People For the American Way Foundation, a nonpartisan organization that works to protect access to the ballot box and has battled voter suppression tactics in recent elections, welcomed today’s vote by the House Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties to authorize a subpoena of former Ohio Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell. Blackwell has refused an invitation to testify about voting problems in Ohio 2004.
“As Secretary of State, Kenneth Blackwell had a responsibility to protect Ohio citizens’ right to vote,” said People For the American Way Foundation Public Policy Director Tanya Clay House. “But he reneged on that responsibility. Not only did he oversee elections marred by voting problems, he actively worked to erect reprehensible hurdles to voting. It’s not surprising that he is uneager to talk about his record. We encourage the full Judiciary Committee to act on today’s recommendation.”
The subpoena vote in the subcommittee, chaired by Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York, was taken during a hearing on voter suppression problems. Blackwell, who was a gubernatorial candidate as well as Secretary of State in 2006, now works for the right-wing Family Research Council.
Last year, People For the American Way Foundation and its advocacy affiliate People For the American Way conducted public forums on voting issues including voter suppression tactics, and discussed ways in which the Deceptive Practices and Voter Intimidation Act of 2007, first introduced by Senator Barack Obama in 2005, would address them. A companion bill, H.R. 1281, passed the House on June 25, 2007.
In August 2006, People For the American Way Foundation published The New Face of Jim Crow: Voter Suppression in America, which built on a 2004 report by PFAW Foundation and the NAACP, The Long Shadow of Jim Crow: Voter Suppression in America.
In 2004, People For the American Way Foundation conducted Election Protection operations with its allies in seven Ohio cities, and held post-election forums with coalition allies to investigate systemic problems. PFAWF filed suit representing voters whose provisional ballots were illegally rejected, and we collaborated with the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law to file suit challenging the election on Equal Protection grounds. In 2006, when then-Secretary of State Blackwell created administrative hurdles to voting (e.g., restricting third party registration by making it a felony to turn in new voter registrations more than 10 days after receipt), PFAWF successfully worked with partners to get a preliminary injunction making all administrative rules limiting voter registration unenforceable for the 2006 election. Earlier this year, the federal court issued a permanent injunction in favor of the plaintiffs. PFAW Foundation has continued to have staff in this key state — one of whom is now serving on the Advisory Committee for the current Secretary of State.