Sunday, September 16, 2012

Rep. John Lewis Offers A Personal History On Voter Suppression

Meteor Blade for Daily Kos

One of my few heroes who happens to be the congressman from my birth state of Georgia, Rep. John Lewis, a Freedom Rider in 1961, gave a brief and eloquent speech about voter suppression at the Democratic National Convention this week. Too bad it got so little attention in the convention hall, the media or the blogosphere.

Lewis was, in 1964, one of the organizers of the voting registration project called Freedom Summer in which I participated 48 years ago. This man put his life on the line for liberty not in a foreign land but right in America, fighting non-violently for an end to Jim Crow and for the right of black Americans to exercise the vote they supposedly had won after the Civil War.

In the first part of the video below, he briefly describes his experience half a century ago. In the second half, which I have transcribed, he talks about what is happening these days. Seven very worthwhile minutes:

Today it is unbelievable that there are Republican officials still trying to stop some people from voting. They are changing the rules, cutting polling hours and imposing requirements intended to suppress the vote. The Republican leader in the Pennsylvania House even bragged that his state’s new voter ID law is “gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state.” That’s not right. That’s not fair. That is not just.

And similar efforts have been made in Texas, Ohio, Florida, Wisconsin, Arizona, Georgia and South Carolina. I’ve seen this before. I’ve lived this before. Too many people struggled, suffered and died to make it possible for every American to exercise their right to vote.

And we have come too far together to ever turn back. So we must not be silent. We must stand up, speak up and speak out. We must march to the polls like never before. We must come together and exercise our sacred right. And together, on November 6, we will re-elect the man who will lead America forward: President Barack Obama.

Charles Pierce at Esquire had quite a lot to say about Lewis's talk, which he summed up rather well with:

The country's dead-level, frustrated and angry, but not necessarily motivated, and a substantial number of people think the whole thing is a waste and an equally substantial number believe that it's not on the square. If I were running the president's campaign, I'd shut the hell up about Simpsonp-fking-Bowles and put John Lewis on an airplane and let him tell his story in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and everywhere else this atavistic authoritarian nonsense is going down. There's more at risk here than anyone knows.

(Continue reading below the fold.)

In the news

Ohio secretary of state stops ignoring court order on early voting: Jon Husted, the Republican secretary of state in Ohio, discovered this week that it's a bad idea to ignore a court order. He changed his mind about having done so Friday. And probably his underwear. In a new filing, he apologized to federal district court Judge John Economus and sought a stay of the judge's ruling pending an appeal. Something he should have done in the first place.

Economus ruled last Friday that Ohio must reinstate early-voting hours on the three days right before the election. The GOP-dominated state legislature had eliminated those pre-election voting hours after increased turnout spurred by the expanded hours gave Democrats some unexpected victories in Ohio.

After the ruling, Husted issued a directive to county election boards not to prepare for early voting on those three days until an appeals court made its ruling on the district court's decision. Judge Economus responded to the move with a court order for Husted to appear at a Sept. 13 hearing to explain himself.

Husted's move had been brought to the judge's attention by papers filed by Obama for America.

According to the documents he filed Friday, Husted stated that he had a "duty to comply" with the federal court order and apologized for giving the "misimpression" that he intended otherwise by issuing his directive, which he has now rescinded.

"… [T]he secretary has since learned that the court views the directive as inconsistent with the order. The secretary would never intentionally contravene an order issued by the federal district court or any other court—and this case is no exception."

Voter registration drives adopting new methods:

The Associated Press reports that restrictive new laws are driving voter registration campaigns to innovate. They are now using data mining, direct mail and social media to register those Americans, like the young and ethnic minorities, who are less likely to be registered and may encounter obstacles in trying to do so.

"This is a new effort since the 2000 election," said University of Florida political scientist Daniel Smith. "Technology has made it more cost-effective. [...] When you have upwards of 40 percent of eligible populations not registered, there is a market for this kind of work." [...]

"We have seen a systematic coordinated attack on voting rights across the nation," said Marvin Randolph of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. "We've had to work harder to make sure that people have access to the ability to register and vote and we've had to be more aggressive and innovative."

Republicans Losing Election Law War As Balloting Nears.

Pennsylvania voter-ID ad irks some legislators:

Pennsylvania state Rep. Babette Josephs, a Democrat, is not happy with an ad that she says calls citizens' patriotism into question. At the end of the 30-second spot, a woman says, “If you care about this country, it’s time to show it.” A spokesman for the Pennsylvania State Department for whom the ad was created by an outside consulting firm said nobody in the department who had seen the ad found it offensive. Josephs wants state's Republican administration to pull it.

Justice Department approves New Hamphire voter-ID law:

The Republican-dominated state legislature in New Hampshire won a victory this week when it gained approval from the U.S. Department of Justice of a voter-ID law it had adopted over the veto of Gov. John Lynch, a Democrat. The law requires voters to show a photo ID to vote, but if they don't have one, they can still cast a ballot.

“The public understands that you have to show an ID to get on a plane, train, some commercial buildings, even to go into the Democratic National Convention this week,” [New Hampshire House Speaker William] O’Brien said in an interview. “At the end of the day, this is not going to be seen as an imposition to voters but something that protects the honesty and integrity of their franchise.”

In the primary, which is Sept. 11, voters without an ID can vote just on their say-so. Come the general election in November, however, they will need to sign a one-page affidavist swearing that they are who they claim to be and live at the address they say they do under penalty of perjury. The affidavit was modified to exclude questions about a voter's citizenship status after the governor vetoed the original law in June. Clerks had complained that the time required to answer the questions would clog voter queues.

For this election seven different kinds of photo ID are deemed acceptable. At the next election, only four will be. College student IDs will be among those dropped, something voter advocacy groups such as the League of Women Voters argue is discriminatory.

Yale history professor David Blight makes a modest voter suppression proposal to Republicans. He points out that the great abolitionist Frederick Douglass had to use a false name to vote in the 1840s until his friends purchased his freedom for $711, permitting him to vote legally as a free black citizen in Massachusetts after paying a $1.50 registration fee. Neither he nor other African Americans could vote in most states, North or South, at the time.

With several states now imposing voter suppression in the form of overly restrictive photo ID requirements and cutting back on early voting hours that particularly benefit working-class minorities, Blight suggests:

To those potentially millions of young, elderly, brown and black registered voters who, despite no evidence of voter fraud, they now insist must obtain government ID, why not merely offer money? Pay them not to vote. Give each a check for $711 in honor of Frederick Douglass. Buy their “freedom,” and the election. Call it the “Frederick Douglass Voter Voucher.”

Give people a choice: take the money and just not vote, or travel miles without easy transportation to obtain a driver’s license they do not need. It’s their “liberty”; let them decide how best to use it. Perhaps they will forget their history as much as the Republican Party seems to wish the nation would.

Iowa judge hears arguments over voter purge law

A suit brought against the state of Iowa's voter-purge law by American Civil Liberties Union and the League of United Latin American Citizens got a hearing Thursday in a Polk County court. The groups seek to block Republican Secretary of State Matt Schultz from implementing special, emergency rules he put into place without the usual public input such changes require. Attorneys for the groups say there are already adequate remedies for voter fraud and that the new rules should not be allowed without public comment.

One new rule would allow Schultz to remove voters from Iowa's registration database by comparing that list against a state Department of Transportation list and a federal immigration list. Anyone who voted or registered to vote who appears on the DOT database with no U.S. citizenship would be cross-referenced with a federal immigration database. If it is shown they are not citizens, they will be notified that they will be removed from voter rolls and given an opportunity to prove citizenship.

The second rule Schultz enacted would allow anyone to anonymously report allegations of voter fraud. Current law requires complainants to sign a sworn statement and risk prosecution if they falsely allege fraud.

Schultz claims that 1,200 non-citizens voted in 2010 based on a comparison of the lists. But lawyers seeking to block the rules say that the transportation department rolls are only updated every five years and therefore many of those lists as non-citizens could be citizens by now.