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“Jeb Bush Balks At Voting Rights Push”: The More Salient Question Is Whether Voting Rights Have Improved Since 2008

In March, President Obama delivered a powerful speech in Selma, Alabama, where he, among other things, called for Congress to restore the Voting Rights Act. Former President George W. Bush was on hand for the event, and to his credit, the Republican president who last reauthorized the VRA stood and applauded Obama’s call.

If we’re looking for areas in which Jeb Bush disagrees with his brother, we appear to have a new addition to the short list.

The former Florida governor appeared yesterday in Iowa and was asked by an audience member about the Voting Rights Act. Jeb Bush responded:

“I think if that it’s to reauthorize it to continue to provide regulations on top of states, as though we were living in 1960, because those were basically when many of those rules were put in place, I don’t believe that we should do that. There’s been dramatic improvement in access to voting – I mean exponentially better improvement.

 “And I don’t think there’s a role for the federal government to play in most places – could be some, but in most places – where they did have a constructive role in the ‘60s. So I don’t support reauthorizing it as is.”

It’s safe to say that’s not quite what voting-rights advocates hoped to hear from the Republican presidential hopeful.

Bush’s answer, at a certain level, was confusing, though it wasn’t entirely his fault. He was responding to a questioner who specifically asked about “reauthorizing” the VRA, though that’s not what’s on the table – George W. Bush already reauthorized the VRA through 2031. When Jeb said he doesn’t support “reauthorizing it as is,” that didn’t really make substantive sense.

What is on the table is a bipartisan bill to help restore some of the provisions of the Voting Rights Act that were gutted by conservative Supreme Court justices. We can’t say with certainty what Bush thinks about the legislation – that’s not what he was asked – though in context it was obvious that Jeb is comfortable with the high court’s ruling from two years ago.

MSNBC’s Zach Roth tried to flesh out the implications of Bush’s position.

[Bush argued] that he doesn’t see a role for the federal government on voting issues in most places. That seems to suggest that he opposes the parts of the VRA left in tact by the Supreme Court – most prominently, the provision that continues to bar racial discrimination in voting and applies nationwide. It would also mean that Bush opposes other important federal voting laws, like the National Voter Registration Act, also known as the “Motor Voter” law, which requires states to offer voter registration opportunities at the DMV and public assistance agencies.

 That’s a position that some on the right hold. The platform of the Texas Republican Party, for instance, calls for repeal of the VRA and Motor Voter, and calls another important federal voting law, the Help America Vote Act of 2002, unconstitutional. But it would put Bush way out of the mainstream on the issue, even among most conservatives, who accept that there’s still a role for the federal government to play in protecting access to the ballot.

As for Jeb’s assertion that access to the polls has improved over the last 65 years, there’s no denying the accuracy of the claim. Perhaps the more salient question, however, isn’t whether or not conditions are better than they were in 1960, but rather, whether voting rights have improved since 2008.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, October 9, 2015

October 12, 2015 Posted by | Jeb Bush, Voter Suppression, Voting Rights Act | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“We Already Know What We Need”: Why Haven’t We Fixed Our Crummy Voting System Yet?

“We gotta fix that,” the president said in his victory speech last November, following his reelection. The “that” in need of fixing was our broken and unequal election system. And we all agreed. There should be fixing. So why hasn’t there been any yet?

As you may recall, one subplot in the national telenovela that was the last presidential election involved the very purposeful attempted disenfranchisement, by Republican state legislators and officials, of certain key Democratic voters, which is to say poor and black people. This took many forms, from poorly drawn-up supposed lists of felons to be thrown off the voter rolls to the legal harassment of groups engaged in voter registration, but the most common tool was the voter ID law. On Election Day, while most black Americans managed to have their votes counted, the pictures told a distressing story across the country: In neighborhoods made up primarily of minorities, people waited hours to vote. In white neighborhoods the process was quick and easy.

There are plenty of working Americans who would lose their jobs if they spent hours of a weekday waiting in line to vote. They likely did not vote. This is a crummy way to run a national election.

The president’s solution was a commission. A bipartisan commission. The commission has a nice website. It seemed to not do anything at all for a few months but now they have held some public meetings. Eventually — this fall, I think? — the commission will deliver a report.

So the Democratic response, then, is a bipartisan commission that will release a report. Republicans at the state level, meanwhile, have been pretty busy getting things done to make voting more difficult. More restrictive voting laws have already gone into effect in multiple states. More laws are on the way in Wisconsin and North Carolina.

Here’s a neat tidbit: There already was a national bipartisan election commission. It was supposed to be a permanent one, established by the Help America Vote act, the Republican Party’s mostly useless response to the tremendous disaster that was the 2000 presidential election. It is called the Election Assistance Commission. There are supposed to be four members, appointed by both parties. What is this commission up to right now? Oh, you know, just being obstructed by Republicans who really hate voting. They refuse to nominate anyone. The House has voted to eliminate the commission.

The president’s plan seems to be to get electoral reform by creating a flawlessly bipartisan list of policies that barely have his fingerprint on them. That plan falls apart, though, when you remember that Republicans just don’t want voting to be easier, and they will not be convinced by Mitt Romney’s lawyer that it is in the party’s interest to make voting easier.

The House GOP is a nightmare, but a better approach would’ve probably involved horsetrading, rather than high-minded bipartisan appeals. Voter ID laws would be fine, actually, if the United States had a free and automatically issued national ID of some sort. We do not have such a thing, because I guess it makes some people frightened of tyranny? Still, that could’ve been part of a deal: One side accepts state voter ID laws, on the condition that acceptable state-issued ID is provided easily, and for free. There is already a long checklist of things reformers want fixed about our elections. Another commission is going to recommend things we already know we should be doing. We don’t need “innovation,” we need more access and fewer obstacles. There ought to be a commission on how to pass what we already know we need.

By: Alex Pareene, Salon, August 9, 2012

August 12, 2013 Posted by | Elections, Voting Rights | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The GOP Assault On Voting Rights: A Poll Tax By Another Name

AS we celebrate the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, we reflect on the life and legacy of this great man. But recent legislation on voting reminds us that there is still work to do. Since January, a majority of state legislatures have passed or considered election-law changes that, taken together, constitute the most concerted effort to restrict the right to vote since before the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Growing up as the son of an Alabama sharecropper, I experienced Jim Crow firsthand. It was enforced by the slander of “separate but equal,” willful blindness to acts of racially motivated violence and the threat of economic retaliation. The pernicious effect of those strategies was to institutionalize second-class citizenship and restrict political participation to the majority alone.

We have come a long way since the 1960s. When the Voting Rights Act was passed, there were only 300 elected African-American officials in the United States; today there are more than 9,000, including 43 members of Congress. The 1993 National Voter Registration Act — also known as the Motor Voter Act — made it easier to register to vote, while the 2002 Help America Vote Act responded to the irregularities of the 2000 presidential race with improved election standards.

Despite decades of progress, this year’s Republican-backed wave of voting restrictions has demonstrated that the fundamental right to vote is still subject to partisan manipulation. The most common new requirement, that citizens obtain and display unexpired government-issued photo identification before entering the voting booth, was advanced in 35 states and passed by Republican legislatures in Alabama, Minnesota, Missouri and nine other states — despite the fact that as many as 25 percent of African-Americans lack acceptable identification.

Having fought for voting rights as a student, I am especially troubled that these laws disproportionately affect young voters. Students at state universities in Wisconsin cannot vote using their current IDs (because the new law requires the cards to have signatures, which those do not). South Carolina prohibits the use of student IDs altogether. Texas also rejects student IDs, but allows voting by those who have a license to carry a concealed handgun. These schemes are clearly crafted to affect not just how we vote, but who votes.

Conservative proponents have argued for photo ID mandates by claiming that widespread voter impersonation exists in America, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. While defending its photo ID law before the Supreme Court, Indiana was unable to cite a single instance of actual voter impersonation at any point in its history. Likewise, in Kansas, there were far more reports of U.F.O. sightings than allegations of voter fraud in the past decade. These theories of systematic fraud are really unfounded fears being exploited to threaten the franchise.

In Georgia, Florida, Ohio and other states, legislatures have significantly reduced opportunities to cast ballots before Election Day — an option that was disproportionately used by African-American voters in 2008. In this case the justification is often fiscal: Republicans in North Carolina attempted to eliminate early voting, claiming it would save money. Fortunately, the effort failed after the State Election Board demonstrated that cuts to early voting would actually be more expensive because new election precincts and additional voting machines would be required to handle the surge of voters on Election Day.

Voters in other states weren’t so lucky. Florida has cut its early voting period by half, from 96 mandated hours over 14 days to a minimum of 48 hours over just eight days, and has severely restricted voter registration drives, prompting the venerable League of Women Voters to cease registering voters in the state altogether. Again, this affects very specific types of voters: according to the nonpartisan Brennan Center for Justice, African-Americans and Latinos were more than twice as likely as white voters to register through a voter registration drive.

These restrictions purportedly apply to all citizens equally. In reality, we know that they will disproportionately burden African Americans and other racial minorities, yet again. They are poll taxes by another name.

The King Memorial reminds us that out of a mountain of despair we may hew a stone of hope. Forty-eight years after the March on Washington, we must continue our work with hope that all citizens will have an unfettered right to vote. Second-class citizenship is not citizenship at all.

We’ve come some distance and have made great progress, but Dr. King’s dream has not been realized in full. New restraints on the right to vote do not merely slow us down. They turn us backward, setting us in the wrong direction on a course where we have already traveled too far and sacrificed too much.

 

By: Rep John Lewis, Op-Ed Contributor, The New York Times, August 27, 2011

August 29, 2011 Posted by | Class Warfare, Congress, Conservatives, Constitution, Democracy, Education, Elections, Equal Rights, Freedom, GOP, Government, Governors, Human Rights, Ideologues, Ideology, Lawmakers, Liberty, Politics, Public, Racism, Republicans, Right Wing, Seniors, State Legislatures, States, Teaparty, Voters | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

   

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