|Number 503||March 13, 2012|
This Week: Voter Suppression in 2012
Did somebody say something about a "post-racial" society? I don't know who would even want such a thing, but this issue of the Notes gives a hint of how far we are from that fantasy. If it's true that Jim Crow is (mostly) dead, it has been replaced by James Crow, Esquire.
I was struck during my recent vacation in rural Texas by the amount of information I received about the Republican presidential campaign. But even more striking was the absence of so much important news that is routinely displaced by this "horse-race" coverage. Perhaps the most important news that is being displaced is the story of the widespread attack on voting rights that is going on even as I type these words. Aimed largely at people of color, the nationwide attempts to suppress the vote are putting up barriers to voting that also will keep out voters who are poor, elderly, and young. I would be the last one to say that the radical change we need is going to come through the ballot box. At the same time, the concerted effort to block the vote by people who are likely to vote the "wrong" way is so overt and extreme that it offers a great opportunity for organizing, if we only take it.
I expect that this extra-long issue of Nygaard Notes will be the first of I-don't-know-how-many issues that will focus on different aspects of what perhaps is THE issue of the 2012 election season: Voter Suppression. I'd love to hear your responses to it.
Elsewhere in this issue of the Notes is an article featuring some of the main points of a major study released on December 5, 2011 by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). It's called "Defending Democracy: Confronting Modern Barriers to Voting Rights in America." The introduction states, in part:
"In all, 14 states have passed 25 various measures designed to restrict or limit the ballot access of voters of color, threatening to disfranchise millions of people, a disproportionate number of whom are people of color.
"Since the ratification of the 15th Amendment [in 1870] and, later, the Voting Rights Act [in 1965], we have been summoned to fight to protect the power and potential of the African-American vote from attempts to undermine the promise of democracy. Not surprisingly, the states with the highest voter turnout among people of color in the 2008 elections and the highest population growth among voters of color are the states pushing the most restrictive voting laws in the past year.
"Whether these measures target voter registration, third-party voter registration drives, absentee or early voting, people with felony convictions, or simply make it more difficult for registered voters to cast their ballots on Election Day, they all threaten to keep voters of color from exercising the fundamental right that is preservative of all other legal rights."
Read the full 72-page report HERE.
"We are experiencing an assault on voting rights that is historic, both in its scope and its intensity. This assault—which was launched to affect the 2012 elections, as well as future ones—threatens to undermine the record levels of political participation achieved during the historic 2008 Presidential Election, by suppressing the political participation of people of color, the poor, the elderly, and the young."
Thus begins a major report called "Defending Democracy: Confronting Modern Barriers to Voting Rights in America." Released on December 5, 2011 by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Report takes a comprehensive look around the United States, bringing into focus a very sinister pattern of voter-suppression efforts currently underway. Most of these "block the vote" efforts highlighted here are occurring at the state level, making the overall national pattern somewhat difficult to see. And the institution that should be helping us to see the pattern—the national media—is not doing its job. Despite inundating us with non-stop coverage of the upcoming elections, the NAACP report—a major, 72-page document—has been almost completely ignored by the corporate media in this country. The strength of the NAACP report (and the reason it deserves to be widely reported) is precisely the fact that it brings together a wide range of facts that serve to expose the larger picture. (That's why this collection of excerpts is so long; so the pattern can be clearly seen.)
The NAACP states that "we have created this report as a tool to sound the alarm, to inform voters, and to initiate a campaign to protect the free and equal exercise of our right to vote." To aid in that effort, I offer here some extensive excerpts from the Report. The quotations that follow are just a small sample of what appears in the Report, and the quotations do not necessarily appear in the order that they were presented.
On page 11 we read that "Recently, states have enacted a broad array of voting restrictions and discriminatory laws or have otherwise impeded political participation." The Report notes that the efforts are occurring in four general areas: 1. At the voter registration stage; 2. At the early voting stage; 3. On Election Day itself, and; 4. In the courts, where the Voting Rights Act of 1965 is "under heavy attack, with five constitutional challenges currently before the federal courts."
I: Blocking the Vote at the Voter Registration Stage
"Since the substantial 2008 voter turnout and the 2010 Census, and in advance of the 2012 federal elections, states are narrowing voters' ability to register in various ways. [These efforts] comprise the primary impediment to voting, as evidence shows that making voter registration more difficult means that fewer people will register."
"Among other things, several states in 2011: (1) placed restrictions on important voter registration channels; (2) limited when, where, and for how long voters can register; (3) enhanced registration eligibility requirements; (4) broadened the reach of laws that deny the vote to people with felony convictions; and (5) improperly purged voters from the registration roles."
In 2011 Florida and Texas passed "measures that place restrictions on nonpartisan, nonprofit organizations that conduct voter registration drives." The Report notes that, as one might expect, "Registration groups typically focus their resources on providing assistance to communities that face the greatest barriers to registration and voting." Thus, "restrictions that force third-party voter registration organizations to scale back their efforts will disproportionately impact African-American and Latino voters, who are much more likely to register to vote through such drives."
The Report notes that states that offer same-day registration "lead the nation in turnout, historically boasting turnout rates ten to twelve percentage points higher than those states that do not. . . . Nevertheless, many states are restricting the ability of voters to register on, or on the days leading up to, Election Day. These registration barriers primarily impede individuals who move frequently, a subset of the population that is disproportionately comprised of minorities." The Report states that "Many individuals have . . . been forced to move in the wake of the foreclosure crisis, which has not had even across-all-group effects," adding that "As a result, state measures that shorten the period of time prior to an election during which an individual can register or update his registration information after a move will be formidable obstacles for minority voters."
It was in this context that Florida, Maine, Ohio, and Wisconsin in 2011, "enacted a variety of measures that limit when a person can register to vote or update registration information." Similar legislation in North Carolina is pending, a New Hampshire bill failed to pass, and in Montana a bill passed but was vetoed by the governor.
"Several states, including Louisiana, Georgia, and Texas are failing to comply with their obligation under the [National Voting Registration Act] to provide voter registration services to low-income constituents at state public assistance agencies [where] African Americans and Latinos have registered to vote . . . three times as frequently as white voters. . . ."
"Florida, Maine, Ohio, and Wisconsin enacted laws restricting the time and/or place at which a person can register to vote. Ohio eliminated a one-week period during which a person could register to vote and cast a ballot at the same time, a restriction expected to have a disproportionate effect on minority voters."
"Alabama, Kansas, and Tennessee enacted documentary proof of citizenship requirements [which] official documents that actually establish citizenship are limited to items such as an original birth certificate, naturalization papers, or a passport. . . . Millions of citizens do not have such documents. . . . Minorities will bear the brunt of proof of citizenship laws because they are the least likely to have ready access to citizenship documents. . ."
Here's a great example of some simple facts that never, ever occur to a lot of white people: "In fact, for many citizens, these documents simply do not exist. Individuals born on reservations or outside a hospital, for example, may never have been issued official birth documents, or original documents may have been destroyed over the years." The laws "have a uniquely burdensome impact on elderly African-American voters, many of whom, because they were born when de jure segregation prevented equal access to hospitals, simply do not have a birth certificate. Thus, many elderly African Americans are, by virtue of their race and the history of racial discrimination in this country, entirely incapable of satisfying the requirements of these laws."
"Several states, such as Florida and Mississippi, are also improperly purging voters from the registration rolls. Purge programs purport to maintain the purity of voter registration lists by removing the names of individuals ineligible to vote in that state or jurisdiction, but too often disqualify eligible voters. For example, in Florida, a flawed purge program erroneously flagged and purged 12,000 voters (mostly due to typos and other obvious clerical errors). Over 70% of those flagged voters were African American or Latino."
II: Blocking the Vote at the Early and Absentee Voting Stage
From page 29: "Getting to the polls on Election Day is difficult for many voters. Many working individuals cannot afford to take time off of work (or simply lack the flexibility to be able to), low-income voters often lack easy access to transportation to the polls, the elderly and disabled may be unable to travel to the polls, and students and active service members may be absent from their voting precincts on election day."
In spite of this reality, or perhaps because of it:
* "Florida has enacted a bill that reduces the number of early voting days from fourteen to eight days. Florida also eliminated early voting on the last Sunday before Election Day, a day on which African-American churches in Florida have traditionally conducted a sizeable portion of their election assistance efforts."
* "Reversing its pre-2008 election decision to expand early in-person voting from one week to 45 days before the election, Georgia has returned to a shortened early voting period of only 21 days."
* "Ohio is reversing many of the voting conveniences introduced after the 2004 general election, when the nation watched while Ohioans in many counties waited up to ten hours at the polls. Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted sought to prohibit counties from mailing unsolicited absentee-ballot applications to voters and including prepaid return postage."
* "Texas legislators introduced a bill that will omit early voting locations from official notices of a general or special election."
* "A New Jersey bill would end no-excuse absentee voting." ("No-excuse" voting is when a state allows any registered voter to request an absentee without requiring that the voter state a reason.)
III: Blocking the Vote on Election Day
"In addition to limiting opportunities to vote before Election Day, numerous states have added insult to injury by imposing laws that restrict access to the polls on Election Day itself.
Chief among the voting-day access problems is the category of laws known as "Voter ID." Elsewhere in this issue of the Notes this particular initiative gets its own article, and there will be more articles on this subject in these pages in the future. For right now I'll focus on another way of blocking the vote, something called "deceptive practices," which are "the intentional dissemination of false or misleading information about the voting process—with the intent to prevent an eligible voter from casting a ballot."
"Historically," the Report notes, "deceptive practices have taken the form of fliers with misinformation distributed in a particular neighborhood, but recent efforts have made use of misleading robocalls and innovative tactics employing email, the Internet, and other new media."
For example, people linked to the former governor of Maryland have been indicted for fraudulent phone calls aimed at keeping people away from the polls.
In the 2010 elections, "Kansas voters . . . received calls asserting a false proof of home ownership requirement to vote. . . . With lower homeownership rates and higher foreclosure rates, minority voters would be among those voters disproportionately affected by this misinformation."
Supporters of a Republican state legislator in Arizona recruited a Mexican immigrant to run what "was determined to be a sham" campaign aimed at "siphon[ing] Hispanic votes" from the Republican candidate's opponent.
In 2010 Tea Party groups in Minnesota emailed supporters telling them to wear buttons or stickers saying "Please ID me." Says the Report, "This effort was in violation of a federal court ruling prohibiting the display of these buttons for fear that some voters might be improperly dissuaded from voting out of concern that they would have to produce identification that they did not have."
Old-school deception is still around, too. "In the lead up to the 2010 elections, voters in the Houston area reported that a misleading flier was placed on the windshields of vehicles at a predominantly African-American polling place. The flier claimed to have come from a non-existent group called the 'Black Democratic Trust of Texas.' It falsely warned voters that voting a straight Democratic ticket would cancel out their votes."
Another HUGE impediment to voting is known as "Felon Disfranchisement." Says the Report, "Blocking the voting rights of people with felony convictions is one of the most significant barriers to political participation in this country. Nationwide, more than 5.3 million Americans who have been convicted of a felony are denied access to the one fundamental right that is the foundation of all other rights. Four million of the disfranchised have completed their sentences, and live, work, pay taxes, and raise families in their communities. Nearly two million, or 38%, of the disfranchised are African American, and more than 10% are Latino."
A major problem for years, Felon Disfranchisement is getting worse. "In 2011 Florida and Iowa joined Virginia and Kentucky as states which deny the right to vote permanently to all individuals convicted of any felony offense. And "legislators in five other states introduced bills—none of which have yet passed—that would expand felon disfranchisement: Alabama, Maryland, South Carolina, Washington, and West Virginia. Meanwhile, in Nevada, the governor vetoed a bill that would have automatically restored voting rights to any convicted felon who honorably completed his or her sentence."
"Today, felon disfranchisement statutes continue to weaken the voting power of African-American and Latino communities. This uneven effect is largely the result of the disproportionate enforcement of the 'war on drugs' in African-American and Latino communities, which has drastically increased the class of persons subject to disfranchisement."
Felon Disfranchisement laws "trace their history to the conclusion of the Civil War, when they were specifically tailored to those offenses that African Americans were thought to be most likely to commit." I recommend readers go to page 25 and read the very brief "History of Felon Disfranchisement."
IV. The Assault on the Voting Rights Act
"In 2006, Congress reauthorized key provisions of the Voting Rights Act based on substantial evidence of continuing voting discrimination and its prediction that additional discrimination would occur in the future. The recent block the vote efforts described in this report reflect the discrimination that Congress feared was still possible. Nevertheless, we are facing aggressive legal challenges to the Voting Rights Act based on the notion that its protections are no longer needed. In fact, the Voting Rights Act is the very tool needed to protect voters in many places from these block the vote efforts."
The Report mentions lawsuits originating in Florida, Georgia, Alabama, North Carolina, and Arizona. Nygaard Notes will be following this story as the challenges proceed.
The Report concludes by encouraging people to ACT in response to the information presented in its pages.
First of all, they ask people to spread the word about the realities revealed in this document. This issue of Nygaard Notes the beginning of my response to that.
Secondly, they ask people to "Commit to bringing at least one first-time voter or a voter who would otherwise have difficulty voting with you" to the polls.
Thirdly, they ask that people volunteer to help groups that are working on voting rights.
Fourthly, they urge you to tell your elected officials to support important, democracy-expanding policies, such as:
H.R. 3316, the Voter Access Protection Act of 2011.
H.R. 3317, the Same Day Voter Registration Act of 2011.
H.R. 108, the Voting Opportunity and Technology Enhancement Rights Act of 2011.
H.R. 2212, the Democracy Restoration Act.
I strongly encourage Nygaard Notes readers to download your own copy of the NAACP report it and read as much of it as time allows. And I hope that many of you will be moved to act to address the unfolding reality that the Report reveals.
Thirty-one states currently require all voters to show ID before voting at the polls. This year there are proposals pending in 13 states for new voter ID laws.
The rationale put forward by Voter ID supporters is that it would prevent voter fraud. Last month at the National Press Club a man named Hans von Spakovsky of the Heritage Foundation articulated the argument, saying that "Voter-identification requirements not only prevent fraud by individuals but also prevent double voting and voting in the names of dead people still on the rolls."
A Voter ID law has been proposed in my own state of Minnesota. It passed the legislature last year but was vetoed by the governor. This year Republicans are pushing a constitutional amendment to impose Voter ID. (Why? Because the governor can't veto an amendment.) The Minnesota effort, reports the Associated Press, "is part of a surge of similar legislation nationwide, much of it springing from a conservative organization that's well-known to politicians but operates largely out of public view." I'll be writing more about that "conservative organization" in a future edition of the Notes, but for now I want to look at some evidence of this "voter fraud" that is supposedly motivating the "surge of legislation."
The claims of significant voter fraud have been around for a while. A couple of years ago a group called Citizens for Election Integrity Minnesota teamed up with the Minnesota Unitarian Universalist Social Justice Alliance/Association of Universalist Women to research documented cases of ineligible voting and voter fraud in Minnesota in the last presidential election year, 2008. I'll quote here from their report:
"There has not been one single conviction of voter impersonation since 2008 and, in fact, the total number of investigations of voter impersonation (7) compared to the total number of 2008 voters (2,921,498), allows us to see that the total percent of all voters who were investigated for voter impersonation was two ten-thousandths of one percent (0.0002% ).
"As this report highlights, nine ten-thousandths of one percent (.0009%) of all 2008 voters were convicted of fraud and all of the convictions were due to felons voting. A person's criminal past is indicated not on any government-issued identification (i.e. military identification, U.S. passport, Minnesota driver‟s license, Minnesota identification, etc.)." [Emphasis in original.]
In other words, the problem that Voter ID is said to address basically doesn't exist, and the very tiny issue of ineligible felons voting has nothing to do with photographs. The story is pretty much the same in any state you look at.
Fixing a Non-Problem, Creating a Real One
Let's say, for the sake of argument, that some proponents are telling the truth and that a concern about election integrity is really what motivates their support for Voter ID. That is, let's accept that the actual goal of the various Voter ID proposals is to prevent fraud. In principle, there is nothing wrong with posing a solution to a non-existent problem, beyond wasting time and energy that could be used to address actual problems. But that is true only if there are no other negative consequences that go along with the "solution" being proposed. In the case of Voter ID laws, however, there is a very large and important negative outcome that is expected to occur if the law is passed. And that negative is the disfranchisement of large numbers of people
The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University released a study on October 3, 2011 called "Voting Law Changes in 2012." They point out that "States have changed their laws so rapidly that no single analysis has assessed the overall impact of such moves." But their analysis of this rapidly-changing reality leads them to say that "Some states require voters to show government-issued photo identification, often of a type that as many as one in ten voters do not have. . . . These new restrictions fall most heavily on young, minority, and low-income voters, as well as on voters with disabilities. . . . These new laws could make it significantly harder for more than five million eligible voters to cast ballots in 2012."
Meanwhile, here in Minnesota, state Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer, the former secretary of state and the author of the Voter ID bill in the State House of Representatives, says: "It will not disenfranchise anybody."
Kiffmeyer's unsubstantiated claim notwithstanding, there would appear to be every reason to think that Voter ID laws will pose a barrier to voting for a large number of people. That's a serious problem, regardless of whether or not that's the intent of the supporters of such laws. One needn't be a mind-reader to see that there are predictable, and undesirable, consequences associated with these laws. If the "benefit" of addressing a tiny problem of fraud has a cost of suppressing voter turnout by even a fraction of the number suggested by the Brennan study, then the burden is on the proponents to show that it is worth it.
The fact that the burden of these Voter ID requirements "falls most heavily on young, minority, and low-income voters, as well as on voters with disabilities" is possibly unintended, a kind of electoral "collateral damage." But I don't think so. Can it really be just a coincidence that the push for Voter ID laws has arisen in the wake of the 2008 elections, which were marked by record voting levels by people of color, and which elected a person of color to the nation's highest office? You've read the feature article in this week's Notes on voter suppression. What do you think?