The Right to Vote

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

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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/

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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

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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.

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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

Court Restores Voting Opportunities for Ohioans

Today, the judicial system worked exactly as intended, protecting Americans' right to vote.
PFAW Foundation

How Catherine Engelbrecht Got Greg Abbott To Shut Down A Houston Voter Registration Drive

This weekend, the Dallas Morning News ran a long investigative piece exposing for the first time an armed raid that state Attorney General Greg Abbott's office ordered on a Houston voter registration operation, Houston Votes, back in 2010. The aftermath played out like ACORN in miniature: Despite the fact that nobody at Houston Votes was charged with any wrongdoing, the organization folded under the pressure of Abbott’s investigation.

The story provides an interesting look at the mechanics of the GOP’s obsessive search for certain types of extraordinarily rare voter fraud in order to justify extreme measures making it harder to cast a ballot. And it also stars two people who have since become familiar names in the national effort to make it more difficult to vote: Abbott, who is now the GOP nominee for governor of Texas, and Catherine Engelbrecht, who now runs the national group True the Vote, but who got her start running a Texas Tea Party group called King Street Patriots.

The raid on Houston Votes was part of a larger campaign by Abbott to uncover what he calls an “epidemic” of voter fraud, in an apparent effort to build support for a restrictive Voter ID law in Texas. Abbott’s campaign hasn’t exactly been a success: According to MSNBC’s Zach Roth, “over the 13 years of Abbott’s tenure, his office can only cite two fraudulent votes that might have been stopped by the ID law.” In the meantime, Abbott’s effort has resulted in some strangely zealous prosecutions, including those of a group of Tea Party activists who tried to cast protest votes in a resident-less utility district.

Dallas Morning News reporter James Drew explains how a racially charged speech by Engelbrecht led to Abbot’s investigation of and raid on Houston Votes:

On an overcast Monday afternoon, officers in bulletproof vests swept into a house on Houston’s north side. The armed deputies and agents served a search warrant. They carted away computers, hard drives and documents.

The raid targeted a voter registration group called Houston Votes, which was accused of election fraud. It was initiated by investigators for Attorney General Greg Abbott. His aides say he is duty-bound to preserve the integrity of the ballot box.

His critics, however, say that what Abbott has really sought to preserve is the power of the Republican Party in Texas. They accuse him of political partisanship, targeting key Democratic voting blocs, especially minorities and the poor, in ways that make it harder for them to vote, or for their votes to count.

A close examination of the Houston Votes case reveals the consequences when an elected official pursues hotly contested allegations of election fraud.

The investigation was closed one year after the raid, with no charges filed. But for Houston Votes, the damage was done. Its funding dried up, and its efforts to register more low-income voters ended. Its records and office equipment never were returned. Instead, under a 2013 court order obtained by Abbott’s office, they were destroyed.

Fred Lewis formed Texans Together in 2006.

The nonprofit community organizing group used volunteers to register voters in 2008 under the name Houston Votes. It registered only about 6,000 people that year.

For the next big election, in 2010, Lewis wanted to register 100,000 new voters in Harris County. He knew he couldn’t hit that number with volunteers. Houston Votes decided to use paid workers.

By that summer, Houston Votes had come to the attention of the King Street Patriots, a Houston-based tea party group. At the group’s regular meeting in Houston, its leader, Catherine Engelbrecht, talked about the New Black Panther Party. She then played a Fox news clip of an unidentified black man saying: “We have to exterminate white people off the face of the planet.”

The clip was 5 years old. It came from a forum in Washington about media coverage of Hurricane Katrina. But after the clip ended, Engelbrecht showed a picture of a house in Houston. She said it was the office of the New Black Panthers, at Main and Dowling streets.

Dowling Street is infamous for a 1970 gun battle between police officers and African-American militants, one of whom was killed.

“Houston has a new neighbor,” Engelbrecht said. She added that a person outside the house appeared to be an employee of Houston Votes.

The house shown on the screen was the office of Houston Votes. It had nothing to do with the New Black Panther Party. And it was about 9 miles from Dowling Street.

Two weeks later, the King Street Patriots held another meeting. Paul Bettencourt, the former Harris County tax assessor-collector, was a guest speaker.

He said Houston Votes was worse at registering voters than ACORN, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now. Dozens of ACORN employees across the nation were convicted of voter registration fraud.

The next day, Bettencourt’s successor as tax assessor-collector, fellow Republican Leo Vasquez, held a news conference.

“The integrity of the voter roll of Harris County, Texas, appears to be under an organized and systematic attack by the group operating under the name ‘Houston Votes,’” he said.

Houston Votes had submitted about 25,000 voter registration applications. Vasquez said many were duplicates, or already registered. Only 7,193 were “apparently new voters,” he said.

Houston Votes later pointed to public records showing that at the time of the news conference, about 21,000 of the 25,000 who applied to register were already validated by the county and pending final approval by the secretary of state. Among those 21,000, the state had already given final approval to 7,193.

Vasquez announced he was referring the matter for “investigation and possible prosecution” to the Texas secretary of state and the Harris County district attorney.

The secretary of state, who advises local election officials on election laws, forwarded Vasquez’s information to the attorney general’s office on Sept. 14, 2010.

Abbott’s office opened a criminal investigation soon after.

Voter Registration in Ferguson Inspires Rather Than Disgusts

This post was originally published at the Huffington Post. 

On August 9, I don't believe 18-year-old Michael Brown, Jr. woke up in the morning thinking he would not see the evening sun, his family or friends, the end of the day that started with hope and promise. That morning, I don't believe Officer Darren Wilson left for work knowing his tragic encounter with an unarmed young African American male, who he would shoot and kill, would be the spark that ignited the flame that has been slowly burning in the city of Ferguson - the need for change.

In the wake of the fatal police shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown, Jr. in Ferguson, Missouri, community members and civil rights activists are proactively turning pain into power by praying, marching, meeting and yes, registering people to vote -- a move that the leader of the Missouri Republican Party, Matt Wills, said this week was "not only disgusting but completely inappropriate."

What is disgusting is that type of commentary and thinking! What is disgusting is for anyone to say, as Wills did, that "injecting race into this conversation and into this tragedy, not only is not helpful, but it doesn't help a continued conversation of justice and peace."

Is that leader aware or in denial of the Missouri Attorney General's 2013 report on racial profiling which shows that out of 5,384 Ferguson Police Department stops, 4,632 were of African Americans? That's disgusting and "completely inappropriate."

Is he aware or in denial that of the 521 arrests made during the report period, 483 were of African Americans? That out of 2,489 stops for moving violations, 1,983 were of African Americans? Shame on that leader and those who are "disgusted" by the simple act of voter registration drives to bring "light into darkness"!

In the shadow of Michael's death and the ensuing protests, I cannot imagine a more profound, inspiring response than voter registration. Justice and peace are close companions of democracy. Conducting voter registration drives at any time -- but especially at this time in a "sick and tired of being sick and tired" city that had just 12 percent turnout in this year's municipal election, 11.7 percent turnout in 2013, and 8.9 percent in 2012 -- is a critical way to address this as both a personal tragedy and a systemic tragedy.

It is not "disgusting" but deserving of those who live in a place that lacks diversity in local government, from the city council to the school board to the police department.

With deep condolences to the parents of Michal Brown, Jr. -- not wanting to "politicize" his death or exploit a grieving family who is calling for justice for the one who left out on Saturday morning and will never return -- what better way to honor them than by sowing the seeds of long-term, much needed change? Even from where I am in Washington, DC, I feel the urgency of the call for change in the homes, neighborhoods, businesses, and community of Ferguson.

The world has watched the dehumanization of a mother's child, police with military-grade gear tear-gassing protesters, journalists arrested and assaulted, and the response of helplessness and frustration that many community members must feel toward elected officials from City Hall to the halls of Congress. As Simon Maloy from Salon put it, "a week's worth of unrestrained police crackdowns...with the blessing or tacit approval of political leaders...will tend to erode whatever trust one has left in the people in charge."

So those of us who are watching should applaud, not complain about or attack, a community that turns a lack of trust in its elected officials into a movement for change.

We should applaud and not attack an inspiring vision for a different future for the rest of Michael's siblings, family and friends -- one in which the local officials are responsive to the needs of the entire community, and better reflect the community's diversity. Be "disgusted" by the city's racial profiling data. Be "disgusted" by the predicament of "driving while Black." Be "disgusted" by efforts to suppress voter participation, in Ferguson and around the country as some have "dusted off Jim Crow tactics" trying to stand in the way of men and women, youth and elder, unemployed and employed, determined to exercise their most fundamental right as citizens.

As the leader of a national alliance of African American faith leaders, I work every day with people who are often part of the first responders to tragedies like this, who walk with the family, who eulogize the deceased and who also organize, connect, and empower. They know the face of systemic injustices and of elected leaders who want to make it harder, rather than easier, for certain communities to participate in our democracy. To make the leap from pain to a promise of peace is a difficult step, but thank goodness for those who are taking it.

As one St. Louis faith leader said, pointing at a voter registration tent set up on a Ferguson street by a local woman and her daughter: "That's where change is gonna happen."

Believe is my favorite word. I truly believe "a change is gonna come." After the protests end, after the national cameras leave, after the marchers from east to west return to their homes, neighbors, and communities, there will be follow-up, there will be change.

Registering, educating and getting out the vote is not "disgusting" or "completely inappropriate." What is "disgusting" and "completely inappropriate" is not responding effectively, productively, and positively to suppression and oppression.

As I read about the homegoing (funeral) service planned for next week, I pause and pray for the family and people of Ferguson. What next comes to mind for Michael Brown, Jr. and for change in Ferguson, is: be inspired -- register and vote! For Michael's parents, Lesley McSpadden and Michael Brown, Sr. and for change in Ferguson: be inspired -- register and vote! For all those who loved "Big Mike," and all the other unnamed youth who have died to "justifiable" or "legal interventions" by law officers and know that Ferguson deserves change: be inspired -- register and vote for justice and for the fulfilled promise of peace!

PFAW Foundation

Conservative Pundit: Kerry Declined Ohio Recount To Hide Rampant 'Voter Fraud In Favor Of Democrats'

Mat Staver hosted Valencia College professor Mark Logas on his “Faith and Freedom” radio program this week to hype the issue of voter fraud, the exceedingly rare crime that is being used by conservatives to push wave upon wave of voter suppression measures.

Logas was full of horror stories supposedly illustrating an epidemic of voter fraud, somehow all favoring Democrats. He even went back in history to argue that John Kerry declined to contest his narrow loss in Ohio in 2004 because a recount would have “exposed the voter fraud in favor of Democrats that goes on in Ohio alone.”

Specifically, he claimed that in 2004, in Franklin County, Ohio, which includes the city of Columbus, “there were more people who voted than lived there.”

Stunningly, this is not true! Although conservative activists raised a fuss when the number of voter registrations in the country exceeded the number of eligible voters — the result of outdated voter rolls — in the end, 533,000 people cast ballots in Franklin County in 2004 , which was decidedly less than the county’s estimated 815,000 voting-age population at the time.

And in the end, there actually was a recount of Ohio’s votes in 2004, requested by the Green and Libertarian parties, that did not uncover rampant Democratic voter fraud but in fact showed that Kerry had won a few hundred more votes than originally reported.

Staver: And you look at the presidential election in Florida in 2000 with George W. Bush and Al Gore. I mean, obviously that was a presidential election that was decided in one state, and that was very, very close. Huge possibility of having complete voter fraud the other way.

Logas: I don’t know if you remember in 2004, John Kerry barely lost Ohio and there were a lot of Democrats, liberal Democrats, that said, ‘You’ve got to challenge it, you’ve got to do a recount in Ohio!’ and he says, ‘No, no, no, I’m not going to do that.’ Why? Because in Franklin County, Ohio, in 2004, there were more people who voted than lived there. Not registered voters, than lived in the entire Franklin County.

Staver: So 100-plus percent voting.

Logas: Exactly. So for them to have challenged that exposed the voter fraud in favor of Democrats that goes on in Ohio alone.

Staver: Unbelievable.

Kris Kobach: Pro-Voting-Rights Religious Leaders Represent 'Churches In Quotation Marks'

African American religious leaders in Kansas are speaking out against the state’s new voter-ID law that has suspended the voting rights of 19,000 Kansans. In response, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach — the driving force behind Kansas’ law and similar measures across the country — is accusing them of representing “churches in quotation marks.”

A group of African American church leaders, primarily from the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, denounced Kansas’ voter ID law in June as an effort to “turn back the clock on our rights.”

When an interviewer from the Topeka radio station WIBW asked Kobach about religious opposition to his plan yesterday, Kobach responded, “Kansans overwhelmingly approve it. I don’t know which churches — and I would put churches in quotation marks, because the vast majority of church leaders that I’ve spoken to are fully in favor of our photo ID law.”

He added that he found it “ridiculous to argue that a voter ID is a burden on the right to vote” because “everybody’s got one.” He added that the opposition to his law is “so funny to me.”

Kris Kobach: If People Have Trouble Registering To Vote, It's Their Own Fault

Kris Kobach is the brains behind some of the most notorious voter suppression and anti-immigrant measures in the country. He also has a day job as the secretary of state of Kansas. That’s why we’ve been closely following Kobach’s attempts to implement one of the nation’s strictest voter ID law in his own state — it offers a glimpse into what voter-suppression advocates would like to see throughout the country, and what voting rights proponents fear.

This year, Kobach is implementing for the first time a law that he encouraged the state legislature to pass in 2011 that requires Kansans to present one of a narrow set of proof-of-citizenship documents (such as a birth certificate or naturalization certificate) in order to register to vote.

So far, it’s been an unqualified mess. Two weeks before the state’s primary election, 19,000 Kansas voters still have incomplete registrations. On top of that, Kobach has implemented a two-track voting system so that people who fill out a federal voter registration form but don’t provide the extra citizenship documents are allowed to vote only in federal elections. Even voters who dig up the correct documentation and follow the instructions laid out by Kobach’s office have reported problems with getting that information to elections officials.

The debacle has drawn Kobach a Republican primary challenger, Scott Morgan, who has criticized the secretary of state for the voter-registration disaster and for the large amount of time he spends working on his pet projects in other states.

Last weekend, Kobach and Morgan held a debate, at which Kobach once again repeated his philosophy that if 19,000 Kansans aren’t finished with his byzantine voter-registration process, it’s just because they’re procrastinators who don’t care enough to vote anyway.

“They aren’t being prevented from anything,” he said of the 19,000 people whose voter registrations are on hold. “They’re simply not yet completing the process.”

In the three years after Arizona passed a similar law in 2004, 30,000 people were turned away from the polls.

Judicial Watch Claims Voting Rights Suit Is Plot To Legalize Non-Citizen Voting

The right-wing group Judicial Watch has filed an amicus brief in support of Kansas and Arizona’s effort to add an extra, burdensome proof of citizenship requirement to federal voter registration forms in their states. A new law requiring citizenship documents to register has created a huge mess in Kansas, where tens of thousands of residents have been left with incomplete registrations and Secretary of State Kris Kobach has instituted a two-tiered voting system allowing some people to vote in federal elections but not state elections.

The Election Assistance Commission has been fighting Kobach’s effort to expand his law to federal forms, noting that his extra proof-of-citizenship requirement would deter far more eligible voters than the tiny number of illegal votes it would prevent. (The EAC’s filing to the Tenth Circuit notes that Kansas claims to have found 21 cases of noncitizens registering or attempting to register to vote in the state, although the EAC implies that the actual number is even lower. Meanwhile, 18,000 citizens have had their registrations suspended thanks to the new law.)

In an op-ed for Brietbart News today, Judicial Watch president Tom Fitton argues that the Obama administration is fighting Kobach’s effort not because they want to protect voting rights, but as part of a sneaky plot to legalize noncitizen voting in all federal elections.

Fitton, of course, ties this to the influx of Central American children fleeing to the U.S. border, echoing Louie Gohmert’s claim that the president will encourage the refugee children to commit voter fraud. 

One of the many negative downstream consequences of illegal aliens flooding across the border is the increased possibility of voter fraud. Obama and his leftist allies are committed to thwarting any effort by states to protect the integrity of the voting process that would prevent illegal aliens and other ineligible individuals from voting.

As CIS points out, every single state in the United States legally bars non-citizens from voting in national or state elections. The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996, signed into law by President Clinton, made it a crime for any non-citizen to vote in a federal election.

This is a fact so basic and so well-documented, says CIS, that 94% of fourth graders tested on the question of whether or not non-citizens could vote got the question correct.

So why are leftists inside the Obama administration in the bottom 6% of a fourth grade class? It’s certainly not because they don’t understand the law. They understand it perfectly well. It’s because they don’t agree with the law, want to change it, and know they would not have a snowball’s chance in you-know-where driving that kind of legislation through Congress. So they do what they always do: Ignore the law, go to court, and hope judges allow them to get away with the lawlessness.

You also should know that the campaign to allow non-citizens to vote is a national effort that has already borne fruit. Per CIS: “there are several municipalities in the United States that currently allow non-citizens to vote in local elections. Moreover, legislation to allow non-citizens to vote has been introduced in a number of states and localities including Washington, D.C., San Francisco, and New York City.”

Kansas and Arizona, however, were not willing to “play ball” with leftists who boldly court non-citizen voting. And that’s why they (and we) are active in court.

Failing to Defend the Right to Vote Is Simply Not an Option

As we work to ensure not only that President Obama receives legislation without undue delay, but also that whatever language he signs protects as many voters as possible from discrimination, it is important to remember those who died a half century ago fighting for this very cause.
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