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“What Are You Waiting For, Democrats?”: Voter ID Laws Are Having Their Intended Effect. It’s Time To Do Something

The biggest news out of the Wisconsin primary isn’t about the horse race, which is largely unchanged. It’s about the election itself—about how the voting happened. As soon as polls opened in urban centers like Madison and Milwaukee, there were reports of long, almost intolerable waits. Students at universities around the state faced hourslong lines to cast a ballot. Others waited just as long for a chance to change their registration.

The proximate cause of these long lines in urban, student-heavy areas is the state’s new voter identification law backed by the Republican legislature and Gov. Scott Walker. It implements strict new requirements for valid identification that excludes most student IDs (in response, some Wisconsin schools have begun issuing separate identification cards for students to vote) and requires voters without official identification to go through a cumbersome process even if they’ve voted in the past. Writing for the Nation, Ari Berman describes elderly, longtime voters who were blocked from the polls for want of the right papers. “Others blocked from the polls include a man born in a concentration camp in Germany who lost his birth certificate in a fire; a woman who lost use of her hands but could not use her daughter as power of attorney at the DMV; and a 90-year-old veteran of Iwo Jima who could not vote with his veterans ID.”

But this was more than predictable—it was the point. “I think Hillary Clinton is about the weakest candidate the Democrats have ever put up,” said one Wisconsin Republican congressman, Rep. Glenn Grothman. “And now we have photo ID and I think photo ID is going to make a little bit of a difference as well.”

If the urgency of the issue wasn’t obvious, Grothman made it plain. Voter ID laws in Wisconsin and beyond are a direct attack on democracy, an attempt to rig the game by blocking whole groups of Americans from the polls. In what appears to be a strong cycle for their party, Democrats should take what happened in Wisconsin as a siren for action. Restoring democracy and protecting it from these attacks should be at the center of the party’s agenda.

The burden of voter ID laws falls hardest on the marginal members of society, who are predominately nonwhite, elderly, or both. In Wisconsin, 9 percent of registered voters (300,000 people) lack government-issued identification and fall disproportionately under those groups. And while Wisconsin provides voter ID at no cost through its Department of Motor Vehicles, the dirty secret is that this is a difficult and cumbersome process given the extremely limited hours for DMV offices. (Just 31 of Wisconsin’s 92 DMVs hold normal business hours and most are open just twice a week.) And worse, as Berman notes, Republican legislators in the state made no provision for voter education. They also shut down the state board that monitors elections.

Wisconsin isn’t the only place where voting has been hampered by voter identification laws. In Arizona, a similarly strict law—compounded by a Republican-led drive to close voting precincts in heavily populated areas—brought long waits for people who wanted to cast a ballot. As many as 20,000 Americans weren’t able to vote, many of them Latino.

Three years ago, the Supreme Court struck down the “preclearance” provisions of the Voting Rights Act, which required states with a history of discrimination to get the federal government’s permission before making any changes in how they run elections. Since then, Republican legislatures like those in Wisconsin and Arizona have adopted draconian identification laws that stand as meaningful barriers to the right to vote. They act as de facto poll taxes, forcing voters to spend time and money in order to exercise their constitutional rights. Thirty-three states will require voters to show identification at the polls this November, and the likely outcome will be long lines and complications for countless voters.

Beyond the sort of educational measures that Wisconsin didn’t bother with, it’s too late to do anything this year about the spread of voter ID and other barriers. But this should be a wake-up call for Democrats. Unless there’s pushback, these restrictions will become part of the firmament of our elections, effectively disenfranchising those on the margins of American life. For Democrats now and in the future, reversing those laws—and enhancing voter access—has to be a priority. On the national level, both Clinton and Bernie Sanders should tout their plans to restore the Voting Rights Act and build more voter protections. Below that, prospective Democratic governors and state lawmakers should place voter access at the top of their agendas, a first item for incoming administrations. Everything, from automatic registration and mail-in balloting to ending felon disenfranchisement, should be on the table.

This isn’t just the right thing to do; it’s the smart thing to do. If Democrats believe that they benefit from more voters and larger electorates, then they would do well to mimic the Republican approach, but in reverse: Use their power to tilt the playing field toward more access, more participation, and more democracy.

 

By: Jamelle Bouie, Slate, April 6, 2016

April 8, 2016 Posted by | Democracy, Discrimination, Voter ID | , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“Arizona’s Voting Rights Fire Bell”: The Disenfranchisement Of Thousands Of Its Citizens

It’s bad enough that an outrage was perpetrated last week against the voters of Maricopa County, Ariz. It would be far worse if we ignore the warning that the disenfranchisement of thousands of its citizens offers our nation. In November, one of the most contentious campaigns in our history could end in a catastrophe for our democracy.

A major culprit would be the U.S. Supreme Court, and specifically the conservative majority that gutted the Voting Rights Act in 2013.

The facts of what happened in Arizona’s presidential primary are gradually penetrating the nation’s consciousness. In a move rationalized as an attempt to save money, officials of Maricopa County, the state’s most populous, cut the number of polling places by 70 percent, from 200 in the last presidential election to 60 this time around.

Maricopa includes Phoenix, the state’s largest city, which happens to have a non-white majority and is a Democratic island in an otherwise Republican county.

What did the cutbacks mean? As the Arizona Republic reported, the county’s move left one polling place for every 21,000 voters — compared with one polling place for every 2,500 voters in the rest of the state.

The results, entirely predictable, were endless lines akin to those that await the release of new iPhones. It’s an analogy worth thinking about, as there is no right to own an iPhone but there is a right to vote. Many people had to wait hours to cast a ballot, and some polling stations had to stay open long after the scheduled 7 p.m. closing time to accommodate those who had been waiting — and waiting. The Republic told the story of Aracely Calderon, a 56-year-old immigrant from Guatemala who waited five hours to cast her ballot. There were many voters like her.

Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton, whose government does not control election management, is furious about what was visited upon his city’s residents. The day after the primary, he wrote U.S. Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch asking her to open a Justice Department investigation into the fiasco. It was not just that there weren’t enough polling places, Stanton charged. Their allocation also was “far more favorable in predominantly Anglo communities.” There were fewer voting locations in “parts of the county with higher minority populations.”

In a telephone interview, Stanton made the essential point. Long lines are bad for everyone. But they particularly hurt the least advantaged, who usually have less flexibility in their schedules than more affluent people do. It is often quite literally true that poor voters can’t afford to wait.

“If you’re a single mother with two kids, you’re not going to wait for hours, you’re going to leave that line,” Stanton said. As a result, Stanton said, “tens of thousands of people were deprived of the right to vote.”

A Democrat, Stanton asked himself the obvious question: “Am I suggesting this was the intent of the people who run elections in Maricopa County?” His answer: “In voting rights terms, it doesn’t matter.” What matters, he said, is whether changes in practice “had a disparate impact on minority communities,” which they clearly did.

And there’s the rub. Before the Supreme Court undermined Voting Rights Act enforcement, radical changes in voting practices such as Maricopa’s drastic cut in the number of polling places would have been required to be cleared with the Justice Department because Arizona was one of the states the law covered. This time, county officials could blunder — let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that there was no discriminatory intent — without any supervision.

Now let’s look ahead to Election Day this fall. Michael Waldman, president of the Brennan Center for Justice, notes in his important new book, “The Fight to Vote,” that Republicans have “moved with strategic ferocity” to pass a variety of laws around the country to make it harder for people to cast ballots. The Brennan Center reports that 16 states “will have new voting restrictions in place for the first time in a presidential election.”

Imagine voting debacles like Arizona’s happening all across the country. Consider what the news reports would be like on the night of Nov. 8, 2016. Are we not divided enough already? Can we risk holding an election whose outcome would be rendered illegitimate in the eyes of a very large number of Americans who might be robbed of their franchise?

This is not idle fantasy. Arizona has shown us what could happen. We have seven months to prevent what really could be an electoral cataclysm.

 

By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, March 27, 2016

March 28, 2016 Posted by | Arizona, Democracy, Discrimination, Voter Suppression | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Old Songs With New Refrains”: ‘Religious Freedom’ Laws Are About Freedom To Discriminate

Across the land, heroic male legislators are rising up to protect the lives and virtue of women and girls from sexual predators.

They are not, as one might hope, enacting laws that would prevent men convicted of domestic violence from owning firearms, even though that would surely save precious female lives.

Nor are they working with colleges and universities to ensure fair investigations of campus sexual assault, even though this would greatly help many a female coed.

And, alas, they aren’t doing anything to help or prod police agencies to process the backlogs of rape kits, even though this would surely put many more violent sex offenders behind bars.

No, the state legislators — instigated mostly by Republican members — are obsessed with women and girls’ use of the bathroom. They’re freaked out that someone who was born male but who now identifies as female could wind up in the neighboring stall.

North Carolina is the latest state to mount this little charade of chivalry. In a special session Wednesday, with mere minutes for members to read and digest the bill’s language, the legislature decreed that municipalities could not pass antidiscrimination laws protecting people on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. In other words: People in the state must use the bathroom designated by the gender on their birth certificate.

The move is part of a broad backlash against the American public’s growing acceptance that sexual orientation and gender identity are privacy issues that deserve respect and civil rights protection. It flared up in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling clearing legal obstacles to gay marriage.

When it comes to bathrooms, legislators express concern about sexual predators using more open bathroom access to attack vulnerable women and girls. Yet there is no trend of such attacks. A more honest conversation with transgender people would make that point. But honest dialogue isn’t how this is playing out — although it did play a decisive role in convincing South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard to veto his state legislature’s bathroom bill.

What proponents can’t get over is that national attitudes have shifted rapidly in regard to lesbians, gays, bisexual and transgender people. People have by and large given LGBT people a fair hearing and have decided they deserve fair treatment. Much of what remains of the opposition is draped with the cloak of religion. Hence the plethora of so-called religious freedom laws and amendments, whose real aims are such things as keeping homosexuals from becoming foster parents or barring transgender people from using the restroom they choose — in other words, keeping them from being accepted in society. Georgia, Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas are a few of the states where such bills have been passed, executive orders have been issued, or where such measures are under consideration.

Corporate and sporting entities see the danger. The NFL has warned Georgia that it could lose the opportunity to host the Super Bowl. The NCAA has made its intolerance for legalized discrimination known to Missouri and Indiana. And companies as diverse as Wal-Mart, Monsanto, Disney and MasterCard have also asserted their distaste for doing future business where these proposals may pass into law.

The companies get it. They know that “open to the public” means all of the public. No one is saying that anyone’s church must marry gay people.

Here is what proponents of the bills do not tell you: Sexual orientation and gender identity are not universally protected in America. In many cities and states, you can be fired, denied a house or an apartment simply because the boss or seller or landlord believes that you are gay.

The lack of legal protection for the LGBT people is what these disingenuous legislators are using as a basis for further deceiving constituents. They want the right to discriminate, enshrined and in many cases codified as a religious right, even when they are operating in a public square.

That’s what is most offensive — invoking God as a pretext.

Those who stood for slavery and against civil rights tried that ploy. Proponents of the anti-LGBT measures don’t like the comparison, but the shoe fits.

Ratcheting up fears in response to social change and then claiming that it’s your religious right to discriminate is an old trick. Alongside housing covenants, bank red-lining, scare tactics about crime, including sexual assault by black men, these arguments were shamefully hypocritical. These are old songs, with new refrains.

 

By: Mary Sanchez, Opinion-Page Columnist for The Kansas City Star; The National Memo, March 25, 2016

March 26, 2016 Posted by | Discrimination, Religious Freedom, State Legislatures | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“It’s Not Your Imagination”: North Carolina Cracks Down On Local Anti-Discrimination Policies

North Carolina’s state legislature wasn’t supposed to be in session this week, but the Republican-led chambers rushed back to work for a special, taxpayer-financed session, focused solely on one key issue.

The issue, oddly enough, related to the use of public bathrooms.

North Carolina legislators decided to rein in local governments by approving a bill Wednesday that prevents cities and counties from passing their own anti-discrimination rules. Gov. Pat McCrory later signed the legislation, which dealt a blow to the LGBT movement after success with protections in cities across the country.

The Republican-controlled General Assembly took action after Charlotte city leaders last month approved a broad anti-discrimination measure. Critics focused on language in the ordinance that allowed transgender people to use the restroom aligned with their gender identity.

If steps like these seem to be happening with increasing frequency, it’s not your imagination. A variety of cities have approved higher minimum wages, only to have states pass laws to block municipalities from acting on their own. Some cities have tried to pass paid sick-leave for workers in their area, only to have states change the law to prohibit such steps.

And a month ago, the city of Charlotte banned discrimination against LGBT citizens, only to learn a month later that the state had not only scrapped the local measure, but also changed state law to prevent any city from expanding protections against discrimination.

As we discussed earlier this week, contemporary conservatism is generally committed to the idea that the government that’s closest to the people – literally, geographically – is best able to respond to the public’s needs. As much as possible, officials should try to shift power and resources away to local authorities.

Except, that is, when communities consider progressive measures Republicans don’t like, at which point those principles are quickly thrown out the window.

So, let this be a lesson to everyone: when officials in Washington tell states what to do, it’s an outrageous abuse and clear evidence of government overreach. When states tell cities what to do, it’s protecting conservative principles.

And in this case, the new North Carolina policy is a mess. The Associated Press’ report added:

Gay rights leaders and transgender people said the legislation demonizes the community and espouses bogus claims about increasing the risk of sexual assaults. They say the law will deny lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people essential protections needed to ensure they can get a hotel room, hail a taxi or dine at a restaurant without fear.

“McCrory’s reckless decision to sign this appalling legislation into law is a direct attack on the rights, well-being and dignity of hundreds of thousands of LGBT North Carolinians and visitors to the state,” Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin said in a statement.

Vox’s report called the new North Carolina measure, signed into law last night, a legislative package that combines “some of the most anti-LGBTQ measures proposed in the US, codifying the legality of discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity into law.”

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, March 24, 2016

March 25, 2016 Posted by | Discrimination, North Carolina Legislature, Pat McCrory | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“This Is What I Call Un-Presidential”: Donald Trump’s War On People With Disabilities

Donald Trump, truth-manipulator-in-chief, has again run afoul of reality—this time when he spoke about his relationship with Americans with disabilities.

“Nobody gives more money to Americans—you know, the Americans with Disabilities Act—big act,” Trump confusingly said at a rally in Sarasota, Florida, on Saturday. “I give tens and tens of millions of dollars and I’m proud of doing it. I don’t mock people that have problems.”

This was his defense after Trump maliciously imitated a New York Times reporter with a physical disability and followed it up by saying he had never met him and requested that the publication apologize to Trump.

“I was very expressive in saying it, and they said that I was mocking him,” Trump told the crowd in Sarasota over the weekend. “I would never mock a person that has difficulty. I would never do that. I’m telling you, I would never do it.”

He previously also made fun of columnist Charles Krauthammer, who is paralyzed from the waist down. “I went out, I made a fortune, a big fortune, a tremendous fortune… bigger than people even understand,” Trump said in July after Krauthammer referred to him as a “rodeo clown.”

“Then I get called by a guy that can’t buy a pair of pants, I get called names?”

Now, it is true that Trump has a pretty extensive track record with ADA.

His properties have been sued a number of times for violations of the Americans With Disabilities Act, including one instance where a man claimed that the buses to his Atlantic City casino were virtually impossible to access in a wheelchair.

James Conlon, the plaintiff in that 2003 case, alleged that he was told on two separate occasions that there were no “buses available for use by persons who use wheelchairs who choose to leave from the Long Beach, New York departure site.”

The case was later settled.

In the most egregious case, the U.S. Department of Justice had to intervene because the Trump Taj Mahal was nearly inaccessible for people with disabilities.

In 2011, the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of New Jersey conducted a compliance review of Trump’s Taj Mahal casino in Atlantic City. They discovered an extensive list of problems.

There were no signs indicating handicapped parking in the self-park garage. A number of bathrooms lacked proper Braille for visually impaired people. The pipes in the bathroom were not insulated to prevent harm when contacted. The counter surfaces in the buffet were not at a proper height for individuals in wheelchairs. The list goes on, as these were only “some of the Department’s more significant findings.”

The terms of the settlement between the company and the federal government mandated that appropriate updates be made as soon as two weeks after the agreement in order to prevent further inspections thereafter. A representative for the Taj Mahal has not responded to a request for comment from The Daily Beast about the status of these updates.

According to its official website, ADA compliance is required for “commercial and public entities that have “places of public accommodation.” There are clear instructions for accessibility certification on the website, including updates to the original requirements from the act’s inception in 1990.

Trump’s problems went beyond his properties. In 2005, attorney James Schottel Jr. sued producers of The Apprentice for discrimination by requiring “excellent physical” health to appear on the show. Schottel, who is quadriplegic, took issue with this requirement at the time and eventually got the show to change the language on its casting call.

David F. Jacobs, a representative of the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, told The Daily Beast he couldn’t speak on the record about any existing ADA complaints related to Trump properties, some of which are no longer owned by Trump himself. He instead provided a link to their website, which listed cases including the 2011 one involving Trump Taj Mahal.

These cases notwithstanding, Trump has earned the ire of American disability organizations for his recent mocking of a New York Times reporter, who challenged Trump’s claims that “thousands” of Muslim people in New Jersey were cheering after the 9/11 attacks.

“Considering there are 56 million Americans living with a disability, you would think a candidate for president would be looking for opportunities to highlight their remarkable contributions to society, not mock them,” former Pennsylvania governor Tom Ridge told The Daily Beast. Ridge serves as the chairman of the National Organization on Disability, working alongside former president George H.W. Bush.

“Just ask any of the companies NOD works with and they’ll tell you people with disabilities are their best workers,” Ridge added.

“Mr. Trump would be wise to remember the words of NOD’s longtime honorary chairman, President George H.W. Bush, who after signing the ADA into law 25 years ago said to those in attendance: ‘We embrace you for your abilities and for your disabilities, for our similarities and indeed for our differences.’ That is what I call presidential.

 

By: Gideon Resnick, The Daily Beast, December 2, 2015

December 3, 2015 Posted by | Americans With Disabilities Act, Discrimination, Donald Trump | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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