootings? In the not-too-distant past, none of these would have raised eyebrows except on the very, very far right. But I guess that's the point: what was once the radical fringe is now in control of the Grand Old Party.

In many ways, Monday's inauguration ceremony was a Tea Party Republican's nightmare-come-true. The openly gay poet. The Spanish sprinkled into the benediction. The one-two-three punch of "Seneca Falls to Selma to Stonewall." It was the embodiment of all that the far right has tried to wall itself off from as the country begins to include more and more of the real America in its democracy.

What would have pleased this faction, short of winning the presidential election? I imagine they would have preferred a paean to the America of their imaginations -- where the founders were flawless and prescient about the right to bear assault weapons and the Constitution was delivered, amendments included, directly from God; where there are no gay people or only silent ones, where the world is not getting warmer; where there have been no struggles in the process of forging a more perfect union. This, of course, would have been its very own kind of political statement -- and one that was just rejected by the majority of American voters.

If embracing America as it is rather than as a shimmery vision of what it never was constitutes partisanship, and if it turns off people who cling to that dishonest vision, let's have more of it.

This post originally appeared at the Huffington Post.

PFAW

GOP Electoral College Scheme Advances in Virginia

On Wednesday, Republican state senators in Virginia cleared the first hurdle in their push to fundamentally change how state Electoral College votes are allocated.
PFAW

PFAW Foundation Submits Amicus Brief in Critical Voting Rights Case

Yesterday, People For the American Way Foundation , on behalf of its Young People For program, joined with Demos and several other civil rights groups to submit an amicus brief to the Supreme Court urging it to reject a new requirement in Arizona that requires people to show certain documents proving citizenship when they register to vote. As Demos explains in its press release about the brief, this requirement could severely hamper grassroots voter registration efforts:

The brief filed today details the real-world negative impact that Arizona’s extreme documentation requirements have on the ability of community-based voter registration organizations to register eligible citizens to vote, particularly through registration drives.  Proposition 200 requires that a potential registrant produce a post-1996 Arizona driver’s license, a current U.S. passport, a birth certificate, naturalization documents, or selected Bureau of Indian Affairs and tribal identification documents.  Many eligible citizens do not possess these narrow forms of documentation required by the law and, of those who do, many  do not carry them while conducting their daily affairs.  Community-based registration efforts overwhelmingly rely on approaching individuals who did not plan in advance to register at that time or location and who are thus unlikely to be carrying a birth certificate, passport, or other documentation.  Even when a potential registrant does happen to be carrying one of the required documents, logistical hurdles—ranging from an inability to copy documents on the spot to an unwillingness to hand over sensitive identification documents to registration drive volunteers—greatly hinder the ability of community-based organizations to register people in Arizona.  In short, community-based voter registration efforts are made more difficult, less effective, and more expensive as a result of Proposition 200’s citizenship documentation requirements.

The case in question, Arizona v. Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, is one of two critical voting rights cases that the Supreme Court will hear this year. The Court will also be considering a challenge to Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which requires states and counties with a history of voting discrimination to get any changes to voting laws pre-cleared by the Justice Department or a federal court before they can go into effect. That law has helped to deflect numerous challenges to voting rights, including in the lead-up to the 2012 election. In fact, the Arizona law at issue in this case is a perfect example of why our federal voting rights protections should be expanded rather than eliminated.

Young People For fellows across the country worked last year to register and get young voters to the polls.

PFAW Foundation