|Number 509||June 8, 2012|
This Week: The Voter Empowerment Act
There are some real problems with voting in the United States, and there are some not-real problems. The not-real problems are voter impersonation and voter fraud. They happen so rarely that we don't need to worry about them. The real problems have to do with people NOT voting. One reason that the U.S. has very low rates of voting by eligible voters is that many people don't bother to vote. That's a problem. Another reason is that there are many obstacles that get in the way when people try to vote. That second reason is what this issue of Nygaard Notes is all about.
Writing on the website of the research and advocacy group Demos ( http://www.demos.org/ ) last month, staff member Liz Kennedy wrote an excellent piece called "Protecting the Freedom to Vote: The Voter Empowerment Act of 2012." She wrote:
"Today, our freedom to vote is jeopardized by both systemic weaknesses and direct attacks aimed at undermining the franchise:
Here are a few facts about voting in the United States.
1. "In 2008, more than eight million eligible and interested voters did not or could not vote due to outmoded voting practices, avoidable errors or confusing procedures that vary in all 50 states, county to county and even towns." That's according to a report on the website of the advocacy group "Nonprofit VOTE." At least eight presidential elections since World War II have been decided by fewer than eight million votes. Who knows how many state and local races have been affected by these missing votes?
2. An estimated 51 million Americans who are eligible to vote are not registered. This is more than 24 percent of the voting-eligible population, almost one out of every four. So says the Pew Center on the States, in a February 2012 report called "Inaccurate, Costly, and Inefficient: Evidence That America's Voter Registration System Needs an Upgrade."
3. "The Department of Defense Inspector General has repeatedly noted a persistent failure of the Federal Voting Assistance Program to provide effective assistance to military voters, specifically identifying a lack of voter awareness of existing resources to assist in the process." [Nygaard: The quote is from a press release from Democratic Whip Steny H. Hoyer, May 17, 2012. I also looked at the IG's report of March 22, 2011, and Hoyer appears to be correct in his statement.]
4. A publication called "The Voter Empowerment Act: Fast Facts" tells us that "In 2009, a majority of polling places still had one or more impediments that could prevent an individual with a disability from even getting to the required accessible voting system. In close to half of polling places, the accessible voting system itself could pose challenges for voters with disabilities to vote privately or independently."
The above points are not the only points that could be made. A recent report by the Pew Center on the States provides ample evidence that our voter registration systems "are plagued with errors and inefficiencies that waste taxpayer dollars, undermine voter confidence, and fuel partisan disputes over the integrity of our elections."
These are real problems, in contrast with the non-problem of "voter fraud" that is offered as justification for the unprecedented attack on voting rights that is underway in this country, and about which I have been reporting for the past several months. (See, for example, Nygaard Notes Number 503 http://www.nygaardnotes.org/issues/nn0503.html, which was devoted entirely to this issue.) As Georgia Congressman John Lewis pointed out recently, "Since the beginning of last year, 176 bills have been introduced in 41 states making it more difficult for people to participate in the democratic process."
Whatever the intent of all of these bills, collectively they will have the effect of disfranchising millions of people throughout the U.S., according to a study by The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University. A solution has been proposed, and the next article will tell you about it.
I've enumerated in recent issues of Nygaard Notes some of the various tactics that Republican strategists have employed in the past couple of years that are having the effect of suppressing voter turnout. These tactics include: Making it harder to register to vote; Making it harder for registered voters to cast their votes; Limiting voting rights for people who have been convicted of crimes, and; Weakening the Voting Rights Act to make it harder for the federal government to address any impediments to voting that are seen to exist in the U.S. All of these efforts are justified by invoking a desire to limit "voter fraud" and improve the "integrity" of elections. And these efforts seem to have garnered wide support among political leaders at the state level (where most of the efforts have been focused) and also in the media.
All of these tactics are intended to address a problem—voter fraud—that is such a tiny problem that there is no need to address it, legislatively or via constitutional amendment. The problems that we do have with voting in this country—as I just spelled out in the previous article—have nothing to do with people voting who should not vote. The real problem we have in this country is that many people who should vote are not voting. And, as noted in the previous article, that is partly due to problems in our voting systems, as well as efforts on the part of some people to prevent people from voting.
Given all of these facts, it would seem to be newsworthy that a bill aimed at addressing all of these problems was introduced into the U.S. Congress on May 17th by Congressman John Lewis and 130 co-sponsors. Since this news was completely ignored by the major media in this country, I'll tell you a little bit about it, and also tell you where you can learn more.
The bill that was introduced on May 17th is called the Voter Empowerment Act. It's also called, confusingly enough, the "Voter Registration Modernization Act of 2012." By whatever name, it's known in Congress as HR 5799.
The VEA in Brief
Here is a list of some of the things the VEA would do. The facts are gleaned from a variety of sources, but mostly from the lead author of the bill, Rep. John Lewis. It's a long list, but worth reprinting since it gives a hint of the nature and scale of the problem the VEA is intended to address. The VEA would:
• Modernize the voter registration system by shifting the administrative burden off of the individual voter and onto the government to register eligible citizens to vote.
Endorsements of the VEA
On May 18th, the day after the Voter Empowerment Act was introduced, House Democrat Steny Hoyer put out a press release about "a diverse group of advocates representing the civil rights, disability and young voter communities [who] have already come out in strong support" of the VEA. The release included strong statements from leaders of:
The American Association of People with Disabilities;
The Asian American Justice Center;
The Brennan Center for Justice;
The Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law;
The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights;
The League of Women Voters;
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People;
The National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Educational Fund;
Project Vote and;
Rock the Vote.
Sources for Information About Enhancing Voter Turnout
For those who are interested in knowing more about this important legislation, here are three sources that I found helpful:
1. The Pew Center on the States, in February 2012 put out a report called "Inaccurate, Costly, and Inefficient: Evidence That America's Voter Registration System Needs an Upgrade."
2. A group called "Nonprofit Vote" has a little piece on its website called "Voter Turnout Factors" that lists "seven factors frequently cited as very important to voter turnout." It's worth reading and thinking about. Find it HERE.
3. A one-pager, with footnotes, the "Voter Empowerment Act: Fast Facts" flyer is a quick read, but full of good stuff.
4. By far the best thing I've read on the VEA (granted, there aren't all that many things to read), is a 3,000-word article by Liz Kennedy on the Demos website called "Protecting the Freedom to Vote: The Voter Empowerment Act of 2012." It's the source of this week's "Quote" of the Week, in fact.
On May 29th the New York Times ran a huge front-page article that's caused quite an uproar. Headlined "Secret 'Kill List' Proves a Test Of Obama's Principles and Will," the article reported that "Mr. Obama has placed himself at the helm of a top secret 'nominations' process to designate terrorists for kill or capture, of which the capture part has become largely theoretical." After noting that Obama had promised, and failed, to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, the Times voices the "suspicion" that "Mr. Obama has avoided the complications of detention by deciding, in effect, to take no prisoners alive." The President's advisors "understood that they could not keep adding new names to a kill list," but "What remains unanswered is how much killing will be enough."
The "kill list" story was undoubtedly leaked by Obama insiders for campaign purposes. As Glenn Greenwald reported in Salon.com, the revelations in the Times story "are designed to depict President Obama, in an Election Year, as a super-tough, hands-on, no-nonsense Warrior." And perhaps the kill list itself is also about re-election. That is, if any "combatants" are captured, then they will have to be detained, maybe at Guantanamo, and the Obama campaign does not want people to think about that. So maybe it's better, in campaign terms, to run a secret program of killing by remote control.
Whether or not the Times story was the result of a cynical leak, many remarkable things were reported therein, perhaps none more startling than the report that Mr. Obama faced a dilemma when pondering his strategy of remote-control assassination. And that is that such a program would necessarily involve the killing of innocent people, in a variety of countries. What to do? The solution, according to the Times, is that "Mr. Obama embraced a disputed method for counting civilian casualties that did little to box him in. It in effect counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants, according to several administration officials, unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent."
It's been apparent for some time that such "Kill List Logic" has been employed to minimize the reporting of innocent victims of U.S. drones. Has media reporting utilized this peculiar logic when reporting on drone attacks, or have they utilized a more standard logic? Well, let's have a look.
On the day before the Times story, May 28, the Associated Press headlined its report "Pakistan: US missiles kill 5 militants in NW," and it began by saying "American missiles killed five suspected Islamist militants close to the Afghan border. . ." That is, the missiles killed anybody who happened to be nearby. Using Kill List Logic, these are, by definition, "suspected militants," so that's what was reported.
The same story noted that this attack was "the fourth in less than a week" in the area. The AP then dutifully reported that one attack killed "four suspected militants," another "killed 10 alleged militants," and yet another killed "four suspected militants." All guilty, if one uses Kill List Logic.
The next day (the day after the Times report) the Baltimore Sun reported on the killing in Afghanistan of "al-Qaida's second in command." The report noted that this man "and an unidentified al-Qaida militant were killed in the airstrike." How does anyone know that an "unidentified" person is a "militant"? It's Kill List Logic: If our airstrike killed him, he must have been a militant!
And the AP on June 2nd reported, "An American drone fired two missiles at a motorbike in northwest Pakistan on Saturday, killing two suspected militants. . ."
And June 3rd: "An American drone strike in the frontier tribal areas of Pakistan killed 10 suspected militants Sunday. . ."
It goes on and on, but in no case are we offered any evidence about the guilt or innocence of these people. Of course, if there were to be any "explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent," it would be a bit too late. That's why people must be presumed innocent until proven guilty. And there's Obama's "test" question: Are people guilty—and sentenceable to death—until proven innocent? Or are people presumed innocent until proven guilty? Obama has offered his answer. And if his handlers are correct in thinking that the leaking of this story will help him gain re-election, then it appears that we've all failed the test.