The same Voting Rights Act that grew partially from the March on Washington 50 years ago into one of the most successful civil rights-era laws has become a source of rancor, even straining the traditional coalition of Republicans and Democrats who have come together in favor of such vigilance. Marking half a century since the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. King gave voice to the aspirations of millions of African-Americans across the country is bittersweet for civil rights activists in 2013. “Within the civil rights movement, there is definitely a sense that there’s a continued war on voting and we haven’t made it to the mountain top yet,” said Katherine Culliton-González, director of Voter Protection for the Advancement project. “Here we are in 2013, at the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, and we’re having to try to stop going backwards.”
During this week’s events commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the March on Washington, the fight for voting rights emerged as a central cause for the civil rights movement. In 1963, few blacks could vote in the states of the Old Confederacy. In 2013, there’s a black president, but the right to vote is under the most sustained attack—in the states and the courts—since the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965. At the official commemoration today, Presidents Obama, Clinton and Carter voiced their dismay over the Supreme Court’s decision gutting the VRA and the rush to implement new voter suppression laws in seven Southern states since the ruling. “A great democracy does not make it harder to vote than to buy an assault weapon,” said Clinton, referencing a Texas voter ID law that accepts a concealed carry permit, but not a student ID, to cast a ballot. “I believe we all know how Dr. King would have reacted to the new ID requirements to exclude certain voters, especially African-Americans,” said Carter. “I think we all know how Dr. King would have reacted to the Supreme Court striking down a crucial part of the Voting Rights Act just recently passed overwhelmingly by Congress.” We must challenge “those who erect new barriers to the vote,” said Obama.
Indeed, in a column for right-wing clearinghouse World Net Daily, longtime conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly acknowledged as much with a defense of North Carolina’s new voting law, which has been criticized for its restrictions on access, among other things. Here’s Schlafly:
“The reduction in the number of days allowed for early voting is particularly important because early voting plays a major role in Obama’s ground game. The Democrats carried most states that allow many days of early voting, and Obama’s national field director admitted, shortly before last year’s election, that ‘early voting is giving us a solid lead in the battleground states that will decide this election. The Obama technocrats have developed an efficient system of identifying prospective Obama voters and then nagging them (some might say harassing them) until they actually vote. It may take several days to accomplish this, so early voting is an essential component of the Democrats’ get-out-the-vote campaign.”
She later adds that early voting “violates the spirit of the Constitution” and facilitates “illegal votes” that “cancel out the votes of honest Americans.” I’m not sure what she means by “illegal votes,” but it sounds an awful lot like voting by Democratic constituencies: students, low-income people, and minorities. Schlafly, it should be noted, isn’t the first Republican to confess the true reason for voter identification laws. Among friendly audiences, they can’t seem to help it.
The golden anniversary of the March on Washington and Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech have appropriately fostered among a great many people unalloyed feelings of pride and nostalgia. Here was a moment of peaceful assembly, a mass redress of elemental grievances of the people, by the people, and for the people, that was capped off by one of the most memorable speeches in American history — one that has eerie relevance 50 years later. That day the meek raised their voices, sounding in the name of justice, and the rest of the nation listened. Soon there was a Civil Rights Act and, a year later, the Voting Rights Act. But as we look back closely on the events of late August 1963, we are reminded, too, of how those events were (or were not) covered by the journalists of that day. It’s easy to look back and glorify the events of August 28, 1963 — to see in speaker John Lewis, for example, a portrait of the hero he would become, 559 days later, on the Edmund Pettus Bridge. But that’s not necessarily how the March and the Speech were covered in real time. There was in 1963 a level of “false equivalence” in reporting on civil rights that, in the name of “objectivity,” equated black demands for racial equality with white concerns about getting there.
The San Diego City Council unanimously voted to hold the special mayoral election on Tuesday, Nov. 19. Mayor Bob Filner recently resigned amid sexual harassment allegations and his last day will be Friday. City Council President Todd Gloria will fulfill duties of the mayor and Council President Pro Tem Sherri Lightner will lead council meetings in place of Gloria until a new mayor is elected. At least seven people have filed paperwork for candidacy, including former mayoral candidate Nathan Fletcher. Other San Diego leaders, including Gloria and Councilmember Kevin Faulconer, have also considered running. The estimated cost is roughly $6 million for a polls election, which was voted for in favor of a mail election.
Pueblo County Clerk Gilbert “Bo” Ortiz was back in Denver District Court Wednesday challenging a rule that bars him from using county-created identification cards as proof of voter identity in the Sept. 10 recall election for state Sen. Angela Giron, D-Pueblo. Denver District Judge Robert McGahey said he would rule on that question and others related to the recall elections Thursday. For instance, the Libertarian Party is challenging the legality of letting voters use an “emergency” email ballot that does not protect their identity. Ortiz already has sent out the yellow voter cards to Senate District 3 voters and each has the voter’s name, address and a voter identification number. Ortiz intended them for fast “express” voting. Secretary of State Scott Gessler advised Ortiz late Tuesday those cards can’t be used as proof of identity. Gessler said Ortiz must stick to previously accepted documents for voter identification, such as a utility bill, driver’s license or passport.
A Manitou Springs woman has filed a complaint against recall election candidate Bernie Herpin for ads he sent out attacking the Democratic senator he hopes to replace. The door hanger, which says “Paid for by Bernie Herpin for Senate District 11” advocates for the recall of Sen. John Morse, D-Colorado Springs. Ann Schmitt says in the complaint that candidate committees are supposed to refrain from spending money or advocating in issue campaigns. The recall portion of the ballot is an issue campaign – with committees advocating for voters to vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to kick Morse out of office. The second portion of the ballot is a candidate campaign – with the Republican candidate Herpin advocating for votes to replace Morse if he is recalled. So Morse’s campaign, which is an issue committee, would be unable to campaign against Herpin who is a candidate and vice-versa.
Reflecting the tensions that marked North Carolina’s legislative session, seven Mecklenburg lawmakers sparred with each other and their audience Wednesday night over the new voting law, education spending and Charlotte’s airport. In a lively exchange at the forum sponsored by the Observer and PNC Bank, lawmakers answered questions about what guest host Mike Collins called a “tumultuous” session. The panel’s four Republicans often found themselves on the defensive before a sometimes raucous audience at Central Piedmont Community College.
Polk County’s Election Commission is continuing to look at new voting machines. At a meeting last Thursday, they heard a presentation from Dominion Voting Sytems. Mike Beckstram of Dominion showed the commission a paper-based digital optical scan system. He said the system was currently being used in Hamilton County, but the company served voting needs all over the country and was the oldest company in the US and had more than 100,000 units in the field. According to Beckstram, once a voter has marked their ballot, it is scanned into a reader. The reader stores the scanned images, which can be compared to the hard copy if questions are ever raised. If chosen, this system will also alert voters if they have missed any categories or if their vote was not read, enabling them to have a second chance if a mistake was made. Beckstram said the machine would not accept an ambiguous vote, and the commission could set the machines so that a certain percentage of the circle would have to be filled out in order for the machine to read it. If the machine cannot read the mark it will alert the voter.
Chances are the name on your voter registration card doesn’t match that on your driver’s license, and that could create some headaches come Election Day. A preliminary comparison of the 13.8 million names on the state’s voter registration rolls against Texas Department of Public Safety records resulted in a match of only 7 million of those names. The variation between the two documents could be as simple as the addition or dropping of a middle name or initial, but according to the state voter ID law that comes into play for the Nov. 5 election, the name on the voter card has to match exactly with that on the ID card. If a voting official deems the names “substantially similar” a voter is off the hook, sort of. He or she will still be required to sign an affidavit stating he/she is the person named in the two documents. However, if the voting official cannot readily make a connection between names, the voter will have to cast a provisional ballot, which takes longer to fill out and process. The state had recommended local election administrators send out letters to voters advising them their voter cards and IDs need to match, but the postage cost has made that prohibitive. With about 890,000 registered voters in Bexar County, that mailout would have cost more than $400,000.
Now facing a Department of Justice lawsuit, the state of Texas has a familiar adversary in its effort to defend a voter ID law that represents the height of expensive political grandstanding. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced last week that he is joining other court challenges to the law, which was struck down as discriminatory by one federal court but then cleared to go under a broader Supreme Court ruling this summer on the Voting Rights Act. This newspaper hopes the new challenges to the ill-conceived law prevail. Reactions from top elected Texas officials to Holder’s lawsuit reek of irony. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst complained that there is “no end to the tricks the Obama administration will play to undermine Texas.” Actually, it was the GOP-dominated Legislature in 2011 that undermined years of Texas tradition honoring the county-issued voter certificate at the polls. In substituting five different types of government photo IDs, lawmakers used the pretext that they were fighting rampant voter fraud, a lame excuse then and now for passing what federal judges called the strictest voter ID provisions in the nation. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott decried Holder’s political motivations in siding with Democratic groups, and we aren’t blind to those bedfellows. But neither were we blind to the utter failure by Republicans in the Legislature to prove their contention that long-standing Texas election laws were widely exploited by voter impersonators at the polls.
U.S. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Menomonee Falls, continues to campaign for Congress to restore many election monitoring powers to the federal government that a Supreme Court decision effectively stripped when it struck down Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act in June. The ruling did not forbid the federal government from subjecting certain jurisdictions to federal approval to make local voting changes, but it did strike down the criteria that the feds have used for nearly 50 years to determine which locales (mostly in the South) would be affected. Until Congress comes up with new criteria, no jurisdictions will be required to get federal approval for changes to their election procedures. “I am committed to restoring the Voting Rights Act as an effective tool to prevent discrimination, more so subtle discrimination now than overt discrimination,” the veteran Republican said in a speech to a Republican National Committee event commemorating the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. Sensenbrenner’s statement is notable for two reasons. First, he is straying from the GOP mantra that the greatest threat to elections is voter fraud, rather than voter disenfranchisement. Although Sensenbrenner supports Voter ID requirements, which Democrats criticize as disproportionately disenfranchising minority voters, Sensenbrenner is apparently not dismissing the notion that roadblocks to minority voting continue.
The Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) in Iraq announced that the campaign for the legislative elections in Iraqi Kurdistan will start on Aug. 28 and last until Sept. 17. The Sept. 21 legislative elections will be the most crucial elections in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq’s history, as it may be a turning point to change the political shape of the next parliament as well as the new government cabinet. The president of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), Massoud Barzani, announced on May 26 that all three elections — presidential, legislative and provincial — would be held on Sept. 21. According to the Kurdistan Region of Iraq’s parliamentary election law, presidential and legislative elections should be held simultaneously. But soon after this announcement, on June 30, parliament extended Barzani’s term for another two years. Meanwhile, IHEC delayed the provincial elections until Nov. 21.
The Greens are celebrating the Government’s decision to allow online voter enrolment before next year’s general election. Justice Minister Judith Collins has announced she’ll be bringing a bill to Parliament amending the Electoral Act. Online enrolment is the most important change to the voting process and when the system has been set up new voters will be able to use it to enrol for the first time. Existing voters will be able to use it to update their details. The Greens have been calling for it since the 2011 election.
Whatever President Barack Obama says at the March on Washington ceremony on Wednesday, his administration has already sent a loud message of its own: ramping up its push on voting rights by way of a risky strategy — and pledging more tough moves to come. The irony of the historical forces colliding at that moment won’t be lost on anyone. The nation’s first African-American president, standing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial where Martin Luther King Jr. stood 50 years earlier, will speak at a time when many African-Americans and other minorities feel that the Voting Rights Act — one of the proudest accomplishments of the civil rights movement — is being dismantled. The backdrop for the big event is a surge in voter ID laws and other restrictive election measures, and the legal fight the Obama administration has picked with Texas to stop the wave. It’s suing to block the state’s voter ID law from taking effect, a clear signal to other states to think twice before they pass any more restrictions on voting rights.
This week, former Secretary of State Colin Powell — a Republican who served under President George W. Bush — called out North Carolina on its voter ID law while speaking at the CEO Forum in Raleigh. He said the law punishes minorities and is counterproductive for the Republican Party. He also said voter fraud doesn’t exist, as the News & Observer reported: “You can say what you like, but there is no voter fraud,” Powell said. “How can it be widespread and undetected?” But restrictive, discriminatory voting laws are not exclusive to the Tar Heel state. When Hillary Clinton recently said North Carolina’s Voter Information Verification Act law was “the greatest hits of voter suppression,” she was referring to the fact that it draws from a number of election laws that states have attempted to pass, mostly in the South.
The special election to replace outgoing Mayor Bob Filner will cost roughly $6 million and could force city leaders to tap reserves or make budget cuts in order to pay for it. The City Council voted unanimously Wednesday to set the special election for Nov. 19 as the city charter gave the panel zero wiggle room to choose a less-costly option. The voter-approved charter requires a special election if a mayor resigns with more than one year left on his term. Filner, who took office in December, has more than three years remaining on his term. If Filner had less than a year remaining, the council would have appointed a successor. Filner is scheduled to resign at 5 p.m. Friday in response to lurid allegations of inappropriate sexual behavior and unwanted advances toward nearly 20 women. The council accepted his signed resignation letter last week which allowed them to call a special election before he officially exits office.