At a recent meeting of the Pennsylvania GOP State Committee, the top Republican in the state House of Representatives, Mike Turzai, declared that a new requirement for voters to show identification with a photograph on it “is going to allow Gov. [Mitt] Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania.” He drew wild applause from Republicans in the crowd. The new law being referred to won approval under the state’s Republican Governor Tom Corbett and the GOP majority in the state legislature. The result is that 9.2 percent of the state’s 8.2 million voters are suddenly at risk of losing their right to vote. Eighteen percent of the registered voters in Philadelphia do not have government issued photographic identification. That means they won’t be able to vote.
The court case against Pennsylvania’s new voter ID law is wrapping up, and supporters of the law say it’s necessary in order to reduce voter fraud. However, when you hear the words “voter fraud,” there are three things you need to keep clearly in mind: In-person, In-person, In-person. Got that? There’s only one kind of fraud that voter ID stops: in-person voter fraud. That is, the kind of fraud where someone walks into a polling place and tries to vote under someone else’s name. That’s it. There are plenty of other types of voter fraud, of course. There’s registration fraud, where you send in forms for Mary Poppins and James Bond. There’s insider fraud, where election officials report incorrect tallies. There’s absentee ballot fraud, where you fill in someone else’s absentee ballot and mail it in. But a voter ID law does nothing to stop those kinds of fraud. Even in theory, the only kind of fraud it stops is in-person voter fraud.
Editorials: Dismantling The GOP’s Odious Philosophy Of Voter Suppression | William Galston/The New Republic
Republicans should not be surprised if voter laws becomes a major topic of debate this election season—they will be the ones responsible for making it so. Over the past two years, the GOP has made a concerted attempt in a number of states to tighten voter registration procedures, cut back on alternatives such as early voting, and—most controversially—require would-be voters to show state-issued photo IDs as proof of identity. Because there’s such little evidence that these changes are needed to eliminate widespread voter fraud, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that many Republican legislators want to discourage voting among groups—especially minorities and the poor—that cast their ballots mainly for Democrats. But it’s worth remarking that beneath these crass political motives are some deeper moral issues. Proponents and opponents of these changes agree on one thing: Voting will be harder, and turnout will be lower. But is that necessarily a bad thing? Proponents think not. Speaking for many others, Florida State Senator Mike Bennett said, “I don’t have a problem making [voting] harder. I want people in Florida to want to vote as bad as that person in Africa who walks 200 miles across the desert. This should be something you do with a passion.”
The ploy of disguising secretly financed political machines as tax-exempt “social welfare” organizations has become one of the alarming trademarks of modern, big-money politics. Under cover of the tax code, the identities of donors are kept secret while they pay for attack ads against candidates, all the while claiming their main purpose is civic and nonpartisan. Operatives from both parties have gotten deep into this shell game. Fortunately, the Internal Revenue Service is, at last, promising to review and consider changing 50-year-old rules governing the limits of political activity for social welfare nonprofits that enjoy exemptions under section 501(c)(4) of the tax code. This is encouraging news for voters in the dark as ads thunder away and for taxpayers who underwrite the abuse. It follows a court finding that the Federal Election Commission had arbitrarily weakened disclosure requirements.
Nearly 6 million former prisoners –1 million of them black – will not be able to vote in the November presidential election because of state laws that continue to punish them even after they have completed their sentences, according to a recent report by the Sentencing Project. The report said 5.85 million formerly incarcerated citizens will be excluded. That’s five times the entire population of Rhode Island and more than the adult population of Virginia. “The most telling indicator of citizenship in the United States is that ability to cast a vote,” stated Desmond Meade, president of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, a non-profit group focused on restoring the civil rights of ex-offenders. “If you don’t have a voice you might as well be a slave.” He explained: “Every day a person is being disenfranchised in the minority community that weakens that community’s political voice.”
When Laila Stones sent a letter to the Commonwealth of Virginia requesting a copy of her birth certificate, the response was jarring: “They say I don’t exist,” she recounts under oath. Stones needs her birth certificate so that she can obtain a photo identification card and thereby vote in November. She’s a witness against the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, where she now lives, in a lawsuit filed by civil rights groups to block the state’s voter ID law. Stones is one of at least ten witnesses called to testify about the burdens she’s suffered to obtain the ID now mandated for voting. Her testimony is mostly about why she doesn’t have the resources to comply. But how can this be? How hard is it to get a driver’s license? You need one for everything these days: to cash a check, to board a plane, to open a bank account, to buy allergy medicine, to buy liquor. How can one function in society without a picture of themselves on a government-issued piece of plastic? As I’ve covered the voting rights battles of 2012, these are questions I’ve heard repeatedly not just from Republicans and conservatives, but also from some Democrats, liberals and progressives. How can one exist without this card?
Editorials: Reporters Know What the ‘Voter ID’ Push Is Really About. Why Don’t They Just Say So? | Dan Froomkin/Huffington Post
Does any journalist who is not an overt shill for the right actually believe that Republicans are pushing voter ID laws because they’re concerned about voter fraud? No, of course not. And for good reason. Voter fraud simply isn’t a problem in this country. Studies have definitively debunked the voter fraud myth time and again. In Pennsyvlania, which just adopted a tremendously restrictive photo-ID law that could disenfranchise 1 in 10 voters, state officials conceded they have no evidence of voter fraud, nor any reason to believe it could become a problem. By contrast, there is ample evidence that voter ID laws inhibit voting, particularly among minorities and the poor — two major demographic segments that tend to vote Democratic. And that’s hardly a coincidence. Consider the recent bragging by the Pennsylvania House Republican leader that his state’s voter ID bill “is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania.”
Editorials: Thanks, Citizens United, for This Campaign Finance Mess We're In | Adam Skaggs/The Atlantic
Before a Senate Judiciary subcommittee Tuesday, the Cato Institute’s Ilya Shapiro became the latest to come out swinging against critics of Citizens United, testifying that the case is one of the most misunderstood high court decisions ever and claiming that “it doesn’t stand for half of what many people say it does.” Shapiro joins a chorus of Citizens United defenders, including First Amendment lawyer Floyd Abrams and his son Dan — the latter of whom has railed against what he calls the media’s “shameful, inexcusable distortion” of the case — as well as the New York Times Magazine‘s chief political correspondent, Matt Bai, who recently wrote that liberal criticism of the decision is “just plain wrong.” To be sure, it would be an oversimplification to suggest the decision is the only cause of our current Wild West campaign finance environment. But those criticizing the critics of Citizens United miss the forest for the trees. Their myopic focus on debunking overstatements about the case downplays the major roleCitizens United played in ushering in current conditions — and how it fits with the Roberts Court’s ongoing project to put our democracy up for auction. The defense of Citizens United rests on two primary claims about the case, one factual and one legal. Its defenders contend, first, that while Citizens United only concerned corporate election spending, the facts show that it is spending by individuals — not corporations — that counts this year. Next, they argue that, as a legal matter, individual spenders have been free to make unlimited political donations since long beforeCitizens United. They’re wrong on both counts.
When it comes to campaign donations, corporations that suddenly find themselves crosswise with Congress know the playbook. First, immediately cut off political action committee contributions. Second, refuse to talk about your campaign contributions. Then, after perhaps taking some lumps at congressional hearings and spending a few months in the political wilderness, quietly begin cutting checks again as if nothing happened. Such appears to be the case for JPMorgan Chase, which is under fire for losing $2 billion on trades tied to credit derivatives — financial tools that helped damage the U.S. financial system late last decade. Its PAC typically contributes hundreds of thousands of dollars to federal candidates and committees each election cycle but it hasn’t donated a reportable dime to candidates since May 7, according to federal campaign filing.
Curious whether new restrictive state voting laws requiring photo ID will damage the credibility of this year’s election outcome, I sent email queries over the past week to several conservative analysts. I found their responses illuminating. Amy Kaufman, director of congressional relations at the Hudson Institute, wrote that “while there are changes to many states’ registration programs, these will not be an impediment to the victor.” She argued that Florida is “attempting to reduce voter fraud by purging possible noncitizens. Those people have the right to be readmitted by proving citizenship. It appears that over 500 of the roughly 2500 on that list have come forward to show documentation.” A colleague of Kaufman’s at the Hudson Institute, Michael Horowitz, was more outspoken, declaring that “requiring some form of identification of voters seems to me not merely reasonable but long overdue.” In Horowitz’s view, the “accusatory rhetoric” of Attorney General Eric Holder “about the alleged racism of those who support the I.D. reforms — unspeakable because he’s the Attorney General of the United States, not someone running for mayor of the District of Columbia — merits condemnation from progressives, not a threat that Republicans will lack political legitimacy.”
The U.S. District Court is soon to rule on Texas’s new voter ID law. Ostensibly to combat voter fraud — the existence of which has yet to be demonstrated — the law would require every voter to present a government-issued photo ID at the poll. After a week of arguments this month, the question before the panel of federal judges is whether this law — one of many to emerge in the wake of 2010’s Republican legislative resurgence — places an undue burden on minorities. Under the Voting Rights Act of 1965, jurisdictions such as Texas with a history of suppressing minority voting must prove that any new requirements don’t “have the effect of denying or abridging the right to vote on account of race or color.” In March, the Justice Department denied the Lone Star State the necessary clearance for this new law, arguing that it would disproportionately affect Hispanic voters. Texas officials appealed. To preserve the access of all citizens to the right to vote — certainly among the most sacrosanct in our democracy — the District Court should follow the Justice Department’s lead and strike down this highly suspect and unnecessary law.
Supporters of two state constitutional amendments up for a vote this November object to the ballot titles that Secretary of State Mark Richie has chosen. They’ve sued to overturn them. At the same time, Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson, declared that Ritchie had “thrown the Constitution and established case law out the window to serve his political interests” (“Ritchie’s rewording is out of bounds,” July 19). Actually, our state’s Constitution does provide quite a clear answer in this dispute — but it’s not the answer amendment supporters want to hear. We are part of a bipartisan group of professors from all four of the state’s law schools who submitted a brief supporting Ritchie’s authority to choose titles for both the marriage amendment and the “voter ID” amendment. The Minnesota Supreme Court will hear oral arguments next week. But you don’t have to be a law professor, or even a lawyer, to understand the constitutional argument. Junior high school civics will be plenty. A Minnesota law, first enacted in 1919, says, “The secretary of state shall provide an appropriate title” for every question on the ballot. (Notice that’s “shall,” not “may” — and that it’s “appropriate,” not “whatever the proposal’s boosters prefer.”) It’s all part of the secretary’s role as the state’s chief election officer, which also includes everything from certifying voting systems to registering candidates.
A few days after upstart Republican Al Schmidt clobbered incumbent Joseph Duda and wrenched away the tightly held (by the GOP establishment) position of City Commissioner in last November’s general election, one source said to this reporter something like this: People think Al Schmidt’s some kind of progressive. But just you wait: He’s a snake in the grass. Something about the quotation stuck. Schmidt, after all, is a kind of political enigma here in Philadelphia: a Republican who’s managed to capture the attention, imagination and even votes of both restless Philly Republicans and local progressives, many of whom noticed over the last year that Schmidt had the habit — unusual among the entrenched political establishment of both parties — of answering questions, returning phone calls and engaging in intelligent, nuanced debate about his ideas. Still, he was (and remains) a Republican. And that raised an important question during his campaign, since the three City Commissioners have the incredibly sensitive job of running local elections: What did Schmidt think of laws requiring photo ID at polling places, being pushed by members of his own party in Harrisburg? Schmidt said at the time that he opposed the voter-ID law “as it was written,” noting that it was an “unfunded mandate.” Which meant, if you thought about it, that he didn’t necessarily oppose it because its obvious intent — here and in every state considering such legislation — was to squelch Democratic votes.
Pennsylvania’s voter ID law goes on trial this week. The first thing this challenge to the state’s law has going for it are the real people who will testify about why it means they can’t vote. The second thing is the Pennsylvania constitution. And the third is the utter lack of legitimate justification for the burdens the law imposes. This law should go down, and now, before it can cause problems in November. But if you’re a Democrat worried that the law — which requires voters to show an approved form of photo ID at the polls — is going to cost President Barack Obama the election, there’s a possible silver lining. The number of voters affected may not be as huge, or as overwhelmingly Democratic, as it seems. Let’s start with the trial. The Talking Points Memo website and The New York Times have introduced us to 93-year-old Viviette Applewhite and 60-year-old Wilola Shinholster Lee. Applewhite has never had a driver’s license, lost her Social Security card when her purse was stolen, and can’t easily get a new one because she has changed her name twice to marry. Lee — who was born in Georgia but has lived in Pennsylvania since she was 5 years old — lost her birth certificate in a house fire and she can’t get another one. (According to the state of Georgia, her original birth certificate was lost in a fire there, too.)
Voter registration by felons and the deceased is nothing new in Virginia. In 1998, the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission, the investigative arm of the General Assembly, found that the State Board of Elections’ record-keeping was so poor that 11,221 felons and 1,480 dead people were registered to vote. Recent reports have the Voter Participation Center trolling in the same voter pool in its voter registration mailings. A Louisa County felon illegally registered and cast a ballot in the 2008 election after submitting a form she received from the Washington-based center. Other felons have fallen through the voter registration cracks. And Virginia’s voter registrars are caught in the middle. “The real question is, Do we have a perfect system? No, we don’t. Can we? Probably not. Is it an epidemic problem? No, it isn’t. But from my perspective, it should be zero tolerance,” said Chesterfield County Registrar Larry Haake. “If they change the law and let felons vote, I’m here for them. I don’t have a dog in that fight.”
Pennsylvania’s voter ID law goes on trial today. The first thing this challenge to the state’s law has going for it are the real people who will testify about why it means they can’t vote. The second thing is the Pennsylvania constitution. And the third is the utter lack of legitimate justification for the burdens the law imposes. This law should go down, and now, before it can cause problems in November. But if you’re a Democrat worried that the law—which requires voters to show an approved form of photo ID at the polls—is going to cost President Obama the election, there’s a possible silver lining here. The number of voters affected may not be as huge, or as overwhelmingly Democratic, as it seems. Let’s start with the trial. Talking Points Memo and the New York Times have introduced us to 93-year-old Viviette Applewhite and 60-year-old Wilola Shinholster Lee. Applewhite has never had a driver’s license, lost her Social Security card when her purse was stolen, and can’t easily get a new one because she has changed her name twice to marry. Lee—who was born in Georgia but has lived in Pennsylvania since she was 5 years old—lost her birth certificate in a house fire and she can’t get another one. (According to the state of Georgia, her original birth certificate was lost in a fire there, too.) Thanks to smart P.R. by the ACLU and the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia, which represent the plaintiffs, you canread or see these women and other affected voters.
Pennsylvania Secretary of State Carol Aichele had a message for the hundreds of people gathered at the State Capitol yesterday to rally against voter ID laws: “Go home” and find ways to make their fellow citizens comply with the state’s controversial law. “We hope that some of the people who are outside would go home from this rally,” said Aichele during a closed-door press conference. “Focus that energy, go home and find five people who need transportation to a [driver’s license] ID center and take those people to get photo identification.” Today, a court will begin hearing arguments in a case to determine whether the state’s voters must in fact carry Aichele’s burden. Ten Pennsylvania residents will seek to demonstrate how the state denied them ID for voting purposes, thereby showing the harmful effect of the law that is required to knock it down. The voters’ lawyers are seeking an injunction to stop the law due to the problems it poses for hundreds of thousands of voters. For an injunction, they don’t have to prove the law violates voters’ rights. They need only to convince a judge that there are too many unresolved issues with the law that deserve deeper scrutiny. The legal push and pull over voter ID laws has moved through a growing number of states, as federal and state courts weigh the laws’ constitutionality. The fight in Pennsylvania, like an earlier one in Wisconsin, stands out in that plaintiffs believe they’ll be able to show clear harm to specific groups of people, including along racial lines.
In light of all the regressive measures enacted by our Legislature over the past 18 months, Gov. Rick Snyder’s veto of a package of “voter ID” and registration reform bills was a welcome and unexpected occurrence. This legislation was nothing more than an attempt to suppress voter turnout. Much like attacks on collective bargaining, “election reform” bills that make the voting process more difficult have swept the nation in recent years. Voter suppression legislation has gained approval in Republican-controlled state governments at an alarming rate. For Snyder to stand up to the right wing of his party and reject these bills here in Michigan was an act of courage and conviction.
Editorials: Saving throw: securing democracy with stats, spreadsheets, and 10-sided dice | Ars Technica
Armed with a set of 10-sided dice (we’ll get to those in a moment), an online Web tool, and a stack of hundreds of ballots, University of California-Berkeley statistics professor Philip Stark spent last Friday unleashing both science and technology upon a recent California election. He wanted to answer a very simple question—had the vote counting produced the proper result?—and he had developed a stats-based system to find out. On June 2, 6,573 citizens went to the polls in Napa County and cast primary ballots for supervisor of the 2nd District in one of California’s most famous wine-producing regions, on the northern edge of the San Francisco Bay Area. The three candidates—Juliana Inman, Mark van Gorder, and Mark Luce—would all have liked to come in first, but they really didn’t want to be third. That’s because only the two top vote-getters in the primary would proceed to the runoff election in November; number three was out. Napa County officials announced the official results a few days later: Luce, the incumbent, took in 2,806 votes, van Gorder got 1,911 votes, and Inman received 1,856 votes—a difference between second and third place of just 55 votes. Given the close result, even a small number of counting errors could have swung the election. Vote counting can go wrong in any number of ways, and even the auditing processes designed to ensure the integrity of close races can be a mess (did someone say “hanging, dimpled, or pregnant chads”?). Measuring human intent at the ballot box can be tricky. To take just one example, in California, many ballots are cast by completing an arrow, which is then optically read. While voters are instructed to fully complete the thickness of the arrow, in practice some only draw a line. The vote tabulation system used by counties sometimes do not always count those as votes. So Napa County invited Philip Stark to look more closely at their results. Stark has been on a four-year mission to encourage more elections officials to use statistical tools to ensure that the announced victor is indeed correct. He first described his method back in 2008, in a paper called “Conservative statistical post-election audits,” but he generally uses a catchier name for the process: “risk-limiting auditing.”
Editorials: GOP’s voter ID tactics could undermine a Romney win | Harold Meyerson/The Washington Post
Suppose Mitt Romney ekes out a victory in November by a margin smaller than the number of young and minority voters who couldn’t cast ballots because the photo-identification laws enacted by Republican governors and legislators kept them from the polls. What should Democrats do then? What would Republicans do? And how would other nations respond? As suppositions go, this one isn’t actually far-fetched. No one in the Romney camp expects a blowout; if he does prevail, every poll suggests it will be by the skin of his teeth. Numerous states under Republican control have passed strict voter identification laws. Pennsylvania, Texas, Indiana, Kansas, Tennessee and Georgia require specific kinds of ID; the laws in Michigan, Florida, South Dakota, Idaho and Louisiana are only slightly more flexible. Wisconsin’s law was struck down by a state court. Instances of voter fraud are almost nonexistent, but the right-wing media’s harping on the issue has given Republican politicians cover to push these laws through statehouse after statehouse. The laws’ intent, however, is entirely political: By creating restrictions that disproportionately impact minorities, they’re supposed to bolster Republican prospects. Ticking off Republican achievements in Pennsylvania’s House of Representatives, their legislative leader, Mike Turzai, extolled in a talk last month that “voter ID . . . is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania.” How could Turzai be so sure?
If you’re a strong believer in maintaining the status quo, the outbreak of voter-identification laws across the nation just might make sense. If you’re a student of American politics and history, on the other hand, you see it slightly differently. In that case, what you see is what we’ve got: voter suppression. Thirty-three states, almost all of them Republican-controlled, now require some sort of voter ID. A decade ago, none did. A decade ago, there was no evidence of massive voter fraud. Today, there remains little evidence of voter fraud. But there is clear evidence that the rash of voter-ID laws could have a profound impact on African-American participation at the polls. As Attorney General Eric Holder pointed out at the NAACP convention earlier this month, recent studies show that 8 percent of white voting-age citizens lack a government-issued ID, while 25 percent of black voting-age citizens lack one. Considering that Barack Obama received 95 percent of the African-American vote in 2008, if you think Republicans might be interested in suppressing that vote, you might be right.
A decade after enactment of the 2002 Help America Vote Act, many state legislatures under Republican political leadership have chosen a different course for voters: They offer little help, while imposing a host of restrictions under the claim of fighting “fraud.” But these laws do not stop at the enactment of ID requirements; they include limitations on voter registration, on the information that poll workers may supply to voters looking to locate their correct polling places — and on early voting. An example of these attacks on early voting has occurred in the state of Ohio, and it has resulted in the lawsuit brought in federal district court by Obama for America, the Democratic National Committee and the Ohio Democratic Party. We are challenging the state legislature’s action denying the vast majority of Ohio voters any access to in-person early voting during the last three days before the election. And this action was taken entirely arbitrarily, without justification, unaccountably shutting down this avenue of participation for thousands of voters. This action would be troubling under any circumstances, but it is all the more so in light of the role that early voting has played in Ohio in solving major problems Ohio voters have experienced in the past, highlighted by electoral breakdown in the 2004 presidential election. In that year, the failure of voting machinery, poorly managed congestion at polling places and other problems contributed to long lines for voters — sometimes leading to waits as long as six or seven hours.
Editorials: Pennsylvania voter ID law will cut turnout, not fraud | Karen Heller/Philadelphia Inquirer
Let us return to the tale of one Joseph Cheeseboro. Or possibly Joseph Cheeseborough. The city resident loves those machines, having voted under both names in eight elections, going so far as to cast ballots twice in the 2007 primary and the general, using a 7-Eleven on South Broad as one address. Perhaps voting so often makes Joe parched for a Slurpee. Last week, he was cited as the prime example of voter fraud by Republican City Commissioner Al Schmidt. Then again, Joe Cheeseboro/borough is the only known example of voter impersonation in Philadelphia. This irregularity, along with the other findings in Schmidt’s study, has been previously reported. At his news conference, Schmidt wanted to make clear – please don’t read this while drinking coffee – this had nothing to do with Pennsylvania’s new voter ID law, which is being challenged in Commonwealth Court this week, leaving 9.2 percent of Pennsylvania and 18 percent of Philadelphia voters without proper credentials. The law is as adored by Republicans as it is loathed by Democrats. No, nothing whatsoever to do with the law or politics. Let the games begin! “Philadelphia is, without question, one of our nation’s most infested epicenters for rampant election fraud and corruption,” said Butler County Republican State Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, who clearly isn’t planning to spend his vacation here. State GOP chair Rob Gleason released an e-mail blast soliciting donations based on Schmidt’s report: “Are you as outraged by this as I am? Enough is enough, and we need to act now! Click to donate $15, $25, $50 or more today to help us combat voter fraud in Philadelphia and throughout Pennsylvania.” He added, “Donate today and stand up to the liberals to help us protect Pennsylvania’s elections.”
For better or worse, the central principle behind the unlimited contributions to super PACs that will dominate this election cycle is simple: Money is speech, and we cannot limit speech. Yet many who hold this freedom as an article of faith are all too willing to limit an equally precious form of speech: voting. If we don’t speak out against these abuses, we may soon learn the hard way the danger of that double standard. And a dozen years after the 2000 recount that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, my state of Florida threatens to be ground zero one more time. As Florida’s attorney general from 2003 to 2007, I strongly enforced the laws against illegal voting. When swift action was necessary, I took it without hesitation. I did so out of respect for our democracy — voting is a precious right reserved only for U.S. citizens — but I’m concerned that zealots overreacting to contrived threats of voter fraud by significantly narrowing the voting pool are doing so with brazen disrespect and disregard for our greatest traditions.
Secretary of State Jon Husted says it’s just part of guarding the integrity of Ohio elections, and not partisanship, that is causing him to try to access a federal immigration database to rid Ohio’s voter rolls of noncitizens, who aren’t eligible to vote. Not that Husted is sitting on proof that a flood of foreigners has registered to vote in Ohio. The Republican admits the number, if it exists, will be small. “There are a lot of agendas,” he said in an interview. “I don’t have that agenda,” saying he was one of the most “pro-immigration” politicians around. He said he would proceed carefully on citizenship challenges, case-by-case. But The Denver Post reported last week that Husted is one of at least 11 top Republican state election officials around the country who have joined in an effort to get access to the federal list, known as SAVE, for Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlement, created to check noncitizens’ eligibility for certain benefits. Its reliability in checking for citizenship status is unclear.
Four years ago as Viviette Applewhite, now 93, was making her way through her local Acme supermarket, her pocketbook hanging from her shoulder, a thief sliced the bag from its straps. A former hotel housekeeper, Ms. Applewhite, who never had a driver’s license, was suddenly without a Social Security card. Adopted and twice married, she had several name changes over the years, so obtaining new documents was complicated. As a result, with Pennsylvania now requiring a state-approved form of photo identification to vote, Ms. Applewhite, a supporter of President Obama, may be forced to sit out November’s election for the first time in decades. Incensed, and spurred on by liberal groups, Ms. Applewhite and others like her are suing the state in a closely watched case, one of a number of voter-identification suits across the country that could affect the participation of millions of voters in the presidential election.
Editorials: Campaign finance after Citizens United is worse than Watergate | Rick Hasen/Slate Magazine
How does the brave new world of campaign financing created by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision stack up against Watergate? The short answer is: Things are even worse now than they were then. The 1974 scandal that brought down President Richard Nixon was all about illegal money secretly flowing to politicians. That’s still a danger, but these days, the biggest weakness of our campaign finance system is not what’s illegal, but what’s legal. As Dan Eggen of theWashington Post put it, “there’s little need for furtive fundraising or secret handoffs of cash.” The rules increasing allow people and corporations with great wealth to skew public policy toward their interests—without risking a jail time, or a fine, or any penalty at all. It’s an influence free-for-all. The Washington Post reminds us what the country faced in the time of Watergate: “Money ran wild in American politics. One man, W. Clement Stone, gave more than $2 million to President Richard M. Nixon’s 1972 reelection campaign. The Watergate break-in was financed with secret campaign contributions. Fat cats plunked down cash for ambassadorships, and corporations for special treatment.” Fred Wertheimer, who has been pushing for campaign finance reform for decades, recounts that the corruption of old got results: “The dairy industry gave $2 million to the Nixon campaign and soon got the increase in dairy price supports they were seeking. Nixon overrode his Agriculture Department’s objection to put these supports in place.”
“A hundred million dollars is nothing,” the venture capitalist Andy Rappaport told me back in the summer of 2004. This was at a moment when wealthy liberals like George Soros and Peter Lewis were looking to influence national politics by financing their own voter-turnout machine and TV ads and by creating an investment fund for start-ups. Rappaport’s statement struck me as an expression of supreme hubris. In American politics at that time, $100 million really meant something. Eight years later, of course, his pronouncement seems quaint. Conservative groups alone, including a super PAC led by Karl Rove and another group backed by the brothers Charles and David Koch, will likely spend more than a billion dollars trying to take down Barack Obama by the time November rolls around. The reason for this exponential leap in political spending, if you talk to most Democrats or read most news reports, comes down to two words: Citizens United. The term is shorthand for a Supreme Court decision that gave corporations much of the same right to political speech as individuals have, thus removing virtually any restriction on corporate money in politics. The oft-repeated narrative of 2012 goes like this: Citizens United unleashed a torrent of money from businesses and the multimillionaires who run them, and as a result we are now seeing the corporate takeover of American politics.
Since the beginning of the current election cycle, extremely wealthy individuals, corporations and trade unions — all of them determined to influence who is in the White House next year — have spent more than $160 million (excluding party expenditures). That’s an incredible amount of money. To put it in perspective, at this point in 2008, about $36 million had been spent on independent expenditures (independent meaning independent of a candidate’s campaign). In all of 2008, in fact, only $156 million was spent this way. In other words, we’ve already surpassed 2008, and it’s July. In the near term, there’s nothing we can do to reverse this dramatic increase in independent expenditures. Yet what really alarms us about this situation is that we can’t find out who is behind these blatant attempts to control the outcome of our elections. We are inundated with extraordinarily negative advertising on television every evening and have no way to know who is paying for it and what their agenda might be. In fact, it’s conceivable that we have created such a glaring loophole in our election process that foreign interests could directly influence the outcome of our elections. And we might not even know it had happened until after the election, if at all.
Sorry, but the recall debate isn’t over. In fact, prior to the next session, legislators should put their heads together and talk a great deal about it, then adopt stronger, clearer laws in 2013. Both sides of the recent attempt to recall four Coeur d’Alene City Council members are still sorting out the significance of lessons learned, but they can largely agree on the need for clarity in state recall election statutes. One concern is the nebulous nature of the 75-day window from the start of the petition drive to the last moment the petition signatures can be verified. Between the offices of the Secretary of State, the Kootenai County Clerk and the Coeur d’Alene City Clerk, nobody seemed to clearly understand how that 75 days should be divided between collecting signatures, turning them in to city officials and then having the county verify those signatures. The timeline seemed to twist and turn like an unruly river, leaving too much room for arbitrary interpretation. The fact that the Secretary of State’s office changed its mind in the midst of the Coeur d’Alene petition drive offers ample proof that more specificity is needed for all parties involved.