In response to Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted’s announcement yesterday of early voting cutbacks, Reverend Dr. Tony Minor of Cleveland, a member of People For the American Way’s African American Ministers In Action, said:
“These changes blatantly discriminate against the African American community. Limiting early voting hours by cutting Sundays and weekday evenings is a transparent attempt to block some Ohioans from participating in their democracy.
“It’s no secret that many Ohioans can’t vote during work hours. Our elected officials should ensure that democracy works for everyone, not making cuts to early voting that disproportionately impact African Americans.”
People For the American Way's African American Ministers In Action represents 1,500 African American clergy working toward equality, justice and opportunity for all.
On Wednesday the Ohio legislature passed two restrictive voting laws that cut early voting and gut the state’s absentee ballot program, among other measures. This afternoon, Governor Kasich signed them into law. In response, the Ohio members of People For the American Way’s African American Ministers In Action released the following statement:
“It is shameful that in this day and age, we are still fighting to protect the right to vote. Hiding behind the debunked myth of ‘voter fraud,’ it is clear as day that Republican leaders simply want to make it harder for some Ohioans to cast a ballot. Our elected officials should be encouraging all Ohioans to participate in their democracy, not pushing suppressive laws that threaten our most fundamental right as citizens.”
People For the American Way’s African American Ministers In Action represents a network of 1,500 African-American clergy working toward equality, justice and opportunity for all.
Ohio Republican legislators are up to their voter suppression tricks again, trying to limit absentee ballot registrations and restricting voting hours ahead of the November 2014 elections. The Columbus Dispatch reported Friday that GOP Rep. Mike Dovilla, Chairman of the Ohio House Policy and Legislative Oversight Committee, said the committee will vote on Senate Bill 205 and Senate Bill 238 as early as Tuesday. If passed out of Dovilla’s committee, it could be off to the full House for a floor debate on Wednesday.
• SB 205 would ban county clerks from mass mailing absentee ballot applications to all voters, holding that duty only for OH Secretary of State Jon Husted, who has proven in the past that he will restrict voting access almost every chance he gets.
• SB 238 would achieve one of Husted’s anti-voter policy agenda items by limiting early voting days, effectively eliminating Ohioans’ ability to register and vote on the same day anywhere in the state.
These legislative moves come just days after the news broke that Hamilton County officials might relocate Cincinnati’s largest early voting location to a new, much less accessible location. That decision met with considerable push-back from voting rights activists and the media, resulting in a deadlock vote from the Board of Elections. The final decision now also goes to Secretary Husted to decide, effectively putting the power to restrict access to early voting in Cincinnati’s largest city in his hands.
If you are from Ohio, call your Representative now and tell them to protect your early voting rights by voting ‘NO’ on SB 205 and SB 238. You can find your Representative’s contact information here: http://www.ohiohouse.gov/members/member-directory. Once you have talked to your Representative, drop us an email at email@example.com to let us know what they said. We’ll keep tabs on the situation and update you on voter suppression efforts in Ohio – and across the country – on the PFAW blog.
How’s all that new outreach going, GOP? Not that well, it seems.
This week, Nevada Assembly Minority Leader Pat Hickey gave meaning to that old political saying, “A gaffe is when a politician tells the truth.” Speaking on a conservative talk radio show about the Republican Party’s chances in 2014, Hickey said:
"Probably where we had a million voters turn out in 2012; we'll have like 700,000 [in 2014]. A lot of minorities, a lot of younger people will not turn out in a non-presidential year. It's a great year for Republicans!"
It’s a great year for Republicans-- when people don’t vote! Particularly those young people and minorities, so never mind them! Really, just a great job rebranding there, GOP, I think you’ve nailed it.
Of course, it’s amusing when a politician accidentally reveals the truth like this, but it points to a serious problem in our democracy. The Republican assault on the right to vote in this country is moving full steam ahead, with bills introduced in 31 states just this year. It’s clear at this point that no amount of accidental truth-telling is going to embarrass them into stopping this attack: they’ve had slip-ups like this in the past, but they still keep pushing to make it harder for people to vote. We can’t wait for them to start feeling ashamed of their position, because that’s clearly never going to happen. It’s up to us to actively defend the right to vote, wherever it is under attack.
At the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington this Wednesday, Reverend Al Sharpton made the case that people of color are facing a new generation of Jim Crow-type laws. “Jim Crow had a son,” Sharpton said, a son who writes voter suppression, Stand Your Ground, and stop-and-frisk laws. His name? “James Crow, Jr., Esquire.”
At Rosa Park’s funeral in 2005, Sharpton made similar comments:
The one we’ve got to battle is James Crow, Jr., Esquire. He’s a little more educated. He’s a little slicker. He’s a little more polished. But the results are the same. He doesn’t put you in the back of the bus. He just puts referendums on the ballot to end affirmative action where you can’t go to school. He doesn’t call you a racial name, he just marginalizes your existence.
A case in point of the slicker, more polished push for policy that disproportionately harms people of color is the assault on voting rights in North Carolina. The Institute for Southern Studies released the results of an investigation yesterday finding that mega-donor Art Pope has played an important, if largely hidden, role in making restrictive voting laws in the state a reality. Whether through funding conservative think tanks disseminating lies about voter fraud or by financially backing Republican elected officials involved in pushing the sweeping anti-voter law, Pope’s influence in bringing about what The Nation described as “the country’s worst voter suppression law” is clear.
At PFAW, we often write about the danger of individual Americans’ voices being drowned out by the roar of moneyed interests in our democracy. Through organizations like the American Legislative Exchange Council, corporate lobbyists can quietly help get Stand Your Ground and voter ID laws on the books. Art Pope’s support of North Carolina’s draconian voting law shows one more example of why the struggle to protect individual voices and votes in a democracy being flooded by the money of wealthy special interests is an uphill battle – but a battle unquestionably worth fighting.
Back in April, two Alaska House committees approved a bill that would require voters to show a photo ID at the polls – a particularly damaging measure in a state where many rural communities don’t even require photos on drivers’ licenses. Now, the Anchorage Daily News is reporting that there is a familiar face behind the measure. Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, the driving force behind voter suppression and anti-immigrant measures around the country, reportedly coordinated with Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell to push the bill in what looks like an effort to damage Democratic Sen. Mark Begich in his 2014 reelection bid. (Treadwell denies that he worked with Kobach on the bill, which he says he opposes.)
Alaska Natives say a photo ID rule would be a roadblock to voting in the Bush. A decline in turnout there, with its traditionally heavy Democratic vote, could affect the 2014 reelection hopes of U.S. Sen. Mark Begich, a Democrat running in a Republican-leaning state. One of his potential rivals is Alaska's top election official, Republican Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell.
Treadwell says he doesn't support the voter ID bill, but Kobach says Treadwell was instrumental in getting him involved in promoting the Alaska legislation.
In an April statement to reporters that didn't mention Kobach or Kansas, Treadwell touted the cross-checking as having found 14 people suspected of "actually voting in both Alaska and another state" in 2012. Treadwell threatened to prosecute the voters if the allegations were confirmed.
Alaska elections director Gail Fenumiai recently said 12 of the 14 voters cited in Treadwell's April statement were wrongly identified as duplicate voters and actually voted only in Alaska.
Kobach told the Daily News it was he who suggested to Treadwell that Alaska get involved in the Kansas project. "I personally talked to Mead Treadwell, your lieutenant governor, and encouraged him to join, and he did so," Kobach said.
And his testimony on the photo ID bill, Kobach said, was the result of a conversation with Treadwell.
"I spoke to Mead about it at one of our national conferences -- he mentioned that you guys were considering a photo ID law," Kobach said. "I said I'd be happy to share some of the experiences we've had in Kansas."
Treadwell, who said he doesn't support the Alaska bill because of the difficulty for Bush residents to get photo identification, said he didn't recall talking to Kobach about it.
As the Daily News explains, a photo ID bill would be especially damaging to Alaska Natives living in rural communities where DMVs are hard to access and where many towns don’t even require photographs on drivers’ licenses:
Photo ID measures are controversial across the country. Advocates say they help prevent fraud. Opponents say they make it more difficult for particular groups of people to vote: the elderly, students and the poor who don't own cars. In Alaska, the situation is compounded by the difficulty of getting to a Division of Motor Vehicles office in a regional hub like Nome or Bethel from a small village. Alaska doesn't even require a photograph on a driver's license in dozens of Bush communities.
Democratic activists say photo ID bills have the effect of disenfranchising more Democratic voters than Republicans. In his annual address to the Alaska Legislature this year, Begich criticized the bill as making it more difficult for Alaska Natives and Hispanics -- two traditional Democratic groups -- to vote.
The sponsor of Alaska’s bill, who has acknowledged that he drafted the measure using materials from the corporate-funded conservative group ALEC, had odd words of consolation for those concerned about the suppressive impact of the bill: at least it wouldn’t be as bad as Iraq!
Rep. Bob Lynn, an Anchorage Republican who is prime sponsor of the voter ID bill, said he wasn't trying to disenfranchise anyone. He dismissed opponents as complainers who should be happy they don't face the kind of obstacles voters do in places like Iraq.
"Terrorists have threatened to kill anyone who voted, but they voted anyway, and then these voters put ink in their finger to prove they had voted -- evidence that could have gotten them killed. Now that's a hassle, to say the least. Needing a photo ID to vote in Alaska wouldn't even come close to that," Lynn said when his State Affairs Committee first heard the bill in February.
WASHINGTON – The Republican National Committee released a report today reviewing its losses in the 2012 election cycle and laying out a roadmap for the future of the party. People For the American Way Vice President Marge Baker released the following statement:
“This report highlights what we already knew: that the Republican party is out of touch with America. Instead of addressing the party’s anti-choice, anti-gay, anti-worker policies that voters resoundingly rejected in 2012, today’s report calls for a complete gutting of campaign finance reform – in essence calling for even more big money to be poured into our elections. If the Republican party were listening to Americans, they would know that the country supports finding systemic solutions to the problem of unregulated money in our political system. The answer is certainly not to gut the regulations we already have in place. Instead, we need to overturn the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC and related cases so that we can create more effective regulations to get big money out of our democracy.
“The GOP report’s recommendations on voting rights also underscore a continuing focus on keeping certain voters from the polls. After an election cycle overflowing with examples of discriminatory voter suppression efforts aimed at historically disenfranchised communities, the report recommends an ongoing focus on so-called ‘ballot security training initiatives.’ This is simply another phrase for the same voter intimidation tactics used in the name of preventing supposed ‘voter fraud.’ It’s baffling that the GOP thinks it can improve its image with people of color while still working to block their access to the ballot box.
“This report is yet another example that the GOP’s ‘soul-searching’ hasn’t gotten them very far. It’s time to refocus our efforts on getting the big money out of elections and the voters into the voting booth.”
WASHINGTON – Today the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Shelby County v. Holder, a case challenging Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. People For the American Way Foundation released the following statement:
“The right to vote is one of the most fundamental rights we have as Americans,” said People For the American Way Foundation President Michael Keegan. “The Voting Rights Act, especially Section 5, has been a central part of safeguarding that right for nearly fifty years and continues to play a vital role in protecting Americans from disenfranchisement. The 2012 election cycle provided far too many examples that threats to voting access – in the form of voter ID laws, restrictions on early voting, and inequitable distribution of resources leading to excessively long waiting times for certain communities to vote – are alive and well. If we want a functioning democracy, everyone has to have access to the ballot box.
“The 15th Amendment of the Constitution is very clear on this issue: the right to vote cannot be denied on account of race, and Congress has the power to protect that right as it finds appropriate,” Keegan continued. “When, after a comprehensive analysis, Congress voted overwhelmingly to reauthorize Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act in 2006, it was simply doing its job. For right wing Justices on the Supreme Court to substitute their own political judgment would be a radical and unwarranted step and send a chilling message to millions of Americans who are seeing more and more burdens placed on their right to vote.”
“Voting discrimination is deeply rooted in our country’s history,” added Minister Leslie Watson Malachi, Director of the African American Ministers Leadership Council at People For the American Way Foundation. “It’s stunning to me that some say this law is no longer needed, when in the past election cycle we witnessed and fought attempts to make it harder for communities of color to vote all across the country. The right to vote remains fragile for many Americans, and the Voting Rights Act is an essential tool in protecting that right.”
For more information on the Voting Rights Act, please refer to the new PFAW Foundation report from Senior Fellow Jamie Raskin outlining the legal case for why the VRA is still necessary, or the new Huffington Post op-ed from Minister Leslie Watson Malachi describing the challenges that people of color still face at the ballot box nearly half a century after the VRA’s passage.