Today the Maryland State Senate overrode Governor Larry Hogan’s 2015 veto of legislation (HB 980/SB 340) restoring voting rights to 40,000 formerly incarcerated persons in the state, allowing them to register to vote after they are released. With the House having voted last month, the new law will finally go into effect on March 10. Newly eligible Marylanders will be able to register to vote in the upcoming primary.
In response, Minister Leslie Watson Malachi, Director of People For the American Way’s African American Ministers In Action, issued the following statement:
“This is a victory for one of the most fundamental rights we have as Americans: the right to cast a vote that counts. Systematically keeping thousands of people from voting after they leave prison is not only wrong, it diminishes the integrity of a system that is supposed to represent all of us. Our democracy is at its strongest when all voices can be heard.”
“This is a great day for Maryland,” added Rev. Barry Hargrove, a Maryland member of affiliate PFAW Foundation’s African American Ministers Leadership Council, pastor of Prince of Peace Baptist Church in Baltimore, and president of the Maryland Progressive Baptist Convention. “Today our state moved to restore voting rights to 40,000 of our neighbors who live in, raise families in, and contribute to our communities – and our state will be stronger for it.”
People For the American Way is a progressive advocacy organization founded to fight right-wing extremism and defend constitutional values including free expression, religious liberty, equal justice under the law, and the right to meaningfully participate in our democracy.
Kentucky’s brand new Tea Party governor just broke a campaign promise and REVERSED a positive move by his Democratic predecessor that had restored voting rights to some 140,000 Kentuckians.
Once again, Kentucky will be one of the very few states where people with felony convictions remain disenfranchised after completing their sentences. As ThinkProgress points out, this means that one in five African Americans in the state will be disenfranchised. Studies show that ex-felon disenfranchisement leads to higher rates of recidivism.
In another executive order this week, Bevin reversed former Gov. Beshear’s move to raise the state’s minimum wage for government workers and contractors to $10.10 an hour, bringing it back down to $7.25 an hour. About 800 state workers who have already gotten raises will be able to keep them, but new hires will now have to start at the lower pay rate. In the order, Bevin hinted that he would prefer the state have no minimum wage at all: “Wage rates ideally would be established by the demands of the labor market instead of being set by the government,” he said.
Last week, People For the American Way hosted a telebriefing for members to review the recent attacks on voting rights and illustrate PFAW’s vision for the future of voting rights in America. PFAW Communications Director Drew Courtney moderated the discussion with PFAW’s Director of Outreach and Public Engagement Diallo Brooks, Executive Vice President Marge Baker, and resident Supreme Court and judicial nomination expert Paul Gordon joining the call.
Drew began the call with an introduction to the consequences of the Shelby County v. Holder Supreme Court case, which gutted key provisions of the Voting Rights Act. The decision has resulted in many states passing new legislation that results in voter suppression. Diallo explained that 36 states have passed new restrictions on early voting and more strict voter identification laws, which disproportionately affect people of color, low-income citizens, and women. Supposedly, these efforts attempt to prevent voter fraud. However, voter fraud is not documented as a widespread, or even small-scale, problem anywhere in the country. Marge later elaborated that there is evidence that true intention of passing these laws is to suppress the vote; many right-wing organizations have acknowledged that conservative leverage in elections goes up as the voting populace goes down.
Many members called in with pertinent questions, including one about how members can be more involved in the fight for voting rights. Diallo described how People For the American Way Foundation’s African American Ministers network has been active on the ground helping folks understand their local laws so that they can obtain the correct identification and register successfully. He also suggested people get involved in local groups that do similar work.
Marge detailed how people can get involved in PFAW’s efforts to fight for fair and just courts, which have an enormous impact on voting rights. The winner of the 2016 election will have the opportunity to nominate as many as four Supreme Court justices, and therefore have influence over critical voting rights cases following Shelby County v. Holder. The Supreme Court is not the only place where the fight is occurring. Marge described court challenges to voter suppression laws in numerous lower federal courts and in state courts, further highlighting the importance of courts in the progress for voting rights.
Diallo ended the call on a positive note, describing recent municipal and state-level expansions to early voting and motor voter laws, which allow citizens to automatically register to vote when they interact with the Department of Motor Vehicles.
Kris Kobach, the Kansas secretary of state and architect of anti-immigrant and voter suppression measures copied across the country, called same-day voter registration a “travesty” on a recent radio program, portraying his restrictive voting laws as necessary to prevent various mythical voter fraud schemes.
On his weekly radio program on Kansas City’s KCMO on October 25, Kobach took a call from a listener who presented a somewhat convoluted scheme involving performing facial recognition scanning on everyone who votes and going to the houses of people who cast ballots by mail in order to scan their faces, all in the name of preventing voter fraud.
“Well, I think that in Woods County, Ohio, 108 percent of the registered voters cast ballots for Obama,” the caller insisted, “and I think that in Wisconsin, busloads of people from Chicago were bused to polls where under state law you could register to vote on Election Day [inaudible] and not even have an ID.”
This, Kobach seemed to think, was a reasonable complaint, and told the caller that his restrictive voting policies have eliminated such problems in Kansas. “Right,” Kobach said, “which is why — proof of citizenship stops that, because you can’t have same-day registration, which is a travesty, I think same-day registration is a huge problem, and proof of citizenship prevents you from registering fictitious identities or registering under someone else’s name. So I think we, you can’t do those things in Kansas anymore.”
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach is a leader of the GOP’s anti-immigrant and restrictive voting efforts, and has been trying out some of his most extreme ideas in his home state.
Kobach helped to push through one of the nation’s most restrictive voting laws, requiring people registering to vote to produce documentation of citizenship, such as a birth certificate. Because of this law, 36,000 people in Kansas have started voter registrations but not completed them, and now Kobach is purging that list of people who haven’t followed up to complete their registrations.
An analysis by The New York Times of the list of voters showed that more than half of them were under 35, and 20 percent were from 18 to 20 years old. Fifty-seven percent of the people on the list did not declare a party; 23 percent were Democrats; and 18 percent were Republicans. The vast majority — 90 percent — had never voted before.
“This disproportionately hits 18- to 24-year-olds,” said Jamie Shew, a Democrat and the county clerk for Douglas County, Kan. “For a lot of them, they say, ‘I’m not going to worry about it.’ They’re busy and this is just one more thing to do.”
Under the law, which was passed in 2011, registrants must prove citizenship by producing a document from an approved list, which includes birth certificates, passports and naturalization records. They may bring the document to a county clerk’s office or email a photo of it. Under Mr. Kobach’s new rule, if they fail to do so, they would be removed from the voters list after 90 days. Residents can try to register again even after being removed from the list.
The 36,000 people on the list represent about 2 percent of the state’s 1.7 million registered voters. The Wichita Eagle reported in September that more than 16 percent of people who have tried to register to vote since the law went into effect in January 2013 have been placed on the list.
Fearless is the word that comes to mind after a recent visit to Selma with 60 members of the African American Ministers Leadership Council (AAMLC) and African American Ministers In Action (AAMIA). Fearless were those who sat in, marched in, taught, prayed, would not be denied 50 years ago. They established the paradigm for what those of us today, who sadly are still in battles for many rights, but more specifically voting rights, must do.
Republican politicians who claim there is no need to restore the protections we lost two years ago when the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act (VRA) need not look any further than Alabama today to see why they are very wrong.
Alabama has a voter ID law requiring people to show government-issued identification in order to vote. But last week the state announced it was closing 31 driver’s license offices, including offices in all counties where Black residents comprise over three quarters of registered voters. In other words, the state is requiring that voters have ID to cast a ballot, and then taking away the places to get that ID - for Black communities in particular. If that doesn’t show that voting protections are still needed, I don’t know what does.
No longer a need for it? The destructive changes in Alabama are exactly the kind of measures that the VRA was designed to protect against. For years, Alabama was one of the states covered by Section 5 of the Act, which required certain places with a history of voting discrimination to get all changes in voting procedures cleared by the federal government before they could take effect. That law stopped scores of voting changes from being implemented in Alabama before they could do any harm. But thanks to the Supreme Court’s conservative majority, that safeguard is gone. On the very same day the Shelby County Supreme Court ruling eviscerated the VRA, Alabama said it would start enforcing its voter ID law.
The fearless women and men in the same state that serves as a symbol of the advancement of voting rights, those Baby Boomers, must still fight with the Millennials to protect them. Like our tour guide last month, Joanne Bland, who in 1965 was an 11 year old member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, activists’ refusal to be discouraged from praying and marching in 1965 is still encouraging in 2015. She and others were honored by thousands who marched and prayed this year on the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday, including President Obama, Congressman John Lewis, and countless faith and community leaders and activists. They remain the symbol of intergenerational strategic and sacrificial actions that must be taken still today to address and end ongoing racial discrimination in voting.
But it’s not just Alabama. In Mississippi our AAMLC members are seeing precincts closing in or near African American churches, forcing Black residents to travel to white communities to vote. In Florida, a state representative is talking about Republicans winning elections by maximizing the number of incarcerated African Americans in a district, framing the disenfranchisement of Black Americans as an opportunity for political gain. Since the 2010 elections, a whopping 21 states have put new laws in place that make it harder to vote.
Like those who were fearless in the past, we must be fearless today and make sure that all know the fundamental, inalienable right to cast a ballot is in danger still, especially for people of color. Our political system is built on the promise of democracy for all, not democracy for those who can afford to drive cross-state on a weekday to get an ID. How can GOP leaders and presidential candidates continue to insist with a straight face that there’s no need to restore protections for voters? I wish they could one day walk, march in our shoes, to feel the pain of a promise with unnecessary barriers, to try to register and vote. In the meantime let’s be fearless!
Earlier this week, GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee said that he didn’t want “stupid” people — i.e. people who won’t vote for him — to vote at all. Then a Republican state representative in Florida was caught suggesting that the party beat Rep. Corrine Brown by redrawing her African-American-majority district to include a large population of prisoners, who are not allowed to vote in Florida.
These are just two of the instances of Republican lawmakers admitting that their electoral strategy hinges not just on winning votes, but on suppressing the votes of people who they think will oppose them.
More than 30 years ago, an influential conservative leader explained why his movement shouldn’t “want everybody to vote.”
Paul Weyrich, an operative considered to be the “founding father of the conservative movement” because of his hand in founding the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the Heritage Foundation, Moral Majority, the Council for National Policy and other influential conservative groups, laid out the GOP’s voter suppression strategy in a 1980 speech in Dallas.
"I don't want everybody to vote,” he said. “Elections are not won by a majority of people. They never have been from the beginning of our country, and they are not now. As a matter of fact our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down."
In 2013, North Carolina lawmakers pushed through a package of voter suppression bills , including restrictions on early voting, something that many African American voters had taken advantage of the previous year.
Conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly rejoiced in the news , saying that the early voting restrictions were “particularly important” because early voting had tended to help Democrats:
The reduction in the number of days allowed for early voting is particularly important because early voting plays a major role in Obama’s ground game. The Democrats carried most states that allow many days of early voting, and Obama’s national field director admitted, shortly before last year’s election, that “early voting is giving us a solid lead in the battleground states that will decide this election.”
Doug Preisse, the chairman of the Franklin County Republican Party (whose area includes the city of Columbus), put his party’s case frankly in an email to the Columbus Dispatch:
I guess I really actually feel we shouldn’t contort the voting process to accommodate the urban — read African-American — voter turnout machine.
Before the 2012 presidential election, Pennsylvania Republican House Leader Mike Turzai declared that a new voter identification law would “allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania, done.”
In 2013, then-Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott — who has since become the state’s governor – responded to the Justice Department’s accusation that recent redistricting had discriminated against minorities by explaining that the goal was just to discriminate against Democrats and “effects on minority voters” were merely “incidental”:
DOJ’s accusations of racial discrimination are baseless. In 2011, both houses of the Texas Legislature were controlled by large Republican majorities, and their redistricting decisions were designed to increase the Republican Party’s electoral prospects at the expense of the Democrats. It is perfectly constitutional for a Republican-controlled legislature to make partisan districting decisions, even if there are incidental effects on minority voters who support Democratic candidates.
An overwhelming amount of energy spent rehashing decades of settled law and Supreme Court precedent at the expense of women who seek not only abortion services from Planned Parenthood, a very small portion of their work, but a wide range of reproductive and preventive healthcare.
People For the American Way Foundation today applauded Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe’s moves to restore the voting rights of more than 10,000 Virginia citizens with criminal records. By streamlining the restoration process and by removing barriers that prevented formerly incarcerated persons from being able to vote, run for office and serve on juries, McAullife has restored the rights of more Virginians than any other Governor in a four year term.
“This is unquestionably a step towards a more just and more democratic system,” said Michael Keegan, President of People For the American Way Foundation. “We’ve seen that continuing to prevent ex-offenders from registering to vote serves no purpose other than increasing stigma and contributing to the ongoing war on voting rights. Governor McAuliffe should be applauded for his efforts to include more citizens in our elections, and other elected officials should follow his lead.”
“Felon disenfranchisement is just one of the ways that opponents of voting rights have kept people of color away from the ballot box,” said Minister Leslie Watson Malachi, PFAW Foundation’s Director of African American Religious Affairs. “Allowing formerly incarcerated persons to raise their voices as full citizens brings us a small step closer to a system that truly reflects a government of, by and for all the people. We are committed to continuing to work to make sure that all Virginians are ready and able to cast a vote that counts on Election Day.”
The Committee is putting its commitment to this far-right smear campaign ahead of its commitment to democracy. As they take up Planned Parenthood, Congress is more than two years past due in restoring what the Voting Rights Act lost in 2013 through the Supreme Court's damaging Shelby County v. Holder decision. They should instead be holding a hearing on the Voting Rights Advancement Act.
Today, leaders of the Micah Leadership Council applauded Pennsylvania’s launch of a system allowing eligible voters to register online. Reverend Michael Couch, national Co-Chair of Micah Leadership Council, released the following statement:
“At a time when so many states have placed the right to vote under constant attack, it’s worth applauding a move to make it easier for more people to participate in the democratic process. I’m pleased that Governor Wolf and his administration have taken this step to remove an unnecessary barrier between citizens and the ballot box.
“This isn’t the last reform Pennsylvanians need in order to ensure that all our citizens have an equal opportunity to make their voices heard on Election Day, but it’s unquestionably a step in the right direction. This is a victory for voters and a victory for all of us who care our democratic process."
People For the American Way Foundation’s Micah Leadership Council engages African American ministers ages 25 through 40 who are committed to continuing, and redefining the fights for civic engagement, quality public education, voting rights protection and environmental and social justice for all as well as addressing divisive right wing rhetoric.
“Forward together, not one step back” were the chants heard in every space we entered while we marched for voters’ rights in Winston-Salem, North Carolina last month. On July 13, Young People For (YP4) community college consultant Lela Ali, African American Ministers Leadership Council (AAMLC) administrative assistant Jasmine Bowden, and I participated in the Mass Moral Monday march and rally hosted by the North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP to share our voices and energy in the fight against the 2013 North Carolina law (H.B. 589) that advocates have called “the worst voter suppression law in the country.”
Community and religious leaders performed sit-ins three years ago in the North Carolina State Senate resulting in arrests opposing the voter suppression law. One month later, the North Carolina NAACP and Rosanell Eaton filed a complaint in federal district court due to the bill’s violations under the 14th and 15th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. This history was uplifted by North Carolina NAACP State President Reverend William Barber, II – who is also an AAMLC member – at an ecumenical service at Union Baptist Church Sunday evening. He gave a great sermon titled “Necessary Interruption,” saying that allies and activists are being called to disrupt our nation in order to dismantle the systems of oppression that plague our country and leave behind countless black deaths with little consequences. He spoke on the need for Medicare expansion, policy changes like gun laws and criminal justice reforms, and economic empowerment for marginalized communities. The North Carolina NAACP v. McCrory lawsuit, which challenges the provisions of embedded in H.B. 589, is one of those necessary interruptions of justice.
With a fiery ending to our first night in Winston-Salem, we were excited for the full day of teach-ins that occurred the next morning. We were hosted by Goler Memorial African Methodist Episcopal Church and engaged in various topics from ‘Racial Violence & Criminal (In)Justice’ to ‘Building Coalitions to Sustain a Social Justice Movement.’ Many of our conversations were focused around allyship, direct action, and legal support to dismantle systems of inequity in local communities. We had the opportunity during our lunch break to meet with members of the Young Elected Officials (YEO) Network and ministerial leaders (AAMLC) from People For the American Way Foundation.
Later that day, we headed over to a rally and march only a few blocks away. At this time, the weather had reached its peak of 93 degrees, but this did not minimize the crowd of over 600 supporters. Music welcomed us and speakers from across the country greeted us with boisterous calls to action as they prepared us to take to the streets and rally for voters’ rights. We gathered our signs and water bottles and followed the crowd through the streets of downtown Winston-Salem as we chanted, “Forward together, not one step back!” and “What do you want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!” We were escorted by local police while onlookers from the side streets clapped and cheered us on. Music continued to serenade us as young and old, black and white supporters joined hands to dance in solidarity for justice and equality around voting rights. It was a magical experience that could only be felt in that moment. We walked back to our cars after the march not concerned with the sweltering weather or the sweat staining our clothes and faces. We were excited to be a part of history and exercise our rights to march and protest.
The lawsuit appealing H.B. 589 may not be resolved right away, but activists and allies will continue to take to the internet and streets to uplift the voices of marginalized communities whose rights are violated by those who were elected to serve an array of constituents – black, brown, and white. We will continue to interrupt the notion that young people can’t participate in the electoral process. We will align ourselves with the interests of those who fight for equality and human rights. The fight for voters’ rights is a necessary interruption in the face of injustice.
WASHINGTON – Today marks the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Voting Rights Act (VRA), a landmark piece of civil rights legislation that had a key provision gutted two years ago by the Supreme Court in Shelby County v. Holder. Congress now has before it the Voting Rights Advancement Act, designed to restore and modernize VRA protections, but so far GOP leaders are “slamming the brakes” on such legislation.
“The Voting Rights Act of 1965 got rid of literacy tests and other Jim Crow schemes designed to deny the right to vote to racial minorities,” said Minister Leslie Watson Malachi, director of African American Religious Affairs at People For the American Way. “Today, voting protections are still needed, the threats just look different. Now we have voter ID laws, cuts to early voting, and massive voter roll purges. That Congress has failed to do its job and restore the VRA is a disgraceful display of how little those who are blocking the Advancement Act care about discrimination at the ballot box today.”
“We’ve seen a surge of laws designed to make it harder to vote since the Shelby decision two years ago,” said Michael Keegan, president of People For the American Way. “If Congress doesn’t act, we’ll soon be heading into the first presidential election in half a century without strong federal protections against racial discrimination at the polls. Restoring the VRA shouldn’t be controversial. Congress needs to act now to ensure that every American is able to cast a vote that counts in 2016.”
Today also marks the first Republican presidential debate of the 2016 election cycle. Petition signatures from members and supporters of PFAW, Common Cause, and Bend the Arc were delivered to Fox News yesterday urging the debate questioners to ask the candidates about their position on restoring the Voting Rights Act.
Today marks the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) of 1965 by President Lyndon Baines Johnson. The Act, which passed then and has passed since with strong bipartisan support, provided necessary protections from discriminatory voting practices by Southern states aimed at African Americans. That was yesterday. Today's VRA is barely recognizable.
Yesterday, protection was needed against poll taxes (barred in federal elections with the ratification of the 24th Amendment), literacy taxes, and things like “white primaries” in Texas. Today protection is needed against voter identification laws, purging of voting rolls, the disenfranchisement of voting rights for formerly incarcerated persons, big money in politics, and redistricting.
Yesterday, Jim Crow was to have retired in 1964 with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 also signed by President Johnson. Today Jim Crow is “James Crow, PhD,” – CEO of the prison industrial complex, instigator of the war on women and card carrying, dues paying member of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), determined to re-define democracy in this country.
Yesterday, 50 years ago on March 7, 1965, courageous women and men were a part of a nonviolent march attempting to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge, which became known as “Bloody Sunday.” Five months later the Voting Rights Act was signed.
Today, 50 years later I stand here in Dallas with Ambassador Andrew Young, Martin Luther King, III, officers, clergy, laity, and Dr. James Perkins, President of the Progressive National Baptist Convention, Inc. at its 54th annual conference, the convention of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., with great clarity and without doubt that the Voting Rights Act of yesterday is still needed in its fullness today!
Yesterday, on November 22, 1963, here in Dallas at the Dealey Plaza, John F. Kennedy was assassinated and then Vice President Lyndon Baines Johnson was sworn in as this country’s 36th president. Blood and tears of Kennedy and the nonviolent marchers on the Edmund Pettus Bridge were mingled at the raising of a pen to try to finish what Kennedy started - the righting of a wrong. Today, blood and tears of the Emmanuel Nine were mingled in the lowering of the confederate flag on the grounds of the South Carolina state capital.
Yesterday, under the Johnson administration, his “Great Society” vision for America, we got Medicare and Medicaid (also 50 this month), a ban on race discrimination in public facilities, the War on Poverty, and the passage of the Immigration and Naturalization Act. Today, we still must march for Medicaid expansion, an end to racial profiling and gender and sexual identity discrimination, for comprehensive immigration reform. And 50 years later we still must fight for the protection of our right to vote.
We are here in Texas on this historic day, the same state that immediately following the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Shelby County v. Holder on August 22, 2013, passed one of the country’s most oppressive, restrictive voter identification laws (SB14) at the time and was charged with violating Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act and the 14th and 15th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.
We are here knowing from the yesterdays it is not a matter of “if” someone will test the voting laws of the land. Today it’s just a matter of “when.” Until we get to that place of protection, of security where rights will not, can no longer be denied, “let us march on,” educate, motivate, advocate, register and yes vote “till victory is won.”
On Monday, a federal trial began in Winston-Salem, North Carolina to see if recent changes in the state’s election laws unfairly and purposefully discriminate against minority voters. The changes in question include an end to same-day registration, an end to a high school voter registration program, and a reduction in early voting days.
The Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder gutted a key provision of the Voting Rights Act by striking down a coverage formula that identified nine states – including North Carolina – with a history of voter discrimination. Before the 2013 ruling, federal approval was needed before any changes in election laws in these states could go into effect. However, in the immediate aftermath of Shelby County, Republicans in the North Carolina state legislature were able to implement the restrictions without federal approval.
The North Carolina N.A.A.C.P, League of Women Voters, a group of college students, and the Department of Justice initiated the case, arguing that the measures should be struck down, and that North Carolina should be required by the court to submit voting proposals to federal approval since the contested measures were intended to discriminate, in violation of the Constitution.
Several states remodeled their voting laws following the Shelby decision; however, North Carolina’s restrictions represent some of the broadest changes in the country.
This case is the latest development in a series of initiatives to protect the right to vote across the United States, including by restoring and strengthening the Voting Rights Act. PFAW recently participated in a rally in Roanoke, Virginia, and members of our affiliate People For the American Way Foundation’s leadership networks are participating in today’s events surrounding the beginning of the trial in Winston-Salem.
Today, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that Republican-drawn gerrymandered districts in Florida that dilute the African American vote must be redrawn because they violate the anti-gerrymandering state Constitutional amendments passed by the voters.
People For the American Way Foundation's African American Ministers Leadership Council applauds the ruling, calling it a major step forward for fair representation in Florida. African American Ministers Leadership Council member Elder Lee Harris of Mount Olive Primitive Baptist Church in Jacksonville, FL issued the following statement in response to the court’s decision:
“In striking down the gerrymandered districts in Florida that Republicans created to favor themselves by purposefully diluting the African American vote, our state Supreme Court affirmed the principal that all people, no matter the color of their skin or their political beliefs, deserve fair representation in our democratic system.
“Fairness in our electoral system has always been central to the Civil Rights movement. We fight hard day in and day out to ensure that our government upholds the rights of African Americans and all people, and today’s ruling brings us one step closer to equal voting rights for our community.”