The Right to Vote

Voting For The Future Of Voting: Secretary of State Races To Watch

This post originally appeared on Right Wing Watch.

One influential issue at the ballot box this year is the future of how we cast our ballots. In secretary of state races throughout the country, voters will be choosing who runs their elections — and how open those elections are to all voters.

As Republican lawmakers continue to enact news laws aimed at curtailing the rights of voters, secretary of state elections have taken on renewed importance.

We’ve picked three key secretary of state races that we’ll be watching closely Tuesday and added a few more influential races that are also worth keeping an eye on. (And this isn’t even counting states like Florida and Pennsylvania, where the secretary of state is picked by the governor, leaving the gubernatorial elections will have even stronger voting rights implications.)

Kansas

Perhaps the hardest-fought and most-watched secretary of state race this year is taking place in the heavily Republican Kansas. And that’s all because of the national profile and extreme agenda of one man: incumbent Secretary of State Kris Kobach.

When Kobach won his job in 2010, he was already a national figure. After a stint in the Bush Justice Department, Kobach joined the Immigration Reform Law Institute (IRLI) — the legal arm of the nativist anti-immigrant group FAIR — where he worked with lawmakers to craft harsh anti-immigrant measures throughout the country, including Hazleton, Pennsylvania, and Arizona, where he helped write the infamous “show me your papers” law SB 1070. After a failed run for Congress in 2004, Kobach set his sights on his state’s elections office.

Kobach has recently gained a prominent place in national Republican politics, serving as an immigration policy adviser to Mitt Romney and working to insert anti-gay and anti-immigrant language into the 2012 GOP platform.

Kobach won his position handily in 2010, but is facing an unexpectedly tough fight to hold onto it. Part of the reason is because he’s kept up his out-of-state anti-immigrant work: He still holds a position at IRLI and jets around the country advising states and localities that have agreed to be his policy guinea pigs, prompting his critics to complain that he’s not spending enough time in Kansas. And part of it is because he’s brought his activism home, using his platform in Kansas to push some of the most extreme voting restrictions in the country by hyping fears that undocumented immigrants are voting en masse in Kansas.

In 2011, at Kobach’s urging, Kansas passed a restrictive voter ID law that included a requirement that those registering to vote provide a passport, birth certificate, or similar “proof of citizenship" to elections authorities. The proof-of-citizenship provision, which took effect this year, has thrown Kansas voter registration into chaos. Less than one week before the election, 22,394 potential Kansas voters are unable to cast ballots because they had not provided an acceptable form of citizenship documentation. In addition, Kobach has placed an estimated 300-400 voters in a special voting rights “tier” in which they can vote only in federal elections and not in state elections. Kobach has proudly reported that of the 200 people who were placed in this special class of disenfranchised voters in this summer's primary election, only one bothered to show up to cast a half vote.

Kobach is also at the helm of Interstate Crosscheck, a faulty program that claims to identify people who are voting in two states at once but in reality has encouraged states to purge eligible minority voters from their voter rolls.

Kansans became even more leery of Kobach’s priorities this year when he spent $34,000 in taxpayer money trying to keep a Democratic senate candidate, Chad Taylor, on the ballot after he dropped out to make way for the independent challenging Republican Sen. Pat Roberts. Kobach only relented when the state supreme court ordered him to, and even then he tried (unsuccessfully) to find a way around the order.

A recent poll shows Kobach tied with his Democratic challenger, Jean Schodorf.

Ohio

In the presidential swing state of Ohio, the secretary of state is often in the center of national battles over voting rights. Republican John Husted has been no exception.

In the lead-up to the 2012 election, Husted stepped in to break tie votes in Democratic-leaning Ohio counties, allowing those counties to eliminate night and weekend early voting hours... even as Republican-leaning counties expanded their early voting hours. In response to a national outcry, Husted enforced “uniformity” by requiring all counties to bring early voting opportunities down to the lowest common denominator, including cutting off night and weekend voting and eliminating early voting in the three days before the election. When a federal judge ordered Husted to reopen voting in the three days before the election, he flatly refused to comply, saying it would “confuse voters.” Eventually he relented, but as the election approached he appealed the ruling all the way to the Supreme Court.

Since the 2012 election, Husted has kept up his efforts to restrict early voting in 2014, fighting to eliminate the so-called “Golden Week” of early voting — in which voters can register and cast their ballots in one visit — and to cut early voting hours, including on Sundays, a time frequently used by African American churches for get-out-the-vote efforts.

Husted faces a Democrat state Sen. Nina Turner, a major critic of his record on voting rights. Although the two were neck-and-neck in an early poll, a recent poll shows Husted with a significant lead.

Arizona

Before Kansas ushered in its restrictive “proof of citizenship” law, Arizona was already fighting for a similar measure. In 2004, Arizona voters passed Proposition 200, a medley of anti-immigrant and voter suppression measures including a requirement that those registering to vote present one of a narrow set of documents to prove that they are citizens. The Supreme Court struck down the provision in 2013, saying that it was preempted by federal law — but left a loophole, suggesting that Arizona could sue the federal Election Assistance Commission to require that federal voter registration forms used in the state include the extra “proof of citizenship” requirement. So Arizona did just that, joined by Kansas under Kobach.

That case is still working its way through the courts, but it’s left a peculiar situation in Kansas and Arizona where Kobach and his Arizona counterpart Secretary of State Ken Bennett have set up dual-track voting systems in their states in which people who register to vote with a federal form but do not provide additional citizenship documents are allowed to vote in federal elections, but not in state elections. As we noted above, of about 200 Kansans on the special limited-rights voting track in this year’s primary election, just one voted. In Arizona, about 1,500 were put on the limited track, and 21 cast ballots.

Bennett isn’t up for reelection this year — he unsuccessfully sought the Republican nomination for governor — but the race to succeed him will determine the future implementation of Arizona’s restrictive requirements. Republican Michele Reagan sought and won Kobach’s endorsement, boasting that she voted for the infamous anti-immigrant bill that Kobach helped bring to Arizona. In the state senate, Reagan wrote a bill that, among other voting restrictions, would prevent community groups from collecting and delivering mail-in ballots, a method commonly used in voting drives by Latino groups. When an effort to repeal the bill by referendum started to gain steam, Reagan and her fellow Republicans worked to repeal it first, thus allowing the state legislature to bring back parts of the bill in a piecemeal fashion.

Reagan is facing off against Democrat Terry Goddard, a former state attorney general and mayor of Phoenix. Both candidates have said they want tighter disclosure requirements for “dark money” spending by outside groups. But when the Koch-backed 60 Plus Association bought $304,000 in ads attacking Goddard last week, she refused to distance herself from the dark money effort.

Reagan also struggled this week to explain her vote for Arizona’s so-called “birther bill,” which would have required presidential candidates to prove to the secretary of state that they are native-born American citizens.

Other States To Watch: Colorado, New Mexico, Arkansas, Iowa

In Colorado, Republican Secretary of State Scott Gessler — a key Kobach ally and crusader against the supposed scourge of Democratic “organized voter fraud” who last year tried to stop county clerks from sending ballots to voters who had not voted in the the last election — is stepping down this year, having tried and failed to get his party’s gubernatorial nomination. In the race to replace him are Republican El Paso County Clerk Wayne Williams, described by the Denver Post as Gessler’s “lone public ally” among clerks in the ballot controversy, and Democratic attorney Joe Neguse. The two differ on the sweeping elections overhaul Colorado passed last year, which allows same-day voter registration and requires the state to mail a ballot to every voter.

New Mexico’s secretary of state race has incumbent Republican Dianna Duran pitted against Bernalillo County Clerk Maggie Toulouse Oliver, a rising Democratic star. Toulouse Oliver is emphasizing “full participation across a wide spectrum of the electorate” in her campaign, while Durran is accusing her of using “community-organizer, consultant-styled rhetoric.” In a TV ad that doubles as a promotion for right-wing myths about widespread voter fraud, Durran accuses Toulous Oliver of “registering a dog to vote.” In reality, a right-wing activist tried to register his dog to try to prove a point; he was caught and Toulouse Oliver referred his case to the proper authorities.

Earlier this month, the Arkansas Supreme Court struck down the state’s voter ID requirement, a ruling that Secretary of State Mark Martin is vowing to fight. As the case worked its way through the courts, Arkansas voters got conflicting messages from elections officials under Martin’s leadership. He faces a challenge from Democrat Susan Inman.

In Iowa, outgoing Secretary of State Matt Schultz spent $150,000 in taxpayer money in a quest to root out voter fraud in Iowa…and found none. He also conducted a voter roll purge that critics called an attempt to  intimidate Latino voters.” The race to succeed him — between Republican voter ID supporter Paul Pate and Democrat Brad Anderson — is locked in a dead heat.

PFAW

Voting For The Future Of Voting: Secretary of State Races To Watch

One influential issue at the ballot box this year is the future of how we cast our ballots. In secretary of state races throughout the country, voters will be choosing who runs their elections — and how open those elections are to all voters.

As Republican lawmakers continue to enact news laws aimed at curtailing the rights of voters, secretary of state elections have taken on renewed importance.

We’ve picked three key secretary of state races that we’ll be watching closely Tuesday and added a few more influential races that are also worth keeping an eye on. (And this isn’t even counting states like Florida and Pennsylvania, where the secretary of state is picked by the governor, leaving the gubernatorial elections will have even stronger voting rights implications.)

Kansas

Perhaps the hardest-fought and most-watched secretary of state race this year is taking place in the heavily Republican Kansas. And that’s all because of the national profile and extreme agenda of one man: incumbent Secretary of State Kris Kobach.

When Kobach won his job in 2010, he was already a national figure. After a stint in the Bush Justice Department, Kobach joined the Immigration Reform Law Institute (IRLI) — the legal arm of the nativist anti-immigrant group FAIR — where he worked with lawmakers to craft harsh anti-immigrant measures throughout the country, including Hazleton, Pennsylvania, and Arizona, where he helped write the infamous “show me your papers” law SB 1070. After a failed run for Congress in 2004, Kobach set his sights on his state’s elections office.

Kobach has recently gained a prominent place in national Republican politics, serving as an immigration policy adviser to Mitt Romney and working to insert anti-gay and anti-immigrant language into the 2012 GOP platform.

Kobach won his position handily in 2010, but is facing an unexpectedly tough fight to hold onto it. Part of the reason is because he’s kept up his out-of-state anti-immigrant work: He still holds a position at IRLI and jets around the country advising states and localities that have agreed to be his policy guinea pigs, prompting his critics to complain that he’s not spending enough time in Kansas. And part of it is because he’s brought his activism home, using his platform in Kansas to push some of the most extreme voting restrictions in the country by hyping fears that undocumented immigrants are voting en masse in Kansas.

In 2011, at Kobach’s urging, Kansas passed a restrictive voter ID law that included a requirement that those registering to vote provide a passport, birth certificate, or similar “proof of citizenship" to elections authorities. The proof-of-citizenship provision, which took effect this year, has thrown Kansas voter registration into chaos. Less than one week before the election, 22,394 potential Kansas voters are unable to cast ballots because they had not provided an acceptable form of citizenship documentation. In addition, Kobach has placed an estimated 300-400 voters in a special voting rights “tier” in which they can vote only in federal elections and not in state elections. Kobach has proudly reported that of the 200 people who were placed in this special class of disenfranchised voters in this summer's primary election, only one bothered to show up to cast a half vote.

Kobach is also at the helm of Interstate Crosscheck, a faulty program that claims to identify people who are voting in two states at once but in reality has encouraged states to purge eligible minority voters from their voter rolls.

Kansans became even more leery of Kobach’s priorities this year when he spent $34,000 in taxpayer money trying to keep a Democratic senate candidate, Chad Taylor, on the ballot after he dropped out to make way for the independent challenging Republican Sen. Pat Roberts. Kobach only relented when the state supreme court ordered him to, and even then he tried (unsuccessfully) to find a way around the order.

A recent poll shows Kobach tied with his Democratic challenger, Jean Schodorf.

Ohio

In the presidential swing state of Ohio, the secretary of state is often in the center of national battles over voting rights. Republican John Husted has been no exception.

In the lead-up to the 2012 election, Husted stepped in to break tie votes in Democratic-leaning Ohio counties, allowing those counties to eliminate night and weekend early voting hours... even as Republican-leaning counties expanded their early voting hours. In response to a national outcry, Husted enforced “uniformity” by requiring all counties to bring early voting opportunities down to the lowest common denominator, including cutting off night and weekend voting and eliminating early voting in the three days before the election. When a federal judge ordered Husted to reopen voting in the three days before the election, he flatly refused to comply, saying it would “confuse voters.” Eventually he relented, but as the election approached he appealed the ruling all the way to the Supreme Court.

Since the 2012 election, Husted has kept up his efforts to restrict early voting in 2014, fighting to eliminate the so-called “Golden Week” of early voting — in which voters can register and cast their ballots in one visit — and to cut early voting hours, including on Sundays, a time frequently used by African American churches for get-out-the-vote efforts.

Husted faces a Democrat state Sen. Nina Turner, a major critic of his record on voting rights. Although the two were neck-and-neck in an early poll, a recent poll shows Husted with a significant lead.

Arizona

Before Kansas ushered in its restrictive “proof of citizenship” law, Arizona was already fighting for a similar measure. In 2004, Arizona voters passed Proposition 200, a medley of anti-immigrant and voter suppression measures including a requirement that those registering to vote present one of a narrow set of documents to prove that they are citizens. The Supreme Court struck down the provision in 2013, saying that it was preempted by federal law — but left a loophole, suggesting that Arizona could sue the federal Election Assistance Commission to require that federal voter registration forms used in the state include the extra “proof of citizenship” requirement. So Arizona did just that, joined by Kansas under Kobach.

That case is still working its way through the courts, but it’s left a peculiar situation in Kansas and Arizona where Kobach and his Arizona counterpart Secretary of State Ken Bennett have set up dual-track voting systems in their states in which people who register to vote with a federal form but do not provide additional citizenship documents are allowed to vote in federal elections, but not in state elections. As we noted above, of about 200 Kansans on the special limited-rights voting track in this year’s primary election, just one voted. In Arizona, about 1,500 were put on the limited track, and 21 cast ballots.

Bennett isn’t up for reelection this year — he unsuccessfully sought the Republican nomination for governor — but the race to succeed him will determine the future implementation of Arizona’s restrictive requirements. Republican Michele Reagan sought and won Kobach’s endorsement, boasting that she voted for the infamous anti-immigrant bill that Kobach helped bring to Arizona. In the state senate, Reagan wrote a bill that, among other voting restrictions, would prevent community groups from collecting and delivering mail-in ballots, a method commonly used in voting drives by Latino groups. When an effort to repeal the bill by referendum started to gain steam, Reagan and her fellow Republicans worked to repeal it first, thus allowing the state legislature to bring back parts of the bill in a piecemeal fashion.

Reagan is facing off against Democrat Terry Goddard, a former state attorney general and mayor of Phoenix. Both candidates have said they want tighter disclosure requirements for “dark money” spending by outside groups. But when the Koch-backed 60 Plus Association bought $304,000 in ads attacking Goddard last week, she refused to distance herself from the dark money effort.

Reagan also struggled this week to explain her vote for Arizona’s so-called “birther bill,” which would have required presidential candidates to prove to the secretary of state that they are native-born American citizens.

Other States To Watch: Colorado, New Mexico, Arkansas, Iowa

In Colorado, Republican Secretary of State Scott Gessler — a key Kobach ally and crusader against the supposed scourge of Democratic “organized voter fraud” who last year tried to stop county clerks from sending ballots to voters who had not voted in the the last election — is stepping down this year, having tried and failed to get his party’s gubernatorial nomination. In the race to replace him are Republican El Paso County Clerk Wayne Williams, described by the Denver Post as Gessler’s “lone public ally” among clerks in the ballot controversy, and Democratic attorney Joe Neguse. The two differ on the sweeping elections overhaul Colorado passed last year, which allows same-day voter registration and requires the state to mail a ballot to every voter.

New Mexico’s secretary of state race has incumbent Republican Dianna Duran pitted against Bernalillo County Clerk Maggie Toulouse Oliver, a rising Democratic star. Toulouse Oliver is emphasizing “full participation across a wide spectrum of the electorate” in her campaign, while Durran is accusing her of using “community-organizer, consultant-styled rhetoric.” In a TV ad that doubles as a promotion for right-wing myths about widespread voter fraud, Durran accuses Toulous Oliver of “registering a dog to vote.” In reality, a right-wing activist tried to register his dog to try to prove a point; he was caught and Toulouse Oliver referred his case to the proper authorities.

Earlier this month, the Arkansas Supreme Court struck down the state’s voter ID requirement, a ruling that Secretary of State Mark Martin is vowing to fight. As the case worked its way through the courts, Arkansas voters got conflicting messages from elections officials under Martin’s leadership. He faces a challenge from Democrat Susan Inman.

In Iowa, outgoing Secretary of State Matt Schultz spent $150,000 in taxpayer money in a quest to root out voter fraud in Iowa…and found none. He also conducted a voter roll purge that critics called an attempt to  intimidate Latino voters.” The race to succeed him — between Republican voter ID supporter Paul Pate and Democrat Brad Anderson — is locked in a dead heat.

PFAW’s Dolores Huerta Energizes Latino Voters in Colorado and Georgia

With Election Day rapidly approaching, get-out-the-vote outreach is heating up in key states across the country. This week, civil rights legend and PFAW board member Dolores Huerta is busy getting out the vote. She’s on the ground with PFAW staff energizing Latino voters in two critical midterm states: Colorado and Georgia.

Yesterday Huerta spoke at two kick-off events in Colorado for local canvassers going door-to-door to get out the vote. The first event, hosted by NextGen Climate Colorado and PFAW, drew scores of enthusiastic canvassers ready to talk to voters about pressing environmental issues and turn people out to the polls.

Later in the day, she met with Latino volunteers and canvassers gearing up to do voter turnout work in their communities – critical work in a state where the Senate race is tight and every vote counts.

Today Huerta has headed to Georgia with other members of the PFAW team to meet with more local organizers, speak at a rally, and encourage local residents to cast their ballots on Tuesday.

As Huerta said yesterday:

The Latino vote can decide the election, as we have done in other states. We need to elect people who are going to protect us – to protect our health, our safety, and work to pass immigration reform. It’s up to each one of us. We need to contact our friends and families to make sure they vote.

Indeed, Latino voters may prove to be decisive in a number of tight races. In both Colorado and Georgia, as well as in four other states with close Senate races, the Latino portion of the electorate is larger than the polling margin between the candidates. PFAW will continue to be on the ground in these states, working to ensure that Latino voters are informed, engaged, and ready to cast a vote on Election Day.
 

PFAW

Getting Out the Youth Vote in the Midterms

With elections for tight races all across the country just a few days away, People For the American Way Foundation’s Young People For (YP4) program is pulling out all the stops to help young voters get to the polls and cast their vote this November 4.

As overreaching new voter ID laws threaten to stifle the voices of Americans in a number of states, getting out the vote has never been more critical. YP4 Fellows and alumni have been working hard to ensure that students, people of color, women and other underrepresented communities get their equal say in our democratic system. Our 25 YP4 Vote Organizers are spread across the country in 15 states, working to conduct community outreach, voter engagement, and volunteer recruitment to help mobilize their communities to vote.

Throughout this year, YP4 activists have also advocated for resolutions to enfranchise student voters and increased the number of young registered voters by over 2,000 through dozens of trainings and events.

YP4 has dedicated itself this election cycle to helping young leaders make informed and motivated voters out of those who are routinely overlooked by politicians. In a year in which some lawmakers have sought to discourage voter turnout, campaigns like YP4’s ARRIVE WITH 5 initiative, which encourages voters to bring five or more friends to the polls, help shape a government that actually represents the governed.

The midterm election is no time to stay at home. In a campaign season of extremely narrow races, each and every vote has an impact. We can only make our democracy work for everyone when all Americans are encouraged to engage in civic life and realize what a real difference their voices can make.

PFAW Foundation

John Roberts, Calling Strikes and Strikes

Allowing Texas to enforce a voter ID law found to be intentionally discriminatory suggests the "umpire" takes sides.
PFAW Foundation

Judicial Watch's Farrell: Obama And Latino Groups 'Coordinated' Unaccompanied Minors Crisis

In an interview with Newsmax’s Steve Malzberg yesterday, Judicial Watch “investigator” Chris Farrell claimed that the crisis of unaccompanied Central American children fleeing to the southern U.S. border was a “manufactured crisis” that was “coordinated and prompted” by advocacy groups like the National Council of La Raza in concert with the Obama administration.

Citing the fact that the Obama administration had advance warning of the escalating humanitarian crisis, Farrell suggested that the administration in fact orchestrated it with the help of immigrants’ rights groups.

“My personal opinion is that this was all coordinated and prompted by groups like La Raza going down to Honduras and Guatemala and essentially organizing and promoting this,” he said.

“This wasn't just spontaneous combustion,” he continued. “This was an effort, a thought-out plan.”

Right Quietly Pours Money Into Montana, Hoping To 'Flip' Pivotal State Supreme Court

Conservative legal advocates from throughout the country have been quietly pouring money into a Montana state supreme court race, hoping to topple a court majority that has bucked the U.S. Supreme Court on campaign finance issues and could soon have a voice in cases with national implications involving abortion rights and LGBT equality.

The Right’s chosen candidate is Lawrence VanDyke, a former state solicitor general with a perfect pedigree for pro-corporate and Religious Right donors. Not only has VanDyke indicated his support for the U.S. Supreme Court’s dismantling of campaign finance laws and lamented that the current Montana high court is insufficiently “pro-business,” but, in his position as solicitor general, steered the state government toward taking positions against abortion rights, marriage equality and gun restrictions in other states.

What's more, in his writings as a law student, VanDyke was unguarded in his social conservative views, fretting about same-sex marriage, endorsing discredited “ex-gay” therapy and defending the teaching of anti-scientific “Intelligent Design” in public schools.

The Right Sees An Opportunity In Montana

At last month’s Values Voter Summit in Washington, the Family Research Council’s political action committee hosted a private $100-a-head reception featuring conservative luminaries including Rick Santorum, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, GOP congressmen Steve King, Vicky Hartzler and Mark Meadows, and congressional candidate Dave Brat of Virginia, who unseated former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in an upset primary election this year.

A flyer for the event announced that along with those national Republican politicians, FRC would be “showcasing a very important State Supreme Court candidate, Lawrence VanDyke of Montana, who we hope can flip the court in that state.”

VanDyke’s presence on the fundraiser’s roster was telling. As FRC’s flyer made clear, a VanDyke victory would change the ideological balance on a court that has been a thorn in the side of opponents of campaign finance reform and could soon be facing nationally watched cases on abortion rights and marriage equality.

VanDyke has not yet submitted a campaign finance report showing how much money, if any, FRC was able to bundle for him at the fundraiser, and his campaign did not respond to our inquiry about whether he was personally present at the Values Voter event. But a review of VanDyke’s campaign finance reports shows that his candidacy has attracted keen interest from out-of-state donors, including some of the country’s leading conservative legal activists.

[UPDATE: VanDyke's Oct. 20 fundraising report revealed some of the contributions from FRC and its allies.]

Since filing for the race to unseat sitting Supreme Court Justice Mike Wheat in March, VanDyke has raised about $78,000, more than one-third of which — roughly $29,000 — has come from 114 individual out-of-state donors. By contrast, Wheat has raised just under $85,000 for his reelection bid, only $1,100 of which came from just five out-of-state donors.

Among those who have contributed to VanDyke’s campaign are recognizable names in conservative legal circles. Kelly Shackelford, president of the right-wing legal group Liberty Institute (a major sponsor of the Values Voter Summit) contributed $100, while another top Liberty Institute official, Hiram Sasser, gave $320, the maximum gift allowable as of VanDyke's last fundraising report. Carrie Severino, chief counsel of the Judicial Crisis Network and a Harvard Law School classmate of VanDyke’s, and her husband Roger also each maxed out with $320 contributions. Thomas Spence, an official at the conservative Regnery publishing house also sent the maximum contribution to VanDyke’s campaign. Two employees of the Arizona-based Alliance Defending Freedom have together contributed $370. Christopher Murray, a lawyer who served on Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign, also contributed $320.

Nearly $7,000 of VanDyke’s contributions have come from employees of the law firm Gibson Dunn, where Vandyke worked before entering public service. That includes $320 each from Theodore Olson, the conservative attorney argued the Citizens United case (but who has become better known as a marriage equality advocate), and controversial Bush appeals court nominee Miguel Estrada. VanDyke’s campaign also received $320 each from Eugene Scalia — the son of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and a Wall Street reform-buster in his own right — and his wife.

Montana’s Cowgirl Blog notes that prominent Montana social conservatives Greg and Susan Gianforte — who fund creationist efforts and support anti-gay policies — have also each contributed the maximum amount to VanDyke’s campaign. He has also received the maximum contribution from the Montana Gas & Oil PAC and — in the form of an in-kind gift of catering — from the PAC’s treasurer, Dave Galt.

Cowgirl Blog also notes that VanDyke got a major assist last month from a newly created group called Montanans for a Fair Judiciary, which sent a statewide mailer in favor of his candidacy. The group, which was registered last month, is staffed by a former Montana GOP official and a corporate lobbyist for oil and gas clients, among others.

And just last week, a Washington, D.C.-based group called the Republican State Leadership Committee Judicial Fairness Montana PAC — an offshoot a national group funded by big business interests including the Reynolds tobacco company and Koch Industries — bought $110,000 worth of television ads supporting VanDyke and slamming Wheat as soft on crime. The group has also been mailing out leaflets accusing Wheat of siding with “environmental extremists.”

All of this attention from national activists and corporate backers has caught the attention of a group of six retired Montana Supreme Court justices, who signed a letter last week calling VanDyke an “unqualified corporate lawyer,” adding, "Given [his] background, Mr. VanDyke is an excellent corporate pick although that is obviously not good news for Montanans.”

MTN News reported:

The letter from the judges notes that VanDyke has received the maximum allowable campaign contributions from numerous out-of-state lawyers who represent major corporations, including more than 20 at the Gibson firm - including at least one who represented Citizens United.

"Corporations are buying judicial races because they want judges who will not hold them accountable," the draft letter from the retired justices says. "If the disinformation they are spreading successfully manipulates Montanans into electing an unqualified corporate lawyer, we will lose our fair and impartial court."

‘Changing The Face of the Montana Supreme Court’

While VanDyke’s personal connections seem to behind quite a bit of his financial support from out-of-state conservative leaders, his featured spot at the Values Voter Summit hints that the conservative legal movement and the Religious Right see an opportunity in his candidacy.

Montana conservatives have made no secret of their desire to pack the state Supreme Court with justices in their ideological mold. Last year, the Great Falls Tribune published leaked emails between conservative Republicans in the state senate discussing a “long term strategy” for displacing more moderate Republicans in the state legislature and “changing the face of the Montana Supreme Court.”

One lawmaker wrote of the need to “purge” the party of moderates, after which “a new phoenix will rise from the ashes.”

In 2012, Montana conservatives were able to elect the likeminded Laurie McKinnon to the state Supreme Court thanks in part to a dark money group called the “Montana Growth Network” run by a Republican state senator that spent at least $42,000 on her campaign — more than the candidate spent herself. The “Montanans for a Fair Judiciary” group that has been campaigning for VanDyke is linked to the firm that was employed by the “Montana Growth Network” to boost McKinnon.

National conservative groups have good reason to take an interest in the race as well.

Montana’s Supreme Court gained national attention in 2011 when it bucked the U.S. Supreme Court on the issue of campaign finance regulation, ruling that the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United did not invalidate Montana’s century-old ban on corporate spending in elections. The 5-2 decision, in which Justice Wheat joined the majority, openly defied the Supreme Court’s controversial ruling. One of the two dissenting justices wrote that the state court must follow the high court’s precedent but used the opportunity to excoriate the Supreme Court for its Citizens United logic. On appeal, the Supreme Court summarily reversed Montana’s opinion, ending the state’s corporate spending ban.

Montana’s Supreme Court may soon also be in the center of the legal debates on same-sex marriage and abortion rights. State anti-choice groups have indicated that they might challenge Montana’s abortion clinic buffer-zone bill in the wake of the Supreme Court’s striking down of a similar bill in Massachusetts. In addition, marriage equality cases are working their way through both state and federal courts in Montana.

A Movement Candidate

Although Montana’s judicial elections are ostensibly nonpartisan, VanDyke’s resume makes him seemingly a perfect candidate for conservative activists hoping to drag the state's high court to the right. At Harvard Law School, VanDyke was active in the conservative Federalist Society and wrote an article for the school’s law review favorably reviewing a book arguing for allowing public schools to teach anti-scientific Intelligent Design.

In an article for another school publication, VanDyke lamented that courts in Canada had been “forcing same-sex marriage on the populace” and warned of a “trend of intolerance towards religion as homosexual ‘rights’ become legally entrenched.” In the same article, he cited a study supporting debunked “ex-gay” therapy to support the “view that homosexuals can leave the homosexual lifestyle.” (The author of that study has since recanted.)

After graduating from law school, VanDyke clerked for D.C. Circuit Judge Janice Rogers Brown, perhaps the most stridently conservative of that court’s activist pro-corporate wing, known for her extreme opposition to government regulation and her writing of a prequel to the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision. After a stint at Gibson Dunn, VanDyke became an assistant solicitor general in Texas and was named solicitor general of Montana early last year.

In public statements, VanDyke has indicated that he would have sided with the U.S. Supreme Court on Citizens United, defending the decision in a debate last month. And although his race is officially nonpartisan, VanDyke has made it very clear which side of the aisle he falls on, accusing his opponent of judging “like a liberal Democrat” and being “results-oriented” in his rulings — a loaded accusation favored by conservative activists.

VanDyke has also hinted that he would be more favorable to business interests on the court, touting an endorsement from the Montana Chamber of Commerce and saying, “I don’t think anybody who follows our court thinks it’s a pro-business court.” On his website, he backs efforts to “produce and preserve” natural resources, which he contrasts with his opponent's siding with preservationists in a dispute over drilling gas wells. In September, he spoke at a “Coal Appreciation Day” sponsored by a coal industry group.

VanDyke’s website also touts his support for the death penalty and an expansive interpretation of the Second Amendment, noting his work as state solicitor general defending a bill that would have invalidated federal firearms regulations on weapons manufactured and kept in Montana. (The law was ultimately struck down in federal court). In that position, VanDyke also pushed for Montana signing on to Alabama briefs in favor of overturning semiautomatic weapon bans in New York and Connecticut. At the time, he bantered over email with Alabama’s solicitor general, Andrew Brasher, about shooting elk with semi-automatic firearms, attaching a picture of himself hunting with “the same gun used by the Navy Seals.”

Ultimately, Montana signed on to both briefs, and VanDyke evidently made a useful connection as well: This year, Brasher contributed the maximum amount to his Supreme Court campaign.

VanDyke recently announced that he had been endorsed by the National Rifle Association.

In his role as solicitor general, VanDyke also worked on efforts to oppose same-sex marriage and abortion rights, including signing on to amicus briefs filed in other states.

VanDyke, meanwhile, is running on the message that he will follow “the law, not politics” and accusing Justice Wheat of being overly partisan. In the same interview in which he lamented that the current state supreme court was unfavorable to business interests, he said, “I have not promised anybody that I’m going to be a pro-business judge or that I’m going to be a conservative judge...I’m going to be a fair and balanced judge.”

Judicial Elections Draw More And More Big Money

Last year, Justice at Stake reported on the fast increase of spending in judicial elections, leading to judicial races seeming “alarmingly indistinguishable from ordinary political campaigns” and blurring “the boundaries that keep money and political pressure from interfering with the rule of law.”

Part of this increase was attributable to the 2010 Citizens United decision, which allowed outside groups to spend unlimited amounts supporting and opposing candidates. In the case of judicial elections, those candidates could be the ones deciding on the future of that very campaign spending.

It’s no wonder that the corporate right and the Religious Right have joined forces to back VanDyke’s candidacy. A little-noticed nonpartisan race in Montana could prove to be an effective long-term investment for a movement that’s trying to solidify a pro-corporate grip on the courts and win back lost legal ground abortion rights and LGBT equality.

This post has been updated to clarify the status of marriage equality cases in Montana.

Fifth Circuit's Voter ID Decision Shows the Attitude of Bush's Judges

What is the public interest in enforcing a voting law that was found to have been passed with the intent to discriminate?
PFAW Foundation

Nothing To See Here: The Alternate Reality Of Voter-Suppression Advocates

It’s been a rough few days for voter-ID proponents. On Thursday, the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office came out with a report showing that restrictive photo-ID measures had depressed turnout in Tennessee and Kansas, especially among young people and African Americans. The same day, the Supreme Court blocked the implementation of a photo-ID law in Wisconsin that voting rights advocates said there was not enough time to implement before the election and a federal judge in Texas struck down that state’s restrictive law, citing its impact on minority voters and calling it an “unconstitutional poll tax.”

Then, the next day, renowned conservative 7th Circuit judge Richard Posner requested a full-court rehearing of the challenge to Wisconsin’s law, in the process offering a blistering takedown of the voter-ID crowd’s arguments. "There is only one motivation for imposing burdens on voting that are ostensibly designed to discourage voter-impersonation fraud, and that is to discourage voting by persons likely to vote against the party responsible for imposing the burdens,” he wrote. He added a special dig at the advocacy group True the Vote, calling some of their supposed evidence of voter-impersonation fraud “goofy” and “paranoid.”

Then, just today, University of Delaware researchers came out with a study showing that support for voter ID laws among whites jumps when they are shown a picture of a black person voting.

All of which made a Heritage Foundation panel today called “Keeping Elections Honest” seem like it was taking place in an alternate reality, one in which the extremely rare voter-impersonation fraud is in fact rampant and in which laws making it more difficult to vote do not have negative effects.

The Heritage discussion featured some of the nation’s top proponents of voter suppression measures, including Heritage’s Hans von Spakovsky, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach (the brains behind anti-immigrant and voter suppression measures around the country), Kobach’s Colorado counterpart Scott Gessler and True the Vote’s Catherine Engelbrecht.

Kobach spent part of his presentation attempting to refute the GAO study, but the court rulings went mostly unmentioned.

This alternate reality was perhaps most stark when, during a question-and-answer session, a reporter asked Kobach about the two-tiered voting system he’s instituted in Kansas for the coming election. Kobach and Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett are in the process of suing the Election Assistance Commission to include a more restrictive “proof of citizenship” requirement on the federal voter registration forms it uses in those two states. In the meantime, Kansas and Arizona are allowing people who register using the federal form without providing additional documentation to vote…but only in federal elections. (Votes those people cast in state-level elections won’t be counted.)

About 1,500 Arizonans and 200 Kansans were put in this special federal-only voting tier in the primary.

Kobach, far from seeming concerned about this state of affairs, proudly reported that of the 200 Kansans to whom he gave special limited voting rights, only one bothered to show up at the polls.

In the primary on August 5, we had fewer than 200 total voters in the state who had registered using the federal form and had not provided photo ID. Using that number, we then created a sort of federal-elections-only voter roll, if you will, so a roll in addition to the main voter roll. And it didn’t include all of the 105 counties, it included a minority of the counties. And then those people, when they showed up, they were to be given a provisional ballot and told that they would be — actually it would occur on the back end, even if the poll worker didn’t know that that’s why they were being given a provisional ballot, the county canvas would count only the federal elections on the ballot.

So anyway, to answer your question, we are going to be doing a count, a final count – our registration actually closes today, this is the final day to register in Kansas – as soon as it closes, we’ll have a final count. My guess is it probably will be in the range of maybe 300-400, we’ll know soon what that number is, for the whole state. And by the way, of those fewer than 200 people— if memory serves, it was like 186 or something like that — only one actually showed up to vote out of that entire number. So, we’ll see what the number is. So the numbers are actually pretty small and pretty manageable right now and we’re hopeful that we’ll get a decision that will be a favorable one and then we won’t have to maintain a separate, federal-elections-only list.

At no point in the discussion did anyone mention the thousands of Kansans who currently have no right to vote in any kind of election because they haven’t been able to produce one of the few kinds of citizenship documentation required by the new state voter registration form.

PFAW's 2014 Federal Candidate Endorsements

Arizona | California | Colorado | Florida | Hawaii | Iowa | Maine | Michigan | Minnesota | New Hampshire | New York | Oregon | South Dakota | Virginia | Wisconsin

ARIZONA

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Ruben Gallego, running for Congress in Arizona’s 7th District – Former State Rep. Ruben Gallego is running for retiring 11-term Congressman Ed Pastor’s seat. Gallego convincingly won his primary on a strong progressive platform. He is a young and rising Latino progressive and we are excited he is heading to Congress.

www.GallegoForArizona.com

CALIFORNIA

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Pete Aguilar, running for Congress in California’s 31st District – Aguilar is running for the open seat being vacated by Rep. Garry Miller. Aguilar is a young and experienced progressive, who has served as Mayor of Redland, California since 2010. Before being elected as Mayor, Aguilar served in Redland’s City Council. As the son of a union worker in a working-class family in San Bernardino, Aguilar is a strong supporter of worker’s rights, fair wages, and is committed to taking his progressive values to Congress.

www.PeteAguilar.com

honda

Congressman Mike Honda, running for re-election in California’s 17th District – Rep. Honda is a veteran progressive leader in Congress on many issues, including education, immigration and civil rights. He holds leadership positions in both the Congressional Progressive Caucus and the LGBT Equality caucus.  He also founded and chairs the Congressional Anti-Bullying Caucus, working on legislation like the Student Non-Discrimination Act.

www.MikeHonda.com

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Amanda Renteria, running for Congress in California’s 21st District – Renteria is challenging freshman Republican David Valadao for this seat. She is a strong supporter of LGBT and women’s rights and will fight for worker protections and fair wages. In 2008, she became the first Latina Chief-of-Staff in Senate history, serving Senator Debbie Stabenow. Her opponent, David Valadao, has voted 75% of the time with the Tea Party, including voting to privatize Medicare.

www.AmandaRenteria.com

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State Senator Ted Lieu, running for Congress in California’s 33rd District – Senator Lieu is running for the open seat vacated by retiring Congressman Henry Waxman. Throughout his political career, Lieu has shown strong leadership on many progressive issues, including working on legislation to protect victims of domestic violence, ban gay conversion "therapy", and get money out of politics. Senator Lieu is a Lieutenant Colonel in the Air Force reserves.

www.TedLieu.com/

takano

Congressman Mark Takano, running for re-election in California’s 41st District – Rep. Takano made history in 2012, becoming the first LGBT person of color to be elected to Congress. He is a leader for progressive values in Congress, including advancing legislation to help our veterans and improve public education.

www.MarkTakano.com/

COLORADO

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Senator Mark Udall, running for re-election, Colorado –When Mark Udall was elected in 2008, the newly minted senator took office as the country was dealing with the after effects of the Bush administration. Udall took his responsibility seriously, working to bring what he calls “Colorado common sense” to Washington. As a senator, he has been a key leader in the fight to end the Pentagon’s Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy, the DREAM Act, and has called for immigration reform.

www.MarkUdall.com

FLORIDA

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Congressman Alan Grayson, running for re-election in Florida’s 9th District – Rep. Grayson is a progressive champion in the U.S. House of Representatives and has been referenced as being one the “most effective Congressman” by Slate.com. He is a member and the former Vice-Chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

www.GraysonForCongress.com

HAWAII

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Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, running for re-election in Hawaii’s 2nd District – Since joining Congress in 2012, Rep. Gabbard has fought hard for working families. She is a strong critic of money in politics, co-sponsoring a resolution that would amend the U.S. constitution to regulate campaign spending. She is a member of the Young Elected Officials Network, a program of our affiliate, People for the American Way Foundation.

www.VoteTulsi.com

IOWA

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Staci Appel, running for Congress in Iowa's 3rd District – Appel is running for the open seat being vacated by Republican Incumbent Tom Latham. As a state Senator and Assistant Senate Majority Leader from 2006-2010, Appel showed strong progressive values as a state senator. If elected, Appel would become Iowa’s first female member of Congress. As a Congresswoman Appel, will work to protect women’s health care, the environment, and the middle class.

www.AppelForIowa.com

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Congressman Bruce Braley, running for U.S. Senate, Iowa – Congressman Bruce Braley currently represents Iowa’s 1st Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives, and is running for the open U.S. Senate seat currently held by his mentor, retiring U.S. Senator Tom Harkin. He established himself as a populist progressive, fighting for working Iowans, veterans, students, and seniors. Braley’s work on women’s issues includes voting for the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, support of the Paycheck Fairness Act, and working to pass the renewal of the Violence Against Women Act.

www.BruceBraley.com

murphy

State Representative Pat Murphy, Running for Congress in Iowa’s 1st District – Pat Murphy is running to succeed Congressman Bruce Braley, who is running for U.S. Senate. Murphy has established a progressive voting record while serving as a state legislator and is known as a tough progressive fighter for issues including fair wages, and LGBT and women’s rights. His opponent, Rod Blum, is not shy about his extreme conservative values, including legislation that allows hospitals to legally deny abortion services to a woman in a life-threatening situation.

www.PatMurphyForIowa.com

MAINE

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Shenna Bellows, running for U.S. Senate, Maine – Shenna Bellows is challenging GOP Senator Susan Collins to represent Maine in the U.S. Senate. The former executive director of ACLU of Maine and graduate of Emerge Maine’s candidate program, has been an outspoken advocate for LGBTQ equality and against ‘dark money’ in politics. While serving ACLU of Maine, she built bipartisan coalitions to advance privacy and civil rights legislation, establishing Maine as a national leader in these policies.

www.BellowsForSenate.com

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State Senator Emily Cain, running for Congress in Maine’s 2nd District – As Maine’s youngest state House Democratic Leader, Emily Cain, a member of affiliate PFAW Foundation’s Young Elected Officials Network, has established herself as a strong advocate for women and leader for expanding educational opportunities for all Mainers. She stands strong on these issues in her bid to replace Mike Michaud in Maine’s 2nd Congressional District.

www.CainForCongress.com

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Congresswoman Chellie Pingree, running for re-election in Maine’s 1st District – Rep. Pingree is a stalwart progressive. The former National President and CEO of Common Cause is a strong supporter of campaign finance reform to get money out of politics and a leader on many other progressive issues, including leading the debate on the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.

www.ChelliePingree.org

MICHIGAN

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Congressman Gary Peters, running for U.S. Senate, Michigan – Congressman Gary Peters currently represents Michigan’s 14th Congressional District and is running for the seat of retiring Senator Carl Levin. He is well known around the state for his outspoken criticism of GOP Tea Party Governor Rick Snyder’s austerity measures. In Washington and at home, Rep. Peters has continued to promote the rebuilding of Detroit and has fought to return advanced manufacturing jobs to Michigan.

www.PetersForMichigan.com

MINNESOTA

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Senator Al Franken, running for re-election, Minnesota – Senator Franken is an outspoken critic of big money in politics, criticizing the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizen United and McCutcheon decisions. A stalwart defender of women’s equality, he has criticized the Hobby Lobby decision, even co-sponsoring legislation with fellow Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar to override the judgment’s effects.

www.AlFranken.com

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Congressman Rick Nolan, running for re-election in Minnesota’s 8th District – After serving in Congress for 6 years between 1975 and 1981, the freshman Congressman has made a comeback and is again standing up against the right-wing agenda. Rep. Nolan is a vocal critic of money in politics and strongly supports public education and worker’s rights.

www.NolanForCongress.org

NEW HAMPSHIRE

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Senator Jeanne Shaheen, running for re-election, New Hampshire – Senator Shaheen has been an active leader in Congress since assuming office in 2009. Shaheen has championed legislation to advance women’s and LGBTQ rights, including the Shaheen Amendment and the Charlie Morgan Military Spouses Equal Treatment Act. Her challenger, former Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown, has a long record of putting Wall Street ahead the American middle class.

www.JeanneShaheen.com

NEW YORK

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Martha Robertson, running for Congress in New York’s 23rd District – Martha Robertson is challenging two-term incumbent Rep. Tom Reed in NY’s 23rd Congressional district. Robertson has been a member of the Tompkins County Legislature since 2002, serving as chair from 2010 to 2013. She is a strong supporter of core progressive issues, including women’s rights, marriage equality and, amending the constitution to get money out of politics.

www.MarthaForNY.com/

OREGON

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Senator Jeff Merkley, running for re-election, Oregon – Since being elected in 2008, Senator Merkley has worked to give Oregonians a fair shot at sustainable energy jobs, protection from Wall Street bankers, and access to quality health care. Senator Merkley worked to strengthen the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act limiting risky trading by Wall Street banks. He championed a program to drastically reduce the nation’s dependence on fossil fuels, and played a key role in passing the Affordable Care Act.

www.JeffMerkley.com

SOUTH DAKOTA

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Rick Weiland, running for U.S. Senate, South Dakota – Rick Weiland is running to win the open seat being vacated by retiring Senator Tim Johnson. He is an outspoken critic of money in politics and would fight for a more robust Affordable Care Act. He believes strongly in raising the minimum wage. Weiland is a fifth generation South Dakotan.

www.RickWeiland.com

VIRGINIA

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John Foust, running for Congress in Virginia’s 10th District – Foust is running for retiring Congressman Frank Wolf’s seat in northern Virginia. Since joining the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, he has earned the trust and respect of his constituents by leading on issues that improve the lives of northern Virginia residents. He is a strong supporter of workers’ rights, immigration reform, and marriage equality. His opponent, Barbara Comstock, is a long-time Republican operative who recently suggested immigrants should be tracked like FedEx packages.

www.FoustForVirginia.com

WISCONSIN

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Congresswoman Gwen Moore, running for re-election in Wisconsin’s 4th District – Rep. Moore became the first African-American woman (and second woman) to represent Wisconsin in Congress when she was elected in 2004. She currently serves as Co-Chair of the Congressional Women’s Caucus and is a member of the Congressional Progressive and LGBT Equality Caucuses. While in Congress, Rep. Moore has championed progressive causes including working on legislation to advance women’s rights and opportunities, children, and low-income communities.

www.GwenMooreForCongress.com

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Congressman Mark Pocan, running for re-election in Wisconsin’s 2nd District – The freshman Representative from Wisconsin started his career with a bang, introducing a Constitutional amendment to protect the right to vote only five months into his term. Rep. Pocan has also been a leader on corporate accountability legislation and student loan reforms. He is Co-Chair of the LGBT Equality Caucus and a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

www.PocanForCongress.com

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Kelly Westlund, running for Congress in Wisconsin’s 7th District – A member of affiliate PFAW Foundation’s Young Elected Officials Network, Kelly Westlund has taken on a tough fight against right-wing Tea Party GOP Rep. Sean Duffy. Westlund has been vocal on big money’s influence in state politics, mining deregulation, and has drawn significant fire from right-wing interest groups for her progressive positions on economic equality and fair pay.

www.KellyWestlund.com

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Rob Zerban, running for Congress in Wisconsin’s 1st District – Zerban is challenging right-wing House Budget Committee Chairman and 2012 Vice-Presidential hopeful Rep. Paul Ryan for the second time. He is a long-time activist for the environment and believes in an environmentally sustainable economy that strengthens the middle class. Zerban is also a strong advocate for full equality for all Americans, including members of the LGBT community.

www.RobZerban.com

 

Texas Judge Could Teach the Roberts Court a Thing or Two

A Texas federal judge strikes down that state's restrictive voter ID law as intentionally discriminatory.
PFAW Foundation

Kris Kobach Doesn't Like The New GAO Study Showing His Voter ID Law Decreased Turnout

Surprise! A new Government Accountability Office study shows that Kansas’ new voter ID requirement depressed turnout in the 2012 election, and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach is not happy about it.

Kobach was the driving force behind Kansas’ voter ID law, which he called the “Cadillac of voter security.” The law passed in 2011, and its photo ID requirement kicked in for the 2012 election — that’s the provision that the GAO found decreased turnout, especially among young people and African Americans.

But since then, a new provision in the law has taken effect, making it even harder to vote in Kansas. As of last month, tens of thousands of Kansans had had their voter registrations suspended because of failure to provide one of a narrow list of “proof of citizenship” documents required under this new, Kobach-backed provision.

The “proof of citizenship” fiasco has become a main issue in Kobach’s tough reelection fight, causing many moderate Republicans to break ranks and back his Democratic opponent Jean Schodorf.

So, unsurprisingly, Kobach is not thrilled with the GAO study showing that even the first step of his “Cadillac” plan is driving people from voting, telling the Wichita Eagle that the report from the nonpartisan agency is just “dead wrong.”

“I think the GAO just got it dead wrong,” Kobach told The Eagle Wednesday. “This year we have a very competitive U.S. Senate race and lots of get-out-the-vote efforts. It’s a huge factor in driving turnout when campaigns spend this kind of money.”

Kobach also said it would have been more accurate to compare Kansas’ turnout in 2012 to its turnout in 2000, the last time there were no U.S. Senate or statewide offices on the ballot. In 2000, voter turnout was 66.7 percent, and in 2012, it was 66.8 percent.

The report says voter turnout decreased in Kansas and Tennessee from the 2008 to the 2012 general elections to a greater extent than turnout decreased in selected comparison states – Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware and Maine. Tennessee’s secretary of state, Tre Hargett, also called the study flawed.

The GAO stood by its study, saying its “methodology was robust and valid.”

Rebecca Gambler, director of homeland security and justice issues for the GAO, said the agency selected Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware and Maine for comparison because they did not have any changes to their state voter ID requirements between 2008 and 2012.

“They didn’t have other contemporaneous changes. They had similar election cycles to Kansas and Tennessee,” Gambler said.

The GAO reported that its analysis “suggests that the turnout decreases in Kansas and Tennessee beyond decreases in comparison states were attributable to changes in the two states’ voter ID requirements.”

New Poll Demonstrates Bipartisan Support to Restore the Voting Rights Act

For nearly half a century, the Voting Rights Act (VRA) has helped protect each American’s right to vote, a founding principle of our democracy. Last year, the 5-4 Supreme Court decision in Shelby County v. Holder gutted a key provision of the VRA and imperiled those hard-won voting rights. But new polling finds that across the board, Americans want to see these protections restored.

The poll, conducted by Lake Research Partners and released this week, finds that Americans believe laws must be in place to ensure that each individual has a voice in our democratic process. More than 8 in 10 voters favor the Voting Rights Act for combatting persistent issues with voting discrimination, including 72 percent of respondents who are strongly in favor of VRA protections. Additionally, over two-thirds of voters from diverse racial, political and geographical backgrounds support restoring the Voting Rights Act and strengthening protections for the right to vote.

The overwhelming response in support of strong voting protections underscores the failure of Congress to listen to the American people. Even in the face of this broad consensus, House Republican leadership has made it clear that protecting the right to vote is not a priority for them.

PFAW

Ohio Ministers Speak Out Against SCOTUS Order to Block Early Voting

In response to the Supreme Court’s 5-4 vote today to block early voting in Ohio less than 24 hours before it was set to begin, Ohio members of People For the American Way Foundation’s African American Ministers Leadership Council (AAMLC) released the following statement:

“Today the Supreme Court demonstrated, yet again, that it is not interested in protecting the right of everyday Americans to participate in our democracy. From making it easier for the super-rich to buy elections to coming down on the side of those who want to block access to the polls, the conservative majority of the Roberts Court is making it crystal clear that they will not stand up for a democracy of, by, and for the people.

“The right to vote is the most fundamental right, and responsibility, that we have in a democracy. As a country, we should be working to expand access to voting, not making it harder to cast a ballot. We’re deeply disappointed that the Supreme Court has failed to protect voting rights in our state today.”

On September 17, 85 AAMLC members joined with fellow Ohio clergy in meetings with the offices of state House and Senate members to share their thoughts on the importance of protecting, and removing barriers to, the right to vote.

People For the American Way Foundation’s African American Ministers Leadership Council represents an ecumenical alliance of 1,500 African-American clergy working toward equality, justice and opportunity for all.

###

The Roberts Court vs. Ohio Voters

Bad news for early voting in Ohio, thanks to the Roberts Court.
PFAW Foundation

A State-by-State Round-Up of Voting Rights Today

More than a year ago, the Supreme Court dealt a major blow to voting rights when they struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act in their Shelby v. Holder decision. In the wake of this decision, nine states and many other counties that once had to have their voting law changes approved by the federal government before they took effect — what’s known as “preclearance”— no longer have to do so. With the midterm elections rapidly approaching, where does that leave voters in the preclearance states and in other states where legal battles over voting laws are raging?

Yesterday ProPublica published a great round-up of the current landscape of voting rights across the country. Some of the lowlights included:

• Seven preclearance states have announced new restrictions since the Supreme Court rolled back the Voting Rights Act.
• [In 2012], a federal court called Texas's photo ID law [the] “most stringent in the country.” Now, it’s in effect.
• Two months after the Supreme Court ruling on the Voting Rights Act, North Carolina cut early voting and eliminated same-day registration.

ProPublica notes that while glaringly discriminatory barriers like literacy tests are behind us, these legal changes matter a great deal. As voting rights advocates have demonstrated, voter ID laws, limitations on early voting, and voter roll purges disproportionately harm communities of color and other marginalized groups. Rather, Americans agree that no one should be facing barriers to casting a ballot and participating in our democracy.

You can read the full article here.

 

PFAW Foundation

True The Vote Proves What’s Wrong With Its Voter ID Obsession

True the Vote is one of the most influential groups working to make it harder to vote by pushing for restrictive voter ID laws and launching challenges against people it thinks might be ineligible to vote, tactics which are supposedly directed at preventing voter impersonation fraud and double voting — crimes that in reality are exceedingly rare.

In order to cover up the fact that voter ID laws keep many times more people from the polls than the miniscule number of voter impersonation cases that they might prevent, groups like TTV try to conflate in-person voter fraud — the only thing actually targeted by voter ID laws — with faulty voter registration and with rare but persistent kinds of small-scale voter fraud by elected officials that they have no intention of actually combating.

A great example of this happened yesterday, when TTV reprinted a short blog post by former Bush Justice Department official and conservative activist J. Christian Adams linking to a story about “Three PA Elected Officials Charged With Voter Fraud.”

Adams offers his commentary, implying that this story proves that the numerous studies discrediting the voter ID push are just wrong:

I am curious to see if this barely reported case of voter fraud ever makes it onto one of the ‘academic’ studies purporting to demonstrate very little voter fraud. Those studies are characterized by false negatives.

A quick look at the story in question, however, shows that what happened in Pennsylvania has nothing to do with voter ID or any so-called “voter integrity” laws that Adams and TTV are promoting.

Pennsylvania requires that people requesting an absentee ballot provide a reason, which can be “illness or physical disability” that makes the voter “unable to attend his/her polling place or to operate a voting machine.” Those voters must also provide a copy of their photo ID.

The case that Adams and TTV are touting is that of three township supervisors who were charged with violating election laws in 2011, two for helping 13 elderly voters to apply for and fill out absentee ballots , despite the fact that all were physically able to go to the polls on Election Day and were thus ineligible to obtain absentee ballots in Pennsylvania. One of the supervisors is charged with helping an eligible absentee voter fill out a ballot but failing to report that he had assisted the voter.

None of this would have been prevented by a voter ID requirement. Instead, this is an instance of, at best, a misunderstanding and at worst, public officials using their insider influence to tinker with ballots.

If it’s the latter, all sorts of laws are currently on the books to prevent such instances of election fraud. But it is not something that so-called “voter integrity” activists have shown any interest in addressing, perhaps because it’s already against the law and policed. As the Brennan Center wrote in a 2007 report, such conduct “has been an issue since Senators wore togas” and is a completely separate issue from the kind of supposed fraud that groups like True The Vote claim to be fixing with suppressive voting restrictions.

It is extremely rare for individuals to vote multiple times, vote as someone else, or vote despite knowing that they are ineligible. These rare occurrences, however, are often conflated with other forms of election irregularities or misconduct, under the misleading and overbroad label of “voter fraud.” Some of these other irregularities result from honest mistakes by election officials or voters, such as confusion as to whether a particular person is actually eligible to vote. Some irregularities result from technological glitches, whether sinister or benign: for example, voting machines may record inaccurate tallies. And some involve fraud or intentional misconduct perpetrated by actors other than individual voters: for example, flyers may spread misinformation about the proper locations or procedures for voting; thugs may be dispatched to intimidate voters at the polls; missing ballot boxes may mysteriously reappear. These more common forms of misconduct are simply not addressed by the supposed “anti-fraud” measures generally proposed.

PFAW and Allies Deliver Half a Million Signatures Calling on Congress to Restore the Voting Rights Act

On Wednesday, PFAW joined representatives from a number of organizations similarly concerned with civil rights and the cornerstone of American democracy – the right to vote – on Capitol Hill to present Speaker John Boehner with the signatures of more than 500,000 Americans demanding that Congress move forward in restoring key provisions of the landmark Voting Rights Act.

Today, access to the voting booth has become an increasingly imperiled right for many Americans, thanks to the Supreme Court’s decision last year in Shelby County v. Holder. Across the country, states and localities are making changes to voting laws that make it more complicated and onerous to carry out a fundamental civic duty, especially for ethnic and racial minorities, the elderly, and student voters.

However, the Republican leadership in the House does not seem to share the public’s sense of urgency on compromised voting access. Tellingly, neither Speaker Boehner nor his staff acknowledged the coalition’s attempt to deliver the signatures in-person. The office that he keeps for his congressional district was locked, and knocks went unanswered, shutting out the American people, including his constituents, in the middle of a workday while Congress is in session.

In a press conference following the attempted delivery of the petitions, lawmakers and representatives from the #VRA4Today coalition of more than 50 advocacy groups spoke of the need to strengthen the rights of voters and restore the critical protections of the Voting Rights Act. Marge Baker, executive vice president of People For the American Way, said:

Repairing the damage done by the court majority in Shelby is a critical test of whether Congress can put partisanship behind to protect our democracy. The will of the people is clear: we will not tolerate voting discrimination in our country, we will not turn back the clock.

Joining in this sentiment was House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, who urged his colleagues to support the rights of Americans to participate in their government. “The right to vote is the most fundamental right in a democracy,” he said. “It is the right to have one’s voice heard.”
 

PFAW

Voting Developments in Ohio and Wisconsin Show, Again, Why #CourtsMatter

The past week held both good news and bad news for voting rights, depending on your part of the country. On Friday in Ohio, an appeals court declined to put on hold a ruling that expands early voting in the state, a win for those of us who believe that voting should be fair and accessible for all people. But on the same day, an appeals court gave the okay to Wisconsin’s voter ID law — a law that had been blocked months ago by a federal judge who noted that it disproportionately affects Latino and black communities.

Commentators have noted that instating the new voter ID law in Wisconsin so close to an election could cause real confusion for voters, and advocates are asking for a re-hearing. As election law expert Rick Hasen said, “It is hard enough to administer an election with set rules — much less to change the rules midstream.”

Beyond the practical implications for voters, it’s also important to connect the dots back to how these decisions happened and who was making them. As The Nation’s Ari Berman wrote on Friday night:

[A] panel of Democrat-appointed judges on the Sixth Circuit upheld a preliminary injunction from a Democrat-appointed district court judge striking down Ohio’s cuts to early voting. Two hours earlier, however, a trio of Republican-appointed judges on the Seventh Circuit overturned an injunction from a Democratic judge blocking Wisconsin’s voter ID law.

This is why elections matter. And the courts are increasingly becoming the arbiters of who does and does not get to participate in them. [emphasis added]

PFAW
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