The Right to Vote

Supreme Court to Review Voting Rights Act

A lynchpin of protecting the right to vote may fall before the altar of "states' rights."
PFAW Foundation

Ohio Ministers to Husted: Every Vote Must Be Counted

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.”

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Election Is Mandate for Policies Grounded in Progressive American Values

The American people have made their choice -- a resounding victory for President Obama and Vice President Biden and a mandate for their policy agenda.
PFAW

Young Progressives Endorsed By People For the American Way Win Big on Tuesday

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:

  • Stefanie Mach, an alumna of affiliate PFAW Foundation’s advanced leadership programs, pulled out a victory in a hotly contested state House race in Tucson.
  • State Sen. Angie Buhl of South Dakota won reelection to a second term representing Sioux Falls, where she has been a strong progressive leader.
  • Cyrus Habib won a seat in the Washington state House, making him the first Iranian American elected to a state legislature.
  • Jacob Candelaria became the first openly gay legislator in New Mexico, winning a state Senate seat representing Albuquerque.
  • Steve Hansen of Sacramento is poised to win a seat on the City Council, his first elected office, ahead by just 28 votes.

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PFAWF Supports Young People, Communities of Color in Getting Out the Vote This Election Day

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.

PFAW Foundation

Schlafly and Allies Prepare to Blame Election Loss on Voter Fraud

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.

People For the American Way and Allies Issue Joint Statement Pledging to Counter Threats to Free and Fair Elections

People For the American Way joined with more than fifty organizations to express their concern about two critical threats to our democratic system: corporate influence in elections and laws and official actions that suppress the vote. Under the banner “Money Out, Voters In,” the organizations issued a joint statement pledging to fight special interest money in politics and to support the rights of all voters.

PFAW Calls on Justice Department to Monitor Voting Machines in Ohio and Elsewhere

Given the historically close presidential election and Ohio's history of voting machine irregularities, People For the American Way is calling on the Justice Department to closely monitor the output of voting machines in Ohio on Nov. 6.

Top 11 Republican Dirty Tricks ... SO FAR

In the last few weeks and months we’ve already seen the Right employ some outrageous dirty tricks to suppress the vote.

The job of election officials should be to make sure every eligible voter who shows up to cast a ballot can do so and have that vote count. But we’ve seen numerous right-wing secretaries of state and county election supervisors instead take it upon themselves to act as partisan operatives, placing their thumb on the scale to benefit their party’s candidates. And right-wing political operatives and activists have been using various tools to confuse, misinform and intimidate voters.

This is just what we’ve seen so far. Who knows what we’ll see in the final days leading up to Election Day and on Election Day itself!

Here are the Top 11, in no particular order:

  1. Voter ID – In the last couple of years, right-wing state legislatures have trumpeted the thoroughly debunked myth of widespread individual voter fraud in order to scare voters about the legitimacy of elections and pave the way for burdensome restrictions on voting, most notably, by requiring photo ID to vote. Many students, elderly, poor and urban voters don’t have drivers licenses or other acceptable forms of ID and can’t easily obtain them for a variety of reasons. Voter ID laws are for the most part a clear attempt to make it harder for traditionally Democratic-voting constituencies harder to vote, and there are have been some legal victories against some of the most recent laws, but studies have estimated that millions of eligible voters nationwide could be prevented from voting due to onerous ID requirements.

    In some states, recently passed voter ID laws have been halted due to court challenges, yet the states have continued circulating information referencing the new laws which could be incredibly confusing to voters. In Pennsylvania, a conservative judge who had upheld the state’s voter ID law before a federal court blocked it, ruled that even though voters do not have to show ID to vote, officials can still request it – and the state is using this to justify keeping up billboards that imply voters must have ID to show up.
  2. Calls about voting by phoneReports have come in in Florida, Virginia and elsewhere that primarily elderly voters have received phone calls telling them they could vote over the phone, so did not need to show up at the polls (something that is completely untrue).
  3. Calls about poll workers checking car insurance/registrationSimilar misleading calls have been reported by African American and Latino voters that “inform” voters that their car insurance and registration status will be checked at the polls as a requirement to cast a vote. This is also a complete lie.
  4. Intimidating “voter fraud” billboards – These ominous billboards reminding voters of the legal penalties for voter fraud were put up in minority communities in Milwaukee, WI and in Ohio in Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati. Clearly intended to make minority voters unnecessarily nervous about showing up to vote, PFAW and our allies like Color of Change brought pressure on the two companies that owned the billboards to remove them -- and they did! It was a good victory, but for the days the billboards were up, there was certainly damage done. Expect signs and flyers with a similar message to pop up in minority communities across the country in the final days of the election, especially in swing states.
  5. Tea Party groups challenging the votes of eligible voters – this is exactly what it sounds like and every bit as despicable. All around the country, and especially in hotly contested battleground states like Ohio, so-called “True the Vote” and other Tea Party organizations are exploiting state laws to challenge the votes of minority voters and others who primarily fit into groups that tend to vote Democratic.
  6. Romney campaign training poll watchers to mislead voters – In Wisconsin, we have reports that the Romney campaign has been training poll watchers not only to provide incorrect information to voters, but to hide their own affiliation at the polls.
  7. Restricting access for election observers – Not only is the Right escalating their voter intimidation efforts, but their also doing their part to make it harder for fair elections groups to observe and counter those efforts.
  8. Voter registration fraud (the really dangerous kind) – There’s been at least one arrest, and after the Florida GOP distanced itself from the private voter registration vendor Strategic Allied Consulting for apparent fraud in that state, some members of Congress are calling for a DOJ investigation into more widespread fraud, particularly by that group, which is led by notorious right-wing dirty trickster Nathan Sproul.

    You no doubt have heard about the right-wing uproar over fake voter registrations submitted by ACORN in years past – in that case, the registration fraud consisted of paid canvassers submitting phony registrations under names such as “Mickey Mouse.” No voter fraud was committed. ACORN turned in all the registrations they collected (even the obviously flawed ones) as they were required to, but if any fraudulent registration forms did result in actual registrations, the fake voters (who probably also had fake addresses) never received registration cards – and Mickey Mouse certainly didn’t show up to vote.

    What right-wing operatives are doing here is much more deliberate and actually causes serious harm. In addition to dumping Democratic registrations, it appears fraudulent changes to existing registrations were made, which means when real (presumably Democratic) voters show up to the polls, their registration will have been changed unbeknownst to them and they will be ineligible to cast a ballot.
  9. Businesses threatening their employees – One of the most insidious forms of voter intimidation we’ve seen this cycle has to do with right-wing corporate CEOs threatening their employees’ livelihoods to pressure them to vote Republican. Mitt Romney has even gotten in on the action by encouraging business executives to do this.
  10. Restricting early and absentee voting and limiting access to provisional ballotsIt’s like three dirty tricks in one!
  11. Throwing out absentee ballots based on signatures “not matching” – Does your signature look exactly the same now as it did when you first registered to vote? In Florida, canvassing boards are simply throwing out some absentee ballots they feel have signatures that don’t match the ones on file for voters. In these cases, the voters are not even being informed that their vote has been challenged or will not be counted.

In addition to the voter suppression tactics on this list, instances keep popping up of voters receiving confusing or incorrect voting information from state voting authorities. We’re not listing it as a dirty trick because there’s no evidence of intent to disenfranchise, the states simply claim incompetence, and these are primarily the same states – run by Republicans – that have just had major changes to voting requirements. But the result for voters is the same, and we’ll let you draw your own conclusions.

And finally, we urge the Department of Justice to keep a close eye on this election, both to prevent voter suppression and to make sure votes are counted properly. There have been widespread problems with certain types of electronic voting machines and vote counting machines reported over several election cycles. In this election, there’s an appearance of severe impropriety in that many voting machines, including many used in the all-important swing state of Ohio, have been provided by a company that is essentially part owned by Tagg Romney as well as some of the largest donors to Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign.

Democracy should be free of the suspicion created by the corporate entanglements of the business interests of candidates, their families or their closest supporters.

Read more about the Right’s campaign to keep millions of Americans from the ballot box here.

And help PFAW overcome the Right’s dirty tricks to STOP Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan and extremist Tea Party candidates at every level with a donation today.

PFAW

Young People For Amplifies Youth Voices

Leading up to the election, PFAW Foundation’s Young People For has been active in mobilizing young voters and ensuring that youth voices are heard and amplified. The Young People For fellows are devoting long hours to planning effective community outreach for engaging other young voters and rallying their peers to go to the polls. Take a look at our video showcasing the dedicated work of our fellows, who continue to advocate for civic engagement and encourage vital participation in the electoral process.
  

PFAW

A Real-Life Halloween Scare From Mitt Romney

Forget ghosts and goblins. Americans' biggest Halloween fear should be a Supreme Court chosen by Mitt Romney.
PFAW

When Government Officials Encourage Voting

In Maryland, the governor extends early voting.
PFAW Foundation

Romney Campaign Trains Poll Watchers With False Information

With all the fact checkers focused on campaign speeches and debates, Mitt Romney’s campaign is turning to a new outlet for their lies: poll watcher trainings. In Wisconsin the Romney campaign has been training poll watchers with false information about voter’s rights, according to a ThinkProgress article today. In truth, Wisconsin law makes it easy for eligible voters to cast a ballot, and it's critically important that we don't let the Romney campaign scare any voters away from the polls.

In one egregious example, the training materials indicate that voter IDs must have photos, which is not the case in Wisconsin. ThinkProgress points out other disturbing claims the training materials make, including:

CLAIM: On page 16, entitled “The ONLY Acceptable Forms of ‘Proof of Residency”, the third bullet point says “Any other identification card issued by an employer in the normal course of business and bearing a photo of the cardholder, but not including a business card.” The sixth bullet point also said any college ID card “must include a photo.”

FACT: Wisconsin’s new voter ID law, which would have required these photos in order to vote, was struck down by Wisconsin state judges. It is not in effect for the November 2012 election.

CLAIM: Any “person [who] has been convicted of treason, a felony, or bribery” isn’t eligible to vote. (Page 10)

FACT: [In Wisconsin] Once a person who has been convicted of a felony completes his or her sentence, including probation and fines, that person is eligible to vote.

CLAIM: “If a handicapped voter is unable to come into the polls to vote, an assistant can deliver the ballot to the voter if the CEI verifies the elector’s proof of residency.” (Page 19)

FACT: Under Wisconsin law, the CEI (Chief Election Inspector) does not have to verify proof of residency so long as the voter is registered.

This is not a case of a single training gone awry. These trainings have been held across the state for the past two weeks. This is an instance of Mitt Romney’s campaign repeatedly spreading lies to poll watchers.

In recent months our affiliate People For the American Way Foundation has written about many attempts from the Right at voter suppression – from limiting early voting opportunities to proposing or passing voter ID legislation, purportedly to combat the virtually nonexistent issue of voter fraud.

Romney's efforts to disenfranchise those least likely to support him in Wisconsin is no surprise. Instead, it is just another component of a systemic nationwide effort to deny Americans the right to vote. The Romney campaign knows exactly what it is doing by spreading blatant falsehoods in its training materials – lies likely to cause serious damage to voting rights on Election Day.

Despite the lies of the Romney campaign, voting is easy and accessible. Let's make sure we turn out the vote and make our voices heard in this critical election.

PFAW

The Right to Vote Under Attack, 2012 Update

Here we detail, as of October 6, 2012, except where otherwise noted, the latest efforts across the country to suppress the vote, as well as some encouraging successes in expanding the franchise.

Schlafly: Senate Should Move to Expel Al Franken

Eagle Forum’s Phyllis Schlafly believes that Al Franken never would have been elected to the U.S. Senate in 2008 if Minnesota had a voter ID law and that there is now “reason enough for the U.S. Senate to use its constitutional power in Article I, Section 5 to unseat Franken.” Franken won by a mere 225 votes against incumbent Norm Coleman, but Schlafly says in her latest column that it's because felons cast illegal votes to push him over the top and that only Voter ID laws, which she claims are beloved by minorities, can remedy the situation.

Schlafly cited a report by the right-wing organization Minnesota Majority; however, the study has been largely dismissed as “frivolous” by experts, who also note that voter ID laws will do nothing to stop convicted felons from voting illegally and that the report’s “data include cases associated with the 2010 election, and are not limited to cases involving felons who voted illegally.” People For the American Way’s report The Right to Vote Under Attack also observes that Minnesota’s “Supreme Court wrote in its decision affirming Franken’s victory that neither Franken nor his opponent claimed voter fraud took place and ‘found no allegations or evidence of fraud or foul play and no evidence to suggest that the Election Day totals from the precinct are unreliable.’” Not to mention, how would Schlafly know that nearly every single felon who voted in Minnesota supported Franken?

As we approach a major national election, we hear warnings about many kinds of vote fraud and possible recounts that might delay confirmation of who are the victors. We also hear from deniers who insist that vote fraud is a figment of the imagination of Republicans. It isn't; vote fraud is real.

Many instances of registration fraud schemes were carried out by ACORN, and some members were even tried and convicted. Although ACORN announced it was closing its doors, it reemerged under new names.

It's common knowledge that there are more registered voters in Philadelphia than there are people living in Philadelphia, because dead and moved-away voters have not been stricken from the list. Similar accusations have been made in a dozen other states. In Minnesota, we were entertained for weeks with news of the recounting of votes in the 2008 Minnesota election for U.S. Senate. Al Franken was declared the winner by 312 votes out of three million cast.

After all was said and done, Minnesota discovered that 289 convicted felons had voted illegally in Hennepin County, 52 had voted illegally in Ramsey County, and many others voted illegally who were dead or who voted multiple times. That is reason enough for the U.S. Senate to use its constitutional power in Article I, Section 5 to unseat Franken.



Minorities are actually among those most eager to implement photo ID. Former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young said, "You cannot be part of the mainstream of American life today without a photo ID." The sponsor of Rhode Island's photo ID law was Harold Metts, who is the only African-American in the state senate.

Just think of all the many occasions when we all must show photo ID: when stopped by the police for a traffic violation, to make a credit card purchase, to check in for any medical treatment, to check into a hotel room, or to board an airplane. Isn't it just as important to assure that only American citizens are allowed to vote, and to prevent non-citizens from canceling out your vote, and to prevent crooks from voting twice or voting in the name of a dead person who is still registered?

When your vote is nullified by illegal votes, you are cheated just as much as if you were denied the right to vote.

Ohio Ministers Celebrate Supreme Court’s Upholding of Early Voting Rights

Cleveland, Ohio – Ohio members of People For the American Way Foundation’s African American Ministers Leadership Council praised a U.S. Supreme Court ruling today that ensures Ohio polls will remain open in the three days prior to November’s election. The state legislature eliminated early voting in the weekend before the election despite the fact that over 90,000 Ohioans had taken advantage of that period to vote in 2008. Ohio’s Secretary of State appealed a lower court ruling reinstating the early voting period to the Supreme Court.

“This is a great victory for voting rights, and for voters, in Ohio,” said Rev. Dr. Tony Minor of Cleveland, Ohio Coordinator of the African American Ministers Leadership Council. “Weekend voting in the days before the election was an unmitigated success in 2008, helping to increase turnout and reduce long lines. But some of our elected leaders saw this great success as a failure, and worked hard to make sure it wasn’t repeated. Their efforts to restrict turnout – especially among African Americans – weren’t just wrong, they were unconstitutional. Community and church leaders will take advantage of this restored early voting period to not only repeat, but expand the voter turnout success of 2008.”

The African American Ministers Leadership Council, a program of People For the American Way Foundation founded in 1997, works nationwide to help bring African Americans to the polls through the non-partisan “I Am A VESSEL and I Vote!” program.

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Supreme Court to Hear Arizona Voting Rights Case

The Supreme Court announced today that it will hear a critical voting rights case next year. Arizona has appealed a 9th Circuit decision that barred the state from requiring proof of citizenship from those registering to vote via a federally-approved registration form. Current federal law allows voters to register via federal form instead of a state-specific form. Those opting to do so must swear under penalty of perjury that they are citizens. Arizona’s law, which is currently stayed, would require voters using that form to jump over an extra hurdle to register, requiring them to show proof of their citizenship, a provision disproportionately affecting low-income and minority voters.

The AP explains:

The ruling applies only to people who seek to register using the federal mail-in form. Arizona has its own form and an online system to register when renewing a driver's license. The court ruling did not affect proof of citizenship requirements using the state forms.

Arizona officials have said most people use those methods and the state form is what county officials give people to use to register. But voting rights advocates had hoped the 9th Circuit decision would make the federal mail-in card more popular because it's more convenient than mailing in a state form with a photocopy of proof of citizenship.

The mail-in card is particularly useful for voter registration drives, said Robert Kengle of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which is representing Native American and Hispanic groups in the case.

The conservative wing of the Supreme Court has been eager to challenge voting rights laws in recent years. In 2008, a 6-3 majority of the court upheld Indiana’s voter ID law, paving the way for suppressive voter ID measures throughout the country. The Court may also hear a challenge to section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which requires federal preclearance for voting rights changes in states and counties with a history of discrimination at the ballot box. Successful court challenges to discriminatory voting law changes this year have shown just how essential that provision still is.

While the composition of the Supreme Court is unlikely to change before these cases are heard, they underscore the importance of federal courts in this election. Not only are federal courts the final protection we have against discriminatory voter suppression laws, the makeup of these courts is on the line in the presidential election. Either Mitt Romney or President Obama could pick up to three Supreme Court Justices and dozens of federal court judges in the next term. Romney has promised to appoint Justices like Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, who have both signaled their hostility to voting rights. If he does, and the Court shifts farther to the right, we could see decades of progress for fair and free elections slip away.

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