Please take a moment to watch this end-of-the-year thank you message for you and all of PFAW's wonderful supporters around the world from PFAW founder Norman Lear:
Please take a moment to watch this end-of-the-year thank you message for you and all of PFAW's wonderful supporters around the world from PFAW founder Norman Lear:
The Senate Judiciary Committee is holding a hearing this morning on “The State of the Right to Vote After the 2012 Election.” 2011 and 2012 saw an influx of state laws and administrative decisions designed to make it harder for certain groups of people to vote, actions that we documented in our 2011 report “The Right to Vote Under Attack” and in a 2012 update.
People For the American Way Foundation’s leadership programs were active in combatting voter suppression efforts across the country by getting out the vote among targeted groups. PFAW Foundation’s Young People For program worked with campus leaders across the country to mobilize over 22,000 young voters. And PFAW Foundation’s African American Ministers Leadership Council worked with African-American clergy in 22 states to facilitate 400,000 voter registrations and transport over 27,000 people to the polls.
Minister Leslie Watson Malachi, Director of African American Religious Affairs, submitted testimony [pdf] for today’s hearing about AAMLC’s voting rights work. She wrote:
Across the country, restrictions on voting led to confusion and discouragement among voters. But they also were a powerful motivator, especially for those of us who lived and fought through the Civil Rights Movement. As Elder Lee Harris of Mt. Olive Primitive Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Florida, put it, “We’ve come too far and fought too hard to let anybody take away our vote again.” Our task was to reach out to as many voters as we could to educate them on what they needed to vote and to make sure they got to the polls and stayed there.
Minister Malachi also emphasized the importance of the Voting Rights Act, which will be reviewed by the Supreme Court next year:
In the end, our efforts to educate and organize can only go so far. Equally important in the effort to maintain the right to vote has been the role of state and federal courts, where Americans can turn when powerful forces seek to deprive them of their right to vote. Federal courts play a particularly important role in protecting the guarantees set forth in the Voting Rights Act. From Ohio to Florida to Pennsylvania to South Carolina to Texas, the courts were critical in tamping down efforts to suppress the votes of African Americans and other targeted groups. As the Supreme Court prepares to review Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, this year offered us many powerful reminders that the preclearance provisions of the VRA are still relevant and still vitally necessary. In August, when a federal court struck down Texas’ new voter ID requirement, Rev. Dr. Simeon L. Queen of Prairie View, Texas, offered these words:
“It is inexcusable that nearly 50 years after the passage of the Voting Rights Act, politicians are still trying to make it harder for African Americans in Texas to vote. I wish the Voting Rights Act wasn’t still necessary, but thank the Lord it’s still there. African Americans in Texas have struggled throughout our history to exercise all of our rights as citizens, including the right to vote without unnecessary restrictions meant to discourage and disenfranchise. Today, thanks to the Voting Rights Act, a major threat to that effort has been defeated.”
You can read Minister Malachi’s full testimony here [pdf].
People For the American Way Foundation’s Young People For program was on the ground all across the country these past few months helping young people get out the vote. These efforts paid off: one in two Americans ages 18-29 voted this Election Day, making up 19 percent of the total electorate – an increase from 2008.
Here is a great video telling the story of how this outreach work happened:
This work was centered around a campaign called ARRIVE WITH 5, which encouraged youth, people of color, women, seniors and persons with disabilities to become active participants in the electoral process. ARRIVE WITH 5 asked voters to not only pledge to vote on Election Day, but to list five people they were committed to bringing to the polls with them:
All in all, YP4 helped campus organizers mobilize over 22,000 voters and collected 10,000 voting pledges through the ARRIVE WITH FIVE campaign.
Jacksonville, Florida – Florida members of People For the American Way Foundation’s African American Ministers Leadership Council today said they were “appalled but not surprised” by a Palm Beach Post report this weekend that restrictions on Florida early voting and voter registration were explicitly intended for partisan gain. The Post interviewed current and former GOP officials who said the restrictions were targeted at African American voters, and specifically at turnout operations at black churches.
“There’s a reason African Americans stood in line for hours on Nov. 6,” said Elder Lee Harris, Pastor of Mt. Olive Primitive Baptist Church in Jacksonville. “We knew that these early voting and voter registration restrictions were meant to keep us away from the polls. But we’ve come too far and fought too hard to let anybody take away our vote again.”
The African American Ministers Leadership Council worked to bring African Americans throughout the country to the polls through the nonpartisan “I am a VESSEL and I Vote!” program.
“I am appalled but sadly not surprised by these officials’ admissions that their goal was purely to suppress the African American vote,” continued Elder Harris. “Even while cloaked in the dubious language of ‘voter fraud,’ the real reason for these measures was always clear. African Americans in Florida knew that, and we fought back – by voting.”
Washington, DC – People For the American Way today said it was “disappointed” by a Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals decision allowing Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted to move forward with a last-minute elections rule change that could leave thousands of Ohio provisional ballots uncounted. The unanimous three-judge panel, consisting of one George H.W. Bush and two George W. Bush nominees, overturned the ruling of District Court judge Algenon Marbley. Marbley had blasted Husted for making a last-minute rule change for the counting of ballots that could disenfranchise thousands of Ohioans.
“We are deeply disappointed by the Sixth Circuit’s decision,” said Michael Keegan, President of People For the American Way. “One of the most sacred rights in our democracy is the right to cast a vote that counts. Many Ohioans waited in line for hours on November 6 to cast a ballot. That right should never be allowed to be taken away by capricious rulings of elections officials. How many Ohioans will take pride that they voted, never realizing that a partisan election official ordered their ballot to be ignored? Would Husted be able to look citizens in the eye and tell them that their votes weren't counted?"
“Husted and his Republican colleagues across the country have been trying to game the system in every way possible to make it harder for certain Americans to cast ballots,” continued Keegan. “Across the country, they have run up against a strong and independent federal judiciary that has stood up for the rights of citizens. It is disappointing that the Sixth Circuit has broken that trend, ruling against the clear interests of Ohio’s voters. Let this be a reminder to progressives as President Obama begins his second term: the federal judiciary is the most lasting legacy of any president. Let’s work to make sure the next four years sees the confirmation of fair, impartial judges who will stick up for the rights of individual Americans under the Constitution.”
If you were casting a ballot in South Carolina last Tuesday, your wait to vote may have been four hours. In Florida, it might have been seven. If you were voting in Hawaii, you may have gone to one of the nineteen polling places that ran out of paper ballots. President Barack Obama noted in his victory speech that many Americans waited in long lines and, as he stated, “we have to fix that.”
Just nine days after Election Day, Senator Chris Coons (D-Del.) has taken a first swing at that fix. Coons proposed a bill yesterday that would reform many of the country’s election procedures. His proposed legislation, the Louis L. Redding Fair, Accurate, Secure and Timely (FAST) Voting Act of 2012, would provide federal grants to states that make voting faster and more accessible. The bill includes provisions for same-day registration, early voting, and reducing how long voters must wait at poorly-performing voting facilities.
As Sen. Coons noted in a statement: “Long lines are a form of voter disenfranchisement, a polling place running out of ballots is a form of voter suppression, and making it harder for citizens to vote is a violation of voters’ civil rights.” And these problems at the polls tend to disproportionately affect African American and Latino voters.
The Washington Post points out that it is less a matter of fixing a voting system but more an issue of fixing thousands of voting systems. They note that with Congress, states, and local officials all playing roles, there is no single entity that oversees voting in the country. This may complicate the process of developing solutions.
Nevertheless, it is welcome news that national leaders are focusing on this issue. It was inspiring to see millions of Americans willing to spend hour after hour on line to vote, many of them likely knowing that the lines were an intentional result of plans to prevent them from voting. Every single voter on Election Day should be confident that their ballot will be cast in a timely manner and that their voice will be heard. Anything less is undemocratic -- and unacceptable.
We were expecting conservatives to immediately blame their election defeats on voter fraud, and predictably their claims don’t have a leg to stand on. Yesterday, Buster Wilson of the American Family Association on AFA Today said that Rep. Allen West lost his campaign for re-election because of Democratic voter fraud, a point also made by AFA spokesman Bryan Fischer. Just like when Wilson thought he discovered Obama’s student ID proving he wasn’t born in the U.S. or exposed the militarization of the National Weather Service, Wilson now believes he uncovered massive voter fraud in Florida.
Allen West is one of the greatest Americans I’ve ever met. I just love this guy. I want to tell you, Allen West is the kind of American that after being around for just a few minutes you just go, man, I’m proud to be an American! Just being around him does that to me. His life story is awesome, his conservative politics is admirable, I’m not happy to see this. However, Rep. West is unwilling to concede because of the fraud in the voting in his district. He said there is one voting district there that had 141 percent of registered voters voting. 141 percent? That’s a little bit over the right number, isn’t it?
The number Wilson points to is actually the percentage of “cards cast.” Since the ballot contains two cards, or the number of pages on the ballot, the voter turnout rate is approximately half of the cards cast [PDF].
As Chris Haire explains:
As for the case of St. Lucie, Fla., where 141 percent of registered voters apparently voted, I talked to a source there who says that only 70 percent of registered voters cast ballots. The reason for the mix up: This year's ballot was two-pages long, and for whatever reason, the St. Lucie Election Commission election day report notes the number of "cards" cast and not the number of ballots. Which means that the number of votes that were actually cast were half of what WND and others are now reporting.
And the county supervisor of elections notes:
Turnout percentages will show over 100% due to a two page ballot. the tabulation system (GEMS) provides voter turnout as equal to the total cards cast in the election divided by the number of registered voters. Also note that some voters chose not to return by mail the second card containing the amendments.
UPDATE: Wilson’s colleague at AFA Sandy Rios also claimed on her radio show that the presidential election and West’s race were “stolen,” making the same exact false claim that in “Allen West’s congressional district, initially on the first count, I think 140 percent of the people registered to vote, voted.” Rios added that the overwhelming support Obama received in inner-city precincts is proof of fraud, even though such overwhelming margins are neither without precedent nor evidence of fraud.
I just heard Paul Ryan in the news, in an interview he was saying that President Obama deserves to be congratulated because he won fair and square. I am not quite sure why he would say that, I don’t agree with that. I find myself increasingly believing that this election was indeed stolen and I’ll tell you why, I’ve been telling you why. Allen West alone in Florida, 4,000 voters were added to his opponent's tally just in mere minutes late at night, 1:00 in the morning, 4,000 votes were flipped to his opponent and at that time Allen West was ahead by like 2,500 votes or something like that. In many precincts Ohio, in over one hundred of them, President Obama got over 99 percent of the vote, which is statistically impossible. In Allen West’s congressional district, initially on the first count I think 140 percent of the people registered to vote, voted. So you see what I’m saying?
Cleveland, Ohio – Ohio members of People For the American Way Foundation’s African American Ministers Leadership Council urged Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted to drop his attempt to disenfranchise Ohio voters who cast provisional ballots. Three days after the election, tens of thousands of provisional ballots remain uncounted. Secretary Husted attempted last week to change the rules for counting provisional ballots, making it more likely that ballots would be invalidated, and the rule change is currently being considered by a federal judge.
“Voting is over and most of the races have been called, but this election won’t be completed until every vote is counted,” said Rev. Tony Minor of Cleveland, Ohio Coordinator of the African American Ministers Leadership Council. “Every single person who shows up to vote on Election Day should be confident that their vote will be counted and their voice will be heard. Secretary Husted is trying to throw up last-minute barriers in an effort to stop some of these votes from counting. That’s undemocratic and unacceptable.”
Yesterday, Husted reportedly floated the idea of dividing Ohio’s electoral votes by congressional district in the future, making it possible that the winner of the popular vote in Ohio would not receive the majority of the state’s electoral votes.
“Secretary Husted’s job is to help Ohioans vote and to guarantee that our votes count,” added Rev. Minor. “Instead, he’s fighting in court to suppress this year’s votes, and planning how to make Ohioans’ votes count less four years from now. Sec. Husted should know that every person who turned out to vote in Ohio on Tuesday is invested in our political process, and we will continue to fight for our voting rights.”
Washington, DC – More than three-quarters of the young progressive candidates for state and local offices endorsed by People For the American Way’s Young Elected Progressives program won their election bids on Tuesday, People For the American Way reported today. The Young Elected Progressives program, in its first year, endorsed 79 candidates in general elections in 28 states and the District of Columbia, with 60 winning their bids.
“We started this program to boost promising young progressives, many of them making their first bid for elected office,” said Randy Borntrager, Political Director of People For the American Way. “We’re helping to build a lasting movement by providing young progressives with the resources they need to start their careers in public service. We are thrilled that our endorsed candidates did so well on Tuesday, and are looking forward to growing and strengthening the program in future elections.”
Eighteen of the endorsed candidates, many in particularly close races, were given extra attention through the new "On the Way" program. Fourteen of those candidates were successful on Tuesday, including:
Whether by reaching out to people of color, young people, women, or other key communities, People For the American Way Foundation has been on the ground all across the country these past few weeks getting out the vote.
The VESSELS project of the African American Ministers Leadership Council, which is committed to increasing civic participation in communities that have traditionally experienced disenfranchisement and discrimination, has organized GOTV events in more than thirty cities across the country. From Buffalo to Miami, Las Vegas to Baltimore, and many places in between, VESSELS have been organizing in their communities to get people to the polls. Ms. Ruby Bridges spoke at a rally in New Orleans, while Dr. Ralph Abernathy III took the stage in Cleveland. In other towns, volunteers have organized trips to the polls following Sunday worship services and GOTV concerts.
Youth organizers have also been working hard to turn out the vote. Despite the fact that nearly 85% of young people were not reached out to by either campaign, we know from our Young People For (YP4) Fellows that young people are busy organizing. They are centering their efforts around a campaign called ARRIVE WITH 5, because while every vote is powerful, they know that when they ARRIVE WITH 5 (or more!) friends to polls, the impact of the youth vote is magnified. At Pitzer College in California, YP4 Fellows are organizing an ARRIVE WITH 5 caravan to the polls – providing electric go-cart rides from their campus to the polling station. At Oberlin College in Ohio, student leaders are hosting voter information events, phone banks, and dorm storms. At the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, they sang to get out the vote. Local bands and a cappella groups performed everything from jazz to techno while attendees got excited about making their voices heard on Election Day. And these are just a few of the events YP4 Fellows organized this year, collectively reaching thousands of students across the nation.
People For the American Way Foundation was founded more than three decades ago with a vision of a vibrantly diverse democratic society in which all Americans are encouraged to participate in our nation’s civic and political life. The hard work of PFAWF’s Fellows, VESSELS, and other volunteers this election cycle have helped bring that vision to life in a very real way.
Leading up to what promises to be a very close presidential election, the Right has been working hard to lay the groundwork for blaming an Obama victory on “voter fraud.” The same strategy worked wonders last time around, when, one year after President Obama’s decisive victory a full half of Republicans believed that the community organizing group ACORN had stolen the election. In-person voter fraud, as John McCain strategist Steve Schmidt admitted today, is a convenient part of “the mythology now in the Republican Party,” one that as Josh noted earlier has helped to fuel decades of voter suppression measures.
At an Eagle Forum conference in September – attended by Todd Akin, among others – two speakers addressed the issue of voter fraud: Catherine Engelbrecht, whose group True the Vote has been challenging registered voters across the country, and John Fund, a conservative columnist and author of a recent book on the issue.
Fund claimed that President Obama wants the election to go to the Supreme Court, and that in a close election, the president would use the now-defunct ACORN to change the outcome: “The election is close, and he puts his thumb on the scale of democracy, and he sends his old ACORN friends the signal, you know what’s going to happen.”
After Engelbrecht’s speech, Schlafly joined her on stage to share news she had heard from “somebody” that in Pennsylvania, “at two o’clock in the afternoon they have no Republican observer, the Democrats just vote [for] the rest of the people who haven’t voted.”
“I think it goes on,” Engelbrecht agreed.