Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne, along with his ally Kris Kobach , secretary of state of Kansas, won a big voter suppression victory last week when a federal court ruled that the two states can require their residents to present extra documentation of citizenship to vote in federal elections.
In an interview late last week, Horne and former Arizona congressman J.D. Hayworth (now a NewsMax host) delved into another voter suppression topic: the long-term or permanent disenfranchisement of people who have served time for felonies.
And they found it hilarious:
The two got on the topic when Hayworth’s fellow Newsmax host asked Horne about a recent case in Iowa in which a jury acquitted a woman with a prior felony drug conviction didn’t know she had lost her right to vote.
Horne joked that if voting rights are restored to ex-offenders, “I can just picture politicians appealing to the convicted felons’ vote by saying that they’ll legalize bank robbery or whatever.”
Hayworth agreed: “The politician in me suddenly thinks that in a felon-eligible society, no one can run for attorney general and say, ‘I’m tough on crime,’ because that would be counter-productive with the felon vote.”
Arizona is one of ten states that permanently bars at least some people with felony convictions from voting. Because of harsh penalties for drug crimes and racial sentencing disparities , such laws disproportionately affect African Americans; the Sentencing Project estimates that such laws have made 1 of every 13 African Americans ineligible to vote.
A growing bipartisan movement – including President Obama, Sen. Rand Paul, Rick Santorum, and former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell – has sought to restore voting rights to people who have served their time for felony convictions.
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, the architect of anti-immigrant and voter suppression measures throughout the country, won a big victory last week when a federal court allowed Kansas and Arizona to require extra proof of citizenship from people registering to vote with federal voter registration forms.
Kansas’ strict new documentation requirement – which requires residents to produce a birth certificate, passport, or similar document in order to register to vote – has thrown the voter registrations of 16,000 people into limbo, a problem that Kobach has consistently laughed off.
In an interview with the Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins on Washington Watch last week, Kobach insisted that voting rights advocates on the “radical left” have “great difficulty demonstrating that it’s actually harder” to register to vote with his arcane new system. In fact, he alleged that voting rights groups “just want the loosey-goosey kind of system that allows fraud to occur because they perhaps feel they can benefit from that fraud.”
To illustrate the urgent importance of blocking tens of thousands of people from the ballot box in order to prevent noncitizens from voting, Kobach produced “a couple of recent examples” of such fraud occurring. One such “recent example” was from 1997 – or 17 years ago. The other – a tale of “50 Somali nationals” voting in a Democratic primary in Kansas city, Missouri in 2010 – never actually happened. When Kobach brought up the same anecdote in an op-ed last year, the Kansas City Star looked into it and found that a court had dismissed charges about the illegal votes, finding that “credible evidence proves that there was no voter misconduct and there was no voter fraud with regard to this election.”
Interestingly, there was proven voter fraud in that 2010 Kansas City election. One candidate’s uncle and aunt pleaded guilty for fraud for voting for their nephew even though they lived outside of his district. That fraud would not have been prevented by Kobach’s proof-of-citizenship law.
Yet, Kobach is so insistent that the “radical left” wants to use noncitizen voters to steal elections that he’s willing to put the voter registrations of tens of thousands of Kansans on hold in the name of preventing it.
Kobach: We’ve got cases going back years in this country of aliens usually being manipulated by someone who’s trying to steal an election or trying to influence an election. They’re told, ‘hey you can vote,’ they may not know that they’re breaking federal and state law, but they go ahead and register to vote.
So, I can give you a couple of recent examples in our neck of the woods. In Kansas City, Missouri, in 2010, in the Democrat primary for the state legislature, about 50 Somali nationals were registered to vote and persuaded, coached, to vote for one candidate, and that guy ended up winning by one vote.
In Kansas, in my state, in 1997, some alien employees of a meat-packing plant across the border in Oklahoma were encouraged to register to vote in Kansas to help sway a country referendum on a hog-farming operation.
Perkins: Why the opposition? Why are people opposed to this?
Kobach: Well, as you know, it comes from groups on the radical left, and they make all kinds of claims asserting that it’s going to be harder to vote or harder to register, but they have great difficulty demonstrating that it’s actually harder or statistically showing that it produces reduced turnout when in fact the opposite seems to occur, people have greater confidence in their elections when they know they’re secure.
I don’t know, I think some of these groups just want the loosey-goosey kind of system that allows fraud to occur because they perhaps feel they can benefit from that fraud.
Yesterday, Kansas secretary of state Kris Kobach and Arizona attorney general Tom Horne scored a big victory in federal court when a Kansas district court judge ruled that federal voter registration forms in both states must require voters to show proof of citizenship.
The proof-of-citizenship requirement, which Kobach shepherded through his state’s legislature, has created a huge mess, leaving the registrations suspended of nearly 16,000 voters who hadn’t or couldn’t provide the necessary documents.
Throughout the process, Kobach has dismissed the concerns of voting rights advocates and the growing chorus of protest from elections officials, newspaper editorial boards and others in Kansas. When 12,000 voters had their registration thrown in limbo, Kobach said it wasn’t a “major problem” because it was “only a tiny percentage” of the total voting population. (By contrast, the supposed reason for the law was to prevent a handful of fraudulent votes cast over a dozen years). When it was announced that only 72 percent of registered voters were able to meet the new requirement, Kobach boasted that “that’s actually an extraordinarily high percentage” and blamed “procrastination” for the 28 percent without complete registrations.
In a speech that Kobach gave in January to the Kansas Sovereignty Coalition, a Tenth Amendment group, Kobach mocked the Kansans – then totalling 19,000 – whose voter registrations were in limbo as "the 28 percent procrastinators," claiming that “nobody’s been denied any rights.”
“Nobody’s rights have been suspended,” he claimed. “Those 19,000 people haven’t completed their registration yet. They can complete it tomorrow and vote tomorrow if they want to. Nobody’s been denied any rights, they just haven’t finished it yet.”
“Oh and by the way, 72 percent of the people who have registered to vote since January 1, 2013, have completed their application and have sent in proof of citizenship. So those are the 28 percent procrastinators.”
“We should not get alarmed at all by the number that the left continually throws around,” he said.
Tellingly, when Kobach first mentions “voting rights,” and audience member loudly corrects him: “privilege, privilege.”
Today, under the banner of the Coalition to Protect Wisconsin Elections, a group of seventeen grassroots nonprofit organizations including People For the American Way gathered in the Wisconsin Senate Parlor to protest a batch of anti-democracy voting rights and campaign finance bills slated for Senate consideration tomorrow. The event included voters with their mouths taped shut to symbolize their voices being silenced by the proposed legislation as well as speakers from a range of progressive organizations, including PFAW regional political coordinator Scott Foval.
Speakers expressed opposition to a legislative package that will restrict access to a free and fair vote, allow unfettered spending on so-called political “issue ads,” and reduce transparency on reporting political activity in Wisconsin, including:
• Senate Bill 324, restricting early voting hours and banning the option of weekend voting like “souls to the polls” drives organized by faith communities.
• Senate Bill 267, making it more difficult for people to register to vote early.
• Senate Bill 655, repealing current law to allow lobbyists to contribute directly to legislators starting April 15 of election years, even while the legislature is in session; lowering the bar for disclosing political contributions; and allowing unlimited Internet political activity without disclosure to the Government Accountability Board.
• Assembly Bill 202, requiring poll observers to be allowed as close as three feet to poll workers, despite numerous complaints of harassing and intimidating behavior in recent elections.
Also under consideration, but not yet added to the official Senate calendar, is Senate Bill 654, which would rewrite the rules for disclosing political “issue ads” ahead of an election. And currently seeking sponsors but not yet introduced is a bill that would eliminate same-day voter registration.
These bills could do serious damage to our democracy. In 2012, hundreds of thousands of Wisconsinites cast their ballots early. Several municipal clerks, who are responsible for administering elections, offered extended hours for voting to allow working people to participate in their democracy by casting their votes after work or on weekends.
In addition, the proposed new disclosure requirements would allow nearly unlimited, undisclosed political ad spending, both in broadcast and on the Internet, as well as increased allowances for solicitation activity for political bundling by political action committees and political conduits.
But “We, the People” are fighting back. Check out the video of today’s event below:
In response to Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted’s announcement yesterday of early voting cutbacks, Reverend Dr. Tony Minor of Cleveland, a member of People For the American Way’s African American Ministers In Action, said:
“These changes blatantly discriminate against the African American community. Limiting early voting hours by cutting Sundays and weekday evenings is a transparent attempt to block some Ohioans from participating in their democracy.
“It’s no secret that many Ohioans can’t vote during work hours. Our elected officials should ensure that democracy works for everyone, not making cuts to early voting that disproportionately impact African Americans.”
People For the American Way's African American Ministers In Action represents 1,500 African American clergy working toward equality, justice and opportunity for all.
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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.