Better bring some identification — and not just any identification, official though it may be — if you plan to vote in Republican-controlled states. However, if you contribute tens of millions of dollars to sway an election on Republicans’ behalf, the party will fight to keep your identity a secret.
Consider, for instance, what happened to some attempting to participate in this month’s elections in Texas. The New York Times reported that “Judge Sandra Watts was stopped while trying to vote because the name on her photo ID, the same one she had used for voter registration and identification of 52 years, did not exactly match her name in the official voter rolls.” Both Democratic state Sen. Wendy Davis and Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott — the front-runners in next year’s gubernatorial contest — encountered the same obstacle. As did Jim Wright, the 90-year-old former speaker of the U.S. House. Wright, who represented his Fort Worth district in Congress for 34 years, told the local paper that he had voted in every election since 1944 and that he had realized shortly before Election Day that his identification — a driver’s license that expired in 2010 and a university faculty ID — would not suffice under the state’s 2011 voter ID law. Indeed, officials required Wright to produce a certified copy of his birth certificate to procure a personal identification card that would allow him to vote.
Fortunately, no issues of cosmic importance appeared on this year’s Texas ballots. Next year, however, congressional seats and control of the statehouse will be up for grabs, and voter turnout probably will be much higher. The purpose of these and other vote-deterring measures, adopted in Texas and a slew of other GOP-controlled states, is to make sure turnout is not too much higher by reducing voter participation, particularly among the young (student IDs often don’t suffice), the poor (no driver’s license? Sorry.) and racial minorities. That is, groups that tend to vote Democratic.
Voter suppression has become the linchpin of Republican strategy. After Mitt Romney’s defeat in 2012, the GOP was briefly abuzz with talk of expanding the party’s appeal to young and Latino voters. Instead, the party doubled down on its opposition to immigration reform and its support for cultural conservatism — positions tantamount to electoral suicide unless the youth and minority vote can be suppressed.
Republicans have justified this crackdown as a way to keep non- citizens from infiltrating the electorate, not that there’s evidence such a thing is happening. But if a non-citizen wants to contribute millions of dollars to one of those “social welfare organizations” that spends gobs of money on an election campaign, Republicans fight to shield his or her identity. Recently released tax documents showed that one such organization — Crossroads GPS, the group headed by Karl Rove that spent $189 million in last year’s elections opposing President Obama and Senate Democrats — received 53 contributions of $1 million or more. The three largest were for $22.5 million, $18 million and $10 million.
Who did they come from? Because Crossroads GPS is classified as a 501(c)4 “social welfare” group, which is not legally required to list its donors, we’ll never know. Could such contributions come from a non-citizen? With donors’ identities shielded by law, there is no way of knowing.
Some states require donors to such campaign groups in state and local elections to be identified. But other states don’t, which allows for the kind of interstate shell games that wealthy right-wing donors played during the 2012 election. In one instance, an anonymous $11 million contribution to a California campaign opposing a ballot measure that raised taxes on the rich and supporting a measure to curtail unions’ political activities was tracked by state election officials to a 501(c)4 organization in Arizona that had gotten its funding from another such group in Virginia. The investigation revealed that a California GOP consultant had raised money for the ballot measure campaigns by promising his donors the anonymity that this shell game provided.
A pre-election tally by the Sunlight Foundation of “dark money” contributions to federal races as of Nov. 1, 2012, showed nearly $175 million going to GOP candidates and roughly $35 million to Democrats. A bill backed by Senate Democrats that would have required such groups to report the identity of donors who give more than $10,000 for electoral campaigns was killed last year by GOP opposition to a cloture motion, even though it was backed by a majority of senators.
So: If you want to vote in the Republicans’ America, remember to bring your birth certificate. But if you want to buy an election and stay under wraps, your secret is safe with them.
By: Harold Meyerson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, November 21, 2013
Outside the chambers of federal appellate judges Priscilla Owen, Jennifer Elrod, and Catharina Haynes, virtually everyone understands that H.B. 2, the new Texas law that places various restrictions on a woman’s ability to obtain an abortion, is not about protecting women’s health — it’s about stopping abortion.
And yet on Friday, those three judges, who sit on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in New Orleans, ruled that the law could go into effect, since it was “not designed to strike at the right itself,” and wasn’t invalid simply because it “has the incidental effect of making it more difficult or more expensive to procure an abortion.”
That ruling led to the immediate closure of one-third of clinics in Texas where abortions are performed — several in rural areas that serve women without the means to travel hundreds of miles to another clinic.
On Monday morning, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia allowed the charade to continue for at least another week when he declined to grant an emergency request by the law’s challengers to stay the appeals court’s ruling, and ordered the state to file a response by Nov. 12. (Justice Scalia hears all emergency-stay applications out of the Fifth Circuit.)
The law requires, among other things, a doctor to have admitting privileges at a hospital no more than 30 miles from where he or she performs abortions. On Oct. 28, U.S. District judge Lee Yeakel ruled that this provision was “without a rational basis and places a substantial obstacle in the path of a woman seeking an abortion of a nonviable fetus.”
The state appealed immediately, and on Friday, the Fifth Circuit panel issued its stay of Judge Yeakel’s ruling.
But no matter what the panel says, the law is intended precisely to “strike at the right itself” — only dishonest politicians pretend otherwise. Making it harder for women to get an abortion is not an “incidental effect” of the law; it is its primary goal.
Consider the words of Texas solicitor general Jonathan Mitchell, who claimed during the trial before Judge Yeakel that the state has a vested interest in “protecting the life of the unborn child,” and thus may impose “inconveniences on women seeking abortion in hopes that it may lead women considering abortion to consider childbirth instead.”
Like similar laws popping up all over the country, H.B. 2 is cloaked in the guise of protecting women’s health only because anti-abortion activists know it’s their best shot of surviving judicial scrutiny.
This shouldn’t be complicated. On one side is a law of dubious constitutionality passed by legislators who openly admit their desire to end all abortions. On the other side are real women whose constitutional right to have an abortion is being effectively blocked.
The arguments of all sides have been on the table for months, which is why Texas was able to file its appeal within hours of the district court’s ruling. Now the state has at least another week, while Texas women pay the price.
By: Jess Wegman, The Opinion Pages, The New York Times November 4, 2013
“The Republican Self-Preservation Act”: Texas Voter ID Law Discriminates Against Women, Students And Minorities
Texas’s new voter ID law got off to a rocky start this week as early voting began for state constitutional amendments. The law was previously blocked as discriminatory by the federal courts under the Voting Rights Act in 2012, until the Supreme Court invalidated Section 4 of the VRA in June. (The Department of Justice has filed suit against the law under Section 2 of the VRA.) Now we are seeing the disastrous ramifications of the Supreme Court’s decision.
Based on Texas’ own data, 600,000 to 800,000 registered voters don’t have the government-issued ID needed to cast a ballot, with Hispanics 46 to 120 percent more likely than whites to lack an ID. But a much larger segment of the electorate, particularly women, will be impacted by the requirement that a voter’s ID be “substantially similar” to their name on the voter registration rolls. According to a 2006 study by the Brennan Center for Justice, a third of all women have citizenship documents that do not match their current legal name.
“What I have used for voter registration and for identification for the last 52 years was not sufficient yesterday when I went to vote,” 117th District Court Judge Sandra Watts said.
Watts has voted in every election for the last forty-nine years. The name on her driver’s license has remained the same for fifty-two years, and the address on her voter registration card or driver’s license hasn’t changed in more than two decades. So imagine her surprise when she was told by voting officials that she would have to sign a “voters affidavit” affirming she was who she said she was.
“Someone looked at that and said, ‘Well, they’re not the same,’” Watts said.
The difference? On the driver’s license, Judge Watts’s maiden name is her middle name. On her voter registration, it’s her actual middle name. That was enough under the new, more strict voter fraud law, to send up a red flag.
“This is the first time I have ever had a problem voting,” Watts said.
The disproportionate impact of the law on women voters could be a major factor in upcoming Texas elections, especially now that Wendy Davis is running for governor in 2014.
Moreover, the state is doing very little to make sure that voters who don’t have an ID can get one. As I mentioned, 600–800,000 registered voters don’t have an acceptable voter ID, but according to the Dallas Morning News “only 41 of the new cards were issued by DPS [Department of Public Safety] as of last week.”
Getting a valid photo ID in Texas can be far more difficult than one assumes. To obtain one of the government-issued IDs now needed to vote, voters must first pay for underlying documents to confirm their identity, the cheapest option being a birth certificate for $22 (otherwise known as a “poll tax”); there are no DMV offices in eighty-one of 254 counties in the state, with some voters needing to travel up to 250 miles to the closest location. Counties with a significant Hispanic population are less likely to have a DMV office, while Hispanic residents in such counties are twice as likely as whites to not have the new voter ID (Hispanics in Texas are also twice as likely as whites to not have a car). “A law that forces poorer citizens to choose between their wages and their franchise unquestionably denies or abridges their right to vote,” a federal court wrote last year when it blocked the law.
Texas has set up mobile voter ID units in twenty counties to help people obtain an ID, but has issued new IDs to only twenty voters at the sites so far.
Supporters of the voter ID law, such as Governor Rick Perry, argue that it’s necessary to stop the rampant menace of voter fraud. But there’s no evidence that voter impersonation fraud is a problem in Texas. According to the comprehensive News21 database, there has been only one successful conviction for voter impersonation—I repeat, only one—since 2000.
Texas has the distinction of being one of the few states that allows you to vote with a concealed weapons permit, but not a student ID. Provisions like these suggest that the law was aimed less at stopping voter fraud and more at stopping the changing demographics of the state. Based on what we’re seeing thus far, the law might better be described as the Republican Self-Preservation Act.
By: Ari Berman, The Nation, October 23, 2013
Belatedly, federal Judge Richard Posner has arrived at the obvious conclusion about voter identification laws: They are enacted as a barrier to the franchise, an un-American tactic hatched by conservatives to prevent certain people from voting. It’s too bad that his epiphany came so late.
Posner is one of the nation’s most respected conservative jurists. As a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, he might have led the nation’s highest court to reject new restrictions around voting. Instead, in 2007, Posner wrote the majority opinion that upheld Indiana’s stringent law, setting the stage for the U.S. Supreme Court to reason that it did no harm to an unfettered franchise.
That was quite wrong, as Posner now acknowledges. While he disavowed his earlier endorsement of the law in a new book, Reflections of Judging, he went further in a video interview earlier this month with The Huffington Post, saying that the dissenting view was the right one.
In that dissent, the late Judge Terence Evans wrote: “Let’s not beat around the bush: The Indiana voter photo ID law is a not-too-thinly-veiled attempt to discourage election-day turnout by certain folks believed to skew Democratic.” That about sums it up.
Still, I see in Posner’s late-arriving epiphany occasion for hope that debates about obstacles to voting, which have proliferated in states controlled by Republicans, will now proceed with more intellectual honesty. Let’s give up the preposterous justification that the barrage of new restrictions around the franchise — regulations that include limits on early voting — are intended to prevent voter fraud.
Recently, the consequences of those restrictions have been clear in Texas, which was among the states that rolled out new measures after the U.S. Supreme Court decimated the Voting Rights Act earlier this year. (Posner has had interesting comments about that decision too, dismissing its intellectual and legal foundations as non-existent. “The opinion rests on air,” he wrote.)
Eighty-four-year-old Dorothy Card, a Texas resident, has voted for six decades, but she stopped driving 15 years ago and doesn’t have a driver’s license, the ID preferred in voter-suppression states. By late last month, she had tried three times to obtain an ID that would allow her to vote in November elections, according to Think Progress, a left-leaning political blog. Her daughter said she would keep trying but with little expectation of success since each attempt required a different set of documents.
But perhaps the case that poses the biggest challenge for the Texas voter-suppression camp concerns a sitting judge, Sandra Watts. She was nearly barred from voting earlier this month because her name is listed slightly differently on her driver’s license than on voter registration rolls. Her driver’s license lists her maiden name as her middle name, while the voter registration roll lists her real middle name. As a consequence, she was told she’d have to vote using a provisional ballot, which would be checked to assure her identity.
As she told a Texas TV station, it’s not unusual for a married woman to condense her name by putting her maiden name in the middle. “I don’t think most women know that this is going to create a problem. That their maiden name is on their driver’s license, which was mandated in 1964 when I got married …” she said.
Meanwhile, there are no — zip, zilch, zero — comparable stories of fraud prevented by the new laws. Perhaps that’s because in-person fraudulent voting of the sort the new laws ostensibly prevent is virtually non-existent. Analyses have consistently shown that voter fraud is much more likely to occur through absentee ballots, which the voter-suppression crowd have usually ignored.
Here’s the not-so-hidden agenda behind voter ID laws: blocking the franchise for voters who lean toward Democrats. Those voters can be found easily enough among poorer blacks and Latinos, who tend to be less likely to own cars and to have driver’s licenses. Target them, and you can shave off several hundred or a few thousand votes — enough to win a close election.
That’s what Republicans are up to. Let’s hope Posner’s acknowledgment might at least spark more honesty about their motives.
By: Cynthia Tucker, The National Memo, October 26, 2013
Last month, the Department of Justice sued Texas over the state’s discriminatory and punishing voter ID law, SB 14. The same law was blocked by a federal court last summer, which determined that a “law that forces poorer citizens to choose between their wages and their franchise unquestionably denies or abridges their right to vote.”
In a state and country where voters of color are significantly more likely to live in poverty than white voters, the impermissible choice that Texas has imposed on voters discriminates on the basis of class and race both. In the wake of Supreme Court’s decision earlier this summer in Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder, which immobilized a key provision of the Voting Rights Act, the Department of Justice’s lawsuit represents the next phase in pushing back against measures that are intended to make it harder for people of color to vote, and less likely that our votes will count when we do.
Texas, like many states, passed SB 14 for the ostensible reason of combating in-person voter fraud, which Hillary Rodham Clinton recently called a “phantom epidemic.” But Texas has not been able to identify a single instance of in-person voter fraud. Texas has said that the law is not intended to discriminate against Black and Latino voters, whose communities represent 90 percent of the state’s population grown in the past decade, and yet the state’s legislature refused to accept any of the amendments offered that would have mitigated any of SB 14′s burdens that disproportionately affect voters of color — amendments that, for example, would have created a way for poor voters to get free identification, or would have accepted student IDs.
A single comparison of the accepted and not accepted forms of photo ID makes the priorities of the law clear: SB 14 will allow voters to present a concealed handgun license at the polls, but not a student ID from any of Texas’s public universities.
In addition to challenging the discriminatory ID law itself, the DoJ lawsuit also seeks to bail Texas in to a preclearance structure similar to the one that was lost in the Shelby County decision. Texas’s longstanding history of crafting discriminatory voting laws and schemes extends far past the voter ID law at issue now; in fact, Texas boasts the inglorious accolade of being the only state for which federal authorities have challenged at least one of its statewide redistricting plans after every decennial census since 1970.
As recently as last year, a federal court concluded that the state had drawn up its various redistricting plans with the intent to suppress the growing political power of African-American and Latino districts. A provision of the Voting Rights Act asserted in the DOJ’s case can bring back to Texas the preclearance defense lost in June’s Shelby County decision.
As the summer of our voting discontent draws to a close, it should serve as a powerful message that the first major voting lawsuit filed by the DOJ since the Shelby County decision goes directly to a state with one of the most well-documented histories of racial discrimination in voting, and seeks to use the full power of the remaining provisions of the Voting Rights Act both to invalidate SB 14 and to bring Texas back under federal review.
By: Natasha Korgaonkar, Assistant Counsel of the Political Participation Group at the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund, U. S. News and World Report, September 3, 2013