The Right to Vote

EAC Official Who Helped Make Voting Harder Linked To Voter Suppression Architect Kris Kobach

The AP reports today that Brian Newby, the Election Assistance Commission executive director who in February singlehandedly helped Kansas, Georgia and Alabama make it harder to vote using federal voter registration forms, was placed in his job in part thanks to the efforts of Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, the architect of voter suppression measures throughout the country.

In 2011, Kobach helped push through a law in his state requiring people registering to vote to present one of a narrow list of “proof of citizenship” documents, which led tens of thousands of Kansans to have their voter registrations suspended when they tried to sign up to vote in last year’s elections. Kobach was locked in a years-long battled with the EAC over federal voter registration forms, which did not require voters to present the same proof of citizenship, even attempting to create a two-tiered voting system in which people who registered with the federal form were barred from voting in state and local elections. Then, in February, Newby decided that people registering with the federal voter registration form in Kansas, Georgia and Alabama would have to present extra proof of citizenship, handing a major win to Kobach.

So, it is not entirely surprising to learn that it is Kobach who helped Newby to get his job at the EAC:

An email provided to The Associated Press through open records requests offers a glimpse into the mindset of Brian Newby, executive director of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, who decided — without public comment or approval from bosses — that residents of Alabama, Kansas and Georgia can no longer register to vote using a national form without providing proof of U.S. citizenship.

As a finalist for the job of executive director, Newby said in a June email to his benefactor, Kansas' Republican Secretary of State Kris Kobach, that he was friends with two of the commissioners at the federal agency, and told Kobach: "I think I would enter the job empowered to lead the way I want to."

Documents obtained by AP show Newby's ties to Kobach, the architect of voter ID and other restrictive voter registration laws around the nation that he says are needed to prevent voter fraud. Critics say there is very little voter fraud and Kobach's measures hurt voter registration and deprive eligible voters of the right to vote.

Kobach had appointed Newby to be a county elections commissioner in Kansas, and helped him get the federal job that he took in November.

"I wanted you in the loop, in part because of other issues in the past with the EAC," Newby emailed Kobach. "I also don't want you thinking that you can't count on me in an upcoming period that will tax our resources."

Newby declined to comment for this story about the email, referring questions to a commission spokesman, Bryan Whitener, who declined comment. Newby was hired by the three sitting commissioners.

Kobach said Wednesday that he spoke to one, and possibly two of the Republican commissioners, about Newby prior to his hiring.

"I told that person I thought Newby would be excellent and he was one of Kansas' most talented county election officers and indeed one of the most talented election officers in country," Kobach said.

But documents from open records requests and interviews by AP show that as early as April 2015 and continuing in the months leading to Newby's hiring by the commission, Kobach and his staff met with county officials to discuss concerns about Newby's job performance in Kansas. Those concerns led officials to call for an audit of the Johnson County election office Newby led.

Kobach told AP he never informed the federal commissioners about those problems, and insisted they would not have affected Newby's performance at his federal job.

The audit released earlier this month found Newby intentionally skirted oversight of government credit card expenses, wasted taxpayer funds and improperly claimed mileage and travel expenses while at his former job in Kansas. Newby has called the audit inaccurate and misleading.

Heritage List Gives Glimpse Of Far-Right Justices Sought By Trump And Cruz

One of the conservative establishment’s greatest fears about a Donald Trump presidency has been that he wouldn’t pick movement ideologues to sit on the Supreme Court. Trump attempted to put that concern to rest last week when he announced that he was working with the conservative behemoth the Heritage Foundation to shape a list of 10 possible Supreme Court picks from whom he would choose nominees if he were to become president. (Whether he would actually keep that promise, however, is an open question.)

Meanwhile, Trump’s main GOP presidential rival, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, has promised to make nominating ultra-conservative justices a “priority” of his presidency. He has even made a point of criticizing past Republican presidents for appointing insufficiently conservative jurists.

Trump hasn’t released his list of candidates, but today the Heritage Foundation published a “non-exclusive” list of eight people that it said “illustrates the kind of highly qualified, principled individuals the new president should consider” for the high court — and who, it’s safe to assume, represent the kind of judges the conservative movement would pressure Trump and Cruz to pick for the federal courts.

Two of Heritage’s picks, federal appeals court judges William Pryor and Diane Sykes, have been mentioned repeatedly by Trump on the campaign trail. The name of another, Sen. Mike Lee of Utah, has been brought up by Cruz, who even picked up the Utah senator’s endorsement.

In a profile of Sykes last month, ThinkProgress’ Ian Millhiser wrote:

… Sykes, who currently sits on the Seventh Circuit, backed a voter ID law . She also wrote a decision expanding religious objectors’ ability to limit their employees’ access to birth control coverage that SCOTUSBlog’s Lyle Denniston described as “ the broadest ruling so far by a federal appeals court barring enforcement of the birth-control mandate in the new federal health care law.”

Millhiser noted that Sykes also ruled “that anti-gay groups have a constitutional right to continue receiving government subsidies even if they engage in discrimination,” another troubling indication that she could support conservative groups’ attempts to justify discrimination.

Pryor, a former Alabama attorney general, also has a history of right-wing activism. Pryor has called Roe v. Wade the “ worst abomination in the history of constitutional law” and said that it created “ a constitutional right to murder an unborn child.” He has claimed that with “the New Deal” and other measures, the U.S. has “strayed too far in the expansion of the federal government,” and asserted that the federal government “should not be in the business of public education nor the control of street crime .” Like Sykes, Pryor has upheld a voter ID law.

Lee, a Tea Party favorite who has been Cruz’s strongest ally in the Senate, has a legal philosophy that might be even more troubling, dismissing large swaths of the federal government’s work as unconstitutional. As Peter summarized recently:

Here are a few things that Sen. Mike Lee believes are unconstitutional for the federal government to be engaged in:

Peter noted that Lee “dismisses Supreme Court rulings upholding a woman’s right to abortion” and has “called the court’s marriage equality ruling a ‘breathtaking presumption of power.’”

Also on Heritage’s list is Brett Kavanaugh, a George W. Bush appointee to the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, where he is a colleague of President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland. Kavanaugh, who before his career as a judge worked on the notorious “Starr Report” about President Clinton, is just one example of Bush’s effort to put ideologically motivated conservatives on the federal bench.

Kavanaugh’s rulings on the D.C. Circuit include striking down important EPA air pollution rules in an opinion that one columnist called “60 pages of legal sophistry, procedural hair-splitting and scientific conjecture.” PFAW summarized the issue at hand:

Last summer, two Bush-nominated judges on the D.C. Circuit issued a much-criticized ruling in EME Homer City Generation, striking down important new EPA rules on air pollution that crosses state lines. In 2011, the EPA issued new regulations to limit the levels of sulfur dioxide and nitrous oxide emitted by coal-fired power plants and crossing state lines. Based on the administrative record and its expertise on environmental health, the agency concluded that the new rules would prevent 34,000 premature deaths, 15,000 heart attacks, and 400,000 cases of asthma. As if that weren’t important enough, the rules would also save $280 billion a year in healthcare costs.

In 2011, Kavanaugh dissented from a ruling that found ExxonMobil was not immune from being sued by Indonesians who said they had been “beaten, burned, shocked with cattle prods, kicked, and subjected to other forms of brutality and cruelty" by the company’s security forces. Dissenting from a ruling upholding the Affordable Care Act the same year, Kavanaugh suggested that a president who thinks the ACA is unconstitutional could simply decline to enforce it.

Also on Heritage’s list are Paul Clement, who served as solicitor general in the Bush administration and is just 49 years old, and federal appeals court judges Steven Colloton and Raymond Gruender. Another Heritage suggestion is Texas Supreme Court Justice Don Willett, who was nominated by then-Gov. Rick Perry after helping Bush run his faith-based initiatives in Texas and in the White House.

'Voter Fraud' Alarmists Claim Obama Wants Noncitizens To Vote

Frank Gaffney, the head of the Center for Security Policy, and the Heritage Foundation’s Hans von Spakovsky, one of the country’s most vocal advocates for restrictive voting laws, agreed in an interview on Gaffney’s “Secure Freedom Radio” yesterday that the Justice Department under President Obama has been pushing back against voter registration restrictions because the president “wants noncitizens to vote.”

The Obama administration’s Justice Department is siding with voting rights groups that are trying to stop a move by the director of the Election Assistance Commission that would make it harder to register to vote in three states by including those states’ “proof of citizenship” requirements on federal voter registration forms.

Such a step would have a damaging impact on voter registration: MSNBC reports that Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who pushed through one of the most restrictive voter registration laws in the country, has provided documentation that just “seven non-citizens registered in the decade before the state’s proof of citizenship law went into effect in 2013,” while “voting rights groups have said over 40,000 registrations have been thrown out or suspended because of the law.”

To Gaffney and von Spakovsky, this is all proof that President Obama wants noncitizens to commit voter fraud.

“Would it be fair to say … that the government, starting with Barack Obama, actually wants noncitizens to vote and is doing its level best to bring more of them here, among other reasons, for that purpose?” Gaffney asked.

“Oh, I think so,” von Spakovsky responded, “because, look, this isn’t the only instance of this. A few years ago when Florida started trying to clear noncitizens off their voter registration rolls, and they found thousands of them, this very same Justice Department under Eric Holder actually went to court to try to stop them from doing that, making the absurd claim that it violated the National Voter Registration Act … So they actually went to court to try to stop them from taking noncitizens off the voter rolls.”

The Florida incident he was referring to was a planned voter roll purge that the Justice Department contended used out-of-date information and gave voters too little time to correct the record if they were incorrectly identified as noncitizens.

True The Vote Suggests Clinton May Steal The 2016 Election

In case we needed any more proof that the “voter integrity” group True the Vote is more interested in stirring up unfounded fears about voter fraud in order to pass restrictive voting laws than in actually ensuring the integrity of elections, Rick Hasen of Election Law Blog spots this fundraising email:

(Image: Election Law Blog)

We previously wrote about True the Vote and its leader Catherine Engelbrecht:

Engelbrecht has worked to drum up support for harsh voting restrictions that disproportionately affect racial minorities by hyping fears of widespread “voter fraud” and recruiting armies of volunteers to root out suspected fraud in their communities. These efforts haven’t exactly uncovered the evidence they’ve been looking for, although they have created hassles for legitimate voters targeted by True the Vote volunteers.

h/t @zackroth

African American Ministers In Action Applauds Restoration of Voting Rights in Maryland

Today the Maryland State Senate overrode Governor Larry Hogan’s 2015 veto of legislation (HB 980/SB 340) restoring voting rights to 40,000 formerly incarcerated persons in the state, allowing them to register to vote after they are released. With the House having voted last month, the new law will finally go into effect on March 10. Newly eligible Marylanders will be able to register to vote in the upcoming primary.

In response, Minister Leslie Watson Malachi, Director of People For the American Way’s African American Ministers In Action, issued the following statement:

“This is a victory for one of the most fundamental rights we have as Americans: the right to cast a vote that counts. Systematically keeping thousands of people from voting after they leave prison is not only wrong, it diminishes the integrity of a system that is supposed to represent all of us. Our democracy is at its strongest when all voices can be heard.”

“This is a great day for Maryland,” added Rev. Barry Hargrove, a Maryland member of affiliate PFAW Foundation’s African American Ministers Leadership Council, pastor of Prince of Peace Baptist Church in Baltimore, and president of the Maryland Progressive Baptist Convention. “Today our state moved to restore voting rights to 40,000 of our neighbors who live in, raise families in, and contribute to our communities – and our state will be stronger for it.”

People For the American Way is a progressive advocacy organization founded to fight right-wing extremism and defend constitutional values including free expression, religious liberty, equal justice under the law, and the right to meaningfully participate in our democracy.

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Maryland House Stands Up for Voting Rights for Formerly Incarcerated Persons

2/5/16 Update: PFAW has sent a new veto override message to the Maryland Senate. Their vote was to have taken place on January 21, but was postponed to today, and is now not expected until next week.
PFAW

Merry Christmas, Kentucky: Gov. Bevin Strips Voting Rights of 140,000 and Lowers Minimum Wage

Just in time for the holidays!

Kentucky’s brand new Tea Party governor just broke a campaign promise and REVERSED a positive move by his Democratic predecessor that had restored voting rights to some 140,000 Kentuckians.

Once again, Kentucky will be one of the very few states where people with felony convictions remain disenfranchised after completing their sentences. As ThinkProgress points out, this means that one in five African Americans in the state will be disenfranchised. Studies show that ex-felon disenfranchisement leads to higher rates of recidivism.  

Oh, and Bevin also lowered the minimum wage.

ThinkProgress has more:

In another executive order this week, Bevin reversed former Gov. Beshear’s move to raise the state’s minimum wage for government workers and contractors to $10.10 an hour, bringing it back down to $7.25 an hour. About 800 state workers who have already gotten raises will be able to keep them, but new hires will now have to start at the lower pay rate. In the order, Bevin hinted that he would prefer the state have no minimum wage at all: “Wage rates ideally would be established by the demands of the labor market instead of being set by the government,” he said.

PFAW

PFAW Telebriefing: The Future Of Voting Rights

Last week, People For the American Way hosted a telebriefing for members to review the recent attacks on voting rights and illustrate PFAW’s vision for the future of voting rights in America. PFAW Communications Director Drew Courtney moderated the discussion with PFAW’s Director of Outreach and Public Engagement Diallo Brooks, Executive Vice President Marge Baker, and resident Supreme Court and judicial nomination expert Paul Gordon joining the call.

Drew began the call with an introduction to the consequences of the Shelby County v. Holder Supreme Court case, which gutted key provisions of the Voting Rights Act. The decision has resulted in many states passing new legislation that results in voter suppression. Diallo explained that 36 states have passed new restrictions on early voting and more strict voter identification laws, which disproportionately affect people of color, low-income citizens, and women. Supposedly, these efforts attempt to prevent voter fraud. However, voter fraud is not documented as a widespread, or even small-scale, problem anywhere in the country. Marge later elaborated that there is evidence that true intention of passing these laws is to suppress the vote; many right-wing organizations have acknowledged that conservative leverage in elections goes up as the voting populace goes down.

Many members called in with pertinent questions, including one about how members can be more involved in the fight for voting rights. Diallo described how People For the American Way Foundation’s African American Ministers network has been active on the ground helping folks understand their local laws so that they can obtain the correct identification and register successfully. He also suggested people get involved in local groups that do similar work.

Marge detailed how people can get involved in PFAW’s efforts to fight for fair and just courts, which have an enormous impact on voting rights. The winner of the 2016 election will have the opportunity to nominate as many as four Supreme Court justices, and therefore have influence over critical voting rights cases following Shelby County v. Holder. The Supreme Court is not the only place where the fight is occurring. Marge described court challenges to voter suppression laws in numerous lower federal courts and in state courts, further highlighting the importance of courts in the progress for voting rights.

Diallo ended the call on a positive note, describing recent municipal and state-level expansions to early voting and motor voter laws, which allow citizens to automatically register to vote when they interact with the Department of Motor Vehicles.

Listen to the full briefing here:

PFAW

Kris Kobach: 'Travesty' Of Same-Day Voter Registration Enables Fictional Voter Fraud Buses

Kris Kobach, the Kansas secretary of state and architect of anti-immigrant and voter suppression measures copied across the country, called same-day voter registration a “travesty” on a recent radio program, portraying his restrictive voting laws as necessary to prevent various mythical voter fraud schemes.

On his weekly radio program on Kansas City’s KCMO on October 25, Kobach took a call from a listener who presented a somewhat convoluted scheme involving performing facial recognition scanning on everyone who votes and going to the houses of people who cast ballots by mail in order to scan their faces, all in the name of preventing voter fraud.

When Kobach told the caller that this plan might be a little too costly and complicated to really work, the caller said that desperate times call for desperate measures, citing debunked voter fraud conspiracy theories, including a false story about Woods County, Ohio, and a version of the perennial “people bused in from a big city to vote fraudulently” story, this time one that appears to have originated on the conspiracy theory website Infowars.

“Well, I think that in Woods County, Ohio, 108 percent of the registered voters cast ballots for Obama,” the caller insisted, “and I think that in Wisconsin, busloads of people from Chicago were bused to polls where under state law you could register to vote on Election Day [inaudible] and not even have an ID.”

This, Kobach seemed to think, was a reasonable complaint, and told the caller that his restrictive voting policies have eliminated such problems in Kansas. “Right,” Kobach said, “which is why — proof of citizenship stops that, because you can’t have same-day registration, which is a travesty, I think same-day registration is a huge problem, and proof of citizenship prevents you from registering fictitious identities or registering under someone else’s name. So I think we, you can’t do those things in Kansas anymore.”

Kobach is currently attempting to purge 37,000 people from Kansas’ voter rolls for failing to provide a birth certificate, passport or other proof of citizenship when they registered to vote.

Restore The Voices Of The Excluded

After more than two years stymied by congressional inaction on voting rights, House Democrats this week renewed their efforts to Restore The Voices Of The Excluded – to #RestoreTheVOTE.
PFAW

Kobach's Voting Restrictions Hitting Young, New Voters The Hardest

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach is a leader of the GOP’s anti-immigrant and restrictive voting efforts, and has been trying out some of his most extreme ideas in his home state.

Kobach helped to push through one of the nation’s most restrictive voting laws, requiring people registering to vote to produce documentation of citizenship, such as a birth certificate. Because of this law, 36,000 people in Kansas have started voter registrations but not completed them, and now Kobach is purging that list of people who haven’t followed up to complete their registrations.

The New York Times today looked at the list of incomplete registrations in Kansas and found that a disproportionate number of people it affected were young and that the vast majority were new voters:

An analysis by The New York Times of the list of voters showed that more than half of them were under 35, and 20 percent were from 18 to 20 years old. Fifty-seven percent of the people on the list did not declare a party; 23 percent were Democrats; and 18 percent were Republicans. The vast majority — 90 percent — had never voted before.

“This disproportionately hits 18- to 24-year-olds,” said Jamie Shew, a Democrat and the county clerk for Douglas County, Kan. “For a lot of them, they say, ‘I’m not going to worry about it.’ They’re busy and this is just one more thing to do.”

Under the law, which was passed in 2011, registrants must prove citizenship by producing a document from an approved list, which includes birth certificates, passports and naturalization records. They may bring the document to a county clerk’s office or email a photo of it. Under Mr. Kobach’s new rule, if they fail to do so, they would be removed from the voters list after 90 days. Residents can try to register again even after being removed from the list.

The 36,000 people on the list represent about 2 percent of the state’s 1.7 million registered voters. The Wichita Eagle reported in September that more than 16 percent of people who have tried to register to vote since the law went into effect in January 2013 have been placed on the list.

Democracy for Some?

This piece originally appeared in The Huffington Post.

Fearless is the word that comes to mind after a recent visit to Selma with 60 members of the African American Ministers Leadership Council (AAMLC) and African American Ministers In Action (AAMIA). Fearless were those who sat in, marched in, taught, prayed, would not be denied 50 years ago. They established the paradigm for what those of us today, who sadly are still in battles for many rights, but more specifically voting rights, must do.

Republican politicians who claim there is no need to restore the protections we lost two years ago when the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act (VRA) need not look any further than Alabama today to see why they are very wrong.

Alabama has a voter ID law requiring people to show government-issued identification in order to vote. But last week the state announced it was closing 31 driver’s license offices, including offices in all counties where Black residents comprise over three quarters of registered voters. In other words, the state is requiring that voters have ID to cast a ballot, and then taking away the places to get that ID - for Black communities in particular. If that doesn’t show that voting protections are still needed, I don’t know what does.

Despite this appalling development, Jeb Bush said yesterday that he doesn’t support reauthorizing the VRA, suggesting that there’s no longer a need for it.

No longer a need for it? The destructive changes in Alabama are exactly the kind of measures that the VRA was designed to protect against. For years, Alabama was one of the states covered by Section 5 of the Act, which required certain places with a history of voting discrimination to get all changes in voting procedures cleared by the federal government before they could take effect. That law stopped scores of voting changes from being implemented in Alabama before they could do any harm. But thanks to the Supreme Court’s conservative majority, that safeguard is gone. On the very same day the Shelby County Supreme Court ruling eviscerated the VRA, Alabama said it would start enforcing its voter ID law.

The fearless women and men in the same state that serves as a symbol of the advancement of voting rights, those Baby Boomers, must still fight with the Millennials to protect them. Like our tour guide last month, Joanne Bland, who in 1965 was an 11 year old member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, activists’ refusal to be discouraged from praying and marching in 1965 is still encouraging in 2015.  She and others were honored by thousands who marched and prayed this year on the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday, including President Obama, Congressman John Lewis, and countless faith and community leaders and activists. They remain the symbol of intergenerational strategic and sacrificial actions that must be taken still today to address and end ongoing racial discrimination in voting.

But it’s not just Alabama. In Mississippi our AAMLC members are seeing precincts closing in or near African American churches, forcing Black residents to travel to white communities to vote. In Florida, a state representative is talking about Republicans winning elections by maximizing the number of incarcerated African Americans in a district, framing the disenfranchisement of Black Americans as an opportunity for political gain. Since the 2010 elections, a whopping 21 states have put new laws in place that make it harder to vote.

Like those who were fearless in the past, we must be fearless today and make sure that all know the fundamental, inalienable right to cast a ballot is in danger still, especially for people of color. Our political system is built on the promise of democracy for all, not democracy for those who can afford to drive cross-state on a weekday to get an ID. How can GOP leaders and presidential candidates continue to insist with a straight face that there’s no need to restore protections for voters? I wish they could one day walk, march in our shoes, to feel the pain of a promise with unnecessary barriers, to try to register and vote.  In the meantime let’s be fearless!

PFAW Foundation

Seven Times Conservatives Have Admitted They Don't Want People To Vote

Earlier this week, GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee said that he didn’t want “stupid” people — i.e. people who won’t vote for him — to vote at all. Then a Republican state representative in Florida was caught suggesting that the party beat Rep. Corrine Brown by redrawing her African-American-majority district to include a large population of prisoners, who are not allowed to vote in Florida.

These are just two of the instances of Republican lawmakers admitting that their electoral strategy hinges not just on winning votes, but on suppressing the votes of people who they think will oppose them.

Paul Weyrich

More than 30 years ago, an influential conservative leader explained why his movement shouldn’t “want everybody to vote.”

Paul Weyrich, an operative considered to be the “founding father of the conservative movement” because of his hand in founding the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the Heritage Foundation, Moral Majority, the Council for National Policy and other influential conservative groups, laid out the GOP’s voter suppression strategy in a 1980 speech in Dallas.

"I don't want everybody to vote,” he said. “Elections are not won by a majority of people. They never have been from the beginning of our country, and they are not now. As a matter of fact our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down."

Phyllis Schlafly

In 2013, North Carolina lawmakers pushed through a package of voter suppression bills , including restrictions on early voting, something that many African American voters had taken advantage of the previous year.

Conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly rejoiced in the news , saying that the early voting restrictions were “particularly important” because early voting had tended to help Democrats:

The reduction in the number of days allowed for early voting is particularly important because early voting plays a major role in Obama’s ground game. The Democrats carried most states that allow many days of early voting, and Obama’s national field director admitted, shortly before last year’s election, that “early voting is giving us a solid lead in the battleground states that will decide this election.”

Franklin County, Ohio, GOP

In 2012, Republican officials in Ohio repeatedly attempted to cut back early voting hours , fighting off legal challenges from President Obama’s reelection campaign.

Doug Preisse, the chairman of the Franklin County Republican Party (whose area includes the city of Columbus), put his party’s case frankly in an email to the Columbus Dispatch:

I guess I really actually feel we shouldn’t contort the voting process to accommodate the urban — read African-American — voter turnout machine.

Mike Turzai

Before the 2012 presidential election, Pennsylvania Republican House Leader Mike Turzai declared that a new voter identification law would “allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania, done.”

Greg Abbott

In 2013, then-Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott — who has since become the state’s governor – responded to the Justice Department’s accusation that recent redistricting had discriminated against minorities by explaining that the goal was just to discriminate against Democrats and “effects on minority voters” were merely “incidental”:

DOJ’s accusations of racial discrimination are baseless. In 2011, both houses of the Texas Legislature were controlled by large Republican majorities, and their redistricting decisions were designed to increase the Republican Party’s electoral prospects at the expense of the Democrats. It is perfectly constitutional for a Republican-controlled legislature to make partisan districting decisions, even if there are incidental effects on minority voters who support Democratic candidates.

House Judiciary Committee Takes Up Planned Parenthood Witch Hunt, Women And Voting Rights Suffer

An overwhelming amount of energy spent rehashing decades of settled law and Supreme Court precedent at the expense of women who seek not only abortion services from Planned Parenthood, a very small portion of their work, but a wide range of reproductive and preventive healthcare.
PFAW

PFAW Foundation Applauds McAuliffe’s Restoration of Voting Rights

People For the American Way Foundation today applauded Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe’s moves to restore the voting rights of more than 10,000 Virginia citizens with criminal records. By streamlining the restoration process and by removing barriers that prevented formerly incarcerated persons from being able to vote, run for office and serve on juries, McAullife has restored the rights of more Virginians than any other Governor in a four year term.

“This is unquestionably a step towards a more just and more democratic system,” said Michael Keegan, President of People For the American Way Foundation. “We’ve seen that continuing to prevent ex-offenders from registering to vote serves no purpose other than increasing stigma and contributing to the ongoing war on voting rights. Governor McAuliffe should be applauded for his efforts to include more citizens in our elections, and other elected officials should follow his lead.”

“Felon disenfranchisement is just one of the ways that opponents of voting rights have kept people of color away from the ballot box,” said Minister Leslie Watson Malachi, PFAW Foundation’s Director of African American Religious Affairs. “Allowing formerly incarcerated persons to raise their voices as full citizens brings us a small step closer to a system that truly reflects a government of, by and for all the people. We are committed to continuing to work to make sure that all Virginians are ready and able to cast a vote that counts on Election Day.”

 

 

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House Judiciary Committee Investigates Planned Parenthood But Still Refuses To Hold VRA Hearing

The Committee is putting its commitment to this far-right smear campaign ahead of its commitment to democracy. As they take up Planned Parenthood, Congress is more than two years past due in restoring what the Voting Rights Act lost in 2013 through the Supreme Court's damaging Shelby County v. Holder decision. They should instead be holding a hearing on the Voting Rights Advancement Act.
PFAW

Micah Leadership Council Applauds Online Voter Registration in Pennsylvania

Today, leaders of the Micah Leadership Council applauded Pennsylvania’s launch of a system allowing eligible voters to register online. Reverend Michael Couch, national Co-Chair of Micah Leadership Council, released the following statement:

“At a time when so many states have placed the right to vote under constant attack, it’s worth applauding a move to make it easier for more people to participate in the democratic process. I’m pleased that Governor Wolf and his administration have taken this step to remove an unnecessary barrier between citizens and the ballot box.

“This isn’t the last reform Pennsylvanians need in order to ensure that all our citizens have an equal opportunity to make their voices heard on Election Day, but it’s unquestionably a step in the right direction. This is a victory for voters and a victory for all of us who care our democratic process."

People For the American Way Foundation’s Micah Leadership Council engages African American ministers ages 25 through 40 who are committed to continuing, and redefining the fights for civic engagement, quality public education, voting rights protection and environmental and social justice for all as well as addressing divisive right wing rhetoric.

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The Fight for Voters’ Rights Is a Necessary Interruption

“Forward together, not one step back” were the chants heard in every space we entered while we marched for voters’ rights in Winston-Salem, North Carolina last month. On July 13, Young People For (YP4) community college consultant Lela Ali, African American Ministers Leadership Council (AAMLC) administrative assistant Jasmine Bowden, and I participated in the Mass Moral Monday march and rally hosted by the North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP to share our voices and energy in the fight against the 2013 North Carolina law (H.B. 589) that advocates have called “the worst voter suppression law in the country.”

Community and religious leaders performed sit-ins three years ago in the North Carolina State Senate resulting in arrests opposing the voter suppression law. One month later, the North Carolina NAACP and Rosanell Eaton filed a complaint in federal district court due to the bill’s violations under the 14th and 15th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. This history was uplifted by North Carolina NAACP State President Reverend William Barber, II – who is also an AAMLC member – at an ecumenical service at Union Baptist Church Sunday evening. He gave a great sermon titled “Necessary Interruption,” saying that allies and activists are being called to disrupt our nation in order to dismantle the systems of oppression that plague our country and leave behind countless black deaths with little consequences. He spoke on the need for Medicare expansion, policy changes like gun laws and criminal justice reforms, and economic empowerment for marginalized communities.  The North Carolina NAACP v. McCrory lawsuit, which challenges the provisions of embedded in H.B. 589, is one of those necessary interruptions of justice.

With a fiery ending to our first night in Winston-Salem, we were excited for the full day of teach-ins that occurred the next morning. We were hosted by Goler Memorial African Methodist Episcopal Church and engaged in various topics from ‘Racial Violence & Criminal (In)Justice’ to ‘Building Coalitions to Sustain a Social Justice Movement.’ Many of our conversations were focused around allyship, direct action, and legal support to dismantle systems of inequity in local communities. We had the opportunity during our lunch break to meet with members of the Young Elected Officials (YEO) Network and ministerial leaders (AAMLC) from People For the American Way Foundation.

Later that day, we headed over to a rally and march only a few blocks away. At this time, the weather had reached its peak of 93 degrees, but this did not minimize the crowd of over 600 supporters. Music welcomed us and speakers from across the country greeted us with boisterous calls to action as they prepared us to take to the streets and rally for voters’ rights. We gathered our signs and water bottles and followed the crowd through the streets of downtown Winston-Salem as we chanted, “Forward together, not one step back!” and “What do you want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!” We were escorted by local police while onlookers from the side streets clapped and cheered us on. Music continued to serenade us as young and old, black and white supporters joined hands to dance in solidarity for justice and equality around voting rights. It was a magical experience that could only be felt in that moment. We walked back to our cars after the march not concerned with the sweltering weather or the sweat staining our clothes and faces. We were excited to be a part of history and exercise our rights to march and protest.

The lawsuit appealing H.B. 589 may not be resolved right away, but activists and allies will continue to take to the internet and streets to uplift the voices of marginalized communities whose rights are violated by those who were elected to serve an array of constituents – black, brown, and white. We will continue to interrupt the notion that young people can’t participate in the electoral process. We will align ourselves with the interests of those who fight for equality and human rights. The fight for voters’ rights is a necessary interruption in the face of injustice.

PFAW Foundation

PFAW: On 50th Anniversary of VRA, Congress Must Restore Voting Protections

WASHINGTON – Today marks the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Voting Rights Act (VRA), a landmark piece of civil rights legislation that had a key provision gutted two years ago by the Supreme Court in Shelby County v. Holder. Congress now has before it the Voting Rights Advancement Act, designed to restore and modernize VRA protections, but so far GOP leaders are “slamming the brakes” on such legislation.

“The Voting Rights Act of 1965 got rid of literacy tests and other Jim Crow schemes designed to deny the right to vote to racial minorities,” said Minister Leslie Watson Malachi, director of African American Religious Affairs at People For the American Way. “Today, voting protections are still needed, the threats just look different. Now we have voter ID laws, cuts to early voting, and massive voter roll purges. That Congress has failed to do its job and restore the VRA is a disgraceful display of how little those who are blocking the Advancement Act care about discrimination at the ballot box today.”

“We’ve seen a surge of laws designed to make it harder to vote since the Shelby decision two years ago,” said Michael Keegan, president of People For the American Way. “If Congress doesn’t act, we’ll soon be heading into the first presidential election in half a century without strong federal protections against racial discrimination at the polls. Restoring the VRA shouldn’t be controversial. Congress needs to act now to ensure that every American is able to cast a vote that counts in 2016.”

Today also marks the first Republican presidential debate of the 2016 election cycle. Petition signatures from members and supporters of PFAW, Common Cause, and Bend the Arc were delivered to Fox News yesterday urging the debate questioners to ask the candidates about their position on restoring the Voting Rights Act.

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