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“Wisconsin’s ‘War On Voting’ Leads To Real Consequences”: Thousands Of Wisconsin Voters Facing Disenfranchisement

Wisconsin’s April 5 primary is likely to be important for all kinds of electoral reasons, but the day will also be significant in terms of the voting process itself: it will be the first big test of the state’s ridiculous voter-ID law. Gov. Scott Walker (R) signed legislation to create the system in 2011, responding to a “voter fraud” scourge that did not exist, but following a series of legal disputes, this will be the first presidential election year in which the system is fully implemented.

For supporters of voting rights, this isn’t good news. A report from Pro Publica noted this week, for example, that the law requires Wisconsin’s Republican-run state government to run “a public-service campaign ‘in conjunction with the first regularly scheduled primary and election’ to educate voters on what forms of ID are acceptable.”

To date, it appears that public-service campaign has not happened and no money has been a set aside to educate the public. With literally hundreds of thousands of Wisconsin voters facing disenfranchisement, it’s a major problem officials are not even trying to fix.

It’s also not the only step backwards Wisconsin has taken on voting rights. MSNBC’s Zack Roth reported today:

A bill signed into law last week by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker could make it much harder for the poor and minorities to register to vote in the pivotal swing state just as the 2016 election approaches.

The Republican-backed measure allows Wisconsinites to register to vote online. But voting rights advocates say that step forward is massively outweighed by a provision in the bill whose effect will be to make it nearly impossible to conduct the kind of community voter registration drives that disproportionately help low-income and non-white Wisconsinites to register.

No other state, including states led entirely by Republican officials, has created a registration system that dismantled community-registration drives.

Project Vote noted this week, “Local and national group … joined together to show [Wisconsin] lawmakers that the proposed online registration system would not be available to all eligible electors, disproportionately impacting students, veterans, older individuals, low-income people and people of color. We explained that it is community registration drives that often register the very people unable to use online registration.”

The GOP-led legislature wasn’t willing to change the bill. Walker, naturally, signed it.

This won’t affect the state system in advance of the April 5 primary, but as Zack Roth’s report noted, the new policy “could well curtail voter registration ahead of the general election.”

In recent years, Wisconsin has been a competitive, battleground state for presidential candidates – President Obama won the state twice, even after Wisconsin’s Paul Ryan was added to the Republicans’ 2012 ticket – and will likely receive a lot of interest this fall, too. What’s more, the state is home to a key U.S. Senate race – incumbent Sen. Ron Johnson (R) is facing a rematch against former Sen. Russ Feingold (D) – and the outcome will help determine which party controls the chamber in the next Congress.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, March 25, 2016

March 26, 2016 Posted by | Scott Walker, Voter ID, Voter Registration, Voter Suppression, Wisconsin Legislature | , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Universal Election Day Registration”: Jimmy Carter And The Conservative Abandonment Of Voting Rights

Being a Georgian and a kiddie volunteer for Jimmy Carter’s first gubernatorial contest in 1966, I thought I was an expert on Most Things Jimmy. But Rick Perlstein, who was seven years old when Carter became our 39th president, has unearthed a proud moment of that presidency which I and probably others watching at the time had all but forgotten: a 1977 election reform initiative which still seems bold in its clear purpose and scope.

Everyone loved to talk about voter apathy, but the real problem, Carter said, was that “millions of Americans are prevented or discouraged from voting in every election by antiquated and overly restricted voter registration laws”—a fact proven, he pointed out, by record rates of participation in 1976 in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and North Dakota, where voters were allowed to register on election day. So he proposed that election-day registration be adopted universally, tempering concerns that such measures might increase opportunities for fraud by also proposing five years in prison and a $10,000 fine as penalties for electoral fraud.

He asked Congress to allot up to $25 million in aid to states to help them comply, and for the current system of federal matching funds for presidential candidates to be expanded to congressional elections. He suggested reforming a loophole in the matching-fund law that disadvantaged candidates competing with rich opponents who funded their campaigns themselves, and revising the Hatch Act to allow federal employees “not in sensitive positions,” and when not on the job, the same rights of political participation as everyone else.

Finally, and most radically, he recommended that Congress adopt a constitutional amendment to do away with the Electoral College—under which, three times in our history (four times if you count George W. Bush 33 years later), a candidate who received fewer votes than his opponent went on to become president—in favor of popular election of presidents. It was one of the broadest political reform packages ever proposed.

As Perlstein notes, Carter’s proposal initially drew support from national leaders of the GOP. But then the engines of the conservative movement became engaged in blocking it, led by Ronald Reagan, making arguments that sound extremely familiar today: real voters don’t need convenience; universal voting will empower looters in league with the Democratic Party; voter fraud will run rampant; and the Electoral College is part and parcel of our infallible system of federalism. The initiative was filibustered to death (in another fine usage of an anti-democratic device), Reagan beat Carter in 1980, and another rock of progress rolled down another long hill.

And now Jimmy Carter, at 90, is suffering from apparently incurable cancer, but is still speaking out:

This spring, when only those closest to him knew of his illness, Jimmy Carter made news on Thom Hartmann’s radio program when he returned to the question of democracy reform. In 1977, he had pledged “to work toward an electoral process which is open to the participation of all our citizens, which meets high ethical standards, and operates in an efficient and responsive manner.” In 2015, he was still at it.

He declared our electoral system a violation of “the essence of what made America a great country in its political system. Now it’s just an oligarchy, with unlimited political bribery being the essence of getting the nominations for president or to elect the president.”

The best possible tribute to Carter at death’s door is what Perlstein is doing: remembering his finest moments in causes then lost but now redeemable, if we take them up again.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, August 28, 2015

August 31, 2015 Posted by | Democracy, Voter Registration, Voting Rights | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Political Situation In Ferguson Is Toxic”: Underlying Causes Of Ferguson Need To Be Addressed

Missouri is the Show-Me State.

It says so right on our license plates. We Missourians like to think this slogan captures our strength of character, our down-to-earth sensibility and skeptical savvy.

Very different qualities have been on display lately. Missouri has become synonymous with violence and misgovernment in the mayhem that has spiraled since the shooting death of Michael Brown in August.

We’re a national embarrassment. In the days following Brown’s shooting, protesters marched peacefully — and some looted — and police met them with excessive and militarized force.

After the St. Louis County prosecutor announced last week that charges would not be brought against Darren Wilson, the police officer who killed Brown, again protesters marched peacefully — not just in Ferguson, Missouri but across the nation — while others looted, rioted and set buildings aflame. This time there were actual soldiers on the streets of Ferguson to face down residents.

The killing of Michael Brown has become a politically divisive issue. In some ways it is a Rorschach test for racial and political points of view. Some regard Brown as one more casualty at the hands of a racist police force that demonizes all young black men as thugs. Others see him as a genuine thug who died in a scuffle that easily could have left a policeman dead instead.

In this charged atmosphere, nobody expected the grand jury’s decision to satisfy both sides — and it didn’t. The quality of the evidence it was shown, it has to be said, was not good. Accounts were contradictory, and in the end the jurors seem to have relied on Wilson’s account most of all.

The mass media coverage, especially the 24/7 cable TV treatment, has played Ferguson for all the drama it can provide. Eventually, the media will tire of the Ferguson story, yet the resentments will remain, as will the conditions that inspired them.

Nobody believes that Michael Brown will be the last unarmed black man to be shot down by a policeman with dubious cause. This happens everywhere in the United States. That’s why, in the days following the grand jury’s decision not to indict, protests and mass demonstrations were held in Atlanta, Chicago, Boston, New York, Denver, Los Angeles and many other cities.

People of every race were among the protesters marching peacefully in solidarity with similar peaceful protesters in Ferguson. Not with the rioters, not with the lawless, but with the far greater numbers that have gathered, peacefully, every day since Brown died in early August.

The object of their frustration is policing that does more to agitate communities than to protect them. People have seen too many instances of questionable encounters between police and people winding up severely hurt or dead.

This is not a new storyline.

What’s new is that many of the protest events were not led by the usual suspects—civil rights leaders, politicians and media-versed clergy. It was young people, 20-somethings often either still in college or recently graduated, who organized protests by tapping networks cultivated previously through social media.

What comes next is crucial. Mass demonstrations serve a purpose, but organizing for change is what solves problems.

The first step in Ferguson ought to be a massive voter-registration drive. This was attempted but wasn’t successful in the initial days after the shooting. The appeal should be simple. Don’t like the elected officials you have? OK, vote them out. Feel that you’re not represented on the city council or in the ranks of the police? Standing in the street yelling won’t accomplish it. You need to make change happen, and voting is the first step.

The political situation in Ferguson is toxic. Like a lot of smaller towns in America, it generates a disproportionate amount of its revenue through fines. Despite a recent decision to eliminate some fines, the city still puts police in the structural role of the Biblical tax collector, stopping and ticketing citizens for relatively minor infractions, and issuing arrest warrants when they don’t or can’t pay their fines. It also so happens that a disproportionate number of tickets are given to black residents. This heavy hand, squeezing citizens for their hard-earned money, is not just or healthy for the body politic. But it’s hard to see how it will be reformed unless the majority in Ferguson first exerts its power and throws the bums out.

Everyday misgovernment does not inspire the outrage that a police killing does. But the resentment it causes year after year adds to the explosive charge when the spark is supplied. Ferguson may have flamed out. It could very well wind up a footnote, a trivia question for future generations. Or perhaps something else may happen. Maybe once all the cameras are gone, local residents, working with national civil rights organizations and others, will do the hard work of taking government back for the people.

Ferguson might then become a laboratory of democracy … and show the rest of the country how to do it.

 

By: Mary Sanchez, Opinion-Page Columnist for The Kansas City Star; The National Memo, December 2, 2014

December 4, 2014 Posted by | Civil Rights, Ferguson Missouri, Voter Registration | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Running Scared”: Democrats Are Turning Georgia Blue; Republicans Never Saw It Coming

In 2008, under the best possible conditions for a Democrat, Barack Obama lost Georgia by just over 200,000 votes, or 5.2 percent of Georgians who voted. Four years later he lost again by just over 300,000 votes, or 7.8 percent of Georgians who voted. By any measure the state is a reach for Democrats. And yet, the party is optimistic, both now—Michelle Nunn and Jason Carter, its Senate and gubernatorial candidates, respectively, are running close races—and for the future.

The “why” is easy to answer: Georgia has roughly 700,000 unregistered black voters. If Democrats could cut that number by less than a third—and bring nearly 200,000 likely Democrats to the polls—they would turn a red state purple, and land a major blow to the national Republican Party. Or, as Michelle Obama said during a campaign rally on Monday, “If just 50 Democratic voters per precinct who didn’t vote in 2010 get out and vote this November—just 50 per precinct—then Michelle Nunn and Jason Carter will win.” Given 2,727 precincts in Georgia, that’s just 136,350 new voters.

Enter the New Georgia Project. Led by Stacey Abrams, Democratic leader in the state House of Representatives, the project is meant to do just that—register hundreds of thousands of blacks and other minorities. Their goal, says Abrams, is to “directly or indirectly collect 120,000 voter registration applications.” That could be enough to push Democrats over the top. And it makes the project one of the largest voter registration drives in recent Georgia history.

So far, it’s been a success. “In addition to the 85,000 we have collected as an organization directly,” says Abrams, “we have also supported the efforts of 12 organizations around the state. We know there are groups doing registration in the Latino community, in the Asian community, and in the youth community, and we wanted to support their efforts as well.” These groups, she says, have collected 20,000 to 25,000 applications, putting the New Georgia Project in striking distance of its goal two months before Election Day.

Which brings us to this week. On Tuesday, Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp—a Republican—said his office was investigating allegations of voter fraud from the New Georgia Project, following complaints about voter applications submitted by the group. To that end, Kemp has issued subpoenas to the group and its parent organization, Third Sector Development.

“Preliminary investigation has revealed significant illegal activities’ including forged voter registration applications, forged signatures on releases, and applications with false or inaccurate information,” he wrote in a memo to county election officials.

To Abrams, this has less to do with protecting the process and more to do with suppressing the registration effort. After all, she notes, Georgia law “requires that we turn in all application forms we collect, regardless of concerns over validity.” It’s the job of the secretary of state, she says, to determine the status of the applications. “We do not get to make the decisions about whether or not a form is valid or not.”

She’s right. “A private entity shall promptly transmit all completed voter registration applications to the Secretary of State or the appropriate board of registrars within ten days after receiving the application or by the close of registration, whichever period is earlier,” says the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office website. Nowhere are private organizations asked or required to filter or discard applications.

There’s little information on the scope of the alleged fraud. But there is an aggressive subpoena that, Abrams says, “essentially demands every document we have ever produced.” She calls it a “fishing expedition” meant to “suppress our efforts.” A spokesperson for the New Georgia Project, the Rev. Dr. Raphael Warnock of Ebenezer Baptist Church, was a little more explicit. “I see this move by the secretary of state as the latest effort in voter suppression in the state of Georgia,” he said.

Kemp insists that this investigation is impartial and nonpartisan. “At the end of the day this is not going to be about politics,” he told a local reporter. “This is about potential fraud which we think happened.” At the same time, Abrams and Warnock are rightfully suspicious. Not only was Kemp a vocal supporter of the state’s divisive voter identification law, but he’s a Republican in a state where the GOP has worked hard to dilute the strength of black voters.

Under the old Voting Rights Act, Georgia officials had to clear voting changes with the Justice Department, and for good reason: The state had a long history of disenfranchisement, and “preclearance” was a way to pre-empt discrimination or prevent it entirely.

That changed with the Supreme Court’s ruling in Shelby County v. Holder last year, which struck preclearance from the VRA. Now, along with other Southern states, Georgia was free to change its laws and procedures for voting. And it did. That year, in Augusta—which has a large black population—officials moved municipal elections from their traditional November dates, a change with huge, negative effects on turnout. (For a case study, look to Ferguson, Missouri.)

Likewise, officials in rural Greene County implemented a redistricting plan previously blocked by the Justice Department, and lawmakers in Morgan County floated a plan to eliminate half the area’s polling sites, a move that would have its greatest effect on low-income and minority voters.

Then, Georgia Democrats realized they could play the same game. Last week officials in the large, mostly black area of DeKalb County announced plans for Sunday voting for the upcoming November election. The state’s Republican lawmakers have responded with outrage. “[T]his location is dominated by African American shoppers and it is near several large African American mega churches such as New Birth Missionary Baptist,” said state Sen. Fran Millar, citing the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Jim Galloway, “I’m sure Michelle Nunn and Jason Carter are delighted with this blatantly partisan move in DeKalb.” Millar is investigating ways to “stop this action,” and hopes to “eliminate this election law loophole.”

Against this backdrop of voter suppression, it’s no surprise Abrams is suspicious of the state’s investigation: From the harsh accusations of “fraud” to the aggressive actions from Kemp, it looks like another attack on efforts to increase participation and diversify the electorate.

With that said, there’s only so long Republicans can hope to win through such divisive methods. Six years ago, a “purple” Georgia was a pipe dream. Now, in a year when Republicans have the national advantage, it’s a possibility. The pace of demographic change is so fast that, soon enough, Democrats like Abrams won’t have to work to change the electorate—it will have happened on its own.

 

By: Jamelle Bouie, Slate, September 12, 2014

September 13, 2014 Posted by | Georgia, Voter Registration, Voter Suppression | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“When Democracy Works”: The GOP’s Fear Of Higher Voter Turnout

It is rare for a politician to publicly deride efforts to boost voter turnout. It is seen as a taboo in a country that prides itself on its democratic ideals. Yet, New Jersey governor Chris Christie last week slammed efforts to simplify voter registration.

Referring to Illinois joining other states — including many Republican-led ones — in passing a same-day voter registration law, Christie said: “Same-day registration all of a sudden this year comes to Illinois. Shocking. It’s shocking. I’m sure it was all based on public policy, good public policy to get same-day registration here in Illinois just this year, when the governor is in the toilet and needs as much help as he can get.”

Christie was campaigning for Illinois GOP gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner, who is challenging Democratic incumbent governor Pat Quinn, who signed the same-day registration bill into law in July.

Christie, who chairs the Republican Governors Association, denounced the effort to boost voter turnout as an underhanded Democratic tactic, despite the Illinois State Board of Elections being composed equally of Democrats and Republicans. Referring to the same-day voter initiative, Christie said Quinn “will try every trick in the book,” according to the Chicago Sun-Times. Christie said the program is designed to be a major “obstacle” for the GOP’s gubernatorial candidates.

The trouble with such rhetoric — beyond its anti-democratic themes — is its absurd assertions about partisan motives. After all, many of the 11 states with same-day registration laws currently have Republican governors.

In reality, same-day registration is all about turnout, not partisanship. According to data compiled by the think tank Demos, average voter turnout is more than 10 percent higher in states that allow citizens to register on the same day they vote. Demos also notes that “four of the top five states for voter turnout in the 2012 presidential election all offered same-day registration.” There was some evidence in Wisconsin that same-day registration boosted Democratic turnout, but the Wisconsin State Journal of Madison reports that “Republican areas also saw heavy use of the state’s last-minute registration law.” The registration system been also been adopted by such deeply Republican states as Wyoming, Idaho and Utah.

Unlike Christie, most Republicans who have fought voter turnout efforts like same-day registration have argued that same-day registration would increase voter fraud. This has allowed the GOP to position itself as battling crime — not as trying to block legal voters. But the GOP has been unable to substantiate that voter-fraud claim, and there is overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

Demos, for example, surveyed data from six states with same-day registration and found that “there has been very little voter fraud in [same-day registration] states over the past several election cycles.” In GOP-dominated North Dakota — which requires no voter registration at all — Secretary of State Alvin Jaeger, a Republican, reported that “voter fraud has not been widespread in North Dakota” and that there have been “very few known incidents of voter fraud” in the state.

Those findings confirm a recent analysis of primary, general, special and municipal elections by Loyola University professor Justin Levitt. He found that since 2000, more than a billion ballots have been cast in the United States and there have been just 31 credible incidents of voter fraud.

In light of that data, Republican efforts to prevent same-day registration and preclude voting betray a fear that has nothing to do with voter fraud and everything to do with political power. Essentially, the GOP fears that when more Americans exercise their basic democratic rights, Republicans may have less chance of winning elections.

 

By: David Sirota, Senior Writer, International Business Times; The National Memo, September 5, 2014

 

 

 

September 6, 2014 Posted by | Democracy, GOP, Voter Registration, Voter Suppression | , , , , , | Leave a comment

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