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“Everybody Should Vote!”: If The Concern Is Voting Interferes Too Much With ‘Normal’ Life, Shouldn’t It Be As Convenient As Possible?

One of the crazy-making things about elections in this country, and particularly low-turnout non-presidential elections, is that we’ve lost a presumption that used to be a goo-goo truism: it’s a good thing for everybody to vote. Nowadays you get the feeling–not just from Republicans but from pollsters and the MSM–that there’s something unsavory about people voting when they’re not “enthusiastic” about it. Along with this is the suggestion that encouraging people who aren’t enthusiastic about voting or politics or the candidate choices to nonetheless vote is some sort of dark bearing, a slight aroma of fraud.

There’s an age-old conservative ideological argument often embedded in the contrary presumption against universal voting–I discussed it at some length here. But people naturally are reluctant to fully articulate the belief that only those who hold property or pay taxes should be allowed to vote; that’s why such beliefs are typically expressed in private, with or without a side order of neo-Confederate rhetoric.

More often you hear that poor voter turnout is a sign of civic health. Here’s an expression of that comforting (if not self-serving) theory by the Cato Institute’s Will Wilkinson in 2008:

[L]ower levels of turnout may suggest that voters actually trust each other more — that fewer feel an urgent need to vote defensively, to guard against competing interests or ideologies. Is it really all that bad if a broad swath of voters, relatively happy with the status quo, sit it out from a decided lack of pique?

First of all, everything we know about the people least likely to vote is not congruent with an image of self-satisfied, happy citizens enjoying a “lack of pique” or trusting one another too much to resort to politics. But second of all, nobody’s asking anyone to stop living their lives and raising their kids and going to work in order to become political obsessives. Voting, and even informing oneself enough to cast educated votes (or to affiliate oneself with a political party that generally reflects one’s interests), requires a very small investment of time relative to everything else. And if the concern here is that voting interferes too much with “normal” life, shouldn’t we make it as convenient as possible?

Everybody should vote, and everybody’s vote should count the same–that goes for my right-wing distant relatives who think Obama and I want to take away their guns, and for people struggling with poverty, and for people fretting that those people want to take away “their” Medicare, and for people trying to rebuilt their lives after incarceration. And it goes for people who aren’t happy with their choices because failing to vote simply encourages the same old choices to persist. Hedging on the right to vote takes you down a genuinely slippery slope that leads to unconscious and then conscious oligarchy and even authoritarianism. And so to paraphrase Bobby Kennedy, we should not look at eligible voters and ask why they should vote, but instead ask why not? There’s no good answer that doesn’t violate every civic tenet of equality and every Judeo-Christian principle of the sisterhood and brotherhood of humanity.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal, The Washington Monthly, October 31, 2014

November 3, 2014 Posted by | Democracy, Midterm Elections, Voting Rights | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“After Voter Suppression”: Focusing The Nation’s Attention On The Magnitude Of The Problem

So much has happened in so many parts of the judicial system regarding Voter ID and other recent efforts to restrict the franchise that it’s hard to get a fix on the big picture. But at the New Yorker, Jeffrey Toobin has seen the future of SCOTUS action on voting rights in its rulings on Wisconsin (halting implementation on grounds of timing) and Texas (giving that state the green light) Voter ID laws, and it’s not good:

The Wisconsin and Texas rulings were just preliminary requests for emergency relief, and the Supreme Court may yet hear the cases in full on the merits. But there seems little chance that a majority of the current Court will rein in these changes in any significant way. In courtrooms around the country, it’s been made clear that these Republican initiatives have been designed and implemented to disenfranchise Democrats (again, usually of color). But the Supreme Court doesn’t care.

So Toobin thinks it’s time to make a mental adjustment back to the mid-1960s, when hostile state laws and practices on voting were overwhelmed by the sheer moral and physical presence of people exercising the rights they still had and participating in elections whatever the difficulty:

Certainly, the obstacles for voters in the contemporary South do not compare to those that the civil-rights pioneers, black and white, faced until the early nineteen-sixties. In the Freedom Summer of 1964, the still nascent civil-rights movement coalesced around an effort to register voters in Mississippi. It was during that summer that the infamous murders of the civil-rights workers James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner took place. In addition, of course, black Mississippi residents endured less well-known but equally horrific abuse from state authorities during this time. In those days before the Voting Rights Act, the effort did not succeed in registering great numbers of voters, but it did focus the nation’s attention on the magnitude of the problem.

So it could today. In light of the changes in the state laws, it’s difficult but not impossible to register voters and make sure that they get to cast their ballots. And it’s absolutely mandatory in a democracy for that to be done.

The title of Toobin’s essay is “Freedom Summer, 2015.” It’s sobering to realize that’s what we may need to restore voting rights long thought to be relatively secure. But it’s also a reminder that reactionaries who fear democracy (not just judicial conservatives, but the Con Cons who think “losers” have forfeited the right to have any say in what “winners” do with their money and power) have been defeated before in more extreme circumstances.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal, The Washington Monthly, October 28, 2014

November 3, 2014 Posted by | Democracy, Voter Suppression, Voting Rights | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Obamacare Is Here To Stay”: Kentucky Is Emblematic Of The States That Have Received Substantial Assists From Obamacare

You’ve heard of Obamacare, right?

It’s that disastrous, costly and intrusive policy that President Obama and his fellow Democrats rammed down the throats of Congress back in 2010 — a failed plan that conservative Republicans have pledged to “repeal and replace.” According to its critics, it is un-American; it destroys the health care system; it burdens businesses; it hollows out Medicare. Right?

Ah, wrong. Despite what you may have heard and despite the caprice of electoral campaigns, the changes wrought by the Affordable Care Act are here to stay. That’s because it accomplishes much of what it set out to do — and its beneficiaries mostly like it.

Don’t expect Republicans to try to turn back the clock. Oh, some of them will continue to bash Obamacare and to blame it for any negative effects on the country’s dysfunctional health care “system” — including rising costs. And some will even go so far as to continue to insist that it ought to be repealed.

Take Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who expects to lead the upper chamber if Republicans claim a majority. In a debate last month with his Democratic rival, Alison Grimes, McConnell suggested that he would repeal the Affordable Care Act but leave in place Kentucky’s popular state exchange program.

“… The best interest of the country would be achieved by pulling out Obamacare, root and branch,” he said. “Now, with regard to Kynect, it’s a state exchange. They can continue it if they’d like to.”

McConnell’s pronouncement was a tour de force of dissembling, a virtuoso performance of fabrications and disinformation. The Washington Post’s fact checker awarded him three Pinocchios.

That’s because the state’s health care exchange, Kynect, is a part of Obamacare, made possible by the 2010 law. If Obamacare is ripped out “root and branch,” the state exchanges could not continue to exist. (The GOP has continually pledged to find a mechanism to replace Obamacare, but its warring factions have failed to agree on any plan that would leave state exchanges in place.)

Here’s the rub: Kynect is very popular with Kentucky’s residents, many of whom are enjoying health insurance for the first time in their lives. They have been primed by Republican politicians to hate the president and any policy he endorses — including his signature health care plan — but they don’t want to give up Obamacare’s benefits.

Kentucky is emblematic of the states that have received substantial assists from Obamacare. It is largely rural and is among the poorest states. It has also long ranked near the bottom in several health indicators, including obesity and smoking rates and cancer deaths. Obamacare has been a boon for its residents, cutting the rate of uninsured in half.

According to The New York Times, people who live in rural areas are among the biggest winners from the Affordable Care Act. Other groups who have reaped substantial benefits are blacks, Latinos, women and younger Americans between 18 and 34.

Here’s another reason that Obamacare is here to stay: Its expansion of Medicaid is a boon to the states that have taken advantage of it. After the Supreme Court ruled that Medicaid expansion was optional, most Republican governors vowed to resist it — even though the federal government will pay 100 percent of the cost for the first three years and 90 percent thereafter.

But some of those GOP governors are now having second thoughts as rural hospitals are forced to close down for lack of funds and poor people are sidelined by preventable illnesses. Several GOP governors have already expanded Medicaid — which provides health insurance for the poor — and others are considering doing so.

Last month, Ohio’s Republican governor, John Kasich, advised his GOP colleagues to stop fighting the Medicaid expansion. The opposition, he said, “was really either political or ideological. I don’t think that holds water against real flesh and blood, and real improvements in people’s lives.”

Some Republicans have trouble admitting that on the campaign trail, but they all know it’s true.

 

By: Cynthia Tucker, The National Memo, November 1, 2014

November 3, 2014 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Mitch Mc Connell, Obamacare | , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“A Public Health Triumph”: Republicans Call Ebola A Federal Government Failure. It’s Exactly The Opposite

If you live in a state with a competitive Senate race, chances are you’ve seen an ad recently that told you to vote Republican because of Ebola. According to the media tracking firm CMAG (reported here by Bloomberg), there has been a significant increase in Ebola-themed ads in the race’s final days.

These ads are meant to stoke a general sense is that the world is spinning out of control, and only a Republican Senate can save us. As conservatives like Charles Krauthammer have argued: “Ebola has crystallized the collapse of trust in state authorities,” showing us that the Obama administration is too incompetent to handle the dangers confronting us.

But what if Ebola demonstrates exactly the opposite?

Imagine that a year ago, I told you that a few months hence, west Africa would see the largest Ebola outbreak in history. Then I explained that despite regular travel in and out of the affected countries by health professionals and ordinary people, there would be a grand total of two — not two hundred, or two thousand, but two — Americans who contracted the disease here, and both of them would be nurses who had treated a dying patient who had contracted the disease in Liberia. And I told you that both of them would be treated, and would survive and be healthy. If I had told you that a year ago, would you have said, “Wow, that sounds like a gigantic federal government failure”?

Of course not. You’d say that sounds like a public health triumph.

To be clear, I’m not arguing that there have been no mistakes. In the early days, the CDC didn’t offer clear enough guidance on prevention measures for health care professionals, which is what made it possible for those two nurses to become infected. But if you actually look at the facts, the disease has been completely prevented and contained here in the United States. It makes you wonder what the administration’s critics are talking about when they cry that the government has failed.

And right now, while the federal government is proceeding in a methodical, sober fashion to keep the disease contained, it’s state governments that are acting like fools. Governors Andrew Cuomo and Chris Christie first announced that health care workers returning from the affected countries would be quarantined for 21 days, and Christie essentially imprisoned one nurse at Newark airport. Then, when they came under withering criticism from people who actually have some expertise in this subject, they changed the policy to request that those workers quarantine themselves in their homes.

The nurse held in New Jersey, Kaci Hickox — who has no Ebola symptoms, shows no sign of being infected, and poses no danger to anyone — returned to her home in Maine and is now fighting with Paul LePage, perhaps America’s most buffoonish governor, over whether she should be confined to her home against her will. You wouldn’t trust LePage to help your third-grader with his math homework, but he professes to know something about this disease that actual public health specialists don’t.

I have little doubt that the GOP fear-mongering on Ebola will be effective in these elections, at least to some degree. People are easily frightened, and it’s always easier to get them to vote on their fears than on the facts. But if you look objectively, it’s hard to reach any other conclusion but that the federal government has done quite a good job protecting the public from Ebola.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect; The Plum Line, The Washington Post, October 31, 2014

November 3, 2014 Posted by | Ebola, Public Health, Republicans | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Modern-Day Voter Suppression”: A Poll Tax By Another Name Is Still A Poll Tax

For supporters of voting restrictions, opposition to voter-ID laws seems practically inexplicable. After all, they argue, having an ID is a common part of modern American life, and if these laws prevent fraud, the requirements deserve broad support.

We know, of course, that the fraud argument is baseless, but it’s often overlooked how difficult getting proper identification – never before necessary to cast a ballot in the United States – can be in practice. To that end the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU published a report this week on “stories from actual voters” in Texas who are facing disenfranchisement for no good reason. Emily Badger flagged one especially striking example:

Olester McGriff, an African-American man, lives in Dallas. He has voted in several Texas elections. This year when he went to the polls he was unable to vote due to the new photo ID law. Mr. McGriff had a kidney transplant and can no longer drive; his driver’s license expired in 2008. He tried to get an ID twice prior to voting. In May, he visited an office in Grand Prairie and was told he could not get an ID because he was outside of Dallas County. In July, he visited an office in Irving and was told they were out of IDs and would have to come back another day.

He is unable to get around easily. Mr. McGriff got to the polls during early voting because Susan McMinn, an experienced election volunteer, gave him a ride. He brought with him his expired driver’s license, his birth certificate, his voter registration card, and other documentation, but none were sufficient under Texas’s new photo ID requirement.

One person was prohibited from voting because his driver’s license  ”was taken away from him in connection with a DUI.” Another Texan discovered he’d need a replacement birth certificate and a new ID, which required a series of procedural steps and a $30 fee he’d struggle to afford.

To hear opponents of voting rights tell it, voter-ID laws sound simple and easy. The practical reality is obviously far different – and in all likelihood, the laws’ proponents know this and don’t care. Indeed, a federal district court recently concluded that Texas’ law was designed specifically to discriminate against minority communities.

Under the circumstances, it seems hard to deny that we’re talking about a policy of modern-day poll taxes.

Jonathan Chait’s recent take of the larger dynamic summarized the issue perfectly.

During the Obama era … [Republicans] have passed laws requiring photo identification, forcing prospective voters who lack them, who are disproportionately Democratic and nonwhite, to undergo the extra time and inconvenience of acquiring them. They have likewise fought to reduce early voting hours on nights and weekends, thereby making it harder for wage workers and single parents, who have less flexibility at work and in their child care, to cast a ballot.

The effect of all these policies is identical to a poll tax…. It imposes burdens of money and time upon prospective voters, which are more easily borne by the rich and middle-class, thereby weeding out less motivated voters. Voting restrictions are usually enacted by Republican-controlled states with close political balances, where the small reduction in turnout it produces among Democratic-leaning constituencies is potentially decisive in a close race.

The simple logic of supply and demand suggests that if you raise the cost of a good, the demand for it will fall. Requiring voters to spend time and money obtaining new papers and cards as a condition of voting will axiomatically lead to fewer of them voting.

There is ample reason to believe that for Republican opponents of voting rights, this is a feature, not a bug. For all the rhetoric about “voting integrity” and imaginary claims about the scourge of systemic “voter fraud,” the underlying goal is to discourage participation, and in the process, improve GOP candidates’ odds of success.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, October 30, 2014

November 3, 2014 Posted by | Poll Tax, Voter ID, Voter Suppression | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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