The Right to Vote

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

Martin Luther King, Citizens United and Driving Voters to the Polls

On a weekend that features both the third anniversary of the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United v. FEC and Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, it is a timely moment to "take the temperature" of our democracy. Dr. King once said, "So long as I do not firmly and irrevocably possess the right to vote, I do not possess myself." What is the status of that right today? Or, to pose a broader question: what is the status of our democracy?

In the past year I worked with a network of 1,100 African American churches and 7,000 pastors to educate, motivate, and turn out our congregations and communities on Election Day. We facilitated hundreds of thousands of voter registrations, made more than a million contacts and even transported over 27,000 people to the polls. While we are proud of the work accomplished this year, it is clear to me -- and to many who facilitated get out the vote work -- that our elections aren't working equally well for everyone. More often than not, those for whom they are not working are people of color.

One of the reasons is that Americans -- and especially Americans of color -- are questioning whether our voices can be heard over the noise of massive corporate and special interest political spending in the wake of Citizens United. In the last election, more than 1.3 billion dollars of outside money flooded the airwaves, and voters understand that politicians are paying close attention.

Last year the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law conducted a national survey on American's perceptions of Super PAC spending and the implications for our political system. An overwhelming majority of respondents (77 percent) agreed that members of Congress are "more likely to act in the interest of a group that spent millions to elect them than to act in the public interest." Americans are seeing that excessive special interest spending is overwhelming the voices and priorities of individual voters -- as well they should. I believe that this is especially true for people of color, many of whom are starkly aware of the reality of the lack of power, influence and opportunities often available to us politically.

And as Colorlines' Brentin Mock pointed out, that's all before we even set out to vote. Faith leaders on the ground all across the country who I worked with witnessed the effects of voter suppression tactics such as voter ID laws and early voting restrictions. We all remember seeing photographs of voters standing in six hour long lines until 2:00 am on election night, waiting to cast their ballots even after the presidential election had been called. And a number of new suppressive laws may go into effect this year.

A democracy in which Americans do not have a fair opportunity to have their voices heard -- whether through discriminatory voter suppression tactics or through the overwhelming influence of big money on the political system -- is not a democracy working as it should. It is a democracy in need of healing.

That's why organizers around the country are speaking out this weekend to bring attention to the interrelated attacks on our democracy today. Under the banner of Money Out/Voters In, organizers are hosting "Day of Action" events in more than 76 cities in 33 states. Some of the same faith leaders who devoted their time and energy to GOTV efforts are leading teach-ins this weekend about the dual threats of voter suppression and unlimited corporate and special interest money in politics. As African American faith leaders who value the ideals of justice and fairness, we believe it is our responsibility to advocate for a system that puts electoral power in the hands of everyday Americans rather than corporations.

Perhaps Elder Lee Harris of Jacksonville, Florida -- one of the African American faith leaders organizing voting efforts this fall -- put it best: "We've come too far and fought too hard to let anybody take away our vote again."

This post was originally published at the Huffington Post.

PFAW Foundation

GOP Electoral College Power Play Tests Our Democracy

The GOP proposal to game the Electoral College in key blue states represents a massive escalation in the GOP war against electoral democracy.
PFAW

Thank You from PFAW Founder Norman Lear

Please take a moment to watch this end-of-the-year thank you message for you and all of PFAW's wonderful supporters around the world from PFAW founder Norman Lear:

year end donate

PFAW

Looking Back at Voting Rights in 2012

The Senate Judiciary Committee is holding a hearing this morning on “The State of the Right to Vote After the 2012 Election.” 2011 and 2012 saw an influx of state laws and administrative decisions designed to make it harder for certain groups of people to vote, actions that we documented in our 2011 report “The Right to Vote Under Attack” and in a 2012 update.

People For the American Way Foundation’s leadership programs were active in combatting voter suppression efforts across the country by getting out the vote among targeted groups. PFAW Foundation’s Young People For program worked with campus leaders across the country to mobilize over 22,000 young voters. And PFAW Foundation’s African American Ministers Leadership Council worked with African-American clergy in 22 states to facilitate 400,000 voter registrations and transport over 27,000 people to the polls.

Minister Leslie Watson Malachi, Director of African American Religious Affairs, submitted testimony [pdf] for today’s hearing about AAMLC’s voting rights work. She wrote:

Across the country, restrictions on voting led to confusion and discouragement among voters. But they also were a powerful motivator, especially for those of us who lived and fought through the Civil Rights Movement. As Elder Lee Harris of Mt. Olive Primitive Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Florida, put it, “We’ve come too far and fought too hard to let anybody take away our vote again.” Our task was to reach out to as many voters as we could to educate them on what they needed to vote and to make sure they got to the polls and stayed there.

Minister Malachi also emphasized the importance of the Voting Rights Act, which will be reviewed by the Supreme Court next year:

In the end, our efforts to educate and organize can only go so far. Equally important in the effort to maintain the right to vote has been the role of state and federal courts, where Americans can turn when powerful forces seek to deprive them of their right to vote. Federal courts play a particularly important role in protecting the guarantees set forth in the Voting Rights Act. From Ohio to Florida to Pennsylvania to South Carolina to Texas, the courts were critical in tamping down efforts to suppress the votes of African Americans and other targeted groups. As the Supreme Court prepares to review Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, this year offered us many powerful reminders that the preclearance provisions of the VRA are still relevant and still vitally necessary. In August, when a federal court struck down Texas’ new voter ID requirement, Rev. Dr. Simeon L. Queen of Prairie View, Texas, offered these words:

“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. African Americans in Texas have struggled throughout our history to exercise all of our rights as citizens, including the right to vote without unnecessary restrictions meant to discourage and disenfranchise. Today, thanks to the Voting Rights Act, a major threat to that effort has been defeated.”

You can read Minister Malachi’s full testimony here [pdf].

 

PFAW Foundation

Restrictions on Early Voting and Voter Registration Used for Partisan Gain

Florida members of the African American Ministers Leadership Council said they were "appalled but not surprised" by the report and the claims that the restrictions exclusively targeted minority voters.
PFAW Foundation

Young People For Got Out the Youth Vote This November

People For the American Way Foundation’s Young People For program was on the ground all across the country these past few months helping young people get out the vote. These efforts paid off: one in two Americans ages 18-29 voted this Election Day, making up 19 percent of the total electorate – an increase from 2008.

Here is a great video telling the story of how this outreach work happened:

This work was centered around a campaign called ARRIVE WITH 5, which encouraged youth, people of color, women, seniors and persons with disabilities to become active participants in the electoral process. ARRIVE WITH 5 asked voters to not only pledge to vote on Election Day, but to list five people they were committed to bringing to the polls with them:

All in all, YP4 helped campus organizers mobilize over 22,000 voters and collected 10,000 voting pledges through the ARRIVE WITH FIVE campaign.

 

PFAW Foundation

A First Swing at Fixing the Broken Election System

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.

PFAW

Supreme Court to Review Voting Rights Act

A lynchpin of protecting the right to vote may fall before the altar of "states' rights."
PFAW Foundation

Election Is Mandate for Policies Grounded in Progressive American Values

The American people have made their choice -- a resounding victory for President Obama and Vice President Biden and a mandate for their policy agenda.
PFAW

PFAWF Supports Young People, Communities of Color in Getting Out the Vote This Election Day

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.

PFAW Foundation

Top 11 Republican Dirty Tricks ... SO FAR

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:

  1. Voter ID – In the last couple of years, right-wing state legislatures have trumpeted the thoroughly debunked myth of widespread individual voter fraud in order to scare voters about the legitimacy of elections and pave the way for burdensome restrictions on voting, most notably, by requiring photo ID to vote. Many students, elderly, poor and urban voters don’t have drivers licenses or other acceptable forms of ID and can’t easily obtain them for a variety of reasons. Voter ID laws are for the most part a clear attempt to make it harder for traditionally Democratic-voting constituencies harder to vote, and there are have been some legal victories against some of the most recent laws, but studies have estimated that millions of eligible voters nationwide could be prevented from voting due to onerous ID requirements.

    In some states, recently passed voter ID laws have been halted due to court challenges, yet the states have continued circulating information referencing the new laws which could be incredibly confusing to voters. In Pennsylvania, a conservative judge who had upheld the state’s voter ID law before a federal court blocked it, ruled that even though voters do not have to show ID to vote, officials can still request it – and the state is using this to justify keeping up billboards that imply voters must have ID to show up.
  2. Calls about voting by phoneReports have come in in Florida, Virginia and elsewhere that primarily elderly voters have received phone calls telling them they could vote over the phone, so did not need to show up at the polls (something that is completely untrue).
  3. Calls about poll workers checking car insurance/registrationSimilar misleading calls have been reported by African American and Latino voters that “inform” voters that their car insurance and registration status will be checked at the polls as a requirement to cast a vote. This is also a complete lie.
  4. Intimidating “voter fraud” billboards – These ominous billboards reminding voters of the legal penalties for voter fraud were put up in minority communities in Milwaukee, WI and in Ohio in Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati. Clearly intended to make minority voters unnecessarily nervous about showing up to vote, PFAW and our allies like Color of Change brought pressure on the two companies that owned the billboards to remove them -- and they did! It was a good victory, but for the days the billboards were up, there was certainly damage done. Expect signs and flyers with a similar message to pop up in minority communities across the country in the final days of the election, especially in swing states.
  5. Tea Party groups challenging the votes of eligible voters – this is exactly what it sounds like and every bit as despicable. All around the country, and especially in hotly contested battleground states like Ohio, so-called “True the Vote” and other Tea Party organizations are exploiting state laws to challenge the votes of minority voters and others who primarily fit into groups that tend to vote Democratic.
  6. Romney campaign training poll watchers to mislead voters – In Wisconsin, we have reports that the Romney campaign has been training poll watchers not only to provide incorrect information to voters, but to hide their own affiliation at the polls.
  7. Restricting access for election observers – Not only is the Right escalating their voter intimidation efforts, but their also doing their part to make it harder for fair elections groups to observe and counter those efforts.
  8. Voter registration fraud (the really dangerous kind) – There’s been at least one arrest, and after the Florida GOP distanced itself from the private voter registration vendor Strategic Allied Consulting for apparent fraud in that state, some members of Congress are calling for a DOJ investigation into more widespread fraud, particularly by that group, which is led by notorious right-wing dirty trickster Nathan Sproul.

    You no doubt have heard about the right-wing uproar over fake voter registrations submitted by ACORN in years past – in that case, the registration fraud consisted of paid canvassers submitting phony registrations under names such as “Mickey Mouse.” No voter fraud was committed. ACORN turned in all the registrations they collected (even the obviously flawed ones) as they were required to, but if any fraudulent registration forms did result in actual registrations, the fake voters (who probably also had fake addresses) never received registration cards – and Mickey Mouse certainly didn’t show up to vote.

    What right-wing operatives are doing here is much more deliberate and actually causes serious harm. In addition to dumping Democratic registrations, it appears fraudulent changes to existing registrations were made, which means when real (presumably Democratic) voters show up to the polls, their registration will have been changed unbeknownst to them and they will be ineligible to cast a ballot.
  9. Businesses threatening their employees – One of the most insidious forms of voter intimidation we’ve seen this cycle has to do with right-wing corporate CEOs threatening their employees’ livelihoods to pressure them to vote Republican. Mitt Romney has even gotten in on the action by encouraging business executives to do this.
  10. Restricting early and absentee voting and limiting access to provisional ballotsIt’s like three dirty tricks in one!
  11. Throwing out absentee ballots based on signatures “not matching” – Does your signature look exactly the same now as it did when you first registered to vote? In Florida, canvassing boards are simply throwing out some absentee ballots they feel have signatures that don’t match the ones on file for voters. In these cases, the voters are not even being informed that their vote has been challenged or will not be counted.

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.

PFAW

Young People For Amplifies Youth Voices

Leading up to the election, PFAW Foundation’s Young People For has been active in mobilizing young voters and ensuring that youth voices are heard and amplified. The Young People For fellows are devoting long hours to planning effective community outreach for engaging other young voters and rallying their peers to go to the polls. Take a look at our video showcasing the dedicated work of our fellows, who continue to advocate for civic engagement and encourage vital participation in the electoral process.
  

PFAW

A Real-Life Halloween Scare From Mitt Romney

Forget ghosts and goblins. Americans' biggest Halloween fear should be a Supreme Court chosen by Mitt Romney.
PFAW

When Government Officials Encourage Voting

In Maryland, the governor extends early voting.
PFAW Foundation

Romney Campaign Trains Poll Watchers With False Information

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.

PFAW