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“Undermining Democratic Turnout”: The Totally Legal Campaign To Steal 2016

The most striking facet of the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down Texas’ abortion law was how directly it confronted the obvious lie at the heart of the case.

Conservative lawmakers have enacted a sweeping flurry of abortion restrictions at the state level, and justified their policies with a supposed concern for women’s health. It’s such an obvious cover that when the court asked Texas’ lawyers to justify their arguments with empirical data, they had precisely bupkis. The point of these laws is to prevent abortion, women’s health be hanged.

An analogous situation is developing with respect to voting rights, where conservative legislators have also enacted a sweeping set of state-level regulations making it harder to vote and justified them with obvious nonsense about voter fraud. And it’s ready to pay off this year, especially in local elections.

The problem with voter ID laws — the signature conservative vote suppression measure — is that it’s aimed at the most idiotic possible method of stealing an election. Even a small local election is usually decided by hundreds if not thousands of votes, so in order to steal one with fraudulent individual votes, you’d have to get hundreds or thousands of people to commit a very serious felony — with no guarantee that it will actually swing the election.

As any tinpot dictator could tell you, the way to steal an election is by manipulating the central election procedure. Instead of wrangling thousands of random schlubs, you fiddle with the registration lists or the assignation of ballots — or you prevent the enemy party from voting in the first place.

Given the GOP’s other vote suppression measures — like shortening early voting, eliminating night and weekend voting, making it harder to register to vote, and so on, all of which have nothing to do with fraud but disproportionately hit liberal constituencies — undermining Democratic turnout is the obvious motivation behind voter ID and similar policies.

It’s always been unclear whether conservatives were being consciously deceptive about their motives, or had merely convinced themselves of tactically convenient nonsense by constant repetition. But at least some of them were outright lying. Ari Berman at The Nation has the goods, in an extensive report about how GOP vote suppression is paying dividends in Wisconsin:

Schultz asked his colleagues to consider not whether the bill would help the GOP, but how it would impact the voting rights of Wisconsinites. Then-State Senator Glenn Grothman cut him off: “What I’m concerned about is winning. We better get this done while we have the opportunity.” (When asked during the state’s April 5 primary why Republicans would carry Wisconsin in 2016, Grothman, who had since been elected to the U.S. Congress, replied: “Now we have photo ID.”) In a federal voting-rights case, Allbaugh named two other GOP senators who were “giddy” and “politically frothing at the mouth” over the bill. [The Nation]

Make no mistake, this is tantamount to election theft. But since the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act in 2013, it is all probably legal, and even fairly above board given the number of Republicans who have been caught letting slip the bleeding obvious.

But legal or illegal, there is little difference between falsifying the results of an election and preventing the enemy party’s supporters from voting. Either way American citizens are deprived of their due right to the franchise. And while there is no general constitutional right to vote, given that African-Americans are the most reliable Democratic Party supporters, many of the vote suppression measures are racist in effect and probably in intention, and therefore arguably violations of the 15th Amendment.

None of this is particularly original. Republicans are the direct heirs to the Dixiecrat political tradition, and this batch of vote suppression is a weak echo of the methods by which African-Americans were prevented from voting in the Jim Crow South.

But until Congress can re-protect the franchise, the key question for the future will be whether the Supreme Court will revisit its previous view that the Voting Rights Act is largely outdated and unnecessary. Chief Justice John Roberts came to that view through a tremendous effort of willful ignorance — but subsequent events could not possibly have proved him wrong more decisively. The next time voting rights comes before the court, the need to defend the franchise will be difficult to ignore.

 

By: Ryan Cooper, The Week, July 5, 2016

July 12, 2016 Posted by | Abortion, Conservatives, Voting Rights, Women's Health | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“A Law Embedded Then Civil War-Era”: Restoring Voting Rights To Felons Is The Right Thing To Do

Of all the consequences of the nation’s decades-long infatuation with building more and more prisons and locking up more and more citizens, perhaps the most curious is this: More than 4 million Americans who have been released from prison have lost their right to vote, according to the non-profit Sentencing Project.

Even after men and women have served their time — after they have paid their debt to society, as the cliche goes — most states restrict their franchise. It’s an odd idea: Those men and women are harmless enough to release onto the streets, but they can’t be trusted to vote. They have finished serving their sentences, but they are barred from full citizenship.

A disproportionate number of those second-class citizens are black. Because black Americans, particularly men, are locked up at a higher rate than their white peers, this peculiar practice falls heavily on them. Nationwide, one in every 13 black adults cannot vote as the result of a felony conviction, as opposed to one in 56 non-black voters, according to the Sentencing Project, which advocates for alternatives to mass incarceration.

It’s undemocratic, it’s unfair and it’s un-American. While ancient Greek and Roman codes withdrew the franchise from those who had committed serious crimes, most Western countries now see those codes as outdated.

Recognizing that, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, used his executive power earlier this month to sweep away his state’s laws limiting the franchise for felons. With that action, about 200,000 convicted felons who have completed their prison time and finished parole or probation are now eligible to vote.

McAuliffe noted that Virginia’s law — one of the nation’s harshest and embedded in a Civil War-era state constitution — didn’t hobble the voting rights of black citizens through mere coincidence. That was its purpose. McAuliffe’s staff came across a 1906 report in which a then-state senator gloated about several voting restrictions, including a poll tax and literacy tests, that, he said, would “eliminate the darkey as a political factor in this state in less than five years,” according to The New York Times.

You’d think that McAuliffe’s fellow Virginia politicians, Republicans and Democrats alike, would celebrate his decision. Eliminating barriers to the franchise — especially those with obviously racist roots — can only polish the state’s image and strengthen the civic fabric.

But GOP leaders have objected, accusing McAuliffe of “political opportunism” and a “transparent effort to win votes.” Well, OK. Let’s stipulate that politicians are usually in the business of trying to win votes.

Having conceded that, though, isn’t restoring the voting rights of men and women who have served their time a good idea? If a crime renders a man beyond the boundaries of civilized society, he should be imprisoned for the rest of his life. Otherwise, his crime shouldn’t place him in an inferior caste, without the privileges of full citizenship.

Curiously, though, many conservatives seem to disagree. After Democrat Steve Beshear, then Kentucky’s governor, issued an executive order last year similar to McAuliffe’s, his Republican successor, Matt Bevin, overturned it. Bevin signed a law allowing felons to petition judges to vacate their convictions — a bureaucratic hurdle not easily overcome. Maryland’s GOP governor, Larry Hogan, vetoed a bill to restore voting rights to felons, but the Democratically controlled legislature overrode him.

Those Republican governors are simply following the party’s script, which has focused for the last several years on ways to block the ballot, starting with harsh voter ID laws. While advocates of such laws claim they are meant to protect against voting fraud, the sort of in-person fraud they would prevent hardly exists.

The real motivation for GOP lawmakers is to restrict the franchise from people unlikely to vote for them — especially people of color and millennials. Rather than campaign on a platform that attracts support, they rely on barriers to voting.

That’s wrong. The strength of American democracy depends on persuading more citizens that their votes count; carelessly — or intentionally — disenfranchising those with whom you disagree rends the civic fabric, distorts the political process and stokes the flames of discontent.

We surely don’t need more of that in this political season.

 

By: Cynthia Tucker Haynes, Pulitzer Prize Winner for Commentary in 2007; The National Memo, April 29, 2016

April 30, 2016 Posted by | Citizenship, Criminal Justice System, Terry McAuliffe, Voting Rights | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Just The Way They Do Business”: The Conservative Go-For-Broke Legal Strategy Suffers A Blow

These days, conservatives don’t suffer too many unanimous defeats at the Supreme Court, even in its currently unsettled status. But that’s what happened today, when the Court handed down an 8-0 ruling in a case called Evenwel v. Abbott, which had the potential to upend an understanding of democratic representation that has existed for two centuries, and give Republicans a way to tilt elections significantly in their favor before anyone even casts a vote.

The conservatives lost. But losing cases like this one is part of the way they do business. With a (usually) friendly Supreme Court, in recent years they’ve employed a strategy of maximal legal audacity, one that has yielded tremendous benefits to their cause.

This case was a relatively low-profile part of a comprehensive conservative assault on voting rights — or perhaps it’s more accurate to call it an assault on the ease with which people who are more likely to vote Democratic can obtain representation at the ballot box. The question was about how state legislative districts are drawn, and the principle of “one person, one vote.” We’ve long had a legal consensus that all districts in a state have to be approximately the same size, to give everyone equal representation; a state legislature can’t draw one district to include a million people and another district to include only a thousand (although you might point out that we do have a legislative body that violates this principle; it’s called the United States Senate, where Wyoming gets one senator for every 300,000 residents and California gets one senator for every 20 million residents).

The plaintiffs in Evenwell argued that instead of using population to draw district lines, states should use the number of eligible voters. Apart from the fact that we know population numbers fairly precisely because of the census, and we have no such precision regarding eligible voters, that would exclude huge swaths of the public. You might immediately think of undocumented immigrants, but counting only eligible voters would also mean excluding people with green cards on their way to citizenship, children, and those who have had their voting rights taken away because of a criminal conviction. In practice, drawing districts this way would almost inevitably mean taking power away from urban areas more likely to vote Democratic and sending power to rural areas more likely to vote Republican. Which was of course the whole point.

This case was a real long shot from the beginning, as you might gather from the fact that the conservative activists who filed it were suing the state of Texas, which is controlled by Republicans and is not exactly enthusiastic about ensuring everyone’s voting rights (the state’s incredibly restrictive voter ID law is still working its way through the courts). The problem they ran into came from the fact that the lawsuit alleged not that a state may draw districts based on the number of eligible voters and not the population, but that it must draw districts that way. That was the only way for them to file the suit, since they were trying to force Texas to change how it was drawing districts.

Since Texas had chosen to use population, just as every other state does and always has, in order to force a change the plaintiffs wanted that method declared unconstitutional. If they had prevailed, that could have meant that every state legislative district in the country would have had to be redrawn. As Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote in the ruling, “As the Framers of the Constitution and the Fourteenth Amendment comprehended, representatives serve all residents, not just those eligible or registered to vote.”

About the legal audacity I mentioned before: As unlikely as this case may have been to succeed, it’s another reminder of how legally aggressive the right has been lately. Again and again, whether it’s about voting rights or the Affordable Care Act or some other issue, they’ve come up with some novel legal theory that at first gets dismissed as completely absurd, then begins to sound mainstream as conservatives see an opportunity to gain a victory and rally around it. Even if they ultimately lose in court, the controversy can open up new legal and political avenues that hadn’t been evident before.

They lost today, and if you get Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas to agree with Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor that your claim is bogus, you know you’ve gone pretty far. But this case leaves an open question, which is whether a state can switch to an eligible-voter count in order to draw its districts if it chooses. No state has chosen to do that, but don’t be surprised if now that the issue has gotten some attention, conservative Republican legislators in deep-red states — particularly those with large numbers of Latino immigrants — start proposing it. I’d keep my eye on Texas.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, April 4, 2016

April 5, 2016 Posted by | Conservatives, Republicans, SCOTUS, Voting Rights | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“A Moral And Political Coward”: Speaker Ryan Can’t Reauthorize Voting Rights Act

Midway through his second term, President George W. Bush proudly signed the The Fannie Lou Hamer, Rosa Parks, And Coretta Scott King Voting Rights Act Reauthorization And Amendments Act Of 2006 which was sponsored by Republican congressman Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin. It had been passed in the Senate with an unanimous 98-0 vote and in the House with a strong bipartisan 390-33 majority.

The Act needs to be updated because it was gutted by the Supreme Court in 2013. But they won’t. And they won’t because the Republican Party has become so racially hostile to blacks that they can’t overcome the resistance of their worst bigots. Speaker Paul Ryan met with the Congressional Black Caucus today and flat out said that he can’t get the Act fixed up and reauthorized.

Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) told black lawmakers Wednesday that he supports new voting rights protections they’ve championed, but said he won’t bypass a committee chairman to move legislation, according to a Democrat who attended the gathering.

“He said it right in front of everybody — he said he supports the [Jim] Sensenbrenner bill,” Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.), former chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), said after Ryan met with the group on Capitol Hill.

“So somebody was saying, ‘Well, why don’t you go tell your committee chair to do it?’ ” Cleaver added. “And he said, … ‘Look, I can’t do that.’ “

Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), a former chairman of the Judiciary panel, has sponsored bipartisan legislation to update the Voting Rights Act (VRA) in response to a 2013 Supreme Court decision that gutted a central provision of the 1965 law.

But Sensenbrenner’s proposal does not have the backing of the current Judiciary chairman, Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), who maintains the Supreme Court left ample protections in the VRA, thereby making congressional action unnecessary.

I feel like Speaker Ryan could get this done if he wanted to, but I’m not sure what would happen if he rammed it through. I suspect that it would cause a major revolt, and perhaps even another coup like the one John Boehner just experienced.

I consider this important enough that Ryan should insist on principle and resign if his own caucus can’t live with it. It’s really a moral issue for me more than a political question. Ten years ago, it wasn’t even a partisan subject, but ten years ago we didn’t have a black president and a raging Tea Party revolt against the Republican Establishment.

Basically, I think Paul Ryan is a coward. He’s a political coward, but more importantly, he’s a moral coward.

P.S. Rep. Bob Goodlatte has also used his position as Judiciary Chairman to prevent any legislative reaction to the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, kill comprehensive immigration reform and call for the deportation of DREAMers.

 

By: Martin Longman, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, February 3, 2016

February 4, 2016 Posted by | House Republicans, Paul Ryan, Voting Rights | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Ringing The Alarm Over Voting-Machine Troubles”: The Threat Of A Catastrophic Meltdown In Next Year’s Presidential Election

For those involved in voting rights, concerns about voting machines are hardly new. But a new report from the Brennan Center for Justice rings the alarm in new and noteworthy ways. MSNBC’s Zack Roth reported yesterday:

America’s voting machines are reaching the end of their lifespans, and many states appear unwilling to spend the money to replace them, a detailed new report warns. The impasse raises the threat of a catastrophic meltdown in next year’s presidential election.

The report, released Tuesday by the Brennan Center for Justice, paints an alarming picture. Experts say today’s machines have an expected lifespan of 10 to 20 years – closer to 10. But in most states, a majority of jurisdictions have at least some machines that were bought in 2006 or earlier, while in 11 states – including presidential battlegrounds like Nevada and New Hampshire – every jurisdiction uses such machines. Fourteen states will use some machines that were bought over 15 years ago.

When the subject of voting machines comes up, we generally hear concerns about hacking and the possibility of rigging the technology deliberately to dictate the outcome of elections.

Whether you take those threats seriously or not, the Brennan Center’s research points to a different kind of systemic problem: a 21st-century democracy using outdated and unreliable election technology in ways that may lead to a disaster.

Consider this excerpt from the report:

As systems age, the commercially produced parts that support them, like memory storage devices, printer ribbons, and modems for transmitting election results, go out of production. Several election officials told us they have used eBay to find these parts. Mark Earley, voting systems manager in Leon County, Florida, told us his old voting system used an analog modem that he could only find on eBay. “The biggest problem was finding modems for our old machines. I had to buy a modem model called the Zoom Pocket Modem on eBay because they weren’t available elsewhere.” Earley told us that the Zoom Pocket Modem can transmit data at just kilobytes per second, making it utterly obsolete by today’s standards.

Ken Terry, from Allen County, Ohio, told us that he feels like he is living in a technological time warp. When he ordered “Zip Disks” for his central tabulator, the package included literature that was more than a decade old. “When we purchased new Zip Disks in 2012, they had a coupon in the package that expired in 1999.”

Remember, we’re supposed to be a global superpower, home to a vibrant democracy that serves a beacon of hope to people around the globe.

Of course, if these out-of-date machines are so common, why don’t states simply replace them? Because as MSNBC’s report explained, municipalities simply don’t have the money to buy new ones.

“We heard from more than one election official that what they’re hearing [from state legislatures] is basically, come back to me when there’s a real problem. In other words, come back to me after the catastrophe,” said Lawrence Norden, the deputy director of the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program, and the report’s lead author.

“We don’t ask the fire department to wait until the truck breaks down before they can ask for a new vehicle,” Edgardo Cortes, Virginia’s director of elections, told the report’s authors.

This problem won’t simply go away. If policymakers invested half as much energy in election technology as they do in voter-suppression tactics, the electoral system would be vastly better off.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, September 16, 2015

September 17, 2015 Posted by | Election 2016, Electoral Process, Voting Rights | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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