"Do or Do not. There is no try."

“A Voter-Fraud Witch Hunt In Kansas”: Voters Could Be Charged With A Felony For Mistakenly Showing Up At The Wrong Polling Place

In fall 2010, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach held a press conference alleging that dead people were voting in the state. He singled out Alfred K. Brewer as a possible zombie voter. There was only one problem: Brewer was very much alive. The Wichita Eagle found the 78-year-old working in his front yard. “I don’t think this is heaven, not when I’m raking leaves,” Brewer said.

Since his election in 2010, Kobach has been the leading crusader behind the myth of voter fraud, making headline-grabbing claims about the prevalence of such fraud with little evidence to back it up. Now he’s about to become a lot more powerful.

On Monday, Kansas Governor Sam Brownback signed a bill giving Kobach’s office the power to prosecute voter-fraud cases if county prosecutors decline to do so and upgrading such charges from misdemeanors to felonies. Voters could be charged with a felony for mistakenly showing up at the wrong polling place. No other secretary of state in the country has such sweeping prosecutorial power, says Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project.

“It means a person and an office with no experience or background in criminal prosecutions is now going to be making a determination of whether there’s probable cause to bring a criminal case against an individual who may have just made a paperwork mistake,” Ho says. “There is a reason why career prosecutors typically handle these cases. They know what they’re doing.”

Kobach claims there are 100 cases of “double voting” from the 2014 election that he wants to prosecute, but there’s been scant evidence of such fraud in Kansas in past elections. From 1997 to 2010, according to The Wichita Eagle, there were only 11 confirmed cases of voter fraud in the state.

Such fraud has been just as rare nationally, even according to Kobach’s own data, noted The Washington Post:

Kansas’ secretary of state examined 84 million votes cast in 22 states to look for duplicate registrants. In the end 14 cases were referred for prosecution, representing 0.00000017 percent of the votes cast.

Kobach says he needs this extraordinary prosecutorial power because county and federal attorneys are not bringing enough voter-fraud cases. But Kansas US Attorney Barry Grissom said last year that Kobach’s office had not referred any cases of voter fraud to his office. “We have received no voter fraud cases from your office in over four and a half years,” Grissom wrote to Kobach.

Kobach has been a leading proponent of his state’s strict voter-ID law, which decreased turnout by 2 percent in 2012, according to the Government Accountability Office, with the state falling from 28th to 36th in voter turnout following its implementation.

He’s also been the driving force behind Kansas’s 2011 proof-of-citizenship law for voter registration, which requires voters to show a birth certificate or passport to participate in the political process. Twenty-five thousand voters had their registrations “suspended” in the 2014 election because of the law; even the right-wing group True the Vote claimed that only 1 percent of the list were verified non-citizens.

Those wrongly on the list included Da Anna Allen, an Air Force vet. She told The Wichita Eagle:

“It just caught me off guard that I was not registered. I served for a week on a jury trial, which basically told me I was a registered voter. I’m a disabled veteran, so it’s particularly frustrating. Why should I have to prove my citizenship when I served in the military?”

After the Supreme Court found that Arizona’s proof-of-citizenship law violated the National Voter Registration Act, Kansas and Arizona instituted a two-tiered voting system, arguing that those who registered through the federal NVRA form could not vote in state or local elections. That system has it roots in the Jim Crow South.

Kobach, who wrote Arizona’s “papers, please” anti-illegal immigration law, alleges “in Kansas, the illegal registration of alien voters has become pervasive.” That defies common sense, as Johnson County District Attorney Steve Howe pointed out. “Why would an illegal alien want to go to vote and draw attention to himself?” Howe asked.

Kobach has asked the Supreme Court to restore the proof-of-citizenship law. The Court will decide on June 25 whether to take the case. If Kobach succeeds, proof-of-citizenship laws will spread to more states, and Kobach’s voter-fraud crusade will become even more influential.


By: Ari Berman, The Nation, June 11, 2015

June 15, 2015 Posted by | Kris Kobach, Sam Brownback, Voter Suppression | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“New Voting Laws Show That The Struggle Continues”: Pointing To A Growing Lack Of Respect For Individual Voting Rights

Growing up in Mississippi more than 50 years ago, Sammie Louise Bates had to help her grandmother count the money needed to pay poll taxes. Living under Jim Crow laws angered Bates — and inspired her to become a lifelong voter.

Bates was 25 when the Voting Rights Act passed in 1965, abolishing poll taxes and other discriminatory voting practices. For most of her life she did not face hurdles to the ballot box like her grandmother did.

But in 2013, that changed. Bates was no longer able to vote because her home state of Texas passed a new restrictive voter ID law. To get an acceptable photo ID, she first needed to pay $42 for a birth certificate. The cost was too much: “We couldn’t eat the birth certificate,” she testified in a lawsuit, “and we couldn’t pay rent with the birth certificate.”

Bates is an example of the hundreds of thousands, perhaps even millions, of Americans who now face difficulties voting because of new state laws restricting the right to vote. On the 50th anniversary of the Bloody Sunday march, which galvanized support for the VRA, these Americans remind us that the struggle is not over.

After decades of progress, the past five years has seen the most extensive attack on voting rights since the VRA was signed into law. Since 2011, every state but one has considered legislation that would make it harder for many eligible citizens to vote, and half the states passed new voting restrictions. By the 2014 election, after lawsuits and repeal efforts, voters in 21 states faced tougher voting rules than they did in 2010.

These new voting restrictions — which go beyond Texas-style photo ID laws and include things like early voting cutbacks and voter registration restrictions — apply to everyone. But they are not neutral in their impact. While most people do have a driver’s license or a similar state-issued photo ID, for example, the 11 percent of Americans who do not are disproportionately African-American and Latino.

And while most people still vote on Election Day, minorities make up a disproportionate number of those who voted on the weekend and other early voting days cut in states like North Carolina and Ohio. The net effect of these changes is a voting system that is less accessible to minorities, especially those with modest incomes.

A federal court found last year that Texas’s photo ID law was passed for the purpose of discriminating against the state’s minority voters.

In at least some states, this effect is not an accident. A federal court found last year that Texas’s photo ID law was passed for the purpose of discriminating against the state’s minority voters. (That case is now on appeal.)

Race has played a significant role elsewhere as well. The push to restrict voting came after a surge in participation among African-Americans and certain other groups in 2008. Recent studies found that the more a state experienced increases in minority and low-income voter turnout, the more likely it was to push and pass laws cutting back on voting rights. The Brennan Center similarly found that of the 11 states with the highest black turnout in 2008, seven passed laws making it harder to vote. Of the 12 states with the largest Hispanic population growth in the 2010 Census, nine states did so. And of the 15 states that used to face special monitoring under the VRA because of a history of racial discrimination in elections, nine states passed laws that make it more difficult to vote.

Unfortunately, efforts to restrict voting show no signs of abating. In the first few weeks of this year, legislation was introduced in 17 states and already progressed in two.

All this points to an urgent and continuing need for strong legal protections for voting rights — protections sought and won by the brave marchers 50 years ago in Selma. But here’s the rub: in the midst of a controversial and racially-charged battle over voting rights, the US Supreme Court gutted a core provision of the VRA. The net result has been not only a loss of voter protections in the courts but also a marked increase in discriminatory voting changes in states that used to be covered by the law. This contributes to a growing lack of respect for voting rights — arguably the defining feature of American democracy.

So what can we do? For starters, urge Congress to update and restore the Voting Rights Act. Urge your state not to pass retrograde voting restrictions, and instead to modernize the voter registration system and adopt other sensible improvements like those recommended by a recent bipartisan presidential commission. And join the tens of thousands of Americans flocking to Selma this week in honoring one of our nation’s greatest accomplishments — the recognition of the equal right to vote for every eligible American.

We have come a long way, but we still have farther to go.


By: Wendy Weiser, Director, The Democracy Program at The Brennan Center for Justice: Bill Moyers Blog, Moyers and Copany, March 6, 2015

March 9, 2015 Posted by | Bloody Sunday, Selma, Voting Rights Act | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Unapologetic, Unrepentant”: Who Regrets Slavery? Not Steve Scalise

I know that Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) doesn’t have “a racist bone in his body,” but it’s hard to reconcile that with his actions. The third-ranking member of the House Republican leadership didn’t just attend a neo-Nazi conference in 2002, he also led opposition to a 1996 resolution in the state House that expressed mere “regret” for the institution of slavery.

To get some perspective on this, the reason that the resolution was an expression of “regret” rather than a straight-up apology is because David Vitter negotiated watered-down language in exchange for his support.

Another familiar face was in the committee meeting as well: Republican David Vitter. The U.S. senator and 2015 Louisiana gubernatorial candidate was also a state representative serving on the panel.

Vitter echoed Scalise in the meeting, arguing that an apology for slavery implied an “admission of guilt,” according to the minutes. The future U.S. senator said “an expression of regret” was more appropriate.

[Then-state Rep. Yvonne] Dorsey eventually agreed to Vitter’s suggestion, and the resolution was unanimously amended to include the “regret” language.

But this wasn’t enough for Scalise. He made an effort to “defer” the bill in committee [it failed 11-2] and then he vocally yelled ‘no’ as the bill was passed on the House floor in an uncontroversial voice vote.

I know that we’re all supposed to make certain allowances for the way things used to be in the South, and, yes, 1996 was a long time ago. But even by the standards of the mid-1990’s, Steve Scalise was an outlier.

Let’s be clear, too, that this wasn’t an expression of regret for the more recent Jim Crow laws. This was about slavery. And Scalise wasn’t making some pedantic point about how it’s anachronistic to hold our ancestors to the moral standards of the present. He just didn’t think that there was anything to regret.

Dorsey, who now serves in the state Senate and goes by Yvonne Dorsey-Colomb, told The Hill this week that she was hurt when Scalise attacked her resolution in the House and Government Affairs Committee.

“I didn’t like what he said and how he said it. It was callous,” said Dorsey-Colomb, who is the descendant of slaves. “I think he wanted nothing to do with it. It was like, ‘How dare you bring this up and ask us to do this?’”

I remind you that Steve Scalise is the House Majority Whip, a position held in the past by folks like Dick Gephardt, Tom DeLay, Roy Blunt, Kevin McCarthy, and Steny Hoyer. Other relatively recent Republican (minority) whips include Eric Cantor, Trent Lott, Newt Gingrich, and Dick Cheney.

Scalise holds a position that is powerful in its own right, but it’s also a position that tends to lead places.

Yet, we’re told that Scalise isn’t actually a racist. We’re not told that he used to be a racist and then had some kind of epiphany like, say, Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia, who endorsed Barack Obama over Hillary Clinton. Basically, we’re just told that Scalise never was a racist despite the obvious fact that he behaved in an obviously racist way over the period of many years while serving in the Louisiana legislature.

As I’ve said before, pretending to be a racist isn’t somehow better than actually being a racist. In some ways, I think it is worse. I don’t like excuses that take the form of “that’s just what I had to do to get elected.”

But that’s the best excuse available to Scalise, and, in that case, he was too convincing as an actor.

If the GOP wants to carry this anvil, they’re welcome to it, but the nation deserves better than this. We have an example to set for the world, right?

This isn’t getting it done.


By: Martin Longman, Ten Miles Square, The Washington Monthly, January 15, 2015

January 18, 2015 Posted by | Racism, Slavery, Steve Scalise | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Servants Are Not Like Us”: Ferguson, Immigration, And ‘Us Vs Them’

In his brilliant book At Home: A Short History of Private Life, Bill Bryson describes the relationship between servants in mid-19th-century England and their masters/employers: “Perhaps the hardest part of the job was simply being attached to and dependent on people who didn’t think much of you….Servants constituted a class of humans whose existences were fundamentally devoted to making certain that another class of humans would find everything they desired within arm’s reach more or less the moment it occurred to them to desire it.” Poet Edna St. Vincent Millay, once poor herself, noted, “The only people I really hate are servants. They are not really human beings at all.”

It strikes me that many reactions we’ve seen to the events in Ferguson, Missouri, and President Obama’s recent executive action on Immigration are bound by a common attitude: ignorance, disregard, and dehumanization by a white majority of an underclass of people of color. The Caucasian (and rapidly shrinking) majority in America is largely ignorant of the lives led by African Americans and undocumented Hispanics. There seems to be a proactive disregard for knowing or caring about their lives and plight. And this ignorance and disregard are enabled through a dehumanizing of both groups—not overtly, of course (we at least know how not to sound racist)—and an attitude that all too often is in agreement with Millay’s sentiment that “they are not really human beings at all.”

Humankind has a really bad track record with those who are regarded as “other” by the majority. Perhaps the attitudes toward and treatment of those considered to be “other” have their roots in prehistory. When competing tribes of homo sapiens encountered one another, there was often survival payoff in regarding the opposing tribe as being utterly “other,” not like “us,” and to be resisted at all costs. Such sentiment is at the heart of every war.

There may even be a physiological basis to our apprehension about the “other.” After all, our bodies are hard wired to recognize the difference between “me” and “not me.” That is what allows us to recognize bacteria and other foreign matter in our bodies and answer with an aggressive immune system response which attacks and rids the body of these threats to our well-being.

The problem, of course, is that the “me vs. not me” response can serve us poorly in the more social sense. When we assign a primitive “not me” status to another individual or social group, it can—and does—take us down a destructive path. Taken to its logical conclusion, the “not me” judgment can lead us to regard other human beings as not human at all! And that is where the trouble really begins.

The disdain that masters once showed for their servants is today more apt to be played out systemically on a classification or group of people, rather than on individuals. “They” are not like “us.” I can remember during the Vietnam War, it was fairly common to hear Americans say about the Vietnamese (and Asians in general): “they just don’t value human life the way we do.” In other words, while we value our soldiers and remember that each one of them is a husband/son/father, the same humanity doesn’t apply to our enemies.

Broad generalizations are made about African-Americans, born out of attitudes from the days when slavery treated them as non-human chattel to be bought and sold, and Jim Crow laws perpetuated their status as underlings. Immigrants from Central America are characterized as brazen gold diggers who come here to “drop” their babies on American society and its social safety net.

Today’s hot debate about the fate of millions of undocumented people in America, most from countries to the south, belies a similar dehumanization. Opposition to the President’s executive order, and the resistance to dealing with immigration legislatively, both involve an inherent “they’re not like us” attitude. And yet, the yearning for a better life for oneself and one’s children—the overwhelming explanation given for coming north—is a sentiment known to every human being and family on earth. Yet, many do not find in this shared, human yearning a reason to regard immigrants as “like us” rather than “not like us.”

Oddly enough, many who hold this “not like us” attitude are religious people. And yet, a central teaching of the Abrahamic faiths—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—is that all human beings are children of God, equal in value and worth to God. Isn’t it strange that religious people would embrace a “not like us” stance toward people of color, in direct and overt opposition to the teaching of their religions, all the while claiming to be faithful adherents?

Religion could—and should—be part of the solution here, rather than part of the problem. Significantly, many churches are actively and aggressively advocating for the justice and compassion for those in our midst who are undocumented. Some churches are serving as “sanctuary” for those fleeing injustice—an encouraging return to a time when church buildings were “safe houses” for those fleeing unjust treatment by the authorities.

It is significant that President Obama alluded to scripture in making his case for better treatment for the undocumented in his executive action. In his address, the President noted, “We were strangers once, too.” Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures of the Old Testament, Jews are reminded that they too were once treated as strangers and “the other,” enslaved by Egypt, and in return must welcome the stranger and treat them with compassion and respect. And with the exception of Native Americans, all of us here in the United States came here as immigrants, as the President reminded us (making the case for “us” over “not like us”).

The outraged reaction all across America to the non-indictment of Officer Darren Wilson in the shooting of Michael Brown is an appropriate response to being treated as “other,” and “not really human beings at all.” That kind of treatment leads to rage—at first, quietly borne internally, and eventually erupting in an outward expression of sheer “out-rage”; that is, an outward expression of the rage within the victim of such treatment.

White America would do well to focus not on the burning of a couple of cars and vandalism (no one is excusing such behavior), but on the reasons such rage is felt in the first place. This has long stopped being primarily about the death of an unarmed young black man in St. Louis. It is about the victimization of an entire group of people at the hands of a white majority who views them as “other” and “not really human beings at all” in a country that has broken its promise of “liberty and justice for all.”

The secret to solving our immigration “problem,” as well as the “problems” posed by race in Ferguson and all across America, begins with overcoming our tendency to extrapolate from our obvious differences to a broader, more dangerous, “not like me” attitude that borders on complete dehumanization. Our wariness of difference and diversity all too often leads us into “not like me” thinking. Instead, we need to focus on the reality that although almost everyone is different from me in some respects, we remain far more alike than different.

At the end of the day, this is not “us versus them.” Because there is no “them.” Only “us.”


By: The Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress, Washington, DC; The Daily Beast, November 27, 2014

November 29, 2014 Posted by | Ferguson Missouri, Immigration Reform, Race and Ethnicity | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Thinking, Moral Person Doesn’t Defend Nostalgia For Jim Crow”: What Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson Can Teach Us About Empathy

Yes, I have something to add to the Duck Dynasty controversy, wherein reality TV star Phil Robertson got in trouble for expressing anti-gay views, was suspended by A&E, and has now become the cause celebre of nitwit conservative politicians from across the land. This won’t take long.

I’m not even going to bother addressing the idiocy of the “constitutional conservatives” who think the First Amendment guarantees you the legal right to (1) a cable reality show and (2) never be criticized for anything you say. Nor am I going to talk about Robertson’s anti-gay statement, except to say that nobody buys you couching your bigotry in “biblical” terms just because you call yourself a Christian and throw out some scriptural references. Once you start campaigning to have people who eat shellfish and the sinners who work on the Sabbath executed (the Bible says so!) then we’ll accept that you’re just honoring your religion.

It’s Robertson’s comments about how happy black people were living under Jim Crow that I want to focus on, because they have something to teach us about empathy and individual change. Ta-Nehisi Coates says what needs to be said about the actual reality of which Robertson was so blissfully unaware, but in case you haven’t seen it, here’s what Robertson said about the Louisiana of his youth:

“I never, with my eyes, saw the mistreatment of any black person. Not once. Where we lived was all farmers. The blacks worked for the farmers. I hoed cotton with them. I’m with the blacks, because we’re white trash. We’re going across the field…. They’re singing and happy. I never heard one of them, one black person, say, ‘I tell you what: These doggone white people’—not a word!… Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues.”

I don’t have trouble believing that Phil Robertson never saw the mistreatment of black people with his own eyes, so long as he’s thinking about mistreatment as dramatic things like lynchings and cross-burnings. Maybe as a child, he wasn’t aware of what life was like for black people in Louisiana in those days. But he isn’t a child anymore. He’s a 67-year-old man, and it’s 2013. And part of being a thoughtful adult is realizing that maybe the narrow world of your childhood, as seen through a child’s eyes, was not in fact the entire world. By now, Robertson has had plenty of opportunities to learn about the horror of the Jim Crow era. He can read, and I imagine he owns a television. It shouldn’t be news to him. We’ve had a rather lengthy discussion about it over the last half-century or so.

What Robertson is saying is, “Forget about all that—the real truth lies in what I saw, which is that the black people I knew didn’t complain to me about Jim Crow, so that means that for all intents and purposes it didn’t exist.” But empathy requires us to at least try to imagine that our own experiences might not be the same as everyone’s. Sometimes it even requires that we consider the possibility that our experiences, and the perspective we originally had on them, distort reality. If your neighbor let you borrow his shovel and you thought, “What a nice guy,” and then later you found out that he also used that shovel to bury the 14 runaways he murdered, you wouldn’t say, “He couldn’t be guilty, because he was a nice guy who once lent me his shovel.” You’d understand that the shovel-lending, nice though it may have seemed at the time, didn’t accurately reflect his entire person.

And they may not like it, but white people who grew up in the South during Jim Crow have an extra responsibility to reflect on their own experience, their youthful perspective, and the reality so many people endured. They lived under a terrorist regime that treated them quite well while it committed horrific crimes against their fellow citizens. It may not be fair to say to someone today, “You should have stood against it,” particularly if they were young at the time. But it is fair to say that they now need to understand what it truly was, and if in 2013 they still think that blacks were “singing and happy” before they got welfare and turned all uppity, then they need to wake up.

OK, so I will say one more thing about the conservatives now rallying to Robertson’s cause. The way a thinking, moral person would react to his statements is to say, “Listen, I may not agree with his views about certain things, but he’s only one character on that program, and there’s a lot of value there.” A thinking, moral person doesn’t defend nostalgia for Jim Crow and compare gay people to those who commit bestiality. If you want to love this particular sinner but hate his sin, you’ve got to acknowledge the sin. And my conservative friends, the next time you’re wondering why gay people, black people, and pretty much anybody who is a minority of any kind all consider you intolerant? It isn’t liberals unfairly maligning you. It’s this kind of thing.


By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, December 20, 2013


December 22, 2013 Posted by | Bigotry, Racism | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

%d bloggers like this: