True the Vote is one of the most influential groups working to make it harder to vote by pushing for restrictive voter ID laws and launching challenges against people it thinks might be ineligible to vote, tactics which are supposedly directed at preventing voter impersonation fraud and double voting — crimes that in reality are exceedingly rare.
In order to cover up the fact that voter ID laws keep many times more people from the polls than the miniscule number of voter impersonation cases that they might prevent, groups like TTV try to conflate in-person voter fraud — the only thing actually targeted by voter ID laws — with faulty voter registration and with rare but persistent kinds of small-scale voter fraud by elected officials that they have no intention of actually combating.
A great example of this happened yesterday, when TTV reprinted a short blog post by former Bush Justice Department official and conservative activist J. Christian Adams linking to a story about “Three PA Elected Officials Charged With Voter Fraud.”
Adams offers his commentary, implying that this story proves that the numerous studies discrediting the voter ID push are just wrong:
I am curious to see if this barely reported case of voter fraud ever makes it onto one of the ‘academic’ studies purporting to demonstrate very little voter fraud. Those studies are characterized by false negatives.
A quick look at the story in question, however, shows that what happened in Pennsylvania has nothing to do with voter ID or any so-called “voter integrity” laws that Adams and TTV are promoting.
Pennsylvania requires that people requesting an absentee ballot provide a reason, which can be “illness or physical disability” that makes the voter “unable to attend his/her polling place or to operate a voting machine.” Those voters must also provide a copy of their photo ID.
The case that Adams and TTV are touting is that of three township supervisors who were charged with violating election laws in 2011, two for helping 13 elderly voters to apply for and fill out absentee ballots , despite the fact that all were physically able to go to the polls on Election Day and were thus ineligible to obtain absentee ballots in Pennsylvania. One of the supervisors is charged with helping an eligible absentee voter fill out a ballot but failing to report that he had assisted the voter.
None of this would have been prevented by a voter ID requirement. Instead, this is an instance of, at best, a misunderstanding and at worst, public officials using their insider influence to tinker with ballots.
If it’s the latter, all sorts of laws are currently on the books to prevent such instances of election fraud. But it is not something that so-called “voter integrity” activists have shown any interest in addressing, perhaps because it’s already against the law and policed. As the Brennan Center wrote in a 2007 report, such conduct “has been an issue since Senators wore togas” and is a completely separate issue from the kind of supposed fraud that groups like True The Vote claim to be fixing with suppressive voting restrictions.
It is extremely rare for individuals to vote multiple times, vote as someone else, or vote despite knowing that they are ineligible. These rare occurrences, however, are often conflated with other forms of election irregularities or misconduct, under the misleading and overbroad label of “voter fraud.” Some of these other irregularities result from honest mistakes by election officials or voters, such as confusion as to whether a particular person is actually eligible to vote. Some irregularities result from technological glitches, whether sinister or benign: for example, voting machines may record inaccurate tallies. And some involve fraud or intentional misconduct perpetrated by actors other than individual voters: for example, flyers may spread misinformation about the proper locations or procedures for voting; thugs may be dispatched to intimidate voters at the polls; missing ballot boxes may mysteriously reappear. These more common forms of misconduct are simply not addressed by the supposed “anti-fraud” measures generally proposed.
h/t: Miranda Blue at RWW
This weekend, the Dallas Morning News ran a long investigative piece exposing for the first time an armed raid that state Attorney General Greg Abbott’s office ordered on a Houston voter registration operation, Houston Votes, back in 2010. The aftermath played out like ACORN in miniature: Despite the fact that nobody at Houston Votes was charged with any wrongdoing, the organization folded under the pressure of Abbott’s investigation.
The story provides an interesting look at the mechanics of the GOP’s obsessive search for certain types of extraordinarily rare voter fraud in order to justify extreme measures making it harder to cast a ballot. And it also stars two people who have since become familiar names in the national effort to make it more difficult to vote: Abbott, who is now the GOP nominee for governor of Texas, and Catherine Engelbrecht, who now runs the national group True the Vote, but who got her start running a Texas Tea Party group called King Street Patriots.
The raid on Houston Votes was part of a larger campaign by Abbott to uncover what he calls an “epidemic” of voter fraud, in an apparent effort to build support for a restrictive Voter ID law in Texas. Abbott’s campaign hasn’t exactly been a success: According to MSNBC’s Zach Roth, “over the 13 years of Abbott’s tenure, his office can only cite two fraudulent votes that might have been stopped by the ID law.” In the meantime, Abbott’s effort has resulted in some strangely zealous prosecutions, including those of a group of Tea Party activists who tried to cast protest votes in a resident-less utility district.
Dallas Morning News reporter James Drew explains how a racially charged speech by Engelbrecht led to Abbot’s investigation of and raid on Houston Votes:
On an overcast Monday afternoon, officers in bulletproof vests swept into a house on Houston’s north side. The armed deputies and agents served a search warrant. They carted away computers, hard drives and documents.
The raid targeted a voter registration group called Houston Votes, which was accused of election fraud. It was initiated by investigators for Attorney General Greg Abbott. His aides say he is duty-bound to preserve the integrity of the ballot box.
His critics, however, say that what Abbott has really sought to preserve is the power of the Republican Party in Texas. They accuse him of political partisanship, targeting key Democratic voting blocs, especially minorities and the poor, in ways that make it harder for them to vote, or for their votes to count.
A close examination of the Houston Votes case reveals the consequences when an elected official pursues hotly contested allegations of election fraud.
The investigation was closed one year after the raid, with no charges filed. But for Houston Votes, the damage was done. Its funding dried up, and its efforts to register more low-income voters ended. Its records and office equipment never were returned. Instead, under a 2013 court order obtained by Abbott’s office, they were destroyed.
Fred Lewis formed Texans Together in 2006.
The nonprofit community organizing group used volunteers to register voters in 2008 under the name Houston Votes. It registered only about 6,000 people that year.
For the next big election, in 2010, Lewis wanted to register 100,000 new voters in Harris County. He knew he couldn’t hit that number with volunteers. Houston Votes decided to use paid workers.
By that summer, Houston Votes had come to the attention of the King Street Patriots, a Houston-based tea party group. At the group’s regular meeting in Houston, its leader, Catherine Engelbrecht, talked about the New Black Panther Party. She then played a Fox news clip of an unidentified black man saying: “We have to exterminate white people off the face of the planet.”
The clip was 5 years old. It came from a forum in Washington about media coverage of Hurricane Katrina. But after the clip ended, Engelbrecht showed a picture of a house in Houston. She said it was the office of the New Black Panthers, at Main and Dowling streets.
Dowling Street is infamous for a 1970 gun battle between police officers and African-American militants, one of whom was killed.
“Houston has a new neighbor,” Engelbrecht said. She added that a person outside the house appeared to be an employee of Houston Votes.
The house shown on the screen was the office of Houston Votes. It had nothing to do with the New Black Panther Party. And it was about 9 miles from Dowling Street.
Two weeks later, the King Street Patriots held another meeting. Paul Bettencourt, the former Harris County tax assessor-collector, was a guest speaker.
He said Houston Votes was worse at registering voters than ACORN, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now. Dozens of ACORN employees across the nation were convicted of voter registration fraud.
The next day, Bettencourt’s successor as tax assessor-collector, fellow Republican Leo Vasquez, held a news conference.
“The integrity of the voter roll of Harris County, Texas, appears to be under an organized and systematic attack by the group operating under the name ‘Houston Votes,’” he said.
Houston Votes had submitted about 25,000 voter registration applications. Vasquez said many were duplicates, or already registered. Only 7,193 were “apparently new voters,” he said.
Houston Votes later pointed to public records showing that at the time of the news conference, about 21,000 of the 25,000 who applied to register were already validated by the county and pending final approval by the secretary of state. Among those 21,000, the state had already given final approval to 7,193.
Vasquez announced he was referring the matter for “investigation and possible prosecution” to the Texas secretary of state and the Harris County district attorney.
The secretary of state, who advises local election officials on election laws, forwarded Vasquez’s information to the attorney general’s office on Sept. 14, 2010.
Abbott’s office opened a criminal investigation soon after.
h/t: Miranda Blue at RWW
Justin Levitt: “I’ve been tracking allegations of fraud for years now, including the fraud ID laws are designed to stop. In 2008, when the Supreme Court weighed in on voter ID, I looked at every single allegation put before the Court. And since then, I’ve been following reports wherever they crop up.”
"To be clear, I’m not just talking about prosecutions. I track any specific, credible allegation that someone may have pretended to be someone else at the polls, in any way that an ID law could fix. So far, I’ve found about 31 different incidents (some of which involve multiple ballots) since 2000, anywhere in the country."
That’s not 31 in one election, that’s 31 cases in separate elections over a span of nearly a decade and a half. That’s 31 out of more than one billion.The idea that in-person voter fraud is influencing the outcomes of elections is a ridiculous and absurd lie.
Voter ID laws are meant to keep legal voters away from the polls. There is no way that voter fraud is anything even approaching an actual, real problem for the integrity of our elections.
Voting is our most basic right and duty as citizens. The fact that Republicans don’t seem to care that they’re taking that freedom from legal voters — and they are — is proof enough that all their flag-waving and freedom talk and poseur love for the Constitution is bullshit. The enemies of democracy are the enemies of freedom.
And Republicans have proven themselves again and again to be no friends of democracy.
Two years ago, the nation was introduced to Viviette Applewhite, a 93-year-old widow in Pennsylvania who had marched with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Applewhite has voted in nearly every election for the last-half century – right up until 2012, when the state told this African-American woman she wouldn’t be allowed to cast a ballot because Republicans policymakers had created a voter-ID law to combat voter fraud that didn’t exist.After Applewhite’s story garnered national attention, election officials helped get her situation straightened out – and more recently, the law itself was struck down as unconstitutional – but the incident was a reminder about the real-world impact of unnecessary voter-ID laws.Two years later, Zachary Roth introduces us to a similar face – of the same age – in the “war on voting.”Willie Mims, 93, showed up to vote at his polling place in Escambia County Tuesday morning for Alabama’s primary elections. Mims, who is Africa-American, no longer drives, doesn’t have a license, and has no other form of ID. As a result, he was turned away without voting. Mims wasn’t even offered the chance to cast a provisional ballot, as the law requires in that situation.Jenny McCarren of Empower Alabama, a progressive group that gave Mims a ride to the polls, recounted the story for msnbc. McCarren said Mims’s voter file showed he has voted in every election since 2000, as far back as the records go.How many Alabamans lack ID isn’t known – in part because the state made no effort to find out before the ID law. But nationwide, most studies put the figure at around 11%, and as high as 25% for African Americans.Up until last year, there’s no way Alabama’s voter-suppression law would have been cleared by the Justice Department, but because a narrow Supreme Court majority gutted the Voting Rights Act, Alabama’s voter-ID law was never subjected to federal scrutiny.It’s against this backdrop that the Alabama Republican Party is “so desperate” to prove imaginary voter fraud exists, GOP officials are offering cash rewards.Tuesday is the first test of Alabama’s voter ID law – and the state’s Republicans are desperate to dig up some voter fraud. So desperate, in fact, that they’re offering a $1,000 reward to anyone who helps them find any. […]Bill Armistead, the Alabama GOP chair, wrote on the party’s website Monday that Republicans will fork over the cold hard cash to anyone who provides “information that directly leads to a conviction of a felony for voter fraud.” Signs saying “Reward – Stop Voter Fraud,” and directing people to call a toll-free hotline, will be placed at polling sites around the state both for Tuesday’s primaries and November’s general election, Armistead added.I can appreciate the degree to which party leaders are eager to substantiate their reckless voter-suppression tactics. These laws, the harshest voting restrictions seen in the United States since the Jim Crow era, are impossible to defend if they address a problem that doesn’t exist.But there’s no reason to believe the Alabama Republican Party will have to pay up anytime soon – voter fraud is still a problem that exists solely in the minds of far-right imaginations.As for 93-year-old Willie Mims being turned away before he could participate in his own democracy, now would be an ideal time for Alabama officials to feel ashamed of themselves.
(Credit: Joe Shlabotnik)They can’t win elections on their ideas, so they’re going to rig them in their favor every way they can.[…]With an enormous number of individuals drifting from outrageous, narrow-minded, classist, racist, and sexist Teabagger concepts, Teapublicans are doing everything in their power to get their numbers up – even if that means asserting outlandish voter ID laws into place, despite their massive defects.These new Voter ID Laws, with ironically a slew of Republicans fumbling behind them, complicate voter locations, dates, voter times and confuses the general election system,deliberately to befuddle the voting structure.
Since 2013, 9 states have approved procedures directly affecting when and how people vote, oddly making voting more problematic for statistically demonstrated voters who don’t vote Republican. Embarrassingly, the same Republicans who claim Democrats are “not upholding the American way of life” and ruining the American dream are simultaneously attempting to sabotage the voting system. Wouldn’t you want to make it easier for individuals to vote properly if you cared about democracy? Not in Teapublamerica.
Some of these severe voter ID laws include obligatory proof of citizenship other than a normal ID card, such as a birth certificate, or passport. Some individuals would find recovering or verifying a birth certificate to be exceptionally difficult, because once it’s lost either due to circumstances such as a natural disaster or simply misplacing the document – it can be a complicated, costly and prolonged process to reclaim another. Particular individuals, mostly elderly voters of color, have even reported never receiving one. Whereas statistically it is the lower-class whom is more likely to either not have either document, or not have the financial means to obtain another.
Laws like these were recently upheld in Kansas and Arizona, and will unquestionably make the voting process more difficult for individuals who could have otherwise flashed a normal ID. Republicans claim this will level out and unify the voting system ( you mean, intentionally lean it more towards your end of the field? ) and the same ID you obtained through your state department, and have used to drive, acquire alcohol and vote so many times before will no longer be sufficient.
Meanwhile in North Carolina, Democrats are fighting feverishly to reverse the nation’s most restrictive voter laws. These laws in specific established rules to make it not just more complicated to prove citizenship, but more complicated for people to register to vote ( usually younger individuals ), cast provisional ballots, vote absentee and reduces the number of early voting days. So, if you have a dreadfully busy schedule, or two jobs and a family like many low income families, good luck getting that vote in early, voting at all or even registering yourself.
In Ohio and Wisconsin, weekend voting, which has statistically been preferred by the working class, black voters and low-income voters was cut drastically by Republicans who demanded the measures were essential, limiting the time that polls are open; how voter friendly.
Wisconsin State Senator Dale Schultz was a rarity of the Republican Party when he disagreed with the measure and claimed that they were “fiddling with mechanics rather than ideas.” He also stated that he felt the legislation was wearisome, “Making it more difficult for people to vote is not a good sign for a party that wants to attract more people.”. Schultz surprisingly voted against the bill.
Jon A. Husted, Ohio Republican Secretary of State however defended the unjust slew of legislations claiming that,“Every voter should have an equal opportunity to vote under the same set of rules.” What an ironic statement, since in February Ohio reduced early voting by one week, placed new restrictions on absentee ballot applications, and also same day registration and voting abilities. However, amidst all of the moves to limit voting ease of access for new and current voters, Husted believes that the laws will somehow aid in the “equal opportunity” to vote.
Overcomplicated registration, voting hours, absentee forms, irregular voting dates, and problematic voter ID systems will undoubtedly prevent some individuals from voting, obstruct the already congested registration and absentee voter process and result in longer lines at already time consuming poll sites.
“They know when they are taking away early voting exactly who it’s affecting,” said Ed FitzGerald, the executive of Cuyahoga County and a Democratic candidate for governor.
Although many of these ridiculous measures will not take place until 2016, Democrats and voting experts alike are concerned about the voting system being convoluted for no reason other than the Republican need to hinder Democratic leaning voters out of the system. While Dems battle over the Affordable Care Act, bogus commercials, advertisements claims and dramatic propaganda funded by Republican donors such as the Koch Brothers over healthcare laws, Republicans are also coming from behind and attacking voter systems themselves.
“What we see here is a total disrespect and disregard for constitutional protections,” stated the Rev. William Barber, president of the North Carolina N.A.A.C.P. and leader of the Moral Mondays movement, which disagrees with voter law changes.
Just last year, central provisions to the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination in the voting system, were luckily denied by the Supreme Court.What sort of democracy loving individual would want to alter a piece of legislation that prohibits voter discrimination?
The slapped down provisions consisted of Southern Republicans attempting to pass legislation that would allow the “alteration of election laws prior to approval.” Who, other than a sore loser who doesn’t want the American people to be heard, would want to alter election laws without any oversight?
While Republicans claim the harsh voter ID laws are needed to help voter ID fraud, to ” bring greater uniformity to a patchwork election system” and attempt to gain back immense numbers of supporters lost by botching the voting system Democrats have continuously been fighting to make it easier for people to sign up to vote, and cast their votes while even implementing a secure online voting system. These systems have already been effective in California, Colorado and Maryland, while States like Arizona and Kansas attempt to limit voting as much as possible to targeted Republican supporters – very democratic.
As uncompromising conservative candidates belittle people of color, immigrants, women and lower-class individuals, it’s no surprise that in the midst of self-mutilation, Republicans are obviously trying to alter the game with their selfish needs in mind – as always.
The GOP doing the usual voter-suppressing routines.
Kobach Mocked 'Procrastinators' Disenfranchised By His Voter ID Law, Claimed 'Nobody's Rights Have Been Suspended'
Yesterday, Kansas secretary of state Kris Kobach and Arizona attorney general Tom Horne scored a big victory in federal court when a Kansas district court judge ruled that federal voter registration forms in both states must require voters to show proof of citizenship.
The proof-of-citizenship requirement, which Kobach shepherded through his state’s legislature, has created a huge mess, leaving the registrations suspended of nearly 16,000 voters who hadn’t or couldn’t provide the necessary documents.
Throughout the process, Kobach has dismissed the concerns of voting rights advocates and the growing chorus of protest from elections officials, newspaper editorial boards and others in Kansas. When 12,000 voters had their registration thrown in limbo, Kobach said it wasn’t a “major problem” because it was “only a tiny percentage” of the total voting population. (By contrast, the supposed reason for the law was to prevent a handful of fraudulent votes cast over a dozen years). When it was announced that only 72 percent of registered voters were able to meet the new requirement, Kobach boasted that “that’s actually an extraordinarily high percentage” and blamed “procrastination” for the 28 percent without complete registrations.
In a speech that Kobach gave in January to the Kansas Sovereignty Coalition, a Tenth Amendment group, Kobach mocked the Kansans then totalling 19,000 – whose voter registrations were in limbo as “the 28 percent procrastinators,” claiming that “nobody’s been denied any rights.”
“Nobody’s rights have been suspended,” he claimed. “Those 19,000 people haven’t completed their registration yet. They can complete it tomorrow and vote tomorrow if they want to. Nobody’s been denied any rights, they just haven’t finished it yet.”
“Oh and by the way, 72 percent of the people who have registered to vote since January 1, 2013, have completed their application and have sent in proof of citizenship. So those are the 28 percent procrastinators.”
“We should not get alarmed at all by the number that the left continually throws around,” he said.
Tellingly, when Kobach first mentions “voting rights,” and audience member loudly corrects him: “privilege, privilege.”
h/t: Miranda Blue at RWW
It’s just, I think, sad when a political party — my political party — has so lost faith in its ideas that it’s pouring all of its energy into election mechanics. And again, I’m a guy who understands and appreciates what we should be doing in order to make sure every vote counts, every vote is legitimate. But that fact is, it ought to be abundantly clear to everybody in this state that there is no massive voter fraud. The only thing that we do have in this state is we have long lines of people who want to vote. And it seems to me that we should be doing everything we can to make it easier, to help these people get their votes counted. And that we should be pitching as political parties our ideas for improving things in the future, rather than mucking around in the mechanics and making it more confrontational at the voting sites and trying to suppress the vote.
Sen. Dale Schultz (R) who called out Wisconsin GOP politician for supporting voter suppression efforts (via Think Progress)
Schultz added that the suppression was “just plain wrong,” adding, “It is all predicated on some belief there is a massive fraud or irregularities, something my colleagues have been hot on the trail for three years and have failed miserably at demonstrating.” The GOP-controlled Assembly has already passed a similar bill.
This obstruction is national policy by now. Voter suppression couched in voter I.d legislation is invariably a Republican initiave
What happens when a constitution doesn’t conform to the Republican Party’s ideology? If it’s the constitution of the United States, they revise its meaning, or make something up about the original intent of the constitutional protection. One great example of this is the Republican claim that freedom of religion only applies to the faux Christianity they use to defend unsustainable economic policies and justify their hatred for everyone who isn’t faux Christian, rich, pale and male.
If it’s a state’s constitution, Republicans won’t acknowledge that their ideology and policies are unconstitutional. Rather, they’ll change the constitution so that it conforms to their ideology. We’re seeing this happen in states like Missouri where the state constitution guarantees a citizen’s right to vote.
On Monday, Republicans in Missouri introduced a bill to assure the state constitution conforms to the Republican’s long established ideology of vote suppression.
The state legislature proposed two vote suppression bills on Monday because they have to make the constitution conform to their ideological opposition to political freedom in order for a second law that restricts the vote can be constitutionally compliant.
To that end, the first proposed law calls for a ballot measure to change the constitution so that voting is no longer a guaranteed constitutional right.
Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended to state that voters may be required by law to verify one’s identity, citizenship, and residence by presenting identification that may include valid government-issued photo identification?
If Republicans in Missouri can con a majority of voters into believing this ballot initiative will protect the integrity and existence of their vote, the second law they proposed will automatically kick in. That law establishes the means by which Republicans will allow eligible voters in Missouri to prove they meet the criteria needed to enjoy the privilege of voting. In short, Republicans want to convert the right to vote to a privilege.
Other state constitutions that guarantee the right to vote are also under assault. In California, the Tea Party is at work trying to get that state’s constitution to conform to their ideological belief that some Americans voting rights should be more equal than others. Since a court in Pennsylvania struck down on a similar law because it violated that state’s constitution, it’s a matter of time before Republicans will try to make Pennsylvania’s constitution conform to their ideology.
Of course, Republicans will claim that because the vote is a sacred right, they must do everything possible to assure that it is a privilege afforded to Americans most likely to vote Republican. That includes making constitutions comply with Republican ideology.
A judge in Pennsylvania has struck down the state’s voter identification law. The strict ID requirements were passed and signed into law by Republican Gov. Tom Corbett in March 2012.According to the ruling from Commonwealth Court Judge Bernard McGinley, the requirement to present an acceptable form of identification when voting in person “unreasonably burdens the right to vote.” […]In his ruling [pdf], McGinley noted that the law didn’t have authority to issue IDs that were easier to obtain, and that the law was unconstitutional on its face because without the unauthorized “easier ID,” it’s too burdensome on the “hundreds of thousands” of voters affected, particularly students and the elderly. The judge also noted that the Department of Transportation offices where IDs are issued aren’t accessible enough and staff doesn’t have enough training to assist people. Among his other findings: there is no compelling interest behind the law because in-person voter fraud isn’t a problem; the ID’s expiration date is unnecessary given the purpose of the law; and the law provided no safety net for voters as other states have provided.
In his ruling, Judge McGinley wrote that the law poses “a substantial threat” to hundreds of thousands of qualified voters.
"Voting laws are designed to assure a free and fair election; the Voter ID Law does not further this goal," the decision reads.
Corbett is up for reelection this year, posing an interesting dilemma for him. Does he scrap the voter ID program that the court has just struck down, or try to answer the issues raised by the court and change the rules again, a move that could cause chaos again at Pennsylvania’s polls.
Gov. Terry McAuliffe was inaugurated Saturday, succeeding now-former Gov. Bob McDonnell (R-VA). Over his tenure as a state Delegate, Virginia Attorney General, and Governor, he amassed a shockingly right-wing record.
Here are six of the biggest disappointments of his two decades as a public official:
1. He and his family took tens of thousands of dollars worth of gifts from a supporter — and helped his controversial business. In what Republican state legislator Bob Marshall called the “type of activity” that “undermines public confidence,” McDonnell and his family reportedly accepted $145,000 in gifts and/or loans from Jonnie R. Williams Sr., the CEO of Star Scientific Inc. The McDonnells then helped promote the scientifically-unproven dietary supplements line made by the controversial tobacco company-turned-supplements manufacturer. While Virginia’s lax gifts law allows elected officials to accept unlimited gifts — even from lobbyists and those with business before the state — McDonnell may still have broken the law by not fully disclosing what he and his wife received. A possible federal indictment was reportedly put on hold until after McDonnell left office. This was not McDonnell’s first time under ethical fire: in 2005, he exploited a loophole to evade disclosure requirements, hiding corporate contributors to his attorney general campaign.
2. He consistently opposed LGBT equality. As a legislator, McDonnell launched a crusade against LGBT rights. In 2004, he authored a resolution calling on Congress to pass a federal marriage inequality amendment. A year later, he helped to write the state’s constitutional amendment which bans same-sex marriages, unions, and partnerships. He even voted against a proposal in 2000 that would have changed Virginia’s unconstitutional law banning consensual sodomy between two adults from a felony to a misdemeanor and used that antiquated ban to oust a state judge he believed might be a lesbian. Among his first acts as governor was rescinding protections for gay and lesbian state employees via executive order (though he later issued a less potent “executive directive” telling his appointees not to actually discriminate). McDonnell said that this decision was made because LGBT Virginians don’t face widespread discrimination. He has opposed adoption rights for same-sex couples and signed bill allowing child-placing agencies and clubs on public college and university campuses to discriminate based on sexual orientation if their “conscience” so dictates.
3. He worked tirelessly to block women’s reproductive rights. As a graduate student at Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network University (now Regent), McDonnell wrote a thesis laying out a far-right agenda for the Republican Party that included significant restrictions on women’s reproductive health. He brought that agenda to the House of Delegates, where he voted for numerous abortion restrictions and actually voted against a bill to clarify that “abortion” was not defined to include “contraception.” As governor, he has backed a radical “personhood for fetuses” bill and signed TRAP restrictions aimed at closing abortion clinics and an unfunded mandate requiring women to receive a medically unnecessary ultrasound before having an abortion.
4. He dismissed climate science and pushed for more fossil-fuel use.Falsely claiming that the science showing that climate change is real and caused by humans is “mixed,” McDonnell eliminated his predecessor’s state climate change panel. He strongly supported the coal industry (for whom his wife worked as a consultant) and touted off-shore oil drilling at a BP-funded conference in Texas. He amended a 2010 bill to weaken state air pollution regulations.. And last year, he pushed for and signed a transportation bill that lowered the gasoline tax and shifted highway costs to bikers, pedestrians, and people with hybrid vehicles.
5. He rolled back voting rights. In 2012, McDonnell signed a voter ID law aimed at combating virtually non-existent voter impersonation fraud. The bill was cleared by the U.S. Department of Justice as it included enough options for types of valid identification as to not disproportionately disenfranchise minority voters. After the 2012 elections were marred by long lines, confusion about voter ID laws among poll workers, and insufficient staffing and equipment, McDonnell decided to respond by making it harder still to vote. Last March, he signed a strict photo ID law that will cost the state hundreds of thousands of dollars annually.
6. He rolled back gun violence legislation, while working to slash mental health funding. Despite Virginia’s history as a haven for gun trafficking, McDonnell signed a bill repealing the state’s one-gun-a-month law. He also signed a bill to allow guns in bars and another which he used to bring the National Rifle Association’s controversial “Eddie the Eagle” gun safety program into elementary school classrooms. As he rescinded gun violence prevention laws, he simultaneously proposed major cuts to mental health services. The NRA and many Congressional Republicans have often suggested that an improved mental health system, rather than gun laws, is the way to reduce gun violence.
In 2009, Virginia was rated the nation’s best state in which to do business. But thanks in no-small-part to his backwards-moving policies as governor, Virginia has dropped significantly and, in 2013, tied for fifth-best.
A federal judge in Winston-Salem today set the schedule for a trial challenging North Carolina’s sweeping new voter restrictions. There will be a hearing on whether to grant a preliminary injunction in July 2014 and a full trial a year later, in July 2015.
This gives the plaintiffs challenging the law, which includes the Department of Justice, the ACLU and the North Carolina NAACP, a chance to block the bill’s worst provisions before the 2014 election. Earlier this year, in July 2013, the North Carolina legislature passed the country’s worst voter suppression law, which included strict voter ID to cast a ballot, cuts to early voting, the elimination of same-day voter registration, the repeal of public financing of judicial elections and many more harsh and unnecessary anti-voting measures.
These restrictions will impact millions of voters in the state across all races and demographic groups: in 2012, for example, 2.5 million North Carolinians voted early, 152,000 used same-day voter registration, 138,000 voters lacked government-issued ID and 7,500 people cast an out-of-precinct provisional ballot. These four provisions alone will negatively affect nearly 3 million people who voted in 2012.
Ironically, it took the North Carolina legislature less than a month to approve the law, but it will take a year before an initial hearing on it and two years before a full trial. That’s because in June 2013 the Supreme Court invalidated Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, which meant that previously covered states like North Carolina, with the worst history of voting discrimination, no longer had to clear their voting changes with the federal government.
North Carolina passed its new restrictions a month after the SCOTUS decision, making the legislation as draconian as possible because it no longer needed federal approval. The state is crystal-clear evidence of why SCOTUS was wrong to gut the VRA and to treat voting discrimination as a thing of the past. It also shows why Section 2 of the VRA is no substitute for Section 5.
Under Section 5 of the VRA—which SCOTUS paralyzed by invalidating the states covered under Section 4—North Carolina would have had to prove to the Justice Department or a three-judge court in Washington that its new law was not discriminatory. The burden of proof would have been on the state and the law would have been frozen until DOJ or the courts weighed in. Given the clear evidence of disparate racial impact in this case—African-Americans are 23 percent of registered voters in the state, but made up 29 percent of early voters in 2012, 34 percent of those without state-issued ID and 41 percent of those who used same-day registration—the law would have almost certainly been rejected.
The GOP has a plan to stop Wendy Davis: blatant voter suppression.
Women don’t like having their bodies policed, and are supporting Davis like no Democrat has been backed before. But Republicans aren’t fighting back on the issues — they’ve pushed through a Voter ID law that blocks the votes of countless Texas women.
Starting this November, Texans must show a photo ID with their up-to-date legal name instead of IDs like a birth certificate. That’s not a problem for single or married men — but it leaves a third of Texas women scrambling in a state with just 81 DMVs in its 254 counties.
The only way the GOP can keep Texas is by rigging the game. Women have the power to turn this state blue for the first time in two decades, but we need to help secure their rights first. Please, join us in calling on the Texas legislature to get rid of this unconstitutional Voter ID law and stop trying to strip women of their votes.
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In Texas, the [new voter ID] law could require voters to travel as much as 250 miles to obtain an acceptable voter ID—and it allows a concealed-weapon permit, but not a student ID, as proof of identity for voting. Moreover, the law and the regulations to implement it, we are now learning, will create huge impediments for women who have married or divorced and have voter IDs and driver’s licenses that reflect maiden or married names that do not exactly match. It raises similar problems for Mexican-Americans who use combinations of mothers’ and fathers’ names.
In his 2010 majority opinion in Citizens United v. FEC, the case that opened the floodgates to limitless independent election spending by corporations and the wealthy, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote that independent spending in elections “[does] not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.”
What has happened in the state of North Carolina since Justice Kennedy wrote those words illustrates just how misguided he was.
In the years since Citizens United, North Carolina has provided a clear example of what happens when a small number of corporate interests, allied with a far-right base, are allowed unbridled influence over elections. Since 2010, one North Carolina multimillionaire has marshaled the funds for a Republican takeover of the statehouse and governor’s mansion, leading to a slew of far-right legislation cutting benefits for working people, lowering teacher salaries, denying Medicaid coverage to half a million low-income people, defunding public education, eliminating protections against racial discrimination in the criminal justice system, gutting gun violence prevention efforts, attacking religious freedom and threatening women’s reproductive rights – all while cutting taxes for corporations and the wealthy.
This effort has gone hand in hand with a concerted attack on the very mechanisms of democracy in North Carolina. Since coming into power, Republicans in North Carolina have launched one of the country’s broadest attacks on voting rights, decimated the state’s campaign finance disclosure laws and contribution limits, heavily gerrymandered congressional districts, and politicized judicial elections.
These attacks strike at the foundation of democracy – the guarantee of one person, one vote – and serve as a cynical insurance policy for an agenda that serves the interests of those few who can afford influence in the new climate of pay-to-play elections.
A series of Supreme Court decisions deregulating money in politics, combined with the political marriage of the Tea Party and the corporate right, have created a climate where moneyed interests can hold sway over how a state holds its elections, who wins those elections and what those elected officials do once in office. North Carolina provides a case study of what can happen when the financial interests of a wealthy elite are allowed to drown out the voices of ordinary voters.
Buying North Carolina
North Carolina’s post-Citizens United Republican takeover has been largely financed by one man: retail magnate Arthur (Art) Pope.
When the Supreme Court handed down Citizens United in January 2010, states went to work to comply with the Court’s order vacating all federal and state bans on independent corporate expenditures in elections. In July of that year, North Carolina’s legislature passed the “Citizens United Response” bill, which was enacted just before the 2010 elections and opened the door to corporate election spending. Meanwhile, according to Bob Hall, Executive Director of Democracy North Carolina, Citizens United led to a cultural shift that “provided a green light to financial interests to feel blessed by the Supreme Court to spend in elections.” The result was that outside spending in North Carolina’s elections increased by 400 percent from 2006 to 2010. And nobody took greater advantage of the new rules than Art Pope.
The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer reported in 2011 that a few months after Citizens United, Pope received a visit from Republican strategist Ed Gillespie, who was formulating a plan to strategically take over statehouses prior to congressional redistricting. Pope contributed some money directly to candidates, but his real impact came from the establishment of a handful of outside groups that were newly freed from outside spending limits. These groups, like the 501c(4) organization “Civitas Action,” spent $2.2 million over 22 state legislative races, 18 of which they won. Three-quarters of all outside money in state races that year came from groups linked to Pope. In the post-Citizens United election landscape, one man almost single-handedly succeeded in flipping party control of the state legislature.
Mayer documents the many misleading attacks that Pope’s groups used to unseat moderate Democrats in the state legislature. One Democrat who narrowly lost his seat after a Pope-funded onslaught of attack ads said, “I don’t feel like I was defeated by the person I was running against. I was defeated by Art Pope and his cronies, who bought themselves a legislature.”
In 2012, Pope and his cronies doubled down. That year, as documented by the Institute for Southern Studies, 70 percent of the $14.5 million spent by outside groups on state-level races in North Carolina went to benefit Republicans. $8.1 million of that was spent to elect Republican governor Pat McCrory; more than half of that came from the national Republican Governors Association, which itself is partly financed by Pope corporations.
In two years, thanks to an unprecedented flood of outside spending by moneyed interests, Republicans took control of both houses of North Carolina’s legislature and its governor’s mansion. And the funders of the effort began to get what they paid for.
Tax Cuts for the Wealthy, Salary Cuts for Teachers
A few weeks before the newly-elected Gov. McCrory was to take office, he announced a notable appointment to his cabinet: Art Pope.
McCrory named Pope his head of budget policy, charged with writing the governor’s budget proposal. McCrory and Pope, with the cooperation of the newly right-wing legislature, went about cutting the safety net for struggling North Carolinians while heaping tax cuts on the wealthy and corporations. McCrory signed laws cutting off unemployment benefits for tens of thousands of people in the state, in what US Representative David Price (D-NC) called “one of the most extreme and damaging acts I have seen in my time in government.” He cut pay for public school teachers. He refused expanded federal Medicaid funds under the Affordable Care Act, denying half a million low-income people access to health care coverage.
But there wasn’t bad news for everyone in North Carolina. On July 23, 2013 McCrory signed a new tax plan that dramatically lowered corporate income taxes and created a flat tax, which raised taxes on some families and small businesses while heaping the bulk of its benefits on the state’s wealthiest families. And, in one of his first orders of business upon taking office, McCrory bestowed salary hikes on members of his own cabinet.
An Extreme Agenda
While Pope and his fellow funders of North Carolina’s Republican takeover may have been mostly interested in creating fiscal policy that would benefit their own bank accounts, there was a powerful corollary to their efforts. In a solidly purple state that wavers between parties in presidential elections, Pope helped create one of the most far-right state legislatures in the country. And, thanks to Pope and his cronies’ efforts to elect McCrory, the legislature’s forays into Tea Party extremism go largely unchecked.
Since the 2010 Republican takeover of the North Carolina legislature, a number of extreme social policies have become law.
- In 2009, the North Carolina legislature, in an effort to combat persistent racial disparities in death penalty sentencing, passed a bill that would commute a death penalty sentence to life imprisonment if the defendant could prove that race played a significant role in his sentencing. The bill was featured in Willie Horton-style racist attack ads against at least one state legislator unseated in 2010. In 2013, the legislature repealed the law, and Gov. McCrory added his signature on Juneteenth.
- In August of this year, North Carolina became the seventh state to pass a bill aimed at the imaginary threat of Sharia law in the U.S. justice system – a cover for blatant anti-Muslim fearmongering.
- In July, the legislature passed and McCrory signed a law allowing people to carry concealed weapons into playgrounds, parks, some places on college campuses….and bars.
- Finally, in July, Gov. McCrory signed into law one of the most restrictive anti-choice laws in the country – despite a campaign promise that he would not back any new laws restricting abortion rights. The provisions, which were hidden in a motorcycle safety bill, impose unnecessary “TRAP” regulations on abortion providers in the state, threating to close most of the state’s 16 abortion providers.
The right-wing takeover of North Carolina has come with an insurance policy: a slew of laws taking power away from individual voters and putting it in the hands of campaign donors.
In July, the North Carolina legislature passed what election law expert Rick Hasen called “the most sweeping anti-voter law in at least decades.” The new law requires voters to present one of a narrow set of IDs in order to cast a ballot – IDs that 318,000 registered voters in the state don’t have. It cuts the number of early voting days and eliminates same-day voter registration during early voting, an option disproportionately used by African American voters. The bill invalidates ballots accidentally cast in the wrong precinct. It attacks the voting rights of young people, by eliminating pre-registration for 16- and 17-year olds, and of the elderly and disabled, by making it more difficult to establish satellite polling sites.
But the law doesn’t just make it harder for ordinary North Carolinians to vote. It also makes it much easier for moneyed interests to influence elections. The bill increased campaign contribution limits, repealed three public financing programs and – good news for Art Pope – weakened transparency requirements for outside spenders in elections.
Pope’s influence was particularly visible in the repeal of the popular program providing public financing for judicial elections. Until this year, North Carolina had for a decade maintained a nationally renowned clean elections program for judges, a voluntary public financing fund used by 80 percent of judicial candidates across the political spectrum. In June, after Republicans in the state legislature took aim at the program, a Republican legislator came up with a compromise to save the clean judicial elections. But Popesingle-handedly convinced the legislator to drop his compromise proposal, and the pioneering public financing program died, leaving judicial elections vulnerable to partisan spending and the appearance of corruption.
Finally, Ed Gillespie’s original goal was achieved to great effect. In 2011, the newly elected GOP-dominated state legislature redrew the state’s congressional map to cram African-Americans and other largely Democratic constituencies into a small number of districts and increase the number of Republicans elected to Congress. It worked. In 2012, 50.6 percent of North Carolina voters cast their ballots for Democratic congressional candidates. But thanks to the legislature’s extreme partisan gerrymandering, the state’s U.S. House delegation ended up being 69 percent Republican — nine Republicans and only four Democrats.
Citizens Fight Back
North Carolina citizens, recognizing that their democracy has been ripped out of their hands, are fighting back. Since April, civil rights leaders have led weekly “Moral Mondays,” protests of thousands of people in front of the statehouse. So far, more than 900 people have been arrested in the protests, which organizers plan to continue in as the next election approaches.