Countdown Clocks

Countdown Clocks

Tweets by @JGibsonDem
Posts tagged "Voting Rights Act"


Just over a year after the Supreme Court ruled that the nation has made so much progress on voting rights that key legal protections are no longer needed, a coalition of civil rights groups released a report documenting hundreds of voter discrimination and suppression cases. The organizations also called on Congress to rewrite the gutted section of the Voting Rights Act.

“Voters will more vulnerable this November than they have been in decades,” said Barbara Arnwine, Executive Director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, in a conference call with reporters. “Contrary to the Supreme Court’s assertion, voter discrimination is still rampant, and states continue to implement voting laws and procedures that disproportionately affect minorities.”

The report, released this week on the 49th anniversary of the signing of the Voting Rights Act, counted 332 cases in the last two decades in which voters successfully sued for violations of their voting rights, or when the U.S. Department of Justice blocked a state or county’s attempt to change their voting laws in an unconstitutional way. They counted another ten instances in which aggrieved voters settled out of court.

Tellingly, the majority of the violations happened in a small handful of states — Texas, Georgia, Louisiana and Mississippi, with South Carolina close behind — that were covered by the very Voting Rights Act formula that the Supreme Court ruled outdated and unconstitutional. As a result of the Court’s Shelby County decision, the Justice Department may no longer deploy federal observers to the formerly covered states to deter and report race-based voter suppression. The civil rights advocates that the loss of this federal monitoring program will result in “a substantial increase in voter intimidation.”

Dolores Huerta, a longtime civil and labor rights activist who organized farmworkers with Cesar Chavez, told reporters the study indicates another trend she called “appalling.”

“As the Latino community grows in numbers and their influence grows in the political process, discrimination also seems to be growing,” she said. “It is sad to see how legislation and practices have continued unabated against people of Latino descent.”

Huerta and others involved in the National Commission on the Voting Rights said their research found that modern day voter suppression takes a variety of forms, and not all of them have received the kind of media and political attention garnered by controversial gerrymandering and voter ID laws.

Huerta pointed to states that disenfranchise former felons after they have served out their sentences, or charge them hefty fines to have their voting rights restored. Arnwine also mentioned dozens of documented violations involving the local government’s failure to provide ballots and information in other languages, which they are required to do by law.

Vice-Chair Leon Russell of the NAACP added: “When I attended hearings [on voting rights] in Florida and Mississippi, we saw continuing barriers to equal participation. We saw long lines created intentionally, either by not having enough polling places in certain areas, or not having enough machines at those places. Some counties in Florida even got rid of bathrooms at the polls, which makes it harder not just for people with disabilities, but for everyone.”

The report comes on the heels of another study debunking the main justification used for passing many of the controversial voting laws in question: fraud.

Harvard Professor Justin Levitt surveyed more than a billion votes cast in general, primary, special, and municipal elections across the US from 2000 through 2014, and found only 31 credible instances of voter impersonation. And many of those 31 were never confirmed and prosecuted.

Source; Alice Ollstein for ThinkProgress


Immigrants, gay people, children, minority voters, the environment, elderly Americans and, of course, President Obama, are the big losers in the Texas Republican Party’s2014 platform. Meanwhile, rich taxpayers, conspiracy theorists and Wall Street make out like gangbusters. The 40 page document, which was released to the public on Wednesday, provides a healthy serving of red meat to nearly every segment of American conservatives. Even anti-pornography activists can find something to love in this platform

We read through the entire platform so that your wouldn’t have to. Here are some of the most bizarre ideas we discovered:

1) Pornography Should Be Treated Just Like Cocaine

Texas Republicans “encourage state and federal governments to severely prosecute illegal dealers and manufacturers of addictive substances, including pornography.” They also support “the enforcement of laws regarding all forms of pornography, because pornography is detrimental to society.”

2) Social Security Should Be Phased Out

The Texas GOP platform calls for “an immediate and orderly transition” away from Social Security and towards “a system of private pensions based on the concept of individual retirement accounts.” It also supports “gradually phasing out the Social Security tax,” a proposal which will starve the program for funding. According to a 2012 study, Social Security keeps over 20 million Americans from falling into poverty.

3) Texas Should Veto Federal Laws

“Nullification” is an unconstitutional doctrine which claims that states may invalidate federal laws within their own borders. It’s also explicitly repudiated by the Constitution, which provides that duly enacted federal laws “shall be the supreme law of the land; and the judges in every state shall be bound thereby, anything in the constitution or laws of any state to the contrary notwithstanding.” Nevertheless, the Texas GOP platform calls for the state legislature to “ignore, oppose, refuse, and nullify any federal mandated legislation which infringes upon the states’ 10th Amendment Right.” Although the platform is vague regarding how Texas Republicans interpret the Tenth Amendment, the top Republican in Texas, Gov. Rick Perry, has argued that Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid all violate this amendment.

As a bonus, the platform also claims that the FBI and other federal law enforcement agencies should have to get a Texas sheriff’s permission before they can investigate federal crimes.

4) Americans Should Not Be Allowed To Choose Their Own Senators

The Seventeenth Amendment abolished an older practice that empowered state lawmakers to choose their state’s senators, in no small part because the old system “led to rampant and blatant corruption, letting corporations and other moneyed interests effectively buy U.S. Senators, and tied state legislatures up in numerous, lengthy deadlocks over whom to send to Washington.” The Texas GOP platform, however, wants to return to the day when the American people could not vote on their own senators. “Full Repeal of the 17th Amendment of the United States Constitution” is one of the platform’s demands.

5) The Problem With America’s Schools Is That They Have Too Much Money

According to the Texas GOP, “[s]ince data is clear that additional money does not translate into educational achievement, and higher education costs are out of control, we support reducing taxpayer funding to all levels of education institutions.”

6) All Federal Agencies Should Be Rendered Impotent

Texas Republicans “decry the appointment of unelected bureaucrats, and we urge Congress to use their constitutional authority to defund and abolish these positions and return authority to duly elected officials” — a sweeping statement that appears to rule out allowing anyone from being paid to implement federal laws. It is not clear whether United States Senators would qualify as “unelected bureaucrats,” if the Texas GOP’s proposal to abolish the Seventeenth Amendment became law.

As an interim measure, before all “unelected bureaucrats” are fired, the platform says that “[e]xecutive decisions by agencies must be reviewed and approved by Congress before taking effect” — a provision that would make it virtually impossible for any executive agency to do anything at all, given the paralytic state of our Congress. The platform also calls for “Elimination of Executive Orders,” and it names once agency in particular as particularly disfavored — “We believe the Environmental Protection Agency should be abolished.”

7) Climate Change Is A Myth

Texas Republicans don’t just want to eliminate the Environmental Protect Agency, they deny the overwhelming scientific consensus indicating that man-made climate change is a real and serious problem. Climate change, according to the Texas GOP, “is a political agenda which attempts to control every aspect of our lives.”

8) Congress Must Act Now To Prevent America From Becoming A Muslim Caliphate

The platform urges “the Texas Legislature and the United States Congress to enact legislation prohibiting any judicial jurisdiction from allowing any substitute or parallel system of law, specifically foreign law (including Sharia Law), which is not in accordance with the United States or Texas Constitutions.” Bans on Sharia law are a common proposal raised by Islamophobic state lawmakers. Yet, in an opinion blocking Oklahoma’s Sharia ban, a federal appeals court explained that the law’s defenders “did not know of even a single instance where an Oklahoma court had applied Sharia law or used the legal precepts of other nations or cultures, let alone that such applications or uses had resulted in concrete problems in Oklahoma.”

9) God Hates Gay People, And Their Bosses Should Be Allowed To Fire Them For Being Gay

“Homosexuality is a chosen behavior that is contrary to the fundamental unchanging truths that have been ordained by God in the Bible,” according to Texas Republicans. Moreover, the platform denounces the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would prohibit anti-gay employment discrimination, explaining that “government regulations which would coerce business owners and employees to violate their own consciences, beliefs, and principles.”

10) Gayness Can Be Cured

The Texas GOP “recognize[s] the legitimacy and efficacy of counseling, which offers reparative therapy and treatment for those patients seeking healing and wholeness from their homosexual lifestyle.” In reality, people who have undergone such “theapy” describe it as a source of “shame, emotional harm, self-hate, suicidal ideation, and nervous breakdowns.”

11) The Voting Rights Act Should Be Repealed

The Supreme Court recently gutted a key provision of the Voting Rights Act, which prevents voters from being denied the right to vote because of their race. Nevertheless, the act’s provision allowing lawsuits challenging state laws that deny or abridge “the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race or color” remains in effect. Texas Republicans want to change that — “We urge that the Voter Rights Act of 1965, codified and updated in 1973, be repealed and not reauthorized.”

Additionally, the platform calls for a wide range of laws that will make it harder to cast a vote: “We support repeal of all motor voter laws; re-registering voters every four years; requiring photo ID of all registrants; proof of residency and citizenship, along with voter registration application; retention of the 30-day registration deadline; and requiring that a list of certified deaths be provided to the Secretary of State in order that the names of deceased voters be removed from the list of registered voters.”

12) America Needs More Income Inequality

The platform calls for a broad range of tax reforms that would overwhelmingly benefit the wealthiest Americans, including a “flat tax,” “[a]bolishment of estate taxes,” “[a]bolishment of capital gains taxes” and “[a]bolishment of the gift tax.” Meanwhile, here’s how wealthy people are currently faring even without the Texas GOP’s tax reforms:

income inequality pew

13) Children Of Non-Citizens Should Be Stripped Of Their Citizenship

Texas Republicans call “on the Texas Legislature to pass a constitutional amendment that defines citizenship as those born to a citizen of the United States or through naturalization.” Texas lawmakers do not, however, have the authority to unilaterally amend the United States Constitution, which provides that “[a]ll persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.” The words “subject to the jurisdiction thereof” in this context, only excludes a small group of children, such as the children of foreign diplomats who enjoy diplomatic immunity to U.S. law.

14) The Supreme Court Should Not Be Allowed To Enforce The Bill of Rights

The platform urges “Congress to withhold Supreme Court jurisdiction in cases involving abortion, religious freedom, and the Bill of Rights.” The constitutionality of this proposal is doubtful, but it is also unclear whether the Texas GOP has fully thought out whether it makes sense to reduce the power of the conservative Roberts Court. In recent years, the Supreme Court has not simply expanded gun rights under the Second Amendment, it also appears likely to give business owners new authority to ignore federal laws they object to on religious grounds.

15) America Needs To Quit The United Nations

The Texas GOP supports “the withdrawal of the United States from the United Nations and the removal of United Nations headquarters from United States soil.” Additionally, it appears to embrace a conspiracy theory previously touted by one of Texas’ most famous Republicans. The platform “oppose[s] implementation of the United Nations Agenda 21 treaty policies and its supporting organizations, agreements, and contracts which were adopted at the Earth Summit Conference in 1992.” In reality, Agenda 21 is a more than two decades-old non-binding resolution which primarily speaks at a high level of generality about reducing poverty and building sustainable living environments. During his campaign for the United States Senate, however, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) claimed that it “attempts to abolish ‘unsustainable’ environments, including golf courses, grazing pastures, and paved roads,” and that the originator of this War on Golf is liberal billionaire George Soros.


Finally, the platform embraces the widespread belief among Republican legislators and views of Fox News that the deaths of several Americans in Benghazi, Libya was not just a tragedy, but that it is also part of some grand criminal conspiracy by the Obama Administration. Texas Republicans want a special prosecutor to try to uncover what countless congressional hearings have yet to find — evidence of criminal action on the part of administration officials. It also calls for “bringing those responsible to justice, including jail time.”

Source: Ian Millhiser for ThinkProgress

h/t: Miranda Blue at RWW


On Saturday the right wing Tea Party group Texas Eagle Forum achieved its goal: support for so-called “ex-gay” or “reparative” therapy became an official plank of the Texas Republican Party’s 2014 platform. The Texas Eagle Forum is a state affiliate of the Eagle Forum, a far-right wing anti-gay, conservative, anti-women, anti-feminist organization bordering on white supremacy, founded by Phyllis Schlafly.

“Pray away the gay,” “ex-gay,” or “reparative” so-called therapy has been deemed harmful or dangerous by major medical associations worldwide, including the American Psychological Association, American Psychiatric Association, American Medical Association, Royal College of Psychiatrists, and the Pan-American Health Organisation (World Health Organisation), among others.

The draft version was largely approved, and voted upon only in a voice vote in which the 7000 delegates were not given copies of the document but rather, heard a reading of parts before voting.

Within the extensive draft are far-reaching and outlandish planks, including these containing support for ex-gay therapy, and other extremely anti-gay positions:

Homosexuality must not be presented as an acceptable alternative lifestyle, in public policy, nor should family be redefined to include homosexual couples. We believe there should be no granting of special legal entitlements or creation of special status for homosexual behavior, regardless of state of origin. Additionally, we oppose any criminal or civil penalties against those who oppose homosexuality out of faith, conviction, or belief in traditional values. We recognize the legitimacy and value of counseling which offers reparative therapy and treatment to patients who are seeking escape from the homosexual lifestyle. No laws or executive orders shall be imposed to limit or restrict access to this type of therapy.

We oppose any government agency to force faith-based adoption or foster care organizations to place children with same-sex couples.

We support the definition of marriage as a God-ordained, legal and moral commitment only between a natural man and a natural woman.
• We support withholding jurisdiction from the Federal Courts in cases involving family law, especially any changes in the definition of marriage.
• We shall not recognize or grant to any unmarried person the legal rights or status of a spouse.
• We oppose the recognition of and granting of benefits to people who represent themselves as domestic partners without being legally married.
• We urge the Legislature to rescind no-fault divorce laws and support Covenant Marriage.

Covenant Marriage is defined as a “legal union of Husband and Wife that requires premarital counseling, marital counseling if problems occur, and limited grounds for Divorce.”

And more anti-gay language:

We support the enforcement of the State and Federal Defense of Marriage Act and oppose benefits for partnerships outside of marriage provided by political subdivisions.

We oppose government regulations which would coerce religious business owners and employees to violate their own beliefs and principles by affirming what they consider to be sinful and sexually immoral behavior.

We oppose the assault on marriage by judicial activists.

The plank that lambasts so-called “activist judges,” without definition, presumably those who strike down same-sex marriage bans.

And this one against ENDA.

We call Congress and the President to use their constitutional powers to restrain activist judges. We urge Congress to adopt the Judicial Conduct Act of 2005 and remove judges who abuse their authority. Further, we urge Congress to withhold Supreme Court jurisdiction in cases involving abortion, religious freedom, and the Bill of Rights.

The platform supports a medical record computer database or registry to track people living with HIV.

Yet another plank would make voting exceptionally hard:

We support restoring integrity to the voter registration rolls and reducing voter fraud. We support repeal of all Motor Voter laws; re-registering voters every four years; requiring photo ID of all registrants; proof of residency and citizenship, along with voter registration application; retention of the 30-day registration deadline; and requiring that a list of certified deaths be provided to the election administrator in order that the names of deceased voters be removed from the list of registered voters.

And the Texas GOP platform even supports the repeal of the historic landmark Voting Rights Act:

We urge that the Voter Rights Act of 1965 codified and updated in 1973 be repealed and not reauthorized.

The plank adds, “affirmative action reintroduces race as a divisive force in American life. The Republican Party of Texas believes in equal opportunity for all citizens without regard to race or gender. Affirmative action casts doubt on minority achievement making such achievement as seemingly unearned. We believe that true minority advancement will come from a demand for personal responsibility, accountability and competitive excellence.”

And then, bring on the real crazy:

The Republican Party of Texas should expose all United Nations Agenda 21 treaty policies and its supporting organizations, agreements and contracts. We oppose implementation of the UN Agenda 21 Program which was adopted at the Earth Summit Conference in 1992 purporting to promote a comprehensive program of sustainable development projects, nationally, regionally and locally. We oppose the influence, promotion and implementation of nongovernmental organizations, metropolitan and/or regional planning organizations, Councils of Government, and International Council for Local Environmental initiatives and the use of American (Texas) citizen’s taxes to promote these programs.

Anti-science abounds:

“We support objective teaching and equal treatment of all sides of scientific theories.” Creationism and climate change “should be taught as challengeable scientific theories subject to change as new data is produced.”

If all this weren’t enough, the Texas GOP wants to use this platform as a litmus test — all Republicans running for office in Texas must support every plank, or else:

Every Republican is responsible for implementing this platform. Party candidates should indicate their positions on platform planks before their acceptance on the ticket and such information should be available on the Party website.

English should be the official language of Texas:

We support adoption of American English as the official language of Texas and of the United States.

The platform also calls for mandatory drug testing for all welfare recipients.

It is anti-vaccine:

“All adult citizens should have the legal right to conscientiously choose which vaccines are administered to themselves, or their minor children, without penalty for refusing a vaccine.”

“Students should pledge allegiance to the US and Texas flags daily to instill patriotism.”

Abstinence-only sex ed:

We oppose any sex education other than the biology of reproduction and abstinence until marriage.

And even more crazy:

“We believe the Minimum Wage Law should be repealed.”

“We support the withdrawal of the United States from the United Nations and the removal of U.N. headquarters from United States soil.”

Hat tip: TPM

H/T: Brian Tashman at RWW


The ACLU, along with the Ohio chapter of the NAACP, filed a lawsuit on Thursday challenging the state’s new restrictions on early voting. Given the timing, it seems plausible that the suit seeks to block Ohio’s cuts to early voting in time for November’s midterm elections. 

Target No. 1 of the suit is Ohio Senate Bill 238, a new 2014 law that eliminated Ohio’s so-called “Golden Week,” of early voting, when voters in the state could previously register to vote and cast a vote at the same time. And there’s another provision challenged in the suit: Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted’s decision to eliminate Sunday voting, voting hours on the Monday before the election, and evening voting hours, in the name of having more “uniform” voting times across the state.Since minority communities are more likely to take advantage of early and evening voting periods, the suit argues, the new round of restrictions violate Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. 

The ACLU explained the complaint in a statement: 

In the 2012 election, more than 157,000 Ohioans voted on the days that have now been cut. A disproportionately high percentage of those are low-income voters, many of whom are also African American. Lower-income voters tend to rely on evening and Sunday voting because they cannot take paid time off of work to vote during regular business hours. Single parents need these hours because it’s the only time they can find friends or family who can provide child care. People experiencing homelessness or severe transience rely on the opportunity to register and vote at the same time during the first week of early voting. And among the African-American church community, Sunday voting has become an important cultural tradition.

Sound familiar? It should. Ohio is hardly the first state to eliminate voting hours disproportionately used by minority and low income voters. Wisconsin’s governor just signed a new law that basically means the state only has early voting hours when everyone is at work. These new restrictions are the opposite of what a recent report from the Presidential Commission on Election Administration said states should be doing to ensure that all voters are able to get to the polls. That commission urged states to expand, not eliminate, early voting opportunities. Ohio has tried at least twice since 2011 to eliminate portions of the “Golden Week” voting period. Both times, the state has been forced to reinstate those hours, the ACLU explains

Overall, the new restrictions on early voting hours nationwide come from Republican-controlled legislatures, justified by the argument that the uniform hours will combat voter fraud. But many, including a federal judge this week, have questioned whether that concern really warrants sweeping restrictions on when and how American citizens can vote. In a decision against Wisconsin’s Voter ID laws, U.S. District Judge Lynn Adelman wrote that a person would have to be insane to commit voter-impersonation fraud,” given the current strict punishments on the books for the crime. 

Source: Abby Ohlheiser for The Wire

Today Representatives Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) and John Conyers (D-MI) and Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) will introduce legislation to strengthen the Voting Rights Act of 1965 in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision last June invalidating a critical section of the VRA. The legislation, known as “The Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014,” represents the first attempt by a bipartisan group in Congress to reinstate the vital protections of the VRA that the Supreme Court took away.

In the Shelby County v. Holder ruling on June 25, 2013, the Court’s conservative majority struck down Section 4 of the VRA, the formula that compelled specific states with a well-documented history of voting discrimination to clear their voting changes with the federal government under Section 5 of the VRA. The two provisions were always meant to work together; without Section 4, Section 5 became a zombie, applying to zero states.

Section 4 covered nine states (Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia) and parts of six others (in California, Florida, Michigan, New York, North Carolina, South Dakota) based on evidence of voting discrimination against blacks and other minority groups dating back to the 1960s and 1970s. Since the Shelby decision, eight states previously covered under Section 4 have passed or implemented new voting restrictions. This includes onerous new laws in states like North Carolina and Texas, which the Justice Department objected to under other provisions of the VRA (Sections 2 and 3).

The Sensenbrenner-Conyers-Leahy bill strengthens the VRA in five distinct ways:

1: The legislation draws a new coverage formula for Section 4, thereby resurrecting Section 5. States with five violations of federal law to their voting changes over the past fifteen years will have to submit future election changes for federal approval. This new formula would currently apply to Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas. Local jurisdictions would be covered if they commit three or more violations or have one violation and “persistent, extremely low minority turnout” over the past fifteen years.

The formula is based on a rolling calendar, updated with a current fifteen-year time period to exempt states who are no longer discriminating or add new ones who are, creating a deterrent against future voting rights violations. It’s based on empirical conditions and current data, not geography or a fixed time period—which voting rights advocates hope will satisfy Chief Justice John Roberts should the new legislation be enacted and reach the Supreme Court.

The new Section 4 proposal is far from perfect. It does not apply to states with an extensive record of voting discrimination, like Alabama (where civil rights protests in Selma gave birth to the VRA), Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia, which were previously subject to Section 5. Nor does it apply to states like Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin that have enacted new voting restrictions in the past few years.

Moreover, rulings against voter ID laws—like in Texas in 2012—will not count as a new violation. Voter ID laws can still be blocked by the Department of Justice or federal courts in the new states covered under Section 4, but that will not be included as one of the five violations needed to keep the state covered. This exemption for voter ID laws was written to win the support of House majority leader Eric Cantor and other Republicans.

2: The legislation strengthens Section 3 of the VRA, which has been described as the Act’s “secret weapon.” Under Section 3, jurisdictions not covered by Section 4 could be “bailed-in” to federal supervision, but plaintiffs had to show evidence of intentional voting discrimination, which is very difficult to do in court. Under the new Section 3 proposal, any violation of the VRA or federal voting rights law—whether intentional or not—can be grounds for a bail-in, which will make it far easier to cover new states. (One major caveat, again, is that court objections to voter ID laws cannot be used as grounds for “bail-in” under Section 3.)

3: The legislation mandates that jurisdictions in all fifty states have to provide notice in the local media and online of any election procedures related to redistricting changes within 120 days before a federal election and the moving of a polling place. This will make it easier for citizens to identify potentially harmful voting changes in the forty-six states not subject to Sections 4 and 5.

4: The legislation makes it easier to seek a preliminary injunction against a potentially discriminatory voting law. Plaintiffs will now only have to show that the hardship to them outweighs the hardship to the state if a law is blocked in court pending a full trial. There will be a preliminary injunction hearing on North Carolina’s voting law in July 2014, before the full trial takes place July 2015.

5: The legislation reaffirms that the attorney general can send federal observers to monitor elections in states subject to Section 4 and expands the AG’s authority to send observers to jurisdictions with a history of discriminating against language minority groups, which includes parts of twenty-five states.

The bill is certain to have its critics, including on the left. Voting rights supporters will argue, justifiably, that the new Section 4 formula does not apply to enough states and wrongly treats voter ID laws differently than other discriminatory voting changes. Despite these flaws, the legislation represents a significant improvement over the disastrous post-Shelby status quo, which has seen states like North Carolina and Texas rush to pass blatantly discriminatory voting restrictions after being freed from federal oversight. The legislation strengthens voting rights protections in a number of tangible ways and gives the federal government and voting rights advocates new tools to combat voting discrimination.

The sponsors of the bill have a lot of credibility on this issue. Sensenbrenner, as chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, shepherded through the 2006 reauthorization of the VRA—which passed 390-33 in the House and 98-0 in the Senate. Conyers first entered Congress in 1965, the year of the VRA’s passage, and has served on the House Judiciary Committee ever since. Leahy is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and has recently worked with Sensenbrenner on reforming the NSA.

The problem of contemporary voting discrimination ultimately requires a solution that only Congress can provide. It was Congress, after all, that passed the VRA in 1965 in response to the failure of litigation to stop the mass disenfranchisement of black voters in the South. Yes, yes, I realize that a Congress that can scarcely do more than name a Post Office nowadays is not likely to resurrect the VRA any time soon—especially when so much of the GOP is devoted to erecting new barriers to the ballot box. But now that there’s legislation on the table, members of Congress face a choice: Do you want to make it easier or harder for people to vote? The question, and answer, is really that simple.

h/t: Ari Berman at The Nation

h/t: Think Progress Justice

h/t: Ari Berman at The Nation


For years, Augusta, Georgia, has held its local elections in November, when turnout is high. But last year, state Republicans changed the election date to July, when far fewer blacks make it to the polls.  

The effort was blocked under the Voting Rights Act (VRA) by the federal government, which cited the harm that the change would do to minorities. But now that the Supreme Court has badly weakened the landmark civil rights law, the move looks to be back on. The city’s African-Americans say they know what’s behind it.

“It’s a maneuver to suppress our voting participation,” Dr. Charles Smith, the president of Augusta’s NACCP branch, told msnbc.

The dispute is flaring at a time when Georgia, long deep-red, is becoming increasingly politically competitive, and Democrats have nominated two candidates with famous names for high-profile statewide races next year.

Voting rights experts say the events in Augusta may be a sign of what’s to come—or even of what’s already happening. In June, the Supreme Court invalidated Section 5 of the VRA, which had required certain jurisdictions, mostly in the south, to submit election changes to the federal government to ensure they didn’t harm minority voters. Since then, harsh voting restrictions put in place by several southern states have generated national news coverage—Texas’ voter ID law and North Carolina’s sweeping voting bill most prominent among them. But most of the changes stopped by Section 5 weren’t statewide laws. Instead, they were measures adopted at the local or county level.

“It’s school boards, and county commissions, and city councils, and water districts, and police juries,” Julie Fernandes, a former top voting-rights official at the Justice Department, said last week at apanel on voting rights. “It’s all the stuff that really, really, really matters to folks all over the country, where they live.”

So it’s no surprise that since the high court’s ruling, smaller jurisdictions from Georgia to Arizona are moving to change election rules in ways that undermine hard-won minority political power. Donita Judge, a staff attorney with the Advancement Project, a civil-rights organization, said these kind of local election changes deserve more focused attention.

“In many ways, those type of elections are the ones that really impact you day-to-day,” Judge told msnbc. “We have to keep our eyes on those areas also.”

In Augusta, a city with a troubled history of race bias in elections, conservatives reached back over a century to unearth a tactic that was used to keep blacks from the polls during Jim Crow: changing the date of elections.

Last year, Rep. Barbara Sims, a Republican who represents the area, pushed a law through Georgia’s GOP-controlled legislature that applied only to Augusta. Against the clear wishes of the city council, the law moved the city’s elections for mayor and city council from the day of the general election in November to the day of the primaries in July.

Sims said at the time the goal was to establish uniformity with other non-partisan local elections in the state, which had been moved to July under previous legislation that applied only to counties, not cities.

But local Democrats and minorities saw the law as a bid to lower turnout among blacks, who usually vote in much higher numbers in November general elections, which tend to have a high profile, than they do in less-publicized primaries.

That figures to be particularly true next year, when two highly anticipated statewide races are likely to draw black voters to the polls in the fall. Jimmy Carter’s grandson, Jason Carter, is challenging the incumbent Republican governor, Nathan Deal. And Michelle Nunn, the daughter of longtime Georgia senator Sam Nunn, is running for an open U.S. Senate seat that could help determine control of the chamber. Adding to the intensity of the partisan conflict, there’s growing talk that, as with Texas, demographic trends could slowly be turning Georgia blue.

A close look at turnout numbers bears out the concern that the change in Augusta will hurt minorities. Seventy-five percent of Augusta blacks voted in the November 2012 general election, while just 33% did so in the July primaries. By comparison, 73% of whites voted in November, and 43% voted in July, according to U.S. Justice Department figures. 2010 showed a similar pattern. In other words, moving the election from November to July would likely lead to a sharp decline in voting among both blacks and whites—in itself an argument against the change—but the drop-off would be bigger among blacks.

Turnout rates are often the key factor in election results in Augusta, where blacks make up a slim majority of the population. If black and white turnout is roughly equal, as it tends to be in November, black and black-supported candidates can win. If whites turn out at a higher rate, as they usually do in July, white conservative candidates get a major boost.

Among the candidates likely to be harmed by the election change is state Sen. Hardie Davis, an African-American Democrat running for mayor.

Citing those turnout numbers, the Justice Department blocked the change last December under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, finding that it would reduce the political power of Augusta’s blacks. 

“Although the change affects only Augusta-Richmond, it does not appear to have been requested by local citizens or officials,” a Justice Department official wrote in a letter to Georgia officials. “There is no evidence that the legislation’s sponsors informed, much less sought the views of the local delegation, minority legislators, or local officials about the change at any point.”

This wasn’t the first time the Feds had stepped in to block changes that they concluded would hurt Augusta’s black citizens. As the Justice Department noted, there was even a previous effort in Augusta to move the election from November to July, blocked by DoJ in 1989.

But then came the Supreme Court’s ruling in Shelby County v. Holder. Deciding that the South had made enough progress on race relations since the 1960s, the court declared the formula behind Section 5 unconstitutional, neutering the provision unless Congress acts.

That led the office of Georgia’s attorney general to conclude that the move to July could go forward. The secretary of state still needs to rule on the issue, and lawsuits are expected whatever the outcome. But it currently looks more likely than not that the election will be moved.

If it is, Augusta would join a growing list of places where conservatives have taken advantage of the Shelby County ruling to institute changes that diminish the political influence of local blacks and Hispanics.

As msnbc reported last monthShelby gave a key boost to a group of white conservatives in Beaumont, Texas, who have been pushing to oust the black majority of the local school board. Not far away in the city of Pasadena, just east of Houston, Shelby also emboldened conservatives to pass a voter initiative this month that changes the way council districts are drawn up, likely reducing the council’s Hispanic representation. Galveston County, also in southeast Texas, seized on Shelby to push forward in August with a plan that would reduce the number of minority justices of the peace, a version of which had been blocked under Section 5 last year. And Arizona is now moving forward with a plan to add two at-large members to the district community college board for Maricopa County, which had been blocked under Section 5 because it would dilute minority representation on the board.

Those cases may just be the tip of the iceberg. Without Section 5’s preclearance requirement, there’s no longer an effective way for national voting-rights advocates and the federal government to find out about ground-level changes.

“We, and I’m sure the Department of Justice as well, are all trying to figure out how we’re going to learn about those kinds of changes at the local level now,” Dale Ho, the director of the ACLU’s voting-rights project, told msnbc. “I just have a hard time believing this is the only thing happening out there. But right now we don’t know.”



Two things, Ted. One, that would be 99 more, not 100. Second, regressive segregationist bigots in the Senate is probably going to be a non-starter among a number of minority and ethnic groups:

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said Wednesday that the country would be better off if the Senate was full of people like Jesse Helms, the late senator who was ardently opposed to all kinds of civil rights measures and even tried to block the Senate from approving a federal holiday in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr.

During remarks at a Heritage Foundation event dubbed the “Jesse Helms Lecture Series,” Cruz told a story of Helms receiving a $5,000 political donation from actor John Wayne, who apparently later told Helms he liked him because “you’re that guy saying all those crazy things” and that there needed to be 100 more of him.

“It’s every bit as true now as it was then,” Cruz said. “We need 100 more like Jesse Helms in the U.S. Senate.”

Helms, the conservative North Carolina Republican who served in the Senate for 30 years, was known for his efforts to stop progressive polices relating to gay rights, abortion and race. He voted against the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which he referred to as “the single most dangerous piece of legislation ever introduced in the Congress.” When the Senate acted in 1983 to create a federal holiday honoring King, Helms staged a 16-day filibuster to try to block it. He ultimately caved in exchange for action on a tobacco bill.

Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) — who was the youngest speaker during the March on Washington in 1963 — delivered a passionate address about the importance of protecting voting rights at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial fifty years later, as thousands gathered to celebrate the anniversary of the historic event on Saturday.

“When I stood here 50 years ago, I said one man, one vote is the African cry. It is ours, too. it must be ours,” he began, before connecting the demands of 1963 to today’s struggles. “Almost 50 years ago, I gave a little blood on that bridge in Selma, Alabama, for the right to vote. I am not going to stand by and let the Supreme Court take the right to vote away from us!”

LEWIS: You cannot stand by. You cannot sit down. You have to stand up, speak up, speak out and get in the way. Make some noise. The vote is precious. It is almost sacred. It’s the most powerful non-violent tool we have in a democratic society and we’ve got to use it. Back in 1963 we didn’t have a cellular telephone, iPad, iPod, but we used what we had to bring about a non-violent revolution. And I said to all of the young people, you must get out there and push and pull and make America what America should be for all of us. We must say to the Congress, ‘Fix the Voting Rights Act’

Watch it:

Since the Supreme Court struck down a key section of the Voting Rights Act that allowed the federal government to decide if voting changes in states with histories of disenfranchisement are discriminatory, at least six states have renewed efforts to pass voter ID measures, redistricting maps that could divide and weaken minority voting blocks, and other voter suppression measures.

North Carolina became the first to enact what some are describing as “the worst voter suppression law” in the country. The measure mandates strict voter ID to cast a ballot, reduces the number of early voting days by a week, eliminates same-day voter registration during the early voting period, eliminates flexibility in opening early voting sites at different hours within a county and ends pre-registration for 16 and 17 year olds, among other changes.

Earlier on Saturday, Attorney General Eric Holder, whose department is considering a challenge to the law, said equal access to the ballot box is a key part of advancing “our nation’s quest for justice.” “This morning, we affirm that this struggle must, and will, go on in the cause of our nation’s quest for justice – until every eligible American has the chance to exercise his or her right to vote, unencumbered by discriminatory or unneeded procedures, rules, or practices,” he said. The Justice Department is suing to stop Texas’ restrictive voter ID law and is also seeking a declaration from the court that the state’s legislative and congressional maps were redrawn specifically to hurt minority voting power.

“So hang in there, keep the faith,” Lewis extolled. “I got arrested 40 times during the ’60s, beaten, bloodied and unconscious. I’m not tired, I’m not weary. I’m not prepared to sit down and give up. I am ready to fight and continue to fight, and you must fight.”

h/t: Igor Volsky at Think Progress Justice