Voting Rights

PFAW Foundation: Court Conservatives in Shelby County v. Holder Deal Terrible Blow to the Voting Rights Act

WASHINGTON – In response to the Supreme Court’s decision today in Shelby County v. Holder, People For the American Way Foundation President Michael Keegan released the following statement:

“As the Supreme Court swerves further to the right, our constitutional liberties continue to take a beating.  Today, the Supreme Court seriously undermined an important piece of the premier civil rights legislation of the past century – legislation that civil rights heroes gave their lives for.  This decision sends a chilling message to all those Americans who continue to face politically-motivated hurdles on their way to the ballot box.

“In his confirmation hearings, Chief Justice John Roberts pledged to behave like an umpire—just calling balls and strikes, and staying out of the game. Today that umpire upended decades of civil rights law. His decision substitutes his own opinions for the findings of America’s elected representatives in Congress, who found numerous cases of ongoing, racially-based political gerrymandering and trickery. Moreover, it does so in an area in which the Constitution specifically and intentionally gives Congress wide discretion. Reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act received near unanimous support in both houses of Congress just a few years ago, and was signed into law by President Bush. Today’s decision is a blatantly inappropriate exercise in legislating from the bench. Conservatives who have spent decades decrying judicial activism should take note.

“In two separate cases yesterday, Justice Ginsburg called on Congress to fix the damage done by decisions handed down by our nation’s highest court. That need is even greater today. Congress should move quickly to enact a coverage formula under Section 4 to protect voters whose right to participate in our democracy was badly undermined today. The American people deserve no less.”

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Gaming the System: How the Republicans are trying to cheat their way to the White House

Republicans have a new plan to win in 2016: rig the Electoral College.

Missouri Brings Voter ID Back from the Dead

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

Missouri Faith Leaders Speak Out Against Voter ID Legislation

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.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PFAW

Don't let the Right fix the next presidential election!

Recent proposals by some lawmakers to apportion electoral votes in presidential elections based on congressional district rather than being awarded in the current winner-take-all fashion by popular vote is outrageously undemocratic and would ignore the will of the voters in these states.

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

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
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