Today, on the second anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder, People For the American Way joins a diverse group of civil rights and voting rights advocates in Roanoke, Virginia to rally for a restored Voting Rights Act (VRA). Minister Leslie Watson Malachi, director of African American Religious Affairs at People For the American Way, is addressing the crowd. Below are her remarks, as prepared.
Hello everyone. I am Minister Leslie Watson Malachi and I’m the director of African American Religious Affairs at People For the American Way.
It’s been two years since the Supreme Court gutted the crown jewel of the Civil Rights Movement. Two years since Justice Scalia claimed that protecting the right to vote somehow represents “racial entitlement.”
The Voting Rights Act, when it was whole, was one of the most important tools we had for confronting a very ugly entitlement: the entitlement of those who think that certain votes and certain voices should matter more than others. It helped interrupt a phenomenon that is still alive and well – the ongoing devaluation of the votes, and the lives, of Black Americans. The racist massacre at Emanuel AME church in Charleston provided a horrific reminder of that reality.
The VRA gave a sense of security and safety that translated beyond just security and safety in the voting booth. After the VRA, we had the election of first-time African Americans in mayoral and gubernatorial seats post Reconstruction. The Voting Rights Act was more than a piece of public policy. It was a statement, enshrined in law, about the value of African American lives and voices.
So far, Congress has failed to restore that statement, those protections. What kind of message does that send?
Chairman Goodlatte, we are here in your backyard to demand that you and your Republican colleagues do better. Stop ignoring racial discrimination at the polls. Stop ignoring the calls from Americans of all political stripes and restore the VRA.
In the past two years, politicians in cities and states that were once protected by the federal oversight of the original VRA have been passing laws that make it harder for people of color to vote. These politicians didn’t waste any time in turning back the clock on progress we’ve made toward making sure that all Americans can participate in our democracy.
Congress shouldn’t waste any more time in doing just the opposite: restoring the Voting Rights Act and protecting every person’s right to cast a vote that counts.
Fifty years ago, courageous men and women died fighting for these protections. They knew that the right to vote is the most precious right we have in a democracy. We can’t let their legacy come undone.
WASHINGTON – Two years ago today, the Supreme Court gutted a core provision of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) in its Shelby County decision. Yesterday a group of senators and representatives took new action toward restoring the VRA by introducing the Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would modernize the “preclearance” formula for federal oversight and make additional, critical updates to the landmark law.
Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), and Senator Chris Coons (D-Del.) introduced the measure in the Senate. Congressman John Lewis (D-Ga.) and Congresswoman Terri Sewell (D-Ala.) of the Congressional Black Caucus, Congresswoman Linda Sánchez (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, and Congresswoman Judy Chu (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, introduced an identical measure in the House.
People For the American Way Executive Vice President Marge Baker released the following statement:
“We applaud Senator Leahy, Representative Lewis, and their colleagues for introducing this urgently-needed legislation.
“Two years after the Shelby County ruling gutted the heart of the Voting Rights Act, voters in cities and states that were once protected by federal oversight are facing laws that make it harder to vote – laws that disproportionately affect people of color. This is unacceptable. Voting discrimination is still a very real, pervasive problem, even if some members of Congress choose to ignore it.
“The Voting Rights Advancement Act would help protect voters from this kind of discrimination and ensure that every American is able to exercise their fundamental right to participate in our elections. Congress should take up and pass this legislation now so that we can have fairer rules in place before 2016.”
Today People For the American Way will join a diverse group of civil rights and voting rights advocates in Roanoke, Virginia – represented in Congress by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte – to rally for a restored Voting Rights Act (VRA). The gathering will take place on the second anniversary of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Shelby County v. Holder, which gutted a key provision of the VRA.
The event will include speeches from many esteemed leaders and activists, including People For the American Way Director of African American Religious Affairs, Minister Leslie Watson Malachi.
PFAW President Michael Keegan released the following statement:
“We join together to recognize both the brave leaders who paved the way for the Voting Rights Act fifty years ago and the road ahead to restore protections at the polls. For almost half a century, this landmark law helped ensure that people of color had equal access to the ballot box.
“It is imperative that Congress restores the protections that the Court gutted two years ago. Two years is far too long for voters to face the threat, and the reality, of increased racial discrimination at the polls. As we gear up for the 2016 presidential election, it’s more urgent than ever for these protections to be restored.
“Today we call on Chairman Goodlatte and his colleagues to honor those who have fought for decades for the right to cast a vote that counts by working together to renew and strengthen the Voting Rights Act.”
People For the American Way and African American Ministers In Action commend Senator Patrick Leahy, Representative John Lewis, and their colleagues for introducing the Voting Rights Advancement Act to restore the VRA. Congress should take up and pass this legislation as quickly as possible.
On Thursday, People For the American Way members and supporters in New Hampshire joined local election authorities, lawmakers, civil rights groups, and affected voters to call on Governor Maggie Hassan to veto SB 179 and end the rollback of voting rights.
The bill, SB 179, would require voters to live at the same address for 30 days before registering to vote, chipping away at the state’s same-day registration law, and also open up public access to private voter information at the local level.
Over 80 people packed the lobby of the Legislative Office Building, including many state legislators. Speakers included State Senator David Pierce; Gilles Bissonnette, legal director for the ACLU; State Representative and Plymouth State University student Travis Bennett; moderator for the town of Freedom Don Johnson; and Manchester moderator and president of the Manchester NAACP Woullard Lett. They addressed the unconstitutionality of the 30 day waiting period, the fact that there is no evidence of a problem with “drive by voting,” and the bill’s disproportionate effects on students, the poor, and people of color.
Last Friday Maryland Governor Larry Hogan vetoed a bill that would allow formerly incarcerated persons to regain the right to vote upon release from prison. The bill had passed through Maryland’s General Assembly with a significant majority. Hogan’s veto sustains current Maryland law, which prohibits people from voting until they have completed their entire sentence – including parole and probation.
This decision impacts approximately 40,000 Marylanders who live, work, and pay taxes in the state. The bill would have both supported formerly incarcerated persons in the reintegration process and addressed the systemic disenfranchisement of ex-offenders. As Maryland Delegates Cory McCray and Alonzo Washington put it:
In representative democracy, the right to vote is a fundamental interest. When folks have their access to the ballot box restricted, they lose their ability to have a voice in the decision making process.
PFAW advocates in Maryland, and members of PFAW’s African American Ministers In Action, have been organizing with supporters to restore full voting rights to formerly incarcerated persons. They called on local community leaders and state representatives to promote this important cause.
Hogan’s decision is deeply disappointing and disproportionately marginalizes people of color, continuing a legacy of racially discriminatory ex-offender laws. It highlights how harmful the power to veto can be in the wrong hands. But the fight for voting rights for all is far from over, and activists in Maryland and across the country will continue to push to ensure that fundamental democratic rights are protected.
In a column for the National Review on Tuesday, Mark Krikorian of the Center for Immigration Studies proposed requiring formerly incarcerated people to pass what is essentially a literacy test in order to regain their right to vote.
Krikorian praised Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s recent veto of a bill expanding voting rights for ex-felons but added that conservatives should give “more thought” to the issue of reenfranchising formerly incarcerated people, who because of disparities in the criminal justice system are disproportionately African American.
His idea: requiring ex-felons to pass the same citizenship test in order to regain their right to vote that immigrants pass in order to become citizens:
[G]iven that such a large share of, especially, our black fellow citizens is formally disenfranchised because of past criminality, it behooves conservatives for both policy and political reasons to give the issue of re-enfranchisement more thought. One approach that might work as a policy matter in politically reintegrating those released felons who are interested — and also send a message of openness to the penitent — would be to follow the example of naturalization of immigrants.
While the reasons differ, both felons and resident foreigners are excluded from participation in political life. The way foreigners overcome this exclusion is by ceasing to be foreigners through acquisition of U.S. citizenship. They do this by passing a basic test (probably a little too basic) on U.S. history and civics and by demonstrating (in most cases) a basic ability to read, write, and understand English. Once they swear the Oath of Allegiance, they are enfranchised as citizens of the United States.
This process, he writes, would allow ex-felons “moral readmission to the political community” and show potential employers that those who have passed “might be a cut above the average ex-con”:
Following this model for released felons would have a number of benefits. It would send the message that re-enfranchisement is not merely a matter of paperwork but of a moral readmission to the political community. It would teach some elementary civics and history that the ex-cons probably never learned in school. And if accompanied by a certificate of some kind, it could signal to potential employers that the bearer might be a cut above the average ex-con.
But liberals won’t like his idea of reinstating literacy tests, Krikorian says, because “they don’t particularly like America” so they don’t want anybody learning civics:
The lefty groups pushing to accelerate and simplify re-enfranchisement won’t like this for at least two reasons: Their goal is electing more Democrats, pure and simple, and anything that might stand in the way is unacceptable. And more fundamentally, they don’t particularly like America, and requiring a victim of The Man to pass a history test not written by Howard Zinn is repellent.
On May 5, “Selma” – the award-winning film chronicling the voting rights movement and its violent opposition – will be released on DVD. And while this year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the marches from Selma to Montgomery that culminated in the signing of the Voting Rights Act, the fight to ensure that all Americans have equal access to the voting booth continues today. Voter suppression still threatens many Americans’ ability to cast a ballot, and we are still in dire need of a fix for the Supreme Court’s gutting of the VRA in the 2013 Shelby County decision.
“Selma” is an important film for all progressives, and its release presents a great organizing and activism opportunity for voting rights activists. The film’s creators have put together this guide for hosting a “Selma Salon” – a watch party that brings friends, family, neighbors, or colleagues together to talk about and mobilize around civil rights. If you’re interested in hosting your own Selma Salon, check out the guide for tips and discussion ideas.
If you are a teacher (or have a teacher in your life), the Selma4Students campaign is giving every high school in the U.S. a free copy of “Selma” on DVD, along with a companion study guide to help use the film as an educational tool. Learn more at Selma4Students.com.
Gun Owners of America’s Larry Pratt joined VCY America’s “Crosstalk” program on Tuesday to discuss the then upcoming vote on the nomination of Loretta Lynch to be the U.S. attorney general, telling host Jim Schneider that President Obama nominated Lynch — who was confirmed by the Senate this afternoon — because she was “willing to be as ruthless as he.”
“I’ll give President Obama one thing,” Pratt said. “In all the appointments he’s made that I’m aware of, unlike Republican presidents who have appointed people because they played golf with them, or because somebody said something nice about them among the elite, President Obama has only appointed, to my knowledge, people who are willing to be as ruthless as is he. That explains Eric Holder. That explains Loretta Lynch, who is an Obama appointee as U.S. attorney in New York.”
When Schneider noted with scorn that “Lynch views voter ID laws as being racist,” Pratt said that opposition to such voting restrictions is part of Obama’s “ruthless” attempt to steal elections for Democrats, which will eventually lead to the Republican Party dying out.
“If they have to deal with photo voter ID, they lose, because it makes it much more difficult to steal elections,” he said. “And in all too many cases, the Democrats have been able to win only because of election fraud. And that’s why they are so bitterly resisting photo voter ID. That is a very, very key issue. And when I hear Republicans saying that ‘well, you know, it’s kind of embarrassing for us to be continually opposing that,’ I guess they’re suggesting it makes us look racist, what they’re saying is, they’re okay with the demise of the Republican Party in about 10 years.”
Today the Maryland legislature passed a bill that would allow people to regain the right to vote as soon as they are released from prison. The legislation rights a wrong in current Maryland law, which denies people voting rights until their entire sentence has been completed, including probation and parole. Without this bill, thousands of formerly incarcerated Marylanders — many of whom are people of color — will continue to be needlessly forced to stay home on Election Day.
PFAW activists in Maryland and members of PFAW’s African American Ministers In Action have been working with allies to help change this, calling their state representatives and urging them to support the immediate restoration of voting rights.
Disenfranchising those who have served their time in prison hampers the process of reintegration and shamefully blocks thousands of Americans from participating in elections. It worsens the discrimination already faced by formerly incarcerated people — who pay taxes, work, and contribute to their communities — and it weakens our democracy.
Passage of this bill is a big step forward in the movement for voting rights for all. Now it’s up to Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan to sign it and help make the state’s democratic process as fair and accessible as possible.
The following is a guest post by Zachary Koop, a 2014 Young People For Fellow.
This past Monday, the US Supreme Court made a troubling decision: it rejected an appeal to overturn Wisconsin’s voter ID law, considered one of the strictest in the nation. In so doing, the justices paved the way for other states to prohibit eligible voters from casting ballots.
As a young, progressive Wisconsin student, my peers and I share the sentiment that our voices are being attacked by Wisconsin’s recent voter ID law. Indeed, this policy disproportionately impacts young voters, especially youth of color. Among voters between the ages of 18-29, 17.3 percent of black youth and 8.1 percent of Latino youth were unable to vote because of inadequate identification, compared to 4.7 percent of white youth.
Governor Walker claims that subjugation of Wisconsinites is not the intent, but it is unquestionably the impact. This policy threatened to prevent 300,000 Wisconsinites from voting. Inclusion should be an American ideal, but that is clearly not the case today.
This attack on the voting rights is just one example of how the Right is further disenfranchising historically marginalized communities across this country. But despite their intent, these moves are also mobilizing millennials to demand that our democracy include us. While complex legal and legislative processes often make us feel frustrated and powerless, we understand we need to claim our place at the voting booth. As the largest, most diverse and most progressive demographic in history, we have the power to alter the policy and political landscapes in substantial ways – and we’re already doing it.
Millennials are advancing change across the country. I found my own place in the progressive movement thanks to programs like People For the American Way Foundation’s Young People For (YP4) Fellowship. Through YP4’s Vote and Courts Matter programs, I learned how to organize my peers, mobilize voters, and came to understand just how important the courts are to advancing (or dismantling) progressive policies.
Because of YP4’s support, this past fall at UW-La Crosse I passed policies through my campus’ student government that enfranchised students during the 2014 midterm elections. By requiring the administration to issue free student IDs compliant with the voter ID law to all students who requested one, running voter registration drives, and more, we helped ensure that 10,000 students could cast ballots during the election cycle. We are now creating a campus voter registration system that is easily accessible to all students and plan to share our tactics with surrounding state universities to make voting more inclusive and widespread amongst students.
Nothing is more voice-squelching than voter ID laws, an economically inefficient policy that marginalizes youth and other minorities. The Supreme Court’s decision is a call to action for Wisconsin millennials to realize that justice does not advocate for itself and that we must incorporate courts activism in our fight for civil rights.
Yesterday the Oregon Senate passed an expansive new voter registration bill, a significant step forward in the fight to make voting easier, more secure, and more accessible for everyone in the state.
The Oregonian explains how the legislation will work:
Under the measure, driver's license data stretching back to 2013 will be used to begin registering Oregon citizens who aren't already signed up to vote. Elections officials will send a postcard to the prospective new registrants giving them a chance to opt out…. The secretary of state's office has estimated that the measure will add about 300,000 to the voting rolls, which now total just under 2.2 million.
Gov. Kate Brown, who as secretary of state supported the bill as a way to make it easier for low-income people and young people to vote, has promised to sign the measure.
With new barriers to voting taking root across the country and voting discrimination still a persistent problem, it can be easy to believe that our country is only turning back the clock on voting rights. But this win in Oregon underscores the fact that when we work together to make it easier rather than harder to cast a ballot, we can set an example of how to strengthen our democracy.
This op-ed was originally published at The Huffington Post.
Fifty years ago in Alabama hundreds of peaceful marchers calling for voting rights were violently attacked by state police. Fifty years later Americans from all walks of life are expected to gather this weekend to mark the anniversary of what became known as Bloody Sunday and embrace the spirit for courage, sacrifice and justice of those women and men who marched, were beaten and no doubt underestimated the impact that their bruises would have on future generations.
The events of that day and the tense days and weeks that followed shocked our national consciousness and became a catalyst for passage of what some call the "crown jewel" of the civil rights movement, the 1965 Voting Rights Act. It's a law that held bipartisan support and helped protect countless Americans from discrimination at the ballot box for almost five decades.
Every year since that bloody day we have honored those 600-plus marchers who put their lives on the line in pursuit of basic democratic rights and racial justice. But this year, with a passion as never before, we must do more than just give lip service. This time marchers of today must clearly connect with the purpose in the pain that started in prayer on a Sunday morning and ended on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, with blood and tears in the afternoon. Why? Because as John Legend so eloquently put it last week, "Selma is now."
The shadow of Bloody Sunday is there, nearly two years after a core provision of the Voting Rights Act was gutted by the Supreme Court in the Shelby County case, as we practice patience for Congress to restore and strengthen what was taken away. When our leaders say that they honor those who refused to turn around, will they also commit to restoring the kinds of voting protections that they were marching for?
Today, 40 bills to restrict voting rights have been introduced in states across the country, from voter ID legislation to proposals reducing access to absentee ballots to bills that would make it more difficult for those with past criminal convictions to vote. When our leaders say they honor those who were beaten and bruised with billy clubs 50 years ago, will they also commit to voting against proposed laws that would make it harder for all people to have an equal voice in our democracy? Will they commit to confirming the highly qualified Loretta Lynch, a woman with a strong commitment to civil rights, to lead -- as the first female African American -- the Justice Department in effectively monitoring and enforcing the voting rights laws we already have and those yet to come?
Today, African Americans and Latinos, especially males, endure being routinely profiled, targeted, and attacked by the police. The report released this week from the Department of Justice about policing in Ferguson, Missouri, revealed that 93 percent of arrests were of African Americans, though they make up only 67 percent of the city's population. It showed and confirmed that African Americans in Ferguson were disproportionately likely to have force used against them by the police. When our leaders say they honor those who were hospitalized for peaceful protest 50 years ago, will they also commit to fighting against discrimination and violence at the hands of those meant to serve and protect our communities?
Selma is now, and the march continues. Selma needed protection for voting rights then, and Selma needs protection for voting rights now. Many civil rights leaders, past and present, and even future leaders, will be in Selma this weekend. But thousands of others who can't be there in person will not be excluded from being a part of a new march. Men and women will with great intent make sure every registered voter gets to the polls to vote in every election, will minister with an activist heart to their neighborhoods when violence upends daily life, will use social media as a tool to motivate participation in work aimed at ending all forms of discrimination in the name of religion, and will organize their communities in active opposition when yet another bill is introduced to undermine, restrict, or deny basic civil and human rights.
On the evening of that Sunday, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. informed the media that ministers would march and called for clergy from around the country to join them. He said, "The people of Selma will struggle on for the soul of America, but it is fitting that all Americans help to bear the burden. ... In this way all America will testify to the fact that the struggle in Selma is for the survival of democracy everywhere in our land."
I was not there then, but today as with every day, especially because of the Shelby Counties and the Fergusons, I give thanks and will not forget that struggle. On March 7, 1965, the world watched as nonviolent mothers, fathers, students, workers, faith leaders were beaten, tear gassed and hospitalized. On March 7, 2015, let the world watch as this next generation genuinely honors those who had the courage to take a stand that Bloody Sunday "for the survival of democracy." How? By registering, advocating, teaching, speaking up, marching and continuing their work in pursuit of voting rights, freedom, and justice as if our unseen bruises, our lives, our souls depend on it.
Catherine Engelbrecht, head of the “voter fraud” vigilante group True the Vote, testified this morning at a hearing on the nomination of Loretta Lynch to be U.S. attorney general. Engelbrecht discussed her claims that she was targeted by the IRS, but also criticized Attorney General Eric Holder for his work protecting voter rights.
Engelbrecht said she was “extremely disappointed” to hear comments from Lynch acknowledging that voter ID laws are meant to suppress minority voter turnout and applauding the Justice Department’s work protecting voting rights. (Lynch was merely acknowledging the reality: a federal judge in Texas, for instance, found that proponents of one such voter ID law “were motivated, at the very least in part, because of and not merely in spite of the voter ID law's detrimental effects on the African-American and Hispanic electorate.”)
She added that critics of voter suppression laws have it all wrong and that “the most significant voter disenfranchisement threat currently facing our country” is President Obama’s executive actions deferring deportation for some undocumented immigrants, whom she implied would illegally register to vote.
Engelbrecht has previously criticized a bipartisan effort to restore the Voting Rights Act as a “move toward race-based segregation” because it ensured federal oversight for areas with a history of disenfranchising minority voters.
Engelbrecht left out of her remarks a line in her official prepared testimony alleging that Holder has “created a radical, racialist agency that metes out social justice on an as needed basis to promote the advancement of a progressive agenda.”
The Senate Judiciary Committee held its first hearing today on Loretta Lynch’s nomination to be U.S. attorney general, which Senate Republicans mostly used as an opportunity to attack current Attorney General Eric Holder and to try to extract promises from Lynch that she would break course from Holder on issues like immigration enforcement.
But it might be tough for Lynch to completely appease Holder’s critics on the Right, who have repeatedly attacked the attorney general for working to fight racially discriminatory voting laws and acknowledging racial disparities in the criminal justice system.
In fact, J. Christian Adams, a former Justice Department official who has become one of Holder’s most prominent critics on the Right, attacked Lynch today for her statements implying that structural racism exists in areas like voting rights and law enforcement.
“I think that Lynch buys into this same grievance industry about structural racism in the United States, about how minorities cannot get a fair shake ever, that the system is stacked against them, that it’s a collectivist, anti-individual approach to things,” Adams warned the American Family Association’s Sandy Rios.
“I think that Lynch is going to sound a lot like an Eric Holder mini-me when it comes to election issues and voter ID,” he said.
Earlier in the interview, Adams discussed an article he co-wrote with the Heritage Foundation’s Hans von Spakovsky yesterday urging Republicans, as he told Rios, to use the Lynch hearings to “extract course corrections out of the Justice Department.”
In particular, Adams wants the Justice Department to stop hiring attorneys who have previously provided legal representation to terror suspects. (Similar attacks on DOJ attorneys by Liz Chaney in 2010 were condemned by a group of Bush administration officials as “shameful” and “unjust.”)
“We’ve had an attorney general who has turned toward lawyers who have worked for Al Qaeda terrorists, who were their attorneys, to then work at the Justice Department,” Adams said.
“That’s how crazy it’s gotten in the last six years, where it seems that one of the top qualifications to become a lawyer working for the Justice Department is that you used to work at Al Qaeda, or for Al Qaeda detainees.”
Adams demanded that Republicans “get a commitment out of [Lynch] to stop catering to this far-left-wing legal world that hates U.S. foreign policy, that hates detainee policy, that hates Gitmo, that that hates our war on terror.”
The Senate Judiciary Committee has released a list of the witnesses who will testify at this week's hearings on the nomination of Loretta Lynch to be attorney general, and two of them signal the GOP’s intention to tie Lynch to their criticism of Attorney General Eric Holder’s efforts to combat racial discrimination in voting rights and law enforcement.
Among them is Catherine Engelbrecht, a Tea Party activist who founded the group True the Vote to promote the myth of widespread voter fraud and who has clashed with Holder over his defense of voting rights, or what she calls his “radical, racialist assault on voters' rights across America.”
Also included is David Clarke, the sheriff of Milwaukee county, who has become a Tea Party hero for his criticism of protests of racial inequality in the justice system following a series of police killings of unarmed black men.
Both have become prominent Tea Party figures by voicing the line that racial inequality no longer exists in the U.S. and that the Justice Department’s efforts to stop voter suppression laws and combat discrimination in the criminal justice system are themselves racist. The Right cast Holder as the primary villain in this narrative, and prominent Holder critics such as the Heritage Foundation’s Hans von Spakovsky are using some of the same arguments to attack Lynch.
Engelbrecht’s attitude toward voting rights protections was perhaps most clearly illustrated with her reaction to a bipartisan bill meant to restore the Voting Rights Act after the Supreme Court gutted it in 2013.
In an email to supporters, Engelbrecht claimed that the effort to restore the Voting Rights Act — one of the great achievements of the Civil Rights Movement — was in fact a “terrible race based bill” that would “exclude millions of Americans from full protection of the law — based solely on the color of their skin.” She fumed that restoring federal voting rights oversight to areas with a history of racial discrimination in election laws should be called the “Voting Rights Segregation Act.”
Engelbrecht has worked to drum up support for harsh voting restrictions that disproportionately affect racial minorities by hyping fears of widespread “voter fraud” and recruiting armies of volunteers to root out suspected fraud in their communities. These efforts haven’t exactly uncovered the evidence they’ve been looking for, although they have created hassles for legitimate voters targeted by True the Vote volunteers.
Sheriff Clarke, meanwhile, has been a leading conservative voice against protests against police brutality and racial inequalities in the criminal justice system, and has expressed outrage that President Obama and Holder have expressed some support for the protests. Clarke, who is African American, went on Fox News in November to accuse the president of fueling “racial animosity between people” by supporting the protests and even suggested that Obama was encouraging protesters to riot “with a wink and a nod."
He also contended that Michael Brown, the unarmed black teenager who was shot by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, was a “coconspirator in his own demise” because he “chose thug life.”
Clarke has ties to the radical “constitutional sheriffs” movement who believe that county sheriffs are the highest law enforcement officers in the land and have the power to defy federal laws and arrest federal officials for enforcing laws that they believe are unconstitutional. In 2013, Clarke accepted the “Constitutional Sheriff of the Year” award from the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association after he had made headlines by running radio ads encouraging his constituents to arm themselves rather than rely on calling 911 in an emergency.
Other witnesses signal the intention of Republicans on the Judiciary Committee to focus on what they argue are constitutional oversteps by Holder. Engelbrecht claims that the IRS has targeted her since she started her political activism and fellow witness Sharyl Attkinson claims that Holder’s Justice Department hacked into her personal computer. (A computer security expert reviewing Attkinson’s evidence for Media Matters said it looked more like a malfunction caused by a frozen backspace key.)
In the same radio program in which he considered the possibility that the Obama administration had opened the door to the “ethnic cleansing” of whites by Latino immigrants and called President Obama an underachieving product of “affirmative action culture,” Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach cited a racist meme to mock people who didn’t vote in the 2014 elections, saying that nonvoters were just “sitting in front of the TV all day talking on their Obama Phones.”
Kobach made the remarks on his Sunday radio program on Kansas City’s KCMO after taking a call from a listener who told him he had taken a bike to the polls because his truck was in the shop.
His voice dripping with sarcasm, Kobach told the listener: “Thank you so much for taking your rickety bike to vote, because I believe that your voice should be heard because you cared enough to vote. But President Obama thinks that the people who were sitting in front of the TV all day talking on their Obama Phones who didn’t vote, he speaks for those people. And I’m not saying any particular people, but I’m just saying someone who didn’t vote has an equal voice than you who actually got on your bike because you didn’t have a motor vehicle to get to the polls.”
Kobach, a former advisor to Mitt Romney and a driving force behind anti-immigrant laws and voting restrictions throughout the country, has been using his own state as a laboratory for restrictive voting laws, recently implementing a strict ID requirement that left about 20 percent of the state’s voter registration applications in limbo before election day.
After Republicans failed to capture the White House in 2012, they dusted off a tried-and-true plan to improve their future electoral prospects. No, they wouldn't moderate their views or expand their appeal to win votes. They would just change the way that the votes are counted!
The plan: to rig the electoral college with the ultimate goal of squeaking out a Republican presidential win, even in an increasingly challenging electoral landscape.
Here's how it was supposed to work.
Before the 2010 election, Republican strategists focused energy and resources on gaining control of state legislatures, and succeeded in flipping party control of legislative chambers in blue states including Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. This allowed Republican legislatures to draw congressional districts, gerrymandering their states to ensure future Republican gains even in states where Democrats tend to win statewide.
GOP strategists then took it a step further. What if Republicans used their control over these blue states and their favorably gerrymandered electoral maps to make it harder for Democrats to win presidential elections?
Under the Constitution, each state determines how it will distribute its electoral votes to presidential candidates. All but two states (Maine and Nebraska) have a "winner take all" system, in which the winner of the state's popular vote earns all of its electoral votes. The Republican plan would keep the "winner take all" system in big, solidly red states like Texas. But it would change it in big, blue states like Pennsylvania and Michigan, ensuring that a Democratic candidate who wins the popular vote in the state doesn't go home with all of its electoral votes.
For instance, under the plan originally proposed in Pennsylvania after the 2012 election, which would have divided the state's electoral votes up by gerrymandered congressional districts, Mitt Romney would have won 13 of the state's 20 electoral votes, despite having lost the state's popular vote. Last year, the Republican-controlled state house in the presidential swing state of Virginia put forward a plan to do something similar. If the Virginia plan had been in effect in 2012, Mitt Romney would have carried away nine of the state's 13 electoral vote, despite having lost the state's popular vote to Barack Obama.
Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus made the goal of the scheme clear when he endorsed it last year, saying, "I think it's something that a lot of states that have been consistently blue that are fully controlled red ought to be looking at."
The proposals in Pennsylvania and Virginia sank after groups like People For the American Way got out the word and residents realized the proposals were part of a blatant political ploy. But this month, the scheme was resurrected in Michigan, where a Republican state lawmaker is proposing his own plan to dilute the power of his state's reliably Democratic electoral college block. Under the plan introduced by Rep. Pete Lund, Michigan's electoral votes would be distributed according to a formula tied to the popular vote. It's not as blatant as the original Pennsylvania and Virginia proposals were, but it has the same goal: If it had been in effect in the last presidential election, it would have cut President Obama's electoral total in Michigan down to 12 from 16.
These plans can initially seem reasonable, even to progressives, many of whom are wary of the electoral college system. But this isn't a good-government plan to change the way our presidential elections are conducted. It's a targeted plot to get more electoral votes for Republicans, even when they're losing the popular vote. It's no coincidence that these plans have often been quietly introduced in lame duck sessions, when voters are paying less attention. These measures, if allowed to be passed quickly in a few states with little debate and attention, could have national implications and change American political history.
Voters should be allowed to pick their politicians. But this is yet another case of politicians trying to pick their voters. Like with voter suppression schemes and extreme gerrymandering, the GOP is trying to change the rules of the game for their own benefit. Voters can't let them get away with it.