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“Winning Against The Oligarchs”: Getting Just A Fraction Of The 94 Million Adults Who Didn’t Vote In 2012 To Start Casting Ballots

Last week our Supreme Court let stand Wisconsin governor Scott Walker’s voter suppression law, one of a host of such laws enacted in the North from Idaho to Michigan to New Hampshire, and everywhere below the Mason-Dixon Line.

Do not be lulled into inaction by that decision. Do not accept that a rich minority will rule America and remake it to their liking. Even with faithful allies on the Supreme Court, the oligarchs win only if you let them.

The factual basis for this and other decisions upholding voter suppression laws is specious, especially for the kind of photo identification requirements at the polling booth that Walker signed into law. Rigorous research into voter impersonation, the only illegal voting technique which photo identification can stop, found just 10 cases in America from 2000 to summer 2012.

Walker is, of course, a loyal vassal of the Koch brothers and their confreres, who works diligently to impose their minority views through laws under which all of us must live.

Those rules include low taxes for oligarchs and enabling dynastic wealth; diminishing worker rights, job safety laws and reliable pensions; repealing environmental protections while tightly restricting your right to challenge polluters in court; and gutting public education at every level while converting universities from centers of inquiry into job-training programs.

All of this can be stopped. All that is required is getting just a fraction of the 94 million adults who did not vote in 2012 to start casting ballots.

Poll after survey after focus group shows little public support for Kochian ideas, especially when they are described in neutral and accurate language.

A plethora of polls shows broad support for progressive policies including higher tax rates on million-dollar-plus incomes and stopping corporate welfare. Three of four Republicans favor increasing Social Security benefits, yet congressional Republicans — and scared Democrats — are moving to cut them at the behest of the ultra-wealthy and their minions.

Making majority wishes into law will be more difficult in the near term thanks to a series of Supreme Court and lower court rulings since 2008. The courts have shown expansive tolerance for a wide variety of voter suppression laws. And the judiciary has done nothing to stop voter-roll purging so ham-handed that former congressman Lincoln Davis was among 70,000 Tennesseans barred from voting in 2012.

Two years ago, on a 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court nullified a key provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Chief Justice John Glover Roberts Jr. declared, “Our country has changed.”  We saw change immediately. Southern state legislatures changed their laws to make sure fewer black Americans voted or did so in heavily black jurisdictions.

The important lesson here is that just sitting back and accepting these rulings, behaving as if you are powerless, would be a disaster for five and possibly all six noble purposes of our nation.

Yes, the voting standards the court majority has set, often by a one-vote margin, make it easier for a shrinking minority to impose its will. But it does not mean that minority will impose its will.

The unlimited money that the Supreme Court ruled can legally be poured into election campaigns under Citizens United is a threat to democracy.

That 2010 decision expanded campaign finance loopholes so much that the ban on government contractors donating to politicians has evaporated. Oil giant Chevron was among those contractors making huge contributions to politicians loyal to them by funneling the money through affiliates called LLCs, limited liability corporations.

Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey said last October that if Republicans won 2014 gubernatorial elections, they could control “voting mechanisms.”

“Would you rather have Rick Scott in Florida overseeing the voting mechanism, or Charlie Crist? Would you rather have Scott Walker in Wisconsin overseeing the voting mechanism, or would you rather have Mary Burke? Who would you rather have in Ohio, John Kasich or Ed FitzGerald?” Christie, the president of the Republican Governors Association, told the U.S. Chamber of Commerce last October.

About the only thing the courts will not abide is honesty by those who sponsor laws to rig elections by suppressing voters.

Anyone who doubts that should click on this brief 2012 video of Mike Turzai, the Pennsylvania House Republican leader. Turzai told the party faithful that his state’s voter ID law “is going to allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania.”

A state judge struck down that law and savvy GOP politicians decided not to appeal. Romney then lost Pennsylvania by more than 5 percentage points, evidently because the majority was not suppressed.

The awful truth is this: So long as politicians don’t boast about their real intentions, they can enact voting laws that rig elections in favor of an influence-buying minority that cannot win any other way.

So that’s the lesson.  What are you going to do about it? Yes, you. Not somebody else. You.

You have more than enough power to make sure that we do not head back toward the rules of the late 19th century, when hunger and disease ravaged the poor, as Jacob Riis documented in How the Other Half Lives.  We need not indulge the vanity and greed of men like Henry Clay Frick, which grew so unrestrained that on a single day his pleasures cost more than 2,200 lives.

People just like you got women the right to vote, child labor laws, collective bargaining laws, and environmental laws. It took time. Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton devoted their whole lives to suffrage. But in the end they and others persuaded male office holders to extend voting rights to women.

Will you do what is required to reverse our slide into the awful grip of a 21st-century oligarchy?

It’s not that hard. Really. And it does not require much money, either.

What it does require is these virtues — focus, diligence, and persistence.

There is one more crucial element: persuasion. That means winning people over by showing them a better alternative than the slickly marketed Kochian vision that sounds appealing unless you understand that it means a future in which a few gain at the expense of the many.

Making fun of the often laughable and crazy statements of Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Michele Bachmann, Mike Huckabee, and their like is counterproductive. It makes people think they are being looked down upon, including many people who do not share those laughable and crazy ideas, but are put off by the way progressives talk.

A better vision is a society where we all gain if we work, save, and act prudently, and where we all share the burden of caring for those who cannot care for themselves.

A better vision is one in which the bottom 120 million Americans own more than a third of one percentage point of all assets. A better vision is one where corporations are vehicles to encourage risk taking and wealth creation, not tools to mine the public treasury, pick consumer pockets, and stealthily prosper on the dole.

What is required to achieve a vibrant, free and broadly prosperous America is this:

  • Register millions of people to vote, paying scrupulous attention to both the registration rules and following up to make sure the names actually show up on the voting rolls.
  • Maintain contact with these new voters, which can be done at low cost with emails, neighborhood meetings and knocking on doors.
  • Get people to the polls on Election Day and, where it is still allowed, help them vote in advance.
  • Tell politicians you support to stop wasting money on television and radio ads, which are sold at the highest rates, and to invest most of their campaign dollars into getting out the vote.

Going along with the television and radio ad game is playing by the Koch brothers’ rules. That is a contest they will win because they have the money. Instead, do what the Kochs and other smart businesspeople do: Change the game. Play your own game. And don’t worry about right-wing voter registration drives, because numerous polls show that among those not voting, their appeal is narrow, while yours is broad.

It would also help to organize supporters to follow watchdog news outlets, an issue for a future column.

As a guest on call-in radio and answering audience questions after my many lectures across the country, I hear a constant refrain that nothing can be done, that the anti-democratic interests are so rich and powerful that they must win.

Wrong. That’s utter nonsense. Don’t think like a victim. Take charge.

America is still the democratic republic where the majority of people who cast ballots choose our elected leaders. Get more people to the polls on the only day that counts – Election Day – and we can change everything for the better.

All that is necessary is for you to do the work.


By: David Cay Johnston, The National Memo, March 28, 2015

March 30, 2015 Posted by | Election 2016, Oligarchs, Voter Suppression | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“In Service Of Ideological Gain”: Chris Christie Just Exposed His Entire Party’s Deceitful Voter Suppression Plan

Every now and again a Republican state party operative or elected official will drop the ruse and admit that the purpose of state-level voter restrictions isn’t to curtail voter impersonation fraud or to cut election costs, but to keep the wrong kinds of people from voting.

Usually the admission is purely cynical, as when Pennsylvania’s House Majority Leader Mike Turzai said, “Voter ID … is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania.” (It didn’t.) Other times it’s suffused with racism—the forefather of vote suppression—as when Don Yelton, then a Republican precinct chairman from North Carolina, appeared on “The Daily Show” last year to announce that “the law is going to kick the Democrats in the butt… If it hurts a bunch of lazy blacks that want the government to give them everything, so be it.”

Governors, senators and national operatives are better at keeping a lid on this kind of candor. But as evidence that voter fraud is a right-wing superstition mounts, alongside evidence that the GOP’s remedies measurably suppress the vote, savvier arguments for voting restrictions are reducing toward either naked appeals like Turzai’s and Yelton’s or toward a kind of post-modernist denial of objective reality in service of ideological gain.

“Would you rather have Rick Scott in Florida overseeing the voting mechanism, or Charlie Crist?” New Jersey Governor Chris Christie asked this week at a Chamber of Commerce event in Washington. “Would you rather have Scott Walker in Wisconsin overseeing the voting mechanism, or would you rather have Mary Burke? Who would you rather have in Ohio, John Kasich or Ed FitzGerald?”

Christie went on, “The fact is it doesn’t matter if you don’t really care what happens in these states, you’re going to care about who is running the state in November of 2016, what kind of political apparatus they’ve set up and what kind of governmental apparatus they’ve set up to ensure a full and fair election in 2016.”

By no coincidence, Republicans in each of those states have already imposed disenfranchising restrictions, which makes it clear that Christie sees these kinds of laws as an existential necessity, the key to Republican self-perpetuation. In Christie’s mind, American election outcomes are a direct function of partisan control of states. Republicans, who “oversee the voting mechanisms,” need to win so that they can continue to “oversee the voting mechanisms.” If they don’t win now, they’ll lose control of the voting mechanisms ahead of an election in which fundamentals will favor the Democrats, and be doomed.

There’s a blinkered and an unblinkered way to interpret such a view. The former—a more generous interpretation—is that Christie believes, against all evidence, that when Republicans lose control of the voting apparatus, fraud becomes rampant and cheaters swing elections to Democrats. The latter, to quote the Washington Monthly’s Ed Kilgore, is that Christie is “treating the right to vote as discretionary, depending on [his] party’s needs, which makes voter suppression just another day at the office”—that he believes Republicans must cheat to win now, so that they can live to cheat another day.

Neither of these readings flatters Christie. If the extent of voter fraud were an open question, Christie could make a real, but contestable case that GOP-backed voting restrictions yield election outcomes that more closely resemble the will of the voting public. But this is not an open question. What we know about voter fraud, and the right’s insistence on fighting it by limiting the franchise, makes its anti-fraud agenda a mirror image of its rejection of climate science. Republicans oppose the regulatory remedies to climate change, so they question its existence. They support the regulatory remedies to voter fraud, so they insist it exists.

In that way, voter fraud is the dark matter of Republican politics. Except that unlike dark matter, whose existence can be inferred from the way it tugs at the outer stars of our galaxy, the only way to infer that voter fraud swings elections to Democrats is to stipulate that Democratic victories are intrinsically aberrant.

This, again, is the charitable view. The simpler view is that Christie et al understand that voting restrictions suppress the Democratic vote, and see that as a feature rather than a bug. Either way, it suggests that conservatives will cling to the voter fraud myth, in the same way they cling to the myth that upper-bracket income tax cuts pay for themselves; or that they will posit the exact same voter suppression tactics as the solution to other problems, real or imagined.

Earlier this week, Vox’s Matthew Yglesias reprised his argument for building a movement to create a constitutional right to vote. The argument has three prongs. A Voting Rights Amendment would serve as a valuable organizing tool, until adopted; if adopted, it would flip the burden on Republicans, to demonstrate that their efforts to restrict voting don’t violate the Constitution; and it would be hard to defeat along the way, because the substantive and moral arguments for a Voting Rights Amendment are incontestable. Pair it with a national Election Day holiday, and Republicans would have a much harder time sculpting the electorate. The alternative is that Democrats will continue to expend tremendous energy and capital to beat back tactics Republicans are unlikely to abandon on their own.


By: Brian Beutler, The New Republic, October 22, 2014

October 25, 2014 Posted by | Chris Christie, Democracy, Voter Suppression | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“An Illegitimate Power Structure”: To Defeat GOP’s Restrictive Voting Laws, Debunk ‘Voter Fraud’

Growing up in Jim Crow Arkansas, Bill Clinton saw how the state’s dominant political and racial elite maintained power by suppressing the rights of minority voters who threatened their authority – and as a young activist worked to bring down that illegitimate power structure. So when Clinton says “There is no greater assault on our core values than the rampant efforts to restrict the right to vote” – as he does in a new video released by the Democratic National Committee – the former president knows of what he speaks.

In the segregationist South of Clinton’s youth, the enemies of the universal franchise were Democrats, but times have changed. Not just below the Mason-Dixon line but across the country, it is Republicans who have sought to limit ballot access and discourage participation by minorities, the poor, the young, and anyone else who might vote for a Democratic candidate.

No doubt that is why, at long last, the Democratic Party has launched a national organizing project, spearheaded by Clinton, to educate voters, demand reforms, and push back against restrictive laws. Returning to his role as the nation’s “explainer-in-chief,” Clinton may be able to draw public attention to the travesty of voter ID requirements and all the other tactics of suppression used by Republicans to shrink the electorate.

His first task is to debunk the claims of  “voter fraud” fabricated by Republican legislators and right-wing media outlets as the rationale for restrictive laws. Lent a spurious credibility by the legendary abuses of old-time political machines, those claims make voter suppression seem respectable and even virtuous.

Some years ago the Brennan Center for Justice, based at New York University and led by former Clinton speechwriter Michael Waldman, issued a 45-page report on voter fraud that remains definitive. “There have been a handful of substantiated cases of individual ineligible voters attempting to defraud the election system,” the report noted. “But by any measure, voter fraud is extraordinarily rare.” And because fraud is so unusual, GOP counter-measures such as voter ID do much more harm than good.

As the Brennan Center study noted, even some Republicans know that their leaders have exaggerated stories of fraud for partisan advantage. In 2007, the Houston Chronicle quoted Royal Masset, the former political director of the Texas Republican Party, who observed that among Republicans it is “an article of religious faith that voter fraud is causing us to lose elections.” Masset admitted that suspicion is false, but said he believed that requiring voters to provide photo ID could sufficiently reduce participation by legitimate Democratic voters to add three percent to Republican tallies.

More recently  one of the dimmer lights in the Pennsylvania Republican Party – the majority leader of the state House of Representatives, in fact – boasted that the voter ID statute he had rammed through the legislature would  “allow Governor Romney to win the election” in November 2012. Although Mike Turzai later insisted that “there has been a history of voter fraud in Pennsylvania,” the state government conceded in court that it could cite no evidence showing that “in-person voter fraud has in fact occurred in Pennsylvania or elsewhere.”

Clinton can also consult the President’s Commission on Election Administration, a bipartisan panel appointed by President Obama to improve the country’s voting systems. In its final report issued last January, the commission forthrightly acknowledged that true voter fraud is “rare.” It was a singular admission by a group whose co-chairs included Benjamin Ginsberg, an aggressive Republican election attorney who bears the burden of responsibility for the outcome of Bush-Gore 2000.

If he is in a bipartisan mood, as he often is, Clinton would surely find the commission’s report uplifting – especially its recommendations to make voting more modern, more efficient, and above all more accessible. For both parties to improve and expand the democratic rights of citizens would be uplifting indeed.

But Clinton is more likely to find himself feeling less kindly toward the Republicans, as they continue to promote outrageous suppression while feigning outrage over “fraud.” The Democrats may be equally motivated by partisan self-interest – but so long as they defend the rights of the intimidated and the disenfranchised, their moral force will be undiminished.

By: Joe Conason, The National Memo, February 28, 2014

March 1, 2014 Posted by | GOP, Voter Fraud, Voter Suppression | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Suppressing The Vote”: For The GOP, “Integrity Of The Ballot” Is A Deceptive Myth

Now that the U.S. Supreme Court’s hyper-conservative faction has neutered the Voting Rights Act, Republican officials around the country have re-energized their campaign to block citizens of color from voting.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott surprised no one last week when he announced that he would resume a controversial and clearly partisan purge of the voting rolls, supposedly to clear them of non-citizens. Nor is there any shock in the decisions by officials in Texas, Alabama and Mississippi to proceed with harsh new voter ID laws.

While Republicans contend the new laws and purges are necessary to protect the integrity of the ballot, that stale defense no longer merits extensive debate. It’s obvious that GOP activists have but one purpose in changing laws that affect voting and registration: putting up obstacles that might suppress the franchise among voters who usually support Democrats.

Actually, a few have admitted as much. Last year, Republican Mike Turzai, House majority leader in the Pennsylvania legislature, bragged about the passage of a strict new voter ID law, claiming it would “allow Gov. Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania.” Though Romney lost Pennsylvania on his way to overall defeat, the state’s GOP chairman still said earlier this year that voter ID “probably helped a bit” in cutting President Obama’s margin of victory from 2008.

A similar admission came from Republican campaign consultant Scott Tranter when he spoke at a post-election analysis hosted last December by the Pew Center on the States. He dismissed the idea of bipartisan cooperation to eliminate the long lines and other dismal conditions that had plagued voting in many areas.

“… At the end of the day, a lot of us are campaign professionals and we want to do everything we can to help our sides. Sometimes we think that’s voter ID, sometimes we think that’s longer lines, whatever it may be,” Tranter said.

Not that you needed those admissions to know that the GOP-led campaign to “protect the integrity of the ballot” is phony, the 21st-century version of the poll tax. Remember when Alan Wilson, South Carolina’s Republican attorney general, claimed last year that hundreds of dead people had voted in his state?

Ah, never happened. As you might expect, zombies have little interest in electoral politics. State authorities investigated and found no — zip, zero, zilch — zombie voters there.

Wilson made his claims in defense of a strict new voter ID law, one of the GOP’s more popular methods for suppressing the franchise. Supposedly, the requirement for showing state-sponsored identification, such as a driver’s license, would prohibit not only the dead but also other unworthies who claim to be legitimate voters. There is just one problem with that theory: Voter impersonation is virtually non-existent.

But voter ID laws do serve the purpose for which they are actually intended. They pose an obstacle for thousands of elderly and poor Americans who lack driver’s licenses, most of whom tend to support Democrats.

Florida, where Scott is proceeding with his purge, is a particularly interesting case. According to Florida Democratic strategist Steve Schale, the state has gained 1.5 million registered voters since 2006. Of those, 61 percent are blacks or Latinos, both strong constituencies for the Democratic Party. It’s no wonder, then, that Florida Republicans have worked so hard to block the franchise among those voters.

You may have noticed, though, that voter suppression hasn’t helped the GOP win presidential elections in the last two cycles. Indeed, their tactics may have given Obama the winning edge in Florida in 2012: Black voters were so angered by obvious attempts to discourage them from voting that they turned out in huge numbers, enduring long lines.

Given that reality, some conservatives believe the GOP should give up its emphasis on blocking the ballot. As The New York Times‘ Ross Douthat has written: “the GOP is … sending a message to African-Americans that their suspicions about conservatism are basically correct, and that rather than actually doing outreach to blacks, the right would rather not have them vote at all.”

Indeed, there is no reason for black voters to believe anything else.


By: Cynthia Tucker, The National Memo, August 11, 2013

August 12, 2013 Posted by | Voting Rights | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“It Ain’t Over Till It’s Over”: Pennsylvania GOP To Reconsider Electoral-Vote Scheme

Republican Mike Turzai, Pennsylvania’s House Majority Leader, made quite a name for himself over the summer when he boasted that the state’s voter-ID law, ostensibly about the integrity of the electoral process, “is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania.”

That plan didn’t go well — courts rejected the voter-suppression effort and President Obama won the Keystone State with relative ease. But Turzai isn’t done rolling out election schemes (via my colleague Laura Conaway).

A Pennsylvania lawmaker is proposing making the state the only one to divide its electoral votes based on a presidential candidate’s percentage of public support, a method that would have helped Republican Mitt Romney on Nov. 6.

Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, a Republican from Chester, wants to replace the winner-take-all system, which gave President Barack Obama the state’s 20 electoral votes, with one that divides them to reflect the proportion of votes cast for each candidate. His method would have awarded 12 votes to Obama and eight to Romney had it been in force this year.

It’s understandable that Pennsylvania Republicans would consider efforts like these, and Pileggi’s proposal reportedly has the support of Gov. Tom Corbett (R). The Democratic presidential candidate has won the state six of the six elections, and it’s easier to rig the system then earn public support.

But as I wrote about a year ago, that doesn’t make efforts like these any less ugly. As Ian Millhiser explained, “Pileggi’s plan is nothing more than a proposal to steal electoral votes that are overwhelmingly likely to be awarded to the Democratic candidate under the current system and give them away to the Republican candidate.”

Last year, this identical effort fizzled when congressional Republicans balked fearing the shift might endanger their seats. The fact that Pileggi is back at it, however, suggests the state GOP takes the plan seriously, and is well worth watching.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, December 5, 2012

December 6, 2012 Posted by | Elections, Politics | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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