The Right to Vote

Ohio Faith Leaders Speak Out Against Restrictive Voting Laws

On Wednesday the Ohio legislature passed two restrictive voting laws that cut early voting and gut the state’s absentee ballot program, among other measures. This afternoon, Governor Kasich signed them into law. In response, the Ohio members of People For the American Way’s African American Ministers In Action released the following statement:

“It is shameful that in this day and age, we are still fighting to protect the right to vote. Hiding behind the debunked myth of ‘voter fraud,’ it is clear as day that Republican leaders simply want to make it harder for some Ohioans to cast a ballot. Our elected officials should be encouraging all Ohioans to participate in their democracy, not pushing suppressive laws that threaten our most fundamental right as citizens.”

People For the American Way’s African American Ministers In Action represents a network of 1,500 African-American clergy working toward equality, justice and opportunity for all.

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Ending the Disenfranchisement of Formerly Incarcerated Americans

The following is a guest blog from Reverend Michael Couch, a member of People For the American Way’s African American Ministers In Action.

On Tuesday, while speaking at the Georgetown University Law Center, Attorney General Eric Holder called for a repeal of state voting laws that disenfranchise formerly incarcerated people. In a country where nearly six million citizens are unable to vote because of felony convictions, these changes could not come quickly enough.

State laws dictating voting rights for those who have served time in prison vary, from an automatic restoration of rights after sentence completion in some states to outright bans in others. Restrictions on this civil right in states like Kentucky, Florida, Iowa, and Virginia should no longer be subject to criteria such as the type of convictions, arbitrary time frames, petitions to clemency boards and/or the state governor.

I work daily with others around the country to make sure nonpartisan voting education and voter registration of women and men who have completed their sentences takes place. Laws that disenfranchise formerly incarcerated people take away the single most fundamental American right, and they do so disproportionately to people of color. As Attorney General Holder pointed out in his speech, restrictive laws prohibit a shocking one in thirteen African Americans adults from voting.

As an African American faith leader, I find this to be both morally unacceptable and counterproductive to the goal of fostering supportive, engaged communities. I know from experience if someone has committed a crime, served their time in prison, and is released, no good could come of permanently stripping them of their most basic right and responsibility. Moreover, what isn’t often addressed is how restrictive laws keep families of those adults from helping them transition back to being a responsible, contributing citizen of their community. It’s time to change the message sent to the nearly six million Americans who have lost their voice and civic responsibility in our democracy.

Attorney General Holder is right: These laws are “unwise…unjust, and… not in keeping with our democratic values.” It’s time for states to get rid of laws that suppress those who have served their time and prevent them from fully participating in our democratic system.

PFAW

Assault On Voting by Ohio GOP Ahead of November 2014 Elections

Ohio Republican legislators are up to their voter suppression tricks again, trying to limit absentee ballot registrations and restricting voting hours ahead of the November 2014 elections. The Columbus Dispatch reported Friday that GOP Rep. Mike Dovilla, Chairman of the Ohio House Policy and Legislative Oversight Committee, said the committee will vote on Senate Bill 205 and Senate Bill 238 as early as Tuesday.  If passed out of Dovilla’s committee, it could be off to the full House for a floor debate on Wednesday.

SB 205 would ban county clerks from mass mailing absentee ballot applications to all voters, holding that duty only for OH Secretary of State Jon Husted, who has proven in the past that he will restrict voting access almost every chance he gets.

SB 238 would achieve one of Husted’s anti-voter policy agenda items by limiting early voting days, effectively eliminating Ohioans’ ability to register and vote on the same day anywhere in the state.

These legislative moves come just days after the news broke that Hamilton County officials might relocate Cincinnati’s largest early voting location to a new, much less accessible location.  That decision met with considerable push-back from voting rights activists and the media, resulting in a deadlock vote from the Board of Elections. The final decision now also goes to Secretary Husted to decide, effectively putting the power to restrict access to early voting in Cincinnati’s largest city in his hands.

If you are from Ohio, call your Representative now and tell them to protect your early voting rights by voting ‘NO’ on SB 205 and SB 238. You can find your Representative’s contact information here: http://www.ohiohouse.gov/members/member-directory. Once you have talked to your Representative, drop us an email at political@pfaw.org to let us know what they said.  We’ll keep tabs on the situation and update you on voter suppression efforts in Ohio – and across the country – on the PFAW blog.

PFAW

Presidential Commission Issues Report on Election Administration

The PCEA recommendations are indeed a welcome addition to the voting rights debate, helping us move closer to the day when every eligible voter can register to vote and cast a ballot that counts. We must keep in mind, though, that the PCEA isn't the last word on American electoral reform. Nor does the PCEA replace what the Voting Rights Act lost after the Supreme Court ruling in Shelby County v. Holder.
PFAW

The Spirit Of Selma: Moral March In Raleigh, NC

The Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision and related rulings undermining the nation’s campaign finance laws opened the doors to massive corporate and right-wing spending. Nowhere have the results been more catastrophic than in North Carolina, where a right-wing takeover subjected state residents to an avalanche of far-right legislation targeting children, teachers, voting rights, and more.

Last year PFAW’s Miranda Blue and Calvin Sloan documented the far-right takeover of state politics that was funded by billionaire Art Pope with the help of GOP strategist and current U.S. Senate candidate from Virginia, Ed Gillespie.  In 2012, Pope and his allies poured millions of dollars into elections for the state legislature and millions more to elect Gov. Pat McCrory. 

Once they got into power, with Pope himself installed as McCrory’s budget director, North Carolina citizens were subjected to the full fury of a far-right, Tea Party-on-steroids legislative agenda. Education spending was slashed and thousands of teachers fired while tax dollars were diverted to school vouchers.

Hundreds of thousands of citizens were denied Medicaid and unemployment benefits while taxes were cut for the state’s richest residents. And in order to perpetuate the power of Pope’s puppets, one of the nation’s worst, most restrictive voting laws was put into place to disenfranchise voters, with an assist from the Supreme Court’s gutting of a key section of the Voting Rights Act.

But North Carolina has not given Americans only a terrifying look at what a Tea Party-run country would look like. It has also given us an inspiring example of grassroots organizing on behalf of a very different set of values.  Led by Rev. William Barber, head of the state’s NAACP chapter, North Carolinans began “Moral Mondays” protests at the state capitol. They were dismissed as “morons” and outside agitators by right-wing legislators. One of Pope’s right-wing groups published personal information of protestors online.

But those efforts did nothing to squelch the Moral Mondays movement, which drew thousands of people to the weekly protests.  Hundreds were arrested for nonviolent civil disobedience.

Now Barber and the diverse coalition he leads have put out a call to people across North Carolina and the rest of the country to come to Raleigh on February 8 for what they hope will become the largest civil rights gathering in the south since an interfaith, interracial group of people responded to Dr. King’s call to join civil rights marchers in Selma.

On Tuesday, Rev. Barber spoke to bloggers about Moral Mondays, the February 8 march, and the values-based “fusion” organizing that is sustaining the pro-justice movement in North Carolina. If you’re going to change America, he said, you have to change the south – with broad-based, locally led movements in every state. 

Barber emphasized that his movement was not partisan – that many independents and Republicans have joined in the Moral Mondays protests against the extremist and unjust laws passed by the far-right faction that now runs the state government. What motivates the new coalition, Barber said, is a combination of the constitutional principle of the common good and the biblical principle of caring for the vulnerable. A few days before the march, a policy briefing will examine the moral, economic, political and social costs of the state’s regressive legislation.

One goal of turning February 8 into a national event, Barber said, is to discourage right-wing strategists who hope to duplicate Pope’s takeover and subsequent imposition of extreme policies that Barber describes as “constitutionally inconsistent, morally indefensible, and economically insane.”

You can find out more about the February 8 march at the event website.

Judge Strikes Down PA Voter ID Law

In 2012, over the protests of thousands of Pennsylvanians, forty five organizations, and every Democrat in the state legislature, Governor Tom Corbett signed into law one of the strictest voter ID requirements in the country. The Speaker of the Pennsylvania House acknowledged that he pushed the law to help Mitt Romney win the state.

This morning the two-year-old law was ruled unconstitutional. Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court Judge Bernard McGinley wrote that law was a “substantial threat” and that it would hinder the ability of many to vote freely.

In the ruling, Judge McGinley stated

“Voting laws are designed to assure a free and fair election; the Voter ID Law does not further this goal.”

People For the American Way Foundation’s African American Ministers Leadership Council said of the law last year:

“The purpose of this law has been clear from the beginning. It was meant to keep African Americans, students, and other traditionally suppressed communities from  exercising our hard-won right to vote. Even the law’s supporters have admitted that there is absolutely no evidence of in-person voter fraud in Pennsylvania. Instead, this law is a purely political attempt to disenfranchise citizens who have every right to vote. I am dismayed at today’s decision and hope that as this case moves through the courts, our judges recognize the ugly intent and real consequences of voter ID.”


 

PFAW Foundation

African American Ministers in Action Applauds Introduction of VRA Legislation

WASHINGTON – In response to today’s introduction of legislation to restore the Voting Rights Act, Minister Leslie Watson Malachi, Director of People For the American Way’s African American Ministers in Action, released the following statement:

“In its Shelby decision, the Supreme Court undermined some of the most important protections of the right to vote in our democracy. The Voting Rights Act (VRA) has long served as a shield to protect people of color and other vulnerable voters from the threat of disenfranchisement. We welcome Congress taking up the mantle to restore the Voting Rights Act and protect every American’s basic right to participate in every election.

“Since it was first passed, the VRA has boldly confronted a problem that has deep roots in our nation’s history and, sadly, our nation’s present – discrimination at the ballot box. We must have a working democracy that includes the voice of everyone. Making sure that all Americans are treated fairly at the polls, whether urban, suburban, or rural, is something many have fought, and even died for – now it’s up to us to honor that legacy so their struggles and deaths will not be in vain. We must restore strength to the VRA.”

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PFAW Praises Introduction of VRA Legislation

WASHINGTON – In response to today’s introduction of legislation to restore the Voting Rights Act, People For the American Way President Michael Keegan released the following statement:

“In the wake of last year’s damaging Shelby County v. Holder decision that opened the door to an influx of restrictive new laws around the country, we’re heartened that Congress has taken up the important work of replacing what the Voting Rights Act lost.

“This fight isn’t about partisan politics – it’s about the fundamental right to cast a vote that counts. It’s about all people being treated fairly at the polls. We look forward to working with Congress to strengthen one of the most important pieces of civil rights legislation in our country’s history.”

People For the American Way recently launched a petition urging Congress to restore strength to the Voting Rights Act, and it currently has more than 137,500 signers.

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Conservatives Try To Sink Justice Department Nominee Debo Adegbile Because Of His Civil Rights Record

As the Senate Judiciary Committee holds a hearing today on the nomination of civil rights attorney Debo Adegbile to head the Justice Department’s civil rights division, Republican senators are facing pressure from right-wing activists to sink his nomination.

Conservatives have not been fans of the civil rights division under the leadership of President Obama and Attorney General Holder, who installed now-Labor Secretary Tom Perez to restore the division to its original purpose after neglect under the Bush administration. In other words, President Obama has nominated civil rights advocates to the office and encouraged them to enforce civil rights measures….which is just too much for some conservative activists to bear.

Leading the charge against Adegbile and the division he’s been nominated to head is J. Christian Adams, a former Bush administration Justice Department official whose “claim to fame as a federal lawyer,” according to The Atlantic’s Andrew Cohen , “seems to be his penchant for accusing black people of discriminating against whites.”

Since Holder took over the Justice Department, Adams has dedicated himself to stirring up racial panic over the civil rights division’s work. It was Adams who drove the conservative media freakout over the New Black Panther Party. He has also been an active voice in opposing the Holder Justice Department’s increased efforts to protect voting rights and testified before Congress against a meaningful restoration of the Voting Rights Act after its decimation at the hands of the Supreme Court.

Adams even wrote a book called Injustice: Exposing The Racial Agenda Of The Obama Justice Department, which dwells on the New Black Panther story and accuses the Obama DOJ of “insisting on kids’ rights to attend school dressed as transvestites” and a “fixation on racial grievance” which the book claims “threaten[ed] the integrity of the 2012 elections.” In the book, Adams accuses Holder and his civil rights team of seeking “payback” against whites and of supporting efforts to “switch the positions of historic oppressor and the historically oppressed.”

So, naturally, Adams has taken the lead in opposing Adegbile’s nomination to head the civil rights division, since from his record it seems that Adegbile would actually use the position to enforce civil rights. Adegbile, a child of immigrants, had astint as a child actor on Sesame Street before putting himself through school and ultimately landing in a top position at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.

It is Adegbiles’ work at the LDF work that Adams and his allies have jumped on. In a post on Pajamas Media in November, Adams attacked the LDF as “an organization that has pushed a radical racial agenda including attacks on election integrity measures, opposition to criminal background checks for hiring, and racial hiring quotas for state and local governments” -- in other words, support for voting rights, “ban the box” measures , and some affirmative action measures.

Adams also attacked Adegbile for what, in the eyes of civil rights supporters, might be seen as the pinnacle of his career: the two voting rights cases he argued in front of the Supreme Court, including his defense of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 last year. Adams describes the VRA enforcement measure that the Supreme Court struck down as a means to put states that go after voting rights “ under federal control.” Adams also objects to the fact that the LDF filed an amicus brief in Fisher v. University of Texas.

Finally, Adams and his fellow conservative bloggers have fixated on the LDF’s role in converting Mumia Abu-Jamal’s death sentence to life in prison – assistance that focused not on Abu-Jamal’s guilt or innocence, but on the misleading sentencing instructions provided to the jury in his original trial, which an appellate court, including two Reagan-appointed judges, found to be unconstitutional.

Adams has succeeded in recruiting a raft of conservative activists to his anti-Adegbile cause, including The National Review’s John Fund, who also attacked the nominee for his defense of the Voting Rights Act; former FEC commissioner and voter suppression advocate Hans Von Spakovsky, who told NPR that Obama had failed to “nominate someone who believes in race-neutral enforcement of our discrimination laws”; The Daily Caller, which accused Adegbile of “a radical record on racial issues”; and FrontPage Magazine, which called the nomination evidence of the president’s “ anti-American radicalism.”

The key phrase in Adams’ attack on Adegbile is his characterization of the Obama Justice Department as pushing “nakedly racialist policies” – “racialism” being Adams’ preferred code for the acknowledgement that race and racism still impact American life, an acknowledgment that is critical to the civil rights divisions’ work.

It’s clear that what right-wing activists object to is not so much Adegbile himself, but the fact that he would ably lead a division that is aggressively working to protect voting rights and fight housing and employment discrimination, a division that acknowledges that discrimination is still a reality in the United States.

Kobach Still Struggling To Clean Up Kansas Voter Registration Mess

A strict proof-of-citizenship requirement for Kansas voters pushed by Secretary of State Kris Kobach has now suspended the voting rights of over 19,000 Kansans who were unable to provide a birth certificate, passport or other proof of citizenship to election officials, and Kobach continues to struggle to clean up the mess the law has made.

In his latest attempt to fix the problem, Kobach has arranged with another state agency to start checking the names of voters in limbo against birth certificate records to confirm voters’ citizenship.

The problem? The birth certificate search will only find voters born in Kansas, and it may not catch people, such as married women, who have changed their names. The Kansas City Star interviewed Kobach, who explained that he was simply practicing “good government” and providing an “extra service”:

The state’s vital statistics office will compare lists of would-be voters to its records. Kobach’s office would be notified when matches are confirmed. The procedure will be followed in the future as Kansans register to vote.

“This, in my view, is good government,” Kobach said.

But critics were quick to point out that Kobach’s idea could pose constitutional problems because it treats voters born in Kansas differently from voters born elsewhere.

It also raises questions about how women might be treated. Many change their names after getting married and might not be matched with birth records kept by the state.

“That is not actually going to work,” said Doug Bonney, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas and Western Missouri.

Kobach said provisions will be made for women. He said the state health department tracks name changes and those records will be matched against the voting records.

Kobach, however, conceded that prospective voters born in Kansas will benefit more than voters born in another state.

He said there are many examples throughout government where people might have an advantage because of their age, marital status or residence.

“It’s an extra service but it’s not something that would amount to a violation of equal protection of law,” he said.

This is only Kobach’s latest attempt to clean up the mess that his law has created. Along with Arizona, he has sued the federal government to allow Kansas to require proof of citizenship with the federal voter registration form. He has said that if he loses that case he’ll move to set up a two-tiered voting system in the state in which those who register with the federal form without additional proof of citizenship are barred from voting in state elections.

Kobach Uncovers Massive Voter Fraud…In 1855

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach has  been getting absolutely creamed by the state press for his proposal to create a two-tiered voting system if his lawsuit against the federal government to make voter registration more difficult fails.

Now, he’s fighting back.

In an op-ed published on the website of KSAL this week, Kobach claims that his efforts to require a “proof of citizenship” document to register to vote – which has put the registration of 17,000 Kansans into limbo and instigated the two-tier plan —is necessary because of “rampant voter fraud”… in Kansas’ first territorial election in 1855.

The integrity of elections has been a crucial concern of Kansans since the birth of our state. More than any other state, Kansas was born in an atmosphere of rampant voter fraud. Our first territorial legislative election saw 4,908 fraudulent votes cast (mostly by Missourians). In the ensuing years, many Kansans put themselves at great risk in order to safeguard the integrity of elections.

Recognizing the need to protect the fairness of elections, the Kansas (Wyandotte) Constitution, adopted in 1859, provided that every Kansas voter must be a United States citizen to cast a legal ballot. The Kansas Constitution also states that the Kansas legislature shall provide for “proper proofs,” or evidence, of the right to vote. It was that authority that the Kansas Legislature exercised during the 2011 legislative session, when it enacted the Secure and Fair Elections (SAFE) Act, which I drafted.

In 1855, about 5,000 pro-slavery Missourians, known as “border ruffians,” streamed over the border to Kansas in a successful effort to elect a pro-slavery legislature (abolitionists had previously organized thousands of northerners to settle the new territory in an attempt to make it a free state). These border ruffians were involved in all sorts of mischief, including violence, intimidation and literal ballot-box stuffing, beginning a bloody pre-Civil War conflict.  This is an interesting history lesson, but not exactly relevant to today’s elections.

But it wasn’t just an anomalous period in the nineteenth century that saw voter fraud, Kobach says. He disputes an editorial that contends that he has found “only a handful of voter fraud cases,” saying that in fact he presented 221 fraud cases to the state legislature in 2011.

First, the editorial board claimed that “when Kobach originally proposed the state’s voter ID law,” “[t]here were only a handful of voter fraud cases.” That is false. The number of cases of voter fraud presented to the Legislature in 2011 was 221. That’s many more than a handful – and those are only the cases that we know about. The actual number is likely much higher.

The forms of voter fraud included everything from voting in the same election in two different states, to fraudulently requesting another person’s mail-in ballot, to impersonating another voter at the polls, to fraudulently voting an elderly person’s ballot at a nursing home and forging the person’s signature. These are serious criminal acts that threaten the integrity of our elections.

In fact, that collection of 221 cases of alleged voter fraud took place over a period of thirteen years, averaging 17 cases a year. When the Wichita Eagle looked into the cases Kobach had listed, they found that many did not amount to voter fraud at all. In one case, Kobach claimed that a dead man had voted; the man, very much alive, disputed that fact. The paper found that other cases Kobach counted were “honest mistakes” with no intent to defraud.

Ultimately, only seven of the 211 cases resulted in convictions

Meanwhile, Kobach’s plan to prevent the epidemic of seven cases of voter fraud over 13 years has suspended the voting rights of 17,000 people and now may result in a bureaucratic nightmare in which some Kansans are allowed to vote only in federal elections and some are still not allowed to vote at all.

But Kobach claims that in proposing a two-tiered voting system to “fix” the mess that his proof of citizenship requirement has made, he is actually “doing the opposite.”

Kobach claims that it is actually the courts that are at fault for Kansas' voting system crisis because they have required states to accept the federal "motor voter" registration form, which requires voters to affirm their citizenship under penalty of perjury but doesn't require extra documentation. Confident he’ll win his lawsuit to add extra restrictions to the federal form in Kansas and Arizona, he insists that he is actually trying “to avoid having two categories of voters.”

In fact I am doing the opposite. Under my leadership, Kansas and Arizona have joined forces to sue the federal government’s Election Assistance Commission (EAC) to change the federal mail voter registration form so that proof of citizenship can be requested from those Kansans who use the form, as Kansas law requires. We are suing in order to avoid the two-categories-of-voters-plan that the editorial board criticizes.

The suit is necessary because, this past summer, the United States Supreme Court in Arizona v. Inter Tribal Council said that states must “accept and use” the federal mail voter registration form to register voters for federal elections. As it is currently written, the federal form for Kansas doesn’t require proof of citizenship. (The state form, which more than 99% of voters use, does require proof of citizenship.)

The way to avoid having two categories of voters is for Kansas and Arizona to bring such a lawsuit and win. The good news is that the Supreme Court specifically suggested this lawsuit in Arizona v. Inter Tribal Council. So there is a very high probability that we will win.
 

Texas Voter ID Law Disenfranchises Women Who Have Changed Their Names

In June, the Supreme Court struck down the key enforcement mechanism of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which mandated Justice Department review of election law changes in states and counties with a history of voting discrimination.

The state of Texas responded almost immediately by going ahead with an arduous photo ID requirement that had until the Supreme Court’s decision been blocked by federal courts.

As the Justice Department and voting rights advocates feared, Texas’ law, which went into effect on Monday, is already keeping qualified people from registering to vote. So far, only 41 of the 1.4 million people who lack an eligible voter ID have obtained a substitute “election identification certificate.” But the new requirement isn’t just preventing people who don’t have certain forms of ID from registering to vote – it’s also threatening to disenfranchise women who changed their names when they married.

Policy Mic notes that the Texas law “requires all voters to provide a photo ID that reflects their current name. If they cannot, voters must provide any of a series of other acceptable forms of identification all of which must match exactly and match the name on their birth certificate." This presents a problem for the 34 percent of women who lack an ID that shows their current name, including those who changed their names when they married:

In fact, only 66% of women have an ID that reflects their current name. If any voter is using name different than what appears on their birth certificate, the voter is required to show proof of name change by providing an original or certified copy of their marriage license, divorce decree, or court ordered name change. Photocopies aren’t accepted.

Now ask a woman who’s been married for years where her original marriage certificate is. Ask a woman who’s been divorced — maybe more than once — where all the divorce decrees are. Ask elderly women where their original birth certificate is.

Today, Think Progress reports on one Texas woman caught in this trap: a state district court judge who has been voting for nearly 50 years but whose registration was almost blocked because her drivers’ license lists her maiden name as her middle name, while her voter registration form did not:

As she told local channel Kiii News, 117th District Court Judge Sandra Watts was flagged for possible voter fraud because her driver’s license lists her maiden name as her middle name, while her voter registration form has her real middle name. This was the first time she has ever had a problem voting in 49 years. “What I have used for voter registration and for identification for the last 52 years was not sufficient yesterday when I went to vote,” she said.

Watts worried that women who use maiden names or hyphenated names may be surprised at the polls. “I don’t think most women know that this is going to create a problem,” the judge said. “That their maiden name is on their driver’s license, which was mandated in 1964 when I got married, and this. And so why would I want to use a provisional ballot when I’ve been voting regular ballot for the last 49 years?"

The Justice Department is currently suing Texas over the law  and asking a federal court to require preclearance in the future, under a section of the Voting Rights Act not affected by its recent ruling.

PFAW

Virginia Removes 40,000 Names From Voter Rolls as Election Approaches

The Associated Press is reporting that Virginia election officials have gone ahead with a planned “purge” of the state’s voter rolls, removing nearly 40,000 names from voter registration lists. 

The state’s gubernatorial election is in less than three weeks.

There are signs that some eligible voters may have had their vaild voter registrations revoked in the purge. One local registrar refused to participate, the AP reports, because one in ten names that state elections officers sent him to be removed from the rolls were in fact eligible voters:

One local registrar, Lawrence Haake in Chesterfield County, has defied the state elections board and refused to purge any voters. In an affidavit, Haake says that he conducted a preliminary review that found nearly 10 percent of the names given to him by the state for potential purging were, in fact, eligible voters. He concluded that the risk of purging legitimate voters was too great.

“The list sent to us from the SBE is clearly inaccurate and unreliable,” Haake said in the affidavit.

In our report “The Right to Vote Under Attack,” we documented how flawed voter purges keep eligible citizens from voting.
 

PFAW Foundation

Leading Conservative Judge Says He Was Wrong to Uphold Voter ID Law

Richard Posner now recognizes that voter photo ID laws are intended to unconstitutionally suppress the vote.
PFAW Foundation

Kobach Moving Forward With Plan to Create Two Classes of Voters in Kansas

Back in August, we reported that Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach was considering a novel voter suppression idea. Kobach has been struggling to implement a new law that he backed requiring voters to present proof of citizenship when registering to vote. As a result of the law, over 17,000 Kansans who registered to vote using a federal form (which doesn’t require proof of citizenship) or used a state form but couldn’t dig up a birth certificate have had their voter registration suspended.

Kobach said that this mass disenfranchisement wasn't a “major problem,” but he did have a proposal to deal with it: Create two classes of voters, some who are allowed to vote only in federal elections and others who are allowed to vote in both state and federal elections.

Now, the Wichita Eagle reports, Kobach is moving ahead with his plan. The Eagle obtained a July 31 memo from Kobach’s office to county elections officials instructing them to track which voter registration applicants apply using a federal form and which submit an acceptable proof of citizenship.

The Eagle explains that if the plan moves forward, Kansas voters will be sorted into three categories, each with separate voting rights. Those who provide proof of citizenship with either a state or federal form will be allowed to vote in all elections. Those who register with a federal form and don't provide supplemental citizenship proof will be allowed to vote just in federal elections. Meanwhile, Kansans who use the state voter registration form but don’t provide proof of citizenship will remain unable to vote at all. 

Kobach claims that this byzantine scheme is just a “contingency plan” in case he fails in suing the federal government to add extra requirements to federal voter registration forms used in Kansas.

Kobach… confirmed he’s planning for elections with different ballots for different voters, depending on whether they register under federal or state rules. He said it’s “merely a contingency plan” in case he loses a lawsuit seeking to make federal officials adopt Kansas rules for voters in Kansas.

The plan creates three classes of registered voters, according to the Legislative Research report provided to Ward on Thursday:

  • Voters using either the federal or Kansas form and providing state-required documents proving their citizenship would be able to vote in all federal, state and local elections.
  • Voters who use the federal form but don’t provide citizenship documents will be allowed to vote only for candidates running for president, vice president and Congress.
  • Registrants who file a Kansas form but don’t provide citizenship documents will be put in suspension and won’t be allowed to vote in any election.

Unsurprisingly, this plan is already causing a headache among county elections officials, reports the Eagle:

Sherman County Clerk Janet Rumpel...said she has asked the Secretary of State’s Office for clarification on whether she would have to prepare two sets of ballots for primary and general elections every two years on the chance somebody files a federal registration form – which she has never actually seen.

“It would be a nightmare for us,” she said.

But, as usual, Kobach seems unfazed.

The Eagle reports that “sidewalk and door-to-door registration drives ground to a halt” when the proof-of-citizenship requirement came into effect, “because of the impracticality of getting the needed documents to complete the process.” Democratic state representative Jim Ward recounted a discussion he had with Kobach about the difficulty of holding voter registration drives under the new law. Kobach reportedly replied that people holding voter registration drives should just “carry a copy machine" with them:

Ward said it’s Kobach who’s doing voters a disservice by demanding documents that most people don’t have close at hand and that Congress and the Supreme Court says they don’t have to provide.

He said he once asked Kobach how to collect the documents in a registration drive and Kobach’s response was “carry a copy machine with you.”

“It was a snarky response, but I think it tells you his attitude toward the right to vote,” Ward said.
 

The Republican Electoral Rigging Plan Is Back

It’s all been quiet on the election-rigging front for a while—so quiet that you might have thought the Republicans’ plan to rig the electoral college had been quietly dropped. Sadly, that’s not the case.

Florida state Rep. Ray Pilon introduced a bill last week to change how the state apportions its electoral college votes. Under his plan, the state would award its electoral college votes by congressional district. If this plan had been in place in 2012, Florida would have awarded an extra 15 electoral college votes Mitt Romney. Indeed, as Think Progress points out, if every state used this plan, Romney would have won the election.

That massive hypothetical shift is partly due to another plank of the Republicans’ plan to rig elections in their favor: gerrymandering congressional districts. If states like Florida award their votes by congressional district, then the Republican party in those states can create a huge advantage for themselves by gerrymandering their congressional district maps. This part of the plan is already complete in many states, where we won’t have an opportunity to try and reverse some of this gerrymandering for nearly 10 years (and two presidential elections).  Florida’s GOP would certainly benefit from such a plan, where the last round of redistricting created a map that will, in the words of the Washington Post, help “cement their overwhelming majority in the state’s delegation for a decade to come.”

Just look at the red the congressional district maps in Pennsylvania[], where Obama won the popular vote by more than five percent but would have lost the majority of electoral college votes under a plan like Pilon’s. Indeed, congressional district maps throughout the country are so gerrymandered that while Democrats won the 2012 popular vote for House seats, we ended up with the second biggest GOP majority in 60 years.

It’s clear that this bill is another sad attempt to rig the game in the Republicans’ favor. It has nothing to do with fairness and democracy, and everything to do with partisan games. But just being sick of losing doesn’t give you the right to change the rules. Most people learned that as children on the playground, but it seems like the Republican party never got that lesson. The only way they’ll ever get these bills passed is if we let them get away with it, so it’s up to us to let them know that we’re paying attention. That’s how we’ve kept these bills from being passed in every other state that they’ve been proposed in over the past year, and that’s what we’ll do with this bill. 

PFAW

Republican Admits His Party Does Better When People Don't Vote

How’s all that new outreach going, GOP? Not that well, it seems.

This week, Nevada Assembly Minority Leader Pat Hickey gave meaning to that old political saying, “A gaffe is when a politician tells the truth.” Speaking on a conservative talk radio show about the Republican Party’s chances in 2014, Hickey said:

"Probably where we had a million voters turn out in 2012; we'll have like 700,000 [in 2014]. A lot of minorities, a lot of younger people will not turn out in a non-presidential year. It's a great year for Republicans!"

It’s a great year for Republicans-- when people don’t vote! Particularly those young people and minorities, so never mind them! Really, just a great job rebranding there, GOP, I think you’ve nailed it.

Of course, it’s amusing when a politician accidentally reveals the truth like this, but it points to a serious problem in our democracy. The Republican assault on the right to vote in this country is moving full steam ahead, with bills introduced in 31 states just this year. It’s clear at this point that no amount of accidental truth-telling is going to embarrass them into stopping this attack: they’ve had slip-ups like this in the past, but they still keep pushing to make it harder for people to vote. We can’t wait for them to start feeling ashamed of their position, because that’s clearly never going to happen. It’s up to us to actively defend the right to vote, wherever it is under attack. 

PFAW

PFAW Releases New Toolkit on Getting Money Out and Voters In to Our Democracy

We believe in a democratic system where all Americans have equal access to the voting booth and can express their views on a level playing field.
PFAW

Glenn Beck Supports Right-Wing Vote-Rigging Scheme

As a general rule, the candidate who receives the most votes in an election is declared the winner.  But that would all change if the Family Research Council's Ken Blackwell gets his way and states start adopting a vote-rigging scheme that he is recommending whereby, in a presidential election, electoral votes would switch from winner-take-all allocations to a system where they were awarded according to congressional districts.

As a result of such a switch, candidates who lose the overall popular vote in a state could still end up receiving a majority of that state's electoral votes simply by virtue of winning the popular vote in more individual districts.

As Blackwell admitted several months ago, if this sort of system had been in place during the last election, Mitt Romney would have won the presidency despite the fact that he lost the overall popular vote by nearly 5 million votes.

David Barton has eagerly been supporting the scheme by laughably claiming that it would "give the people a greater voice" and last night he got Glenn Beck to endorse it as well on his television program:

Money Out, Voters In: A Guide to Democratic Reform

Americans today face twin threats to the integrity of our democracy: unlimited spending to influence elections and voter suppression. Find out what you can do.
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