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“Pointing The Way To A New, More Offensive Effort”: Could Oregon’s Voting Law Signal A Democratic Push To Open Up Elections?

This is apparently what happens when a Democratic secretary of state — the kind in charge of elections, not the kind in charge of diplomacy — unexpectedly becomes her state’s governor:

On Monday, Oregon became the first state that will automatically register voters using information collected at the DMV.

Anyone eligible will be given an opportunity to opt out — but otherwise they become registered voters. The administration estimates that about 300,000 people will be added to the rolls, increasing the number of registered voters from 2.2 million to 2.5 million.

Federal law already requires states to allow people to register to vote while filling out paperwork for a driver’s license. Oregon’s new law will make the process automatic.

Democrats have felt no end of frustration over the spread of voter ID laws, not only because they disenfranchise huge numbers of people in the name of solving an essentially imaginary problem (in-person voter impersonation), but also because they seem almost impossible to stop. The Supreme Court has approved ID laws multiple times, even ones that are nakedly partisan, and voter ID laws are now in effect in 31 states. Republicans have also tried other ways to make registration and voting as difficult as possible, including restricting early voting. But other than mounting traditional registration and education drives and challenging new laws in court, Democrats haven’t come up with too many ways to fight back.

But Oregon could be pointing the way to a new, more offensive effort on Democrats’ part. Instead of just trying to counter Republican voting restrictions, they could find new ways to open up the voting system and get more people to the polls. This law doesn’t completely solve the problem of the unregistered (it only reaches people who have gone to get driver’s licenses or other ID from the DMV), but it goes a long way in that direction.

And critically, the Oregon law begins from the premise that everyone should be part of the electorate, and if they aren’t, then policy ought to be changed. Under the new law, you can opt out of registration if you want, but the default is that you’ll be registered. The implicit assumption behind Republican restrictions is that voting isn’t a right but a privilege, one you have to earn by jumping through a series of hoops.

We all know why that is: When you make registering and voting inconvenient or difficult, a certain number of potential voters will be eliminated from the pool, and those voters — whether because they’re younger or poorer or more minority — are more likely to vote for Democrats. You could argue that on the flip side, Democrats who want to make registering and voting easier are just as motivated by their partisan interest. Which may be true — as Sean McElwee details, a variety of studies have found that the non-voting population is substantially more liberal than the population that actually votes. But it’s still in Democrats’ favor that unlike Republicans, they’re not trying to restrict anyone’s rights in order to accomplish their goal.

Republicans claim — sometimes even without giggling — that their only concern is the integrity of the ballot and they never even consider the possibility that ID requirements will benefit their partisan interests. So they ought to be taken at their word. If we put enough effort into it, there’s no reason we couldn’t have a system that was secure and made fraud extremely difficult, but also made voting the default option. Ten states use same-day registration, which makes voting much easier, and they haven’t been overwhelmed by fraud. We ought to be able to come up with more ideas for making voting easier without sacrificing security.

Just imagine if elections were about which party or candidate was more appealing, and not about who could get more of their voters to the polls while discouraging the other party’s supporters from turning out. That would be quite something.


By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, March 17, 2015

March 20, 2015 Posted by | Democracy, Elections, Oregon, Voting Rights | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Next Attack On Voting Rights”: Why Democrats Should Fight For A Constitutional Right-To-Vote Amendment

The last round of voter restrictions came after the 2010 Republican wave, when new GOP majorities passed voter identification laws and slashed ballot access in states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Florida. Now, three months after the 2014 Republican wave, another class of state lawmakers are prepping another assault on voting rights under the same guise of “uniformity” and “ballot integrity.”

In Georgia, reports Zachary Roth for MSNBC, Republicans are pushing a bill to slash early voting from the present maximum of 21 days to 12 days. The goal, says Rep. Ed Rydners, a sponsor of the proposal, is “clarity and uniformity.” “There were complaints of some voters having more opportunities than others,” he said, “This legislation offers equal access statewide.” If cities like Atlanta want to have more voting access, said Rydners, they could open more precincts and “pay to have poll workers present.”

In Missouri, this new push comes as a constitutional amendment overturning a 2006 ruling from the state Supreme Court, which struck down voter ID as illegal under the state’s Constitution. Last Wednesday, notes Roth, the state’s House of Representatives gave “initial approval” to two measures: “One would put a constitutional amendment on the ballot asking voters to allow voter ID, and the other would implement the ID requirement, should the amendment pass.” The rationale? Voter fraud. “It’s not disenfranchising voters,” says state Sen. Will Kraus, who sponsored the amendment. “Voters who vote multiple times are diluting their vote.”

In New Hampshire, according to a recent report from the Brennan Center for Justice, Republicans are aiming for a hat trick of voter restrictions. If signed into law, their bills would limit voter registration efforts and reduce other registration opportunities, make it harder for students to register and vote, and reduce the number of precincts open per voter, a move that would lengthen voting lines and make the process a greater chore for working people and others with difficult schedules.

Likewise, per the Brennan Center, Mississippi Republicans are pursuing a bill that would “decrease the likelihood that otherwise-eligible voters who cast provisional ballots will have their votes counted in the races for which they are eligible,” and in Indiana, lawmakers have introduced measures to end automated straight-ticket voting and “secure” absentee ballots by requiring a voter identification number. “I just think people need to take the time to learn about who they are voting for before going in rather than just pushing a button for straight party,” said Rep. Milo Smith, chair of the Indiana House Elections Committee. “I think that makes for a better election process.”

It’s always worth noting the scant evidence for these moves. In Missouri, for instance, the Brennan Center found only four cases of in-person voter fraud, for a “documented fraud rate” of 0.0003 percent. There is no problem to solve; the policy rationale for limiting registration drives or requiring photo identification—instead of a standard-issue registration card—doesn’t exist. And if it did, there’s no reason for a restrictive approach; automatic registration and free ID cards are just as effective as anything proposed by state and federal Republicans.

Politically, however, there’s a lot to gain from these laws. Every new barrier to voting makes it harder for the most marginal voters to get to the polls. And given the demographics of voting—the least frequent voters are poorer, browner, and less educated than their most frequent counterparts—it’s in the Republican Party’s interest to shrink the electorate as much as possible.

It’s the undeniable partisanship of new voter laws that explains the new “right-to-vote” plank in the platform of the Democratic National Committee. At its winter meeting last week, the DNC endorsed a constitutional amendment for the affirmative right to vote. “The Democratic Party stands for inclusion, and we know that we are all better when everyone has a voice in the democratic process. The right to vote is a moral imperative, and I am proud to support this resolution,” said DNC Vice Chair of Voter Expansion and Protection Donna Brazile in a statement.

Readers with an eye toward the Constitution might say that we already have a right to vote. “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude,” says the 15th Amendment, ratified 145 years ago this month. There’s also the 14th Amendment, which treats the individual right to vote as sacrosanct barring crime or rebellion.

But notice the language. The 15th Amendment forbids governments from denying or abridging the right to vote on the basis of identity, but it says nothing about obstacles to exercising the franchise. And while the 24th Amendment forbids poll taxes and other racialized barriers to voting, the Constitution is mum on race-neutral disenfranchisement. Put differently, the Constitution allows voter suppression as long as it doesn’t trip any of its race or gender wires.

The goal of a right-to-vote amendment is to change the dynamic and place the burden on restrictionists. In a sense, it would make the pre–Holder v. Shelby Voting Rights Act a standard for the entire country. States and localities would have to make voting as accessible as possible, with a high standard for new barriers.

And while the odds of winning a right-to-vote amendment are low—one reason Democrats should invest more effort in state elections—there’s tremendous value in mobilizing around the issue. A movement for a right-to-vote amendment could encourage laws and norms that expand participation irrespective of an amendment in that direction. Think of it as a liberal counterpart to the “personhood” amendments used to mobilize anti-abortion conservatives around smaller—but just as potent—limits to abortion rights.

Indeed, if she hasn’t, Hillary Clinton should take notice of this DNC resolution. To win in 2016, Clinton will have to repeat Obama’s performance with black Americans and other minorities. Building that enthusiasm won’t be easy, but something like a right-to-vote proposal could help her start that fire.


By: Jamelle Bouie, Slate, February 25, 2015

February 26, 2015 Posted by | U. S. Constitution, Voter Suppression, Voting Rights Act | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Larger Context Of Restrictions On Voting”: Making Voting As Difficult And Cumbersome As Possible For The Wrong Kind Of People

Yesterday the Supreme Court issued an order overruling an appeals court decision about a series of voting restrictions passed last year by the state of North Carolina, which will allow the restrictions to remain in place for this year’s election, until the case is ultimately heard by the Court. And in a happy coincidence, on the very same day, the Government Accountability Office released a report finding that voter ID requirements reduce turnout among minorities and young people, precisely those more-Democratic voting groups the requirements are meant to hinder. There’s a context in which to view the battle over voter restrictions that goes beyond whether Republicans are a bunch of meanies, and it has to do with the things parties can change easily and the things they can’t.

I’ll explain exactly what I mean in a moment, but first, the law at issue was passed just weeks after the Supreme Court’s conservative majority gutted the Voting Rights Act, allowing North Carolina and other states to change their voting laws without the Justice Department preclearance that had been required since the 1960s. The N.C. law was basically a grab-bag of everything the Republican legislature and governor could come up with to make voting more difficult and inconvenient, particularly for those groups more likely to vote for Democrats. It included an ID requirement, of course, but also shortened the early voting period, eliminated “pre-registration” (under which 16 and 17-year-olds who would be 18 by election day could register before their birthdays), repealed same-day registration, and mandated that any voter who cast a ballot at the wrong precinct would have their vote tossed in the trash. Every provision was aimed directly at minority voters, young voters, or both.

As I’ve argued before, these kinds of restrictions are almost certainly all going to be upheld by the Supreme Court, because Anthony Kennedy, for all his pleasing evolution on gay rights, is firmly in the conservative camp when it comes to voting rights. That means there will be five votes in favor of almost any hurdle to voting that a GOP-controlled state can devise.

Making voting as difficult and cumbersome as possible for the wrong kind of people is a longstanding conservative project, but it has taken on a particular urgency for the right in recent years, which helps explain why 22 states have passed voting restrictions just since 2010 (and why stuff like this keeps happening). Republicans are doing it because they can, but also because they believe they must.

Both parties approach every election with a set of advantages and disadvantages, some of which are open to change in the short term and some of which aren’t. The last couple of presidential elections, the Democrats had a more capable candidate than the Republicans did; that could be reversed next time or the time after that. The Democrats have policy positions that are on the whole significantly more popular than those of the Republicans, particularly on things like the minimum wage, taxes, and Social Security. While it would be possible for the GOP to change its positions on those issues, it’s a slow process (as they’re now seeing on gay rights), and sometimes it’s impossible.

On the other hand, Republicans have a geographic advantage we’ve discussed before, with their voters spread more efficiently throughout the country, enabling them to keep a grip on a House majority even when more Americans vote for Democratic congressional candidates, as they did in 2012. Their dominance in rural states helps them stay competitive in the undemocratic Senate, where 38 million Californians elect two Democrats, and 600,000 Wyomingers counter with their two Republicans.

There isn’t much Democrats can do about that weight sitting in the right side of the scale, but they have their own structural advantage in the fact that their coalition is a diverse one, including some of the fastest-growing segments of the population, while the Republicans are stuck with a constituency fated to shrink as a proportion of the population. In other words, the GOP’s essential disadvantages lie in the interplay between what they believe and who they are.

One way to make up for those disadvantages is by making changes to the rules to tilt things a little bit back in your favor. Making it harder for some of the other side’s constituencies to vote won’t transform elections in and of itself—and it will often spur a reaction from Democrats as they redouble their GOTV efforts—but it can give that boost of a point or two that in the right circumstances can turn defeat into victory.

Republicans, of course, claim that all these voting restrictions have no partisan intent whatsoever—that they’re just about stopping fraud and maintaining the integrity of the system. Not a single person in either party genuinely believes that’s true (even if Republicans do believe that Democrats try to steal every election, they know that things like ID requirements and shortening early voting don’t touch the biggest locus of actual voter fraud, which is absentee ballots). If it didn’t help Republicans overcome their disadvantages, at least on the margins, you can bet they wouldn’t be pursuing so many voting restrictions with such fervor.


By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, October 9, 2014

October 10, 2014 Posted by | GOP, Voter Suppression, Voting Rights Act | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Supreme Court vs. Eric Holder”: Why They’re So Wrong And He’s So Right About Voter ID

As my colleague Joan Walsh wrote when news of his pending resignation first hit the wires, Eric Holder’s legacy as U.S. attorney general is complicated. There’s a lot for a liberal to be unhappy about — too big to jail, the war on whistleblowers, continued acquiescence to the NSA — but there’s good stuff in there, too.

I was reminded of that when I watched a video of the attorney general that was released Monday morning, a short clip in which Holder blasts the Supreme Court’s decision last week to allow Ohio Republicans to reduce the amount of time allotted to Ohioans for early voting. The conservative movement’s recent embrace of policies that suppress the vote is one of the issues where Holder’s at his best. And as he argued in his new video, the extraordinary practical and symbolic meaning of the right to vote is the reason why.

“It is a major step backward to allow these reductions to early voting to go into effect,” Holder says in the video. “Early voting is about much more than making it more convenient for people to exercise their civic responsibilities,” he continues. “It’s about preserving access and openness for every eligible voter,” Holder argues, “not just those who can afford to miss work or who can afford to pay for child care.”

He’s absolutely right. While the orthodox Republican’s views on affirmative action or, say, criminal justice leave much to be desired, the campaign for voter ID laws being waged by the conservative movement — which was buoyed by the Supreme Court right-wing majority’s recent decision — strikes at something far more precious and fundamental. This, in other words, is not politics as usual.

To explain what I mean, I’m going to draw upon an analogy Jonathan Chait used a few months back, during his long debate with Ta-Nehisi Coates and others over the role culture and racism play in most African-Americans’ daily lives. I’m not going to get into that debate here (I think this piece makes plain where I land), but I want to adapt Chait’s analogy of life as a basketball game with crooked referees to the fight over voter suppression, where I think it’ll be considerably less problematic.

While it’s probably a mistake to think of the president and attorney general as mere coaches (i.e., players) in the context of fighting black poverty, when it comes to voter rights, it really is the courts — not the White House — we expect to play the role of fair-minded referee. And to give the judicial branch credit, it was initially doing an OK job of it in the Ohio case, twice shooting down Republicans’ attempt to disenfranchise Democrats in the state.

Indeed, in two separate rulings, judges saw the move for what it was: the political equivalent of a losing basketball team declaring to its sharpshooting competitor that shots made from behind the arc were now worth zero points instead of three. But that’s when Justices Alito, Kennedy, Roberts, Scalia and Thomas stepped in, giving Ohio the go-ahead in a 5-4 decision that, for whatever reason, no member of the majority felt inclined to defend individually.

If you keep in mind that, Roberts excluded, this is the exact same group of men who just a few years ago were willing to destroy health care reform out of fear of government-mandated broccoli, you should have a sense of how patently weak the argument in favor of voter ID laws. Not only because the evidence that voter fraud is a real problem is essentially zilch, but because the attempt to deny millions of Americans their only real tool of self-government, their right to vote, is contrary to what most people think is so special about U.S. democracy.

On the most basic, essential level, our right to vote is about our right to be recognized as full and legitimate members of the community. It’s the way our democracy turns our God-given (or Universe-given, if you prefer) right to control ourselves into a contract we sign allowing other people — not only the government but civil society, too — to hold over us an enormous amount of authority. It’s how we say that even if we don’t like everything about this game, we’re still willing to play.

At the risk of oversimplification: Rousseau famously claimed society was nothing less than a system of control, a network of chains keeping us locked to the status quo. What makes Attorney General Holder’s Monday address so great, and his legacy on voting rights so commendable, is his understanding that by ruling in favor of Ohio conservatives, the Supreme Court is helping them throw away the key.


By: Elias Isquith, Salon, October 6, 2014

October 8, 2014 Posted by | Eric Holder, U. S. Supreme Court, Voting Rights Act | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Blatant And Immediate”: The Supreme Court That Made It Easier To Buy Elections Just Made It Harder For People To Vote In Them

In case there was any remaining confusion with regard to the precise political intentions of the US Supreme Court’s activist majority, things were clarified Monday. The same majority that has made it easier for corporations to buy elections (with the Citizens United v. FEC decision) and for billionaires to become the dominant players in elections across the country (with the McCutcheon v. FEC decision) decided to make it harder for people in Ohio to vote.

Yes, this Court has messed with voting rights before, frequently and in damaging ways. It has barely been a year since the majority struck down key elements of the Voting Rights Act.

But Monday’s decision by the majority was especially blatant—and immediate. One day before early voting was set to begin in Ohio on Tuesday, the Supreme Court delayed the start of the process with a decision that will reduce the early voting period from thirty-five days to twenty-eight days.

Assaults on early voting are particularly troublesome, as the changes limit the time available for working people to cast ballots and increase the likelihood of long lines on Election Day. And changes of this kind are doubly troublesome when they come in close proximity to high-stakes elections, as they create confusion about when and how to vote.

American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio Executive Director Freda Levenson decried the ruling, calling it “a real loss for Ohio voters, especially those who must use evenings, weekends and same-day voter registration to cast their ballot.”

The ACLU fought the legal battle for extended early voting on behalf of the National Association of Colored People and the League of Women Voters, among others.

“To make (the Supreme Court ruling) even worse,” Levenson told the Cleveland Plain Dealer, “this last-minute decision will cause tremendous confusion among Ohioans about when and how they can vote.”

Ohio Republicans had no complaints. They have made no secret of their disdain for extended early voting, which has been allowed for a number of years and which has become a standard part of the political process in urban areas where voters seek to avoid the long lines that have plagued Ohio on past Election Days.

Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, a top Republican, has taken the lead in efforts to restrict voting. In June, he established a restricted voting schedule. Husted’s scheme was upset by lower-court rulings. In particular, the courts sought to preserve early voting in the evening and on Sundays, which is especially important for working people.

Fully aware of that reality, the Supreme Court scrambled to issue a 5-4 decision that “temporarily” allows the limits on early voting to be restored. Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, Antonin Scalia and Anthony M. Kennedy voted to allow Husted to limit voting, while Justices Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan opposed the ruling.

Monday’s ruling was not a final decision; the Court could revisit the matter. But that won’t happen in time to restore full early voting before his year’s November 4 election.

The Court is sending a single of at least tacit approval of controversial moves by officials in other states—such as Wisconsin and North Carolina– to curtail early voting and access to the polls. Legal wrangling also continues over the implementation of restrictive Voter ID rules in those states and others—with special concern regarding Wisconsin, where a September federal appeals court ruling has officials scrambling to implement a Voter ID law that had been blocked by a lower-court judge.

Expressing disappointment that a narrow majority on the Supreme Court has permitted “changes that could make it harder for tens of thousands of Ohioans to vote,” Wendy Weiser, the director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at the NYU School of Law, said, “Courts should serve as a bulwark against rollbacks to voting rights and prevent politicians from disenfranchising voters for political reasons.”

Weiser is right.

Unfortunately, the High Court is focused on expanding the influence of billionaires, not voters.


By: John Nichols, The Nation, September 29, 2014

October 2, 2014 Posted by | U. S. Supreme Court, Voter Suppression, Voting Rights | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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