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“More Money, Less Voting”: North Carolina Passes The Country’s Worst Voter Suppression Law

I’ve been in Texas this week researching the history of the Voting Rights Act at the LBJ Library. As I’ve been studying how the landmark civil rights law transformed American democracy, I’ve also been closely following how Republicans in North Carolina—parts of which were originally covered by the VRA in 1965—have made a mockery of the law and its prohibition on voting discrimination.

Late last night, the North Carolina legislature passed the country’s worst voter suppression law after only three days of debate. Rick Hasen of Election Law Blog called it “the most sweeping anti-voter law in at least decades” The bill mandates strict voter ID to cast a ballot (no student IDs, no public employee IDs, etc.), even though 318,000 registered voters lack the narrow forms of acceptable ID according to the state’s own numbers and there have been no recorded prosecutions of voter impersonation in the past decade. The bill cuts the number of early voting days by a week, even though 56 percent of North Carolinians voted early in 2012. The bill eliminates same-day voter registration during the early voting period, even though 96,000 people used it during the general election in 2012 and states that have adopted the convenient reform have the highest voter turnout in the country. African-Americans are 23 percent of registered voters in the state, but made up 28 percent of early voters in 2012, 33 percent of those who used same-day registration and 34 percent of those without state-issued ID.

And that’s just the start of it. In short, the bill eliminates practically everything that encourages people to vote in North Carolina, replaced by unnecessary and burdensome new restrictions. At the same time, the bill expands the influence of unregulated corporate influence in state elections. Just what our democracy needs—more money and less voting!

“I want you to understand what this bill means to people,” said Representative Mickey Michaux (D-Durham), the longest-serving member of the North Carolina House and a veteran of the civil rights movement who grew up in the Jim Crow South. “We have fought for, died for and struggled for our right to vote. You can take these 57 pages of abomination and confine them to the streets of Hell for all eternity.”

Here are the details of everything bad about the ball, via North Carolina Policy Watch. It’s a very long list:

The end of pre-registration for 16 & 17 year olds

A ban on paid voter registration drives

Elimination of same day voter registration

A provision allowing voters to be challenged by any registered voter of the county in which they vote rather than just their precinct

A week sliced off Early Voting

Elimination of straight party ticket voting

A provision making the state’s presidential primary date a function of the primary date in South Carolina

A provision calling for a study (rather than a mandate) of electronic candidate filing

An increase in the maximum campaign contribution to $5,000 (the limit will continue to increase every two years with the Consumer Price Index from the Bureau of Labor Statistics)

A provision weakening disclosure requirements for ”independent expenditure” committees

Authorization of vigilante poll observers, lots of them, with expanded range of interference

An expansion of the scope of who may examine registration records and challenge voters

A repeal of out-of-precinct voting

A repeal of the current mandate for high-school registration drives

Elimination of flexibility in opening early voting sites at different hours within a county

A provision making it more difficult to add satellite polling sites for the elderly or voters with disabilities

New limits on who can assist a voter adjudicated to be incompetent by court

The repeal of three public financing programs

The repeal of disclosure requirements under “candidate specific communications.”

“We will see long lines, many citizens turned away and not allowed to vote, more provisional ballots cast but many fewer counting, vigilante observers at the polling place and all disproportionately impacting black voters,” says Anita Earls, executive director of the Durham-based Southern Coalition for Social Justice and a former deputy assistant attorney general for civil rights in the Clinton administration. “This new law revives everything we have fought against for the past ten years and eliminates everything we fought for.”

The legislation should be a wake-up call for Congress to get serious about resurrecting the Voting Rights Act and passing federal election reform. Six Southern states have passed or implemented new voting restrictions since the Supreme Court’s decision last month invalidating Section 4 of the VRA, which will go down in history as one of the worst rulings in the past century. Voting rights groups (and perhaps the federal government) will soon challenge at least some of the new restrictions through a preliminary injunction, others sections of the VRA, or the state constitution. But if Section 5 of the VRA was still operable, North Carolina would have to clear all of these changes with the federal government and prove they are not discriminatory—practically herculean task given the facts. The new law would’ve been blocked or tempered as a result. Instead, the North Carolina legislature interpreted the Court’s decision as a green light for voter suppression, which it was, and made the bill as draconian as possible.

Move aside Florida, North Carolina is now the new poster child for voter suppression. The Moral Monday movement in the state is now more important than ever. Maybe someday we’ll look back at this period as the turning point when the nation realized just how important the Voting Rights Act was and is.


By: Ari Berman, The Nation, July 26, 2013

July 28, 2013 Posted by | Civil Rights, Voting Rights | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Structural Feature Of Republican Politics”: GOP Obstruction As The New Normal In Washington

The bad news is that approval ratings for both the president and Congress are sinking, with voters increasingly frustrated at the bitter, partisan impasse in Washington. The worse news is that in terms of admiration for our national leaders, these may come to be seen as the good old days.

I’m an optimist by nature, a glass-half-full kind of guy. But try as I might, I can’t convince myself that Republicans in Congress are likely to respond any better to President Obama’s latest proposals on the economy than to the previous umpteen. I’m also pretty gloomy at the moment about the prospects for meaningful immigration reform — unless House Speaker John Boehner decides that passing a bill is more important than keeping his job.

“We should not be judged on how many new laws we create,” Boehner said Sunday. “We ought to be judged on how many laws that we repeal.” So much for faint hope.

My fear is that stasis has become a structural feature of our politics. Nothing lasts forever, but this depressing state of affairs could be with us for quite a while — and could get worse.

The public is not amused. Three out of four Americans disapprove of the job Congress is doing, according to a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll, while an NBC News-Wall Street Journal survey measured disapproval of Congress at a stunning 83 percent. Obama’s approval rating has slid to 49 percent, the Post-ABC poll found — better than the president’s political opponents are faring but hardly anything to cheer about.

Here’s the basic problem: The Democratic Party seems likely to grow ever stronger nationally while the GOP remains firmly entrenched locally. This means the stubborn, maddening, unproductive standoff between a Democratic president and a Republican majority in the House may be the new normal.

Demographic trends clearly favor the Democrats in presidential elections. Hispanics and Asian Americans, the nation’s biggest and fastest-growing minorities, respectively, both voted for Obama over Mitt Romney by more than 70 percent . This is not just a function of the GOP’s hostility to immigration reform, although that certainly doesn’t help. Republicans are also out of step with these voters on other issues, such as health care. And all too often they transmit a breathtaking level of hostility.

A case in point is the recent allegation by Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) that for every young undocumented immigrant who becomes a valedictorian, “there’s another 100 out there who weigh 130 pounds — and they’ve got calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert.”

Criticized by his colleagues — ixnay on the igotrybay — King insisted his comments were “factually correct.” And the GOP’s outreach to Latino voters returned to square one.

None of this eliminates the possibility that Democrats will nominate flawed presidential candidates or that Republicans will nominate attractive ones. But all things being equal, the Democratic Party likely will go into presidential elections with a structural advantage. Eventually the GOP will be at pains to defend even Texas, the party’s only reliable mega-state.

Yet the Republican majority in the House, ensconced by clever redistricting, will be hard to dislodge. Perhaps Democratic registration and get-out-the-vote efforts can reshape the midterm electorate enough next year to recapture the majority. I wouldn’t bet the mortgage on it.

It may be, then, that we’re in for a much longer period of divided government in which the principal way that Republicans can affect federal policy is through obstruction. The whole “party of no” thing is more than a meme; it’s a logical — if somewhat nihilistic — plan of action. Or inaction.

Republicans know they cannot repeal the Affordable Care Act, for example, but they can hamper its implementation. They cannot impose their vision of immigration reform — all fence and no citizenship, basically — but they can ensure that no reforms are approved. They cannot choose their own nominees for federal judgeships, but they can block Obama’s.

Commentators who criticize the president for not hosting enough cocktail parties or golf outings for Republicans are ignoring political reality. He has tried being nice, he has tried being tough, he has tried offering to compromise, he has tried driving a hard bargain. Nothing works if Republicans are committed to blocking every single thing he seeks to do.

No wonder Obama chose to unveil his economic program while making what looks like a campaign swing. It will be the voters who eventually get us out of this hole. Unfortunately, that may take some time.


By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, July 25, 2013

July 28, 2013 Posted by | GOP, Politics | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Axis Of The Unhinged”: Why Republicans Want To Shut Down The Government, This Time

Count Texas Sen. Ted Cruz among the growing ranks of Republicans who want to shut down the government – because Republicans always look good when threatening a shutdown – over the party’s Quixotic quest to repeal the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

Cruz is in Iowa today laying the groundwork for his presumptive 2016 presidential bid and, according to a Tweet from National Review Online’s Robert Costa (h/t Dave Weigel), told conservatives this morning that he won’t support continued funding of the government without a full defunding of Obamacare. That makes him the third GOP senator this month to push that line, joining Utah conservative Mike Lee and Florida’s Marco Rubio, who told a Weekly Standard breakfast last week that “I will not vote for a continuing resolution unless it defunds Obamacare.” (At the risk of being pedantic: The current continuing resolution runs through the end of the current fiscal year; the next funding fight will be over regular appropriations bills, not another continuing resolution.)

As a group, the three men form a conservative thought leader critical mass. Cruz and Lee can be counted on as reliable barometers of the GOP base’s id. Rubio is desperately scrambling to get back into the party base’s good graces after displaying a dangerous proclivity toward actually trying to constructively legislate – as opposed to confining himself to angry stands on principle – on the immigration issue. That sort of thing (an ability to work with political adversaries to get something done) might play well with swing voters in a general presidential election, but it won’t fly in GOP primaries.

It seems clear that while the Obama administration and congressional Democrats are gearing up for a pro-Obamacare push, we can expect an increasing drumbeat of far-right lawmakers and commentators to talk up the idea of shutting down the government barring an Obamacare defunding. Can it be very long before Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul adds his support, completing the Axis of the Unhinged?

Look, the Affordable Care Act remains unpopular with voters. But the groundswell of support for a defund-or-shutdown stand will be confined to consumers of Fox News, Rush Limbaugh’s shtick and I’d like Cruz, Lee and Rubio to explain how exactly the results of the 2012 presidential election – where a president whose signature accomplishment is Obamacare was re-elected by a comfortable margin – can be interpreted as a mandate to threaten government shutdowns.

On the one hand, the whole thing’s as absurd as the endless Obamacare repeal votes the House insists on taking. There’s no chance of Obamacare getting repealed or defunded this year or next. None. Zero. It won’t pass the Senate and it won’t get by the president’s veto stamp.

But that’s also what makes this flavor of Obamacare Derangement Syndrome irresponsible and dangerous. At least the House repeal votes merely waste Congress’s time. Threatening a shutdown is akin to threatening a debt default: Republicans would be holding out the prospect of deliberately harming the economy (as my colleague Pat Garofalo ably illustrated when there was talk of a shutdown in 2011) unless they get their way on policy. Even sustained talk of a shutdown will further undermine public confidence in the government’s ability to walk and chew gum at the same time.

And it’s also politically dumb for the GOP, which is already suffering from dismal public approval in polls. Opinion surveys show that the GOP is unpopular and that most of the public wants our political leaders to work together to get things done, valuing that over taking uncompromising stands. People like Lee might try to spin a prospective shutdown as the Democrats’ choice – “If congressional Democrats want to oppose appropriations bills without additional Obamacare funding, shut down the government, and side with the president and Big Business against the American people, then it’s their choice” – but voters will see through that. What this talk does is present, again, the GOP’s radical, intransigent side to the public – although that may admittedly be the only side the party has left at this point, talk of a party revamp be damned.

But this is what the GOP has become: a poseur party, where the importance of ideology is matched by the way it is expressed – the more aggressive and uncompromising the better. (That’s basically why Liz Cheney is challenging incumbent Sen. Mike Enzi, Wyo., in a primary – sure they’re both conservative, but she brings Fox News flash to the table.)

Talk of a government shutdown will boost Cruz’s presidential prospects and help rescue Rubio’s with the GOP base. And really, that’s all the party seems to care about these days anyway.


By: Robert Schlesinger, U. S. News and World Report, July 19, 2013

July 28, 2013 Posted by | Debt Ceiling, Government Shut Down | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Unraveling Of A Dream”: The Decisions Of The Past Quarter Century Have Severely Weakened Civil Rights Laws

The sign I carried at the March on Washington said: “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.” I had just graduated from the University of Minnesota and was an intern at the State Department. A half century has not dulled the memory of that hot, muggy, August day. The civil rights movement had become a mighty river, and the vast, peaceful, exuberant crowd seemed to signify a new chapter in the American story. I did not know then that I would spend the next half century working on the dreams described that day, and that most of the time, it would be in the face of strong resistance.

Racial change was accelerating rapidly for the first time in the twentieth century. Before his assassination, President Kennedy had called for the most substantial civil rights law in 90 years. After, President Johnson embraced the cause and masterfully moved the Civil Rights Act through Congress. It was a time of immense possibilities and great accomplishments. But the people who spoke that August at the Lincoln Memorial were veterans of hard, long fights for racial justice and knew that no march or speech or even the laws that followed in the next years could eradicate all the institutions, practices, beliefs and fears that sustained inequality.

In the months and years that followed, urban riots, the black power movement’s repudiation of King’s dream, the corrosive impact of the Vietnam War on the Democratic coalition, and the Republican surge in midterm elections showed that change was going to be very tough. Politics were shifting from expansion of civil rights to rhetoric promising harsh action against “crime in the streets.”

Five years after the exuberant March, Martin Luther King was dead, and President Johnson, whose civil rights record was unequalled, had lost his own party’s support. His opponent in the 1968 election, Richard Nixon, shifted the party of Lincoln to embrace a “southern strategy” which opposed urban school desegregation, called for limiting voting rights regulation, promised to stop “activist” courts, and began to remake the GOP into a party whose strongest base would be in the resistant white South.

For civil rights workers, there were some amazing accomplishments as many pillars of the Southern system of state-supported apartheid fell and groups of historically excluded voters became part of a more democratic society. But there were also deep disappointments as the agenda of the Southern segregationist movement began to influence national politics, civil rights reform faltered in the north, the jobs agenda was not addressed, and the courts and agencies charged with implementing change were turned over to skeptics and opponents. There would not be another progressive appointed to the Supreme Court for 25 years, and the Court, reconstructed by conservative appointments, became an enemy of racial progress.

The last major civil rights act was passed 45 years ago. The growth of civil rights in the courts ended nearly four decades ago, and serious reversals began in the late 1980s. Whites now see a black president and some people of color living in white suburbs and assume that civil rights reforms are no longer necessary. The obvious inequalities that clearly still exist in poverty, incarceration, educational attainment, wealth and other major aspects of society are seen by most not as discrimination that justifies more civil rights change, but as problems that can be blamed on minority communities for failing to take advantage of opportunities, and on the teachers and others who work with communities of color.

The reality is that in a number of very critical dimensions of civil rights there are large and growing gaps that have often been perpetuated or even deepened by the conservative policies that were supposed to work in what they defined as a post-racial society. School segregation has now been increasing for almost a quarter century. Access to college degrees has become significantly more unequal, at a time when those degrees have become even more critical in shaping the destiny of young people. Incarceration of young men of color has soared and investment in giving them a real second chance has shriveled. Wealth, long extremely unequal, has become more so, in part as a result of the housing crisis that was worst for families of color. Mobility is declining as the public sector and major industry, which were more favorable to minorities, have declined. We have gone through the most dreadful economic reversal in 80 years with no large vision of social and economic change.

In celebrating the March on Washington we usually communicate exactly the wrong lessons. Students recite the “I Have a Dream” speech as if the speech solved the problem of discrimination and made the nation fair. The truth is that the March didn’t win any rights. Decades of civil rights struggles and political battles broke the back of Southern apartheid, but there never was any similar sweeping victory against the northern and western forms of discrimination. Government has been in control of opponents of King’s dream most of the time since his assassination. We celebrate Brown and the great civil rights decisions, but the public knows virtually nothing about the major decisions of the past quarter century that have severely weakened civil rights laws, authorizing a return to segregated schools and discriminatory local election restrictions. We don’t talk about the disappearance of the war on poverty, the federal jobs program, and most of the programs meant to fix and rejuvenate our cities. There is no serious national discussion about the incredible gaps by race or the truly devastating impact of imprisonment jobless young men. There is no serious discussion about how to help collapsing central cities which have now often been left to poor black and Latino families where government intervenes only to protect bondholders as city institutions collapse.

We have to get serious about facing the realities of our time, as the marchers who came to Washington did a half century ago. We need a new dream for this century, a new social movement, and new tools to transform a polarized and divided society into an equitable multiracial community.


By: Gary Orfield , The Civil Rights Project at UCLA, Published in Moyers and Company, July 24 July

July 28, 2013 Posted by | Civil Rights | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Rotten Melon Brain”: Steve King Says In Private, Republicans Actually Agree With His Vulgar, Bigoted Comments

A growing number of Republicans are publicly distancing themselves from Rep. Steve King’s (R-IA) claim that many undocumented youths are drug mules with cantaloupe-sized calves, but the conservative congressman claims that GOP lawmakers are backing him in private.

During an appearance on Fox News on Saturday, King said that Republicans are in fact standing by him, but are afraid to publicly support him for fear of sparking outrage and losing their legislative leverage.

“My colleagues are standing by me. They come up to me constantly and talk to me and say, you’re right, I know you’re right,” King said. “Is the description such that they have to go out to the press and do a press conference or can they come and tell me, I know you’re right, I support you? They can do that privately,” he said:

KING: You know, they have a lot at stake here. There is a leverage within the House of Representatives and they all need to be concerned about their own leverage, so I’m not asking them to step forward, I wouldn’t ask them to step forward. I don’t want them to take repercussions.

King reiterated that he has seen and heard undocumented youths with cantaloupe-sized calves cross the border and even confirmed those details with border patrol agents since his remarks attracted controversy. “I got a call from [border patrol] yesterday and I said, do I need to come back down and refresh myself? They said ‘no, you’re spot on with what you’re saying but maybe you got the weight ten pounds up,’” he said.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID), and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) are the most prominent Republicans to condemn King’s comments, but the Iowa congressman remains highly influential in the Republican caucus. King recently authored an amendment in the House to deport DREAMers, which passed with nearly unanimous Republican support. Labrador and Ryan were among the 221 GOPers who voted for the measure.

The House of Representatives is expected to consider a series of immigration reform bills in the fall.


By: Igor Volsky, Think Progress, July 27, 2013

July 28, 2013 Posted by | Immigrants, Immigration Reform | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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