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.
Yesterday the Missouri House of Representatives gave first-round approval to a proposal requiring voters to present valid, government-issued photo identification in order to vote. As it did in a failed attempt in 2012, it includes both a constitutional amendment permitting a requirement for voter identification (which would be placed on the 2014 ballot) and legislation restricting the types of identification that can be shown at the polls. This change would have a disproportionate impact on African Americans, the elderly, low-income people, people with disabilities, and students, who are twice as likely to lack the required ID.
Reverend Isaac McCullough of St. Louis, MO, a member of People For the American Way’s African American Ministers in Action, issued the following statement:
“Faith leaders in my state worked hard in the months leading up to November to get our communities to the polls. It is disheartening to see that some of our Representatives yet again want to discourage, rather than encourage, people from voting. Suppressive voter ID laws fall especially hard on people who are already marginalized, threatening to keep many Missourians from the polls in future elections. That’s not what our democracy is supposed to be about. As faith leaders, we have fought hard to protect the right to vote – and we are not about to give up that fight anytime soon.”
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.
Out of State Money Floods Contests in 2012
Washington, DC – Today People For the American Way Foundation unveiled new state-by-state fact sheets detailing outside spending in U.S. Senate and House races in 21 states. Each report analyzes the outside spending totals from Super PACs, dark money groups, and out-of-state spenders in the down ballot federal races from the 2012 election cycle. The fact sheets reveal that, on average, a majority of outside election money in these states came from Super PACs. And in every case, a vast majority came from organizations registered outside of the state.
The release of the “Outside Spending, Outsized Influence” reports coincide with the weekend marking Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and the third anniversary of Citizens United v. FEC to draw attention to the dual threats of voter suppression and unlimited corporate and special interest money in politics. The reports – a partnership between PFAWF and U.S. PIRG – are part of the Money Out/Voters In campaign. As part of that campaign, People For the American Way Foundation, its affiliate People For the American Way, and other organizers across the country are hosting “Day of Action” events in more than 76 cities in 33 states this weekend. Members of People For the American Way Foundation’s African American Ministers Leadership Council will be leading Money Out/Voters In events in Georgia, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Virginia.
“Last year’s elections were far and away the most expensive in history,” said People For the American Way Foundation Executive Vice President Marge Baker. “A major reason was the influx of outside, special interest spending in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. FEC decision. When big money floods our elections, it dwarfs the ability of individual Americans to have their voices heard. Just as important, when politicians push laws to suppress the vote, we turn back the clock on decades on progress to expand and improve our democracy. We need to pursue the full range of remedies to address the problem of too much money in politics, including amending the Constitution to overturn Citizens United, and we need to stand up against the growing threat of voter suppression. This weekend we are joining with allies across the country to call for a democracy that gets Money Out and Voters In.”
The states featured in the reports are California, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Massachusetts, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, North Carolina, New Jersey, Nevada, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah, and Wisconsin.
For links to each report, please visit: http://www.pfaw.org/issues/outside-spending-outsized-influence-big-and-s...
For more information about the Money Out/Voters In campaign or the Days of Action, please visit: http://www.moneyout-votersin.org
Washington, DC – This week People For the American Way joined with ally organizations to mark Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and the third anniversary of Citizens United v. FEC with events drawing attention to the dual threats of voter suppression and unlimited corporate and special interest money in politics. Under the banner of Money Out/Voters In, organizers are hosting “Day of Action” events in more than 76 cities in 33 states on and around the weekend of January 19.
Additionally, two reports highlighting new data on spending in the 2012 election season were released today. A report by Demos and the U.S. PIRG Education Fund provides a wide-ranging analysis of the role of money in the 2012 elections, and a report by the U.S. PIRG Education Fund and the Center for Media and Democracy examines the role dark money nonprofits and shell corporations played in 2012.
“Voter suppression and unlimited corporate and special interest money in politics serve as barriers to full civic participation, transparency, and accountability,” said Marge Baker, Executive Vice President at People For the American Way. “Both stand in the way of democracy. We are excited to come together with our allies on this important weekend to signal our intentions to confront the multi-faceted assault on the voices of everyday Americans in our political system.”
“Big Money over Voters, or Voters over Big Money. The Kochs and Roves have made their choice, and they're in it for the long-term. Now We, the People are rising up to announce our choice: Money Out, Voters In,” said Robert Weissman, President of Public Citizen. “With the actions on January 19, a growing movement calling for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United, a guarantee of voting rights and a restoration of our democracy is announcing that we're in it for the long haul also, and we aim to win.”
“We are facing a dual attack on our democracy – everyday voters are being disenfranchised while corporations are being hyper-enfranchised,” stated NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous. “We need to fix the fundamentals of our political system if we want to get down to solving our long-term problems.”
“Our reports found clear evidence of what the vast majority of Americans already understand: political power in America is concentrated in the hands of an elite few,” said U.S. PIRG Democracy Advocate Blair Bowie. “It’s time for our leaders in Washington and across the country to take concrete action to build a democracy in which every citizen is truly a political equal. It’s time we make good on the promise of government of, by, and for the people.”
“Getting big money out and more voters in are two critical fronts in the ongoing fight for true political equality in America,” said Demos Counsel Adam Lioz. “We all deserve a meaningful voice in shaping the decisions that affect our lives, and we won't stand for being blocked by red tape at the polls or drowned out by millionaires and billionaires in the public square.”
“Big, secret money is corrupting our democracy. This was the most expensive election year in the world and one of the least transparent in decades, with nonprofit groups having more influence than ever before while keeping CEO and corporate donors secret,” said Lisa Graves, Executive Director of the Center for Media and Democracy and a former Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department.
“Since the Citizens United decision three years ago, voters have been clear in their disdain for this decision,” said Common Cause President Bob Edgar. “The big question is whether our elected representatives will listen to those voices. Our goal is to build a wave of grassroots support so strong that they cannot ignore it.”
For more information about the Money Out/Voters In Days of Action, please visit http://www.moneyout-votersin.org.
Groups supporting the Money Out/Voters In effort include 350.org, African American Ministers in Action, Campaign for America's Future, Center for Media & Democracy, Citizens For Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), Coffee Party, Common Cause, Communications Workers of America, Consumer Action, CREDO Action, Demos, Free Speech for People, Friends of the Earth, Global Exchange, Hip Hop Caucus, League of United Latin American Citizens, Move to Amend, MoveOn, NAACP, National People's Action, National Women's Health Network, Oil Change International, Organic Consumers Association, People For the American Way, Public Citizen, Rootstrikers, Stamp Stampede, Sierra Club, Story of Stuff, U.S. PIRG, United for a Fair Economy, United Republic/Represent.Us.
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.