Voting Rights

Ohio Ministers to Husted: Every Vote Must Be Counted

Cleveland, Ohio – Ohio members of People For the American Way Foundation’s African American Ministers Leadership Council urged Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted to drop his attempt to disenfranchise Ohio voters who cast provisional ballots. Three days after the election, tens of thousands of provisional ballots remain uncounted. Secretary Husted attempted last week to change the rules for counting provisional ballots, making it more likely that ballots would be invalidated, and the rule change is currently being considered by a federal judge.

“Voting is over and most of the races have been called, but this election won’t be completed until every vote is counted,” said Rev. Tony Minor of Cleveland, Ohio Coordinator of the African American Ministers Leadership Council. “Every single person who shows up to vote on Election Day should be confident that their vote will be counted and their voice will be heard. Secretary Husted is trying to throw up last-minute barriers in an effort to stop some of these votes from counting. That’s undemocratic and unacceptable.”

Yesterday, Husted reportedly floated the idea of dividing Ohio’s electoral votes by congressional district in the future, making it possible that the winner of the popular vote in Ohio would not receive the majority of the state’s electoral votes.

“Secretary Husted’s job is to help Ohioans vote and to guarantee that our votes count,” added Rev. Minor. “Instead, he’s fighting in court to suppress this year’s votes, and planning how to make Ohioans’ votes count less four years from now. Sec. Husted should know that every person who turned out to vote in Ohio on Tuesday is invested in our political process, and we will continue to fight for our voting rights.”

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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

Schlafly: Senate Should Move to Expel Al Franken

Eagle Forum’s Phyllis Schlafly believes that Al Franken never would have been elected to the U.S. Senate in 2008 if Minnesota had a voter ID law and that there is now “reason enough for the U.S. Senate to use its constitutional power in Article I, Section 5 to unseat Franken.” Franken won by a mere 225 votes against incumbent Norm Coleman, but Schlafly says in her latest column that it's because felons cast illegal votes to push him over the top and that only Voter ID laws, which she claims are beloved by minorities, can remedy the situation.

Schlafly cited a report by the right-wing organization Minnesota Majority; however, the study has been largely dismissed as “frivolous” by experts, who also note that voter ID laws will do nothing to stop convicted felons from voting illegally and that the report’s “data include cases associated with the 2010 election, and are not limited to cases involving felons who voted illegally.” People For the American Way’s report The Right to Vote Under Attack also observes that Minnesota’s “Supreme Court wrote in its decision affirming Franken’s victory that neither Franken nor his opponent claimed voter fraud took place and ‘found no allegations or evidence of fraud or foul play and no evidence to suggest that the Election Day totals from the precinct are unreliable.’” Not to mention, how would Schlafly know that nearly every single felon who voted in Minnesota supported Franken?

As we approach a major national election, we hear warnings about many kinds of vote fraud and possible recounts that might delay confirmation of who are the victors. We also hear from deniers who insist that vote fraud is a figment of the imagination of Republicans. It isn't; vote fraud is real.

Many instances of registration fraud schemes were carried out by ACORN, and some members were even tried and convicted. Although ACORN announced it was closing its doors, it reemerged under new names.

It's common knowledge that there are more registered voters in Philadelphia than there are people living in Philadelphia, because dead and moved-away voters have not been stricken from the list. Similar accusations have been made in a dozen other states. In Minnesota, we were entertained for weeks with news of the recounting of votes in the 2008 Minnesota election for U.S. Senate. Al Franken was declared the winner by 312 votes out of three million cast.

After all was said and done, Minnesota discovered that 289 convicted felons had voted illegally in Hennepin County, 52 had voted illegally in Ramsey County, and many others voted illegally who were dead or who voted multiple times. That is reason enough for the U.S. Senate to use its constitutional power in Article I, Section 5 to unseat Franken.



Minorities are actually among those most eager to implement photo ID. Former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young said, "You cannot be part of the mainstream of American life today without a photo ID." The sponsor of Rhode Island's photo ID law was Harold Metts, who is the only African-American in the state senate.

Just think of all the many occasions when we all must show photo ID: when stopped by the police for a traffic violation, to make a credit card purchase, to check in for any medical treatment, to check into a hotel room, or to board an airplane. Isn't it just as important to assure that only American citizens are allowed to vote, and to prevent non-citizens from canceling out your vote, and to prevent crooks from voting twice or voting in the name of a dead person who is still registered?

When your vote is nullified by illegal votes, you are cheated just as much as if you were denied the right to vote.

Ohio Ministers Celebrate Supreme Court’s Upholding of Early Voting Rights

Cleveland, Ohio – Ohio members of People For the American Way Foundation’s African American Ministers Leadership Council praised a U.S. Supreme Court ruling today that ensures Ohio polls will remain open in the three days prior to November’s election. The state legislature eliminated early voting in the weekend before the election despite the fact that over 90,000 Ohioans had taken advantage of that period to vote in 2008. Ohio’s Secretary of State appealed a lower court ruling reinstating the early voting period to the Supreme Court.

“This is a great victory for voting rights, and for voters, in Ohio,” said Rev. Dr. Tony Minor of Cleveland, Ohio Coordinator of the African American Ministers Leadership Council. “Weekend voting in the days before the election was an unmitigated success in 2008, helping to increase turnout and reduce long lines. But some of our elected leaders saw this great success as a failure, and worked hard to make sure it wasn’t repeated. Their efforts to restrict turnout – especially among African Americans – weren’t just wrong, they were unconstitutional. Community and church leaders will take advantage of this restored early voting period to not only repeat, but expand the voter turnout success of 2008.”

The African American Ministers Leadership Council, a program of People For the American Way Foundation founded in 1997, works nationwide to help bring African Americans to the polls through the non-partisan “I Am A VESSEL and I Vote!” program.

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Voter ID Blocked in Pennsylvania

While it is now guaranteed that voters without an ID cannot legally be turned away, the ruling only applies for the 2012 election. Concerns over voter disenfranchisement continue to exist.
PFAW Foundation

Experts Discuss the Politics of Voter Suppression

The right to vote is the most fundamental cornerstone of a functioning democracy. Yet right-wing  governors, legislators, and election officials around the country have been working to make it harder for Americans to exercise that right, through voter ID laws, restrictions on voter registration, cutting back opportunities for early voting, and other suppressive measures.
 
On Wednesday, the AFL-CIO held a panel discussion with three voting rights experts, who discussed the impediments many voters face and proposed ways to boost voter participation as we approach the November elections. The conversation was moderated by AFL-CIO executive vice-president Arlene Holt Baker, and the three panelists included Tova Andrea Wang, writer of the recently published book The Politics of Voter Suppression: Defending and Expanding America’s Right to Vote, Clarissa Martinez of the National Council of La Raza, and Carmen Berkley of Generational Alliance.
 
Discussing the GOP’s assault on voting rights, Tova Andrea Wang read this statement from a legislator: “I don't have a problem making [voting] harder. I want people in Florida to want to vote as bad as that person in Africa who walks 200 miles across the desert. This should be something you do with a passion.” Wang then asked the audience to guess what era they believed this assertion was made in. Most estimated the late 1800s. The audience was incorrect—the statement was made in 2012, by Florida Republican State Senator Michael Bennett. Wang further explained that parties have been manipulating election practices for almost 150 years, and politicians continue to repackage the same voter suppression tactics to fit the current times. Over the course of history, forces have repeatedly tried to block voters. But in the past couple of years, we have seen these forces re-emerge with particular ferocity, as more and more states attempt to introduce voter identification laws and implement other voter suppression tactics.
 
Wang alluded to restrictions on early voting in Florida and Ohio and the illegal purging of voter registration lists as massive hindrances to voter participation.  According to the NAACP, in Florida, more than 32 percent of those who voted early on the last Sunday before Election Day were African American, and nearly 24 percent were Latino. Many African-American churches in Florida and Ohio organize citizens to vote on the Sunday before the election, and by eliminating this possibility, states are making it harder for minorities to cast their ballot. Wang also mentioned how Florida's Gov. Rick Scott’s staff combed through the information of 80,000 registered voters to find out who was not an American citizen, and thereby ineligible to vote. Scott found only one individual on the list who was not an American citizen—more evidence that voter fraud is virtually nonexistent. 
 
Wang accentuated the importance of early registration and same-day registration as ways to increase participation. She stated that when North Carolina used early voting and same-day registration in the 2008 election, participation in the African-American community skyrocketed from 59% in 2004 to 72% in 2008.
 
Clarissa Martinez and Carmen Barkley continued the discussion, touching upon the barriers that Latino voters and young voters face. Martinez emphasized the need to combat suppression tactics and ensure that Latino communities are not confused with the election process. She advocated for the criminalization of deceptive practices and misinformation, which affect Latinos and recently naturalized citizens who may be unsure of how to navigate the voting process. Berkley, a campaigner for young people’s voting rights, stressed that since there are 46 million people under 29 who are eligible to vote this election, it is crucial to raise awareness and educate young people about the voting process. Many young people do not have a government issued ID or do not know the last four digits of their Social Security number, making them unqualified to vote in some states. Berkley stated that it is vital that we inform first-time voters in high school by using social media and creating online voter guides.
 
All panelists emphasized that we cannot let our legislators continue to cherry-pick who can vote by implementing suppressive laws that have proven to affect minorities and young people—a liberal-leaning demographic. The right to vote needs to be preserved, not stifled.

 

PFAW

UPDATE: State legislation shines national spotlight on voter ID

"On voting rights in America, the arc of the universe has indeed been long, centuries long, from the three-fifths compromise in the Constitution to the poll tax to the literacy test. But it has always bent toward justice. These new laws seek to bend the arc backward again, to take away from people their effective right to vote."
PFAW Foundation

Big Government the Right Likes: The Kind That Keeps People From Voting

This post originally appeared on the Huffington Post.

The Republican Party claims to be the party of small government -- with the obvious exceptions of denying marriage equality and massive government oversight of women's medical decisions. But there is another kind of big government that the party has overwhelmingly, enthusiastically gotten behind: expensive and intrusive attempts to make it harder for Americans to vote.

A trio of federal court decisions in Florida, Ohio and Texas last week ripped the lid off the increasingly successful right-wing campaign to limit opportunities for low-income people, minorities and students to vote -- especially, and not coincidentally, in swing states. These decisions, from even-handed and moderate federal judges across the country, show just how far the Right has gone to use the power of government to disenfranchise traditionally disenfranchised groups.

In Florida, a federal judge permanently blocked a law that had made it almost impossible for good government groups to conduct voter registration drives -- which had led groups like the venerable League of Women Voters to all but shut down operations in the state. In Ohio, a federal court ordered the state to reopen early voting in the three days before November's election, which Republicans had attempted to shut down. Early voting on the weekend before the election was enormously successful in 2008 -- especially among African Americans -- and the judge found that Republicans had no legitimate reason to want it to stop.

And finally a federal court, which is required to review changes in election policy in states and counties with a history of voting discrimination, ruled that Texas' new voter ID law couldn't go forward because it "imposes strict, unforgiving burdens on the poor, and racial minorities in Texas."

The effort that Republican governors and legislatures across the country have gone through in the past two years to make it more difficult for citizens to vote is truly remarkable. They have been willing to buck both the law and the spirit of our constitutional democracy to bar groups of people from participating in it. And they have been willing to set up extra layers of government and bureaucracy -- things they claim to despise -- in order to keep people from the polls.

There are plenty of areas of genuine disagreement in our politics, but the right to vote shouldn't be one of them. In an interview with The Atlantic last week, Rep. John Lewis, a hero of the Civil Rights movement, said "there should be public outcry" and a "sense of righteous indignation" at what is happening to our elections. He's right.

It's astounding that nearly 50 years after the Voting Rights Act banned racial discrimination at the polls, it's still needed as a shield against such egregious violations of its principles. And it's astounding that the self-proclaimed party of small government wants to use government's power to keep people from exercising their fundamental right to vote.

PFAW

UPDATE: Making voter registration easier in New York

More good news from New York: Governor Andrew Cuomo announced a new initiative that will expand access to voter registration.
PFAW Foundation

African American Pastors Praise Court’s Upholding of Voting Rights in Florida

Jacksonville, Fla. – The African American Ministers Leadership Council (AAMLC), a national coalition of African American clergy, today praised a federal court’s decision to strike down Florida early voting restrictions in five counties that would disproportionately affect African American voters.

“Sadly, the voter suppression tactics that the Voting Rights Act was meant to combat are alive and well in Florida,” said Elder Lee Harris of Mount Olive Primitive Baptist Church in Jacksonville. “But thanks to the Voting Rights Act, those trying to suppress the African American vote in Florida aren’t going to get away with it. The court was right to apply the act to what was a blatant attempt to keep African Americans from the polls.”

A three-judge panel of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled that the Florida legislature’s decision to cut early voting from 12 days to eight, for as little as six hours a day (potentially all during the standard workday), violated section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which requires federal review of voting rights changes in states and counties with a history of voter discrimination. The court’s decision applies just to the five counties covered under section 5 --Collier, Hardee, Hendry, Hillsborough and Monroe. The panel said it would approve a plan where the five counties held early voting open for 12 hours a day for each of the 8 days.

“Thanks to this sound decision, which we urge Gov. Scott to accept, Black voters in five counties will reclaim access to the ballot box during these critical early voting days,” continued Elder Harris. “However, residents of counties not covered by section 5 of the Voting Rights Act – including Duval County – continue to face these suppressive new rules. We urge officials in all of Florida’s counties to adopt the same early voting opportunities as approved by the court.”

The African American Ministers Leadership Council, a program of People For the American Way Foundation, founded in 1997, has been working nationwide to help bring African Americans to the polls in every election, most recently through the newly-launched non-partisan “I Am A VESSEL and I Vote!” program.

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Court Rejects Florida's Efforts to Curtail Early Voting

In an opinion affecting 5 counties, a federal court rules that Florida's curtailed early voting would disproportionately harm African Americans.
PFAW Foundation
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