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“An Important Voting Rights Victory”: Ohio Early Voting Cuts Violate The Voting Rights Act

Ohio keeps trying to cut early voting and the federal courts keep striking the cuts down.

Last year, Ohio’s Republican-controlled legislature cut a week of early voting and eliminated the “Golden Week” when voters can register and vote on the same day during the early voting period. GOP Secretary of State Jon Husted also issued a directive prohibiting early voting on the two days before the election, and on weekends and nights in the preceding weeks—the times when it’s most convenient to vote.

Today a federal court in Ohio issued a preliminary injunction against the early voting cuts, which it said violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, ordering Ohio to restore early voting opportunities before the midterms. “African Americans in Ohio are more likely than other groups to utilize [early] voting in general and to rely on evening and Sunday voting hours,” wrote District Court Judge Peter Economus, a Clinton appointee. As a consequence, the early voting cuts “result in fewer voting opportunities for African Americans.”

The lawsuit was brought by the ACLU and the Ohio NAACP. In 2012, 157,000 Ohioans cast ballots during early voting hours eliminated by the Ohio GOP. Overall, 600,000 Ohioans, 10 percent of the electorate, voted early in 2012.

Blacks in Ohio were far more likely than whites to vote early in 2008 and 2012. “In the November 2008 election in [Cleveland’s] Cuyahoga County, African-Americans voted early in person at a rate over twenty times greater than white voters,” according to the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights. In cities like Cincinnati, Columbus and Dayton blacks voted early in numbers far exceeding their percentage of the population.

There’s an important backstory here. Early voting became a critical reform in Ohio after the disastrous 2004 election. Once Democrats and minority groups began using it in large numbers, Republicans repeatedly tried to curb early voting. As I’ve previously reported:

In 2004, Ohio had the longest lines in the country on Election Day, with some voters—particularly in large urban areas—waiting as long as seven hours to vote. A DNC survey estimated that 174,000 Ohioans—3 percent of the state’s electorate—left without voting. George W. Bush won the state by just 118,000 votes.

In response to the long lines, Ohio adopted thirty-five days of early voting in 2008, including on nights and weekends. But following the large Democratic turnout in 2008, Ohio Republicans drastically curtailed early voting in 2012 from thirty-five to eleven days, with no voting on the Sunday before the election, when African-American churches historically rally their congregants to go to the polls. Voting rights activists subsequently gathered enough signatures to block the new voting restrictions and force a referendum on Election Day. In reaction, Ohio Republicans repealed their own bill in the state legislature, but kept a ban on early voting three days before Election Day (when 98,000 Ohioans voted in 2008), adding an exception for active duty members of the military, who tend to lean Republican.

These cuts disproportionately impacted black voters, who made up a majority of early voters in large urban areas like Cleveland’s Cuyahoga County and Dayton’s Montgomery County in 2008. Ohio Republicans brazenly tried to cut early voting hours in Democratic counties while expanding them in Republican ones. GOP leaders admitted the cuts in Democratic counties were motivated by racial politics. “I guess I really actually feel we shouldn’t contort the voting process to accommodate the urban—read African-American—voter-turnout machine,” said Doug Preisse, the GOP chair in Columbus’s Franklin County.

These voter suppression efforts backfired in 2012. The Obama campaign successfully sued to reinstate early voting on the three days before Election Day (although Secretary of State Jon Husted limited the hours) and the overall share of the black electorate increased from 11 percent in 2008 to 15 percent in 2012.

Despite the public and legal backlash, Ohio Republicans pressed ahead with early voting cuts in 2013. Now they’ve lost in court, again. (Some Ohio Republicans are also trying to pass a new voter ID law. Nine hundred thousand Ohioans, including one in four African-Americans, don’t have a government-issued ID).

Judge Economus’s ruling could have broad significance. Ohio is once again a critical swing state in 2014, with competitive races for governor and secretary of state.

More broadly, the courts are split over how to interpret the remaining provisions of the Voting Rights Act in the wake of the Supreme Court’s gutting a key part of the law last June. This is the first time a court has struck down limits on early voting under Section 2 of the VRA. A Bush-appointed judge recently denied a preliminary injunction to block North Carolina’s cuts to early voting and the elimination of same-day registration, a lawsuit similar to the one in Ohio. A Wisconsin judged blocked the state’s voter ID law under Section 2, while a similar trial is currently underway in Texas.

As Rick Hasen points out, we still don’t know if the courts will consistently stop new vote denial efforts like voter ID and cuts to early voting. And the Roberts Court could very well overturn any good precedents in the lower courts.

The Ohio ruling is an important voting rights victory. But it won’t be the last word.


By: Ari Berman, The Nation, September 4, 2014

September 7, 2014 Posted by | Democracy, Voter Suppression, Voting Rights Act | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Bid To Remain Relevant”: Rand Paul’s Flailing Search For A Hawkish Foreign Policy

Rand Paul this week derided President Obama’s approach to ISIS, then explained what he would do differently if he were president. It turned out, though, that the Republican senator from Kentucky and the president pretty much see eye to eye on the issue.

In a Time op-ed, Paul wrote that he would have “acted more decisively and strongly against ISIS” by launching airstrikes, arming the Kurdish rebels, bolstering Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense, and securing the U.S. border.

One problem: Obama has already done just that, or most of it, anyway. Obama has ordered more than 125 airstrikes in the past month against ISIS; shipped arms to Kurdish forces; provided $225 million in emergency funding for the Iron Dome; and, in the face of GOP obstructionism on immigration, eyed executive action to strengthen the border.

The only area where Paul diverges from Obama is that he would order Congress back from vacation to hear his plan. Given Congress’ apparent reluctance to take on this issue, this is the foreign policy equivalent of Vanilla Ice’s claiming that adding one more note to Ice, Ice, Baby meant he wasn’t ripping off Freddie Mercury.

Paul’s excoriation of Obama is remarkable given that only a few months ago, he explicitly defended the president and blamed ISIS’ proliferation on former President George W. Bush and his gung-ho interventionism.

“I don’t blame President Obama,” he said in a late June appearance on Meet the Press. At the same time, he threw cold water on the idea of a U.S. military intervention, saying, “I’m not so sure where the clear-cut American interest is.”

And as recently as August, Paul wrote a column arguing that hawkish interventionists had “abetted the rise of ISIS.”

On the one hand, it’s not surprising Paul is cribbing the administration’s ideas. Grandstanding aside, almost everyone is pretty much on the same page about how to handle ISIS.

But Paul’s newfound hawkishness is remarkable given his past tendency toward isolationism, which formed the heart of his unique appeal within the GOP. It was also the greatest obstacle to his winning the GOP presidential nomination in a party full of foreign policy hawks.

That dovish position grew even more problematic once Russia invaded Crimea, and once ISIS began swarming across Syria and Iraq. Though Pew last year found Americans’ appetite for foreign entanglements waning, that trend has now reversed, most sharply among Republicans.

Paul is now racing to shed the “isolationist” tag that dogged his proto-presidential candidacy. His Time op-ed even bears the none-too-subtle headline, “I am not an isolationist.”

But Paul is also spitting the same anti-interventionist lines that boosted him in the first place among his war-weary, libertarian faithful. Paul is speaking out of both sides of his mouth, and as a result his Time column reads like a bunch of flip-flopping nonsense.

Paul insists he is merely adapting: “I am not an isolationist, nor am I an interventionist,” he wrote in Time. “I look at the world and consider war, realistically and constitutionally.”

It’s certainly possible for changing circumstances to alter one’s global calculus. But they can just as easily alter one’s political calculus, too. In Paul’s case, it’s hard to see his abrupt about-face as anything but a bid to remain relevant as his party lurches rightward on foreign policy.


By: Jon Terbush. The Week, September 5, 2014

September 7, 2014 Posted by | Foreign Policy, Rand Paul, War Hawks | , , , , | Leave a comment

“Mitt Romney, The Charles Atlas Of International Relations”: It’s A Wonder This Guy Didn’t Get Elected President

In today’s Washington Post, one Willard Mitt Romney — you remember him — has penned an op-ed lamenting the fact that the United States military has grown so itty-bitty that it’s left us unable to accomplish anything on the world stage. In an epic feat of straw-man construction, Romney boldly takes on those who want to leave America defended by nothing more than a few pea shooters and sling shots, demanding that we vastly increase our defense budget. Let’s take a look at some of what he has to say:

Russia invades, China bullies, Iran spins centrifuges, the Islamic State (a terrorist threat “beyond anything that we’ve seen,” according to the defense secretary ) threatens — and Washington slashes the military. Reason stares.

“Reason stares”? I’ll have to confess my ignorance of whatever literary reference Mitt is tossing in here (the Google machine is unhelpful on this score, so I can’t be the only one who doesn’t know what the hell he’s talking about), but is Washington really “slashing” the military? According to the most recent budget documents, the total defense budget for 2014 is $620 billion; the Pentagon wants just over $600 billion for 2015. That’s a bit less than we spent in the last few years (the budget peaked in 2011 at over $700 billion), but that’s in large part because we’re no longer fighting in Iraq and we’re winding down our war in Afghanistan; budget sequestration also imposed some cuts. We still account for over a third of the entire world’s military spending. It hardly seems like we’re “jettison[ing] our reliance on U.S. strength,” as Romney asserts. Let’s move on…

Some argue that the United States should simply withdraw its military strength from the world — get out of the Middle East, accept nuclear weapons in Iran and elsewhere, let China and Russia have their way with their neighbors and watch from the sidelines as jihadists storm on two or three continents. Do this, they contend, and the United States would be left alone.

“Some argue”? Who are these “some”? He won’t say, because no one is actually arguing those things. Some also claim that Mitt Romney employs a team of commandos who kidnap small children and bring them before their master so he can feast on their sweet flesh, but I emphatically reject that charge, no matter what “some” would have you believe.

Mitt then argues that the fact that we have a huge military budget only conceals our true weakness:

More relevant is the fact that Russia’s nuclear arsenal is significantly greater than our own and that, within six years, China will have more ships in its navy than we do. China already has more service members. Further, our military is tasked with many more missions than those of other nations: preserving the freedom of the seas, the air and space; combating radical jihadists; and preserving order and stability around the world as well as defending the United States.

I’ll agree that we deploy our military to the four corners of the globe more than any other nation. But look at what Mitt is concerned about. Russia has more nuclear bombs than we do! When we launch an all-out nuclear exchange with them and every human being on the planet has either been vaporized or is dying of radiation poisoning, they may be able to continue to drop bombs on the scarred moonscape that once was America! My question is this: why has Romney not addressed the mineshaft gap? And how can we possibly feel safe when the day comes that China has more ships than we do? After all, a lengthy sea war with the Reds is all but inevitable.

Romney doesn’t mention a single conflict — past, present, or future — that would turn out differently if our military was bigger. For instance, he’s very concerned about Ukraine. And if we had an even larger military, then…what? We’d be happy to start a war with Russia? Or if we boosted our military spending then it would change the calculation of some other adversary?

The fact is that we face plenty of challenging foreign policy situations around the world. Romney ticks off many of them. But in not a single one, or in all of them combined, is the problem that we don’t have enough guns and bombs to do the job. We don’t want Iran to become a nuclear power, but we also really don’t want to invade Iran to stop it from happening. It’s not that we can’t reduce the whole nation to an endless field of rubble, because we can. But it would be a terrible idea. ISIS presents a conundrum, but that’s not because we don’t have a sizeable enough force to take them on; the problem is that launching a re-invasion of Iraq and a new invasion of Syria would create more problems for us than it would solve. Russia’s actions in Ukraine are deeply troubling, but the outcome of events there won’t be determined by whether we have sufficient stockpiles to defeat Russia in a land war. We do, but that’s not the issue.

Like most conservatives, Romney fetishizes “strength” as the sole determining factor in any international conflict and the essence of leadership. And this is what so infuriates them about the current president: Barack Obama understands, and isn’t afraid to say, that strength may be important, but it’s not enough, and sometimes it’s utterly beside the point.

Now wipe away a tear as Mitt closes:

Washington politicians are poised to make a historic decision, for us, for our descendants and for the world. Freedom and peace are in the balance. They will choose whether to succumb to the easy path of continued military hollowing or to honor their constitutional pledge to protect the United States.

Yes, freedom and peace are in the balance. Increase military spending, and all international challenges will melt before us like the frost on spring’s first morning; cut that spending by a few billion, and freedom will die a quick death. With informed, sophisticated thinking like that, it’s a wonder this guy didn’t get elected president.


By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, September 5, 2014

September 7, 2014 Posted by | Foreign Policy, Middle East, Mitt Romney | , , , , , , | 1 Comment


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