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.
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.
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.
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.
A three-judge US District Court panel yesterday upheld South Carolina’s restrictive new voter ID law, but ordered that the law go into effect after November’s election. South Carolina softened its interpretation of the law during litigation. Under that interpretation, voters without proper photo ID are required to cast provisional ballots, although the presumption is that the voters' ballots will be counted unless a clear case can be made that they lied about why they do not have proper ID.
South Carolina members of People For the American Way Foundation’s African American Ministers Leadership Council reacted, expressing concern that that even the softened law could might keep African American South Carolinians from the polls in future elections.
“Today’s decision shows the continued necessity of the Voting Rights Act,” said Rev. Terry Alexander, pastor of Wayside Chapel Baptist Church in Florence and member of the South Carolina House of Representatives. “Because of the VRA’s preclearance provisions, South Carolina had to reinterpret a law that would otherwise have disenfranchised many African Americans. We now urge the state of South Carolina to enforce this law in a way that lives up to its promises in court, ensuring that every South Carolinian, with or without photo ID, can cast a vote that counts. If even one person is disenfranchised because of this law, that will be one person too many.”
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.
Rev. Brendolyn Jenkins-Boseman, pastor of Abundant Life Fellowship in Camden, who was recently named the first-ever female co-chair of AAMLC, added, “We’re working every day to make sure every member of our congregations and communities can cast a vote that counts. While we work to educate voters on their rights under this law, we will also continue to work to make our elections fairer and more accessible.”
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Stumping in Iowa last year, Mitt Romney famously defended the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, declaring, “Corporations are people, my friend.”
But it turns out there’s one group that Romney thinks should be prohibited from spending money to influence elections: teachers’ unions. Speaking at a forum in New York, Romney expressed his wish for one specific campaign finance restriction:
The bigger problem, Romney said, is that "the person sitting across the table from them should not have received the largest campaign contribution from the teachers union themselves ... [It's] an extraordinary conflict of interest and something that should be addressed."
He later added that "we simply can't have" elected officials who have received large contributions from teachers sitting across from them at the bargaining table "supposedly" to represent the interests of children. "I think it's a mistake," Romney said. "I think we have to get the money out of the teachers unions going into campaigns. It's the wrong way for us to go. We've got to separate that."
Romney’s absolutely right that large campaign contributions and expenditures can improperly influence elected officials. But if he’s going to apply that standard to teachers, he needs to apply it to corporations as well.
In March, Pennsylvania’s governor signed one of the most restrictive voter ID laws in the country. One study estimated that the law could impose extra burdens on 700,000 Pennsylvania voters, disproportionately affecting the poor, minorities, students and the elderly.
Andrew Cohen at The Atlantic writes today about one Pennsylvanian in her 80s who is struggling to keep her right to vote, sixty years after casting her first vote for Adlai Stevenson. Cohen quotes a letter that Robin Kane wrote to the voter ID law’s sponsor about her efforts to help her elderly mother, Jaqueline, register to vote in Pennsylvania:
For the past two weeks, my sister and I have been trying to help my mother gather the appropriate documents to get the newly required photo ID. The education campaign had inaccurate information and the rules keep shifting, making it difficult for me to understand and it would have been impossible for my elderly mother to do this without assistance.
First, VotesPA and PennDOT websites said she would need to get a non-driver's photo license. To do so, she would need her social security card; an original birth certificate with a raised seal; two proofs of residency; an application; and an oath that she had no other form of ID. My sister and mother spent two days looking for her birth certificate from 1930. They found my dead grandmother's birth certificate, plus ration cards from World War II, and lots of documents of my father's service during that war. But not her birth certificate.
I returned to the websites to learn that even without a birth certificate, she might be able to get the photo ID if the state Department of Health could confirm her birth. However, my mother was born in NY, not Pennsylvania. So, it turned out, this solution didn't apply to her. Instead, I was directed to seek a new birth certificate from the state of New York. Just when I thought we couldn't possibly get this done in time for her to vote, I learned that there is a new option for people exactly like my mom: the new, Department of State photo id for voting.
It still requires her to have her a social security card or number (which we found); proof of residency; an application; and an oath. And it still requires that my 82-year-old mother will travel by bus to a PennDOT office and hope that she has the stamina to wait in multiple lines to complete the process to get a photo ID that she needs for only this one purpose, ever. But she is determined to do so, if she is able. And she will vote against anyone who sided with you in this effort to suppress legitimate votes.
What this really means is that Jacqueline Kane is one of the lucky ones. She has a family that has the means to be able to help her in this fashion. But think of all the other elderly people out there, who won't have a health aid with them, or who don't have access to a bus, or who don't live in elder-care facilities where such opportunities exist. Those people aren't lazy, either. And yet they clearly face disenfranchisement if this law is permitted to stay in effect.
While Kane and countless others in Pennsylvania struggle to meet the voter ID requirement before election day, it’s still unclear whether the law will take effect in November. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court recently returned a challenge to the law to a lower court, ordering the lower court to halt the law if it’s not convinced the voter ID requirements won’t disenfranchise anybody.
Philadelphia, Penn. – Pennsylvania members of People For the American Way Foundation’s African American Ministers Leadership Council cautiously praised a Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision today that could prevent a suppressive voter ID law from taking effect before November. The state Supreme Court ordered a lower court that had previously refused to block the law to reconsider that ruling, encouraging it to issue an injunction if the state cannot show that the law will not disenfranchise any voters.
“Pennsylvania’s voter ID law was intended to suppress the vote, and will have the effect if it is allowed to go forward in November,” said Rev. Michael Couch of Berachah Baptist Church in Philadelphia, a member of the African American Ministers Leadership Council. “Although I believe there was more than enough evidence for the Supreme Court to issue an injunction without this extra step, the decision to send the case back to the Commonwealth Court is tentatively encouraging. Our courts must consider the real impact this law will have on Pennsylvanians trying to vote in November.”
People For the American Way Foundation’s African American Ministers Leadership Council, 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.
Top Republican officials in Kansas are considering removing President Obama from the ballot at the request of “birther” activists who believe that the president wasn’t born in the United States. Kansas’ Board of Objections, which includes Secretary of State Kris Kobach, Attorney General Derek Schmidt andLt. Gov. Jeff Colyer, haven’t made any decisions yet but they say they’re taking the challenge seriously.
This isn’t Kobach’s first brush with birtherism. It’s also not his first brush with extremism that targets people of color. Kobach, who once worked for the nativist anti-immigrant group FAIR, has been a leader in pushing extreme anti-immigrant laws throughout the country, including draconian measures in Arizona and Alabama.
Kobach is also an informal advisor to Mitt Romney.
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, an informal advisor to Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, said on Thursday he and his fellow members of a state board were considering removing President Barack Obama from the Kansas ballot this November.
Kobach is part of the State Objections Board along with Attorney General Derek Schmidt and Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer, all Republicans. The Topeka Capital-Journal reported that on Thursday the board agreed consider whether to take Obama off the ballot because they said they lacked sufficient evidence about his birth certificate.
“I don’t think it’s a frivolous objection,” Kobach said, according to the Capital-Journal. “I do think the factual record could be supplemented.”
The board is looking at a complaint filed by Joe Montgomery, of Manhattan, Kan., who claimed the Obama is not a natural born U.S. citizen and so is ineligible to be president. The man appears to be part of a group of conspiracy theorists known as “birthers,” who deny Obama’s birth certificate is real.
Washington, DC – People For the American Way today commended the Senate Judiciary Committee for holding an important hearing on the tremendous impact the Supreme Court will have on whether the American people will be allowed to retain control of our own democracy. Today’s hearing will focus on the Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC and the role of the courts in preserving individual citizens’ voting rights.
“Citizens United has profoundly reshaped our elections, opening them up to limitless corporate cash, secret money, and risk of corruption,” said Marge Baker, Executive Vice President of People For the American Way. “Citizens United has given corporations and the very wealthy unprecedented control over the public debate preceding our elections. At the same time, new threats are arising to the right to even cast a ballot, as individual citizens are seeing their voting rights taken away by suppressive laws targeted at traditionally disenfranchised communities – especially those who corporate interests fear will vote ‘the wrong way’.
“Our federal courts have an important role in ensuring that the rights of Americans to control our own democracy are preserved. It’s encouraging that the Judiciary Committee is giving these issues the attention they deserve.”
Earlier this year, People For the American Way and allied groups delivered 1.9 million petitions to congressional leaders urging them to move forward on amending the constitution to overturn Citizens United.
The Republican Party claims to be the party of small government -- with the obvious exceptions of denying marriage equality and massive government oversight of women's medical decisions. But there is another kind of big government that the party has overwhelmingly, enthusiastically gotten behind: expensive and intrusive attempts to make it harder for Americans to vote.
A trio of federal court decisions in Florida, Ohio and Texas last week ripped the lid off the increasingly successful right-wing campaign to limit opportunities for low-income people, minorities and students to vote -- especially, and not coincidentally, in swing states. These decisions, from even-handed and moderate federal judges across the country, show just how far the Right has gone to use the power of government to disenfranchise traditionally disenfranchised groups.
In Florida, a federal judge permanently blocked a law that had made it almost impossible for good government groups to conduct voter registration drives -- which had led groups like the venerable League of Women Voters to all but shut down operations in the state. In Ohio, a federal court ordered the state to reopen early voting in the three days before November's election, which Republicans had attempted to shut down. Early voting on the weekend before the election was enormously successful in 2008 -- especially among African Americans -- and the judge found that Republicans had no legitimate reason to want it to stop.
And finally a federal court, which is required to review changes in election policy in states and counties with a history of voting discrimination, ruled that Texas' new voter ID law couldn't go forward because it "imposes strict, unforgiving burdens on the poor, and racial minorities in Texas."
The effort that Republican governors and legislatures across the country have gone through in the past two years to make it more difficult for citizens to vote is truly remarkable. They have been willing to buck both the law and the spirit of our constitutional democracy to bar groups of people from participating in it. And they have been willing to set up extra layers of government and bureaucracy -- things they claim to despise -- in order to keep people from the polls.
There are plenty of areas of genuine disagreement in our politics, but the right to vote shouldn't be one of them. In an interview with The Atlantic last week, Rep. John Lewis, a hero of the Civil Rights movement, said "there should be public outcry" and a "sense of righteous indignation" at what is happening to our elections. He's right.
It's astounding that nearly 50 years after the Voting Rights Act banned racial discrimination at the polls, it's still needed as a shield against such egregious violations of its principles. And it's astounding that the self-proclaimed party of small government wants to use government's power to keep people from exercising their fundamental right to vote.